The present church dates from about 1250 but had several predecessors, stretching back to the coming of Christianity to Essex in 653. You can see St Cedd’s Minster at Bradwell from the town and it would not have been long before the Gospel was preached in this parish and some kind of worship centre established. The start of the present building seems to be linked with the appointment of the first incumbent in 1237 and this was a time of general prosperity for England. The building consisted of the chancel and two-thirds of the present nave, with two small chapels. A good deal of material from earlier buildings, especially Roman brick, was used. Immediately to the left of the south door, as you come in, you can see a round-headed recess incorporating Roman brickwork. This is probably part of the earlier Norman church.
The fifteenth century saw a revival of England’s wealth and here this was associated with the residence of the Beriffe family of wool merchants at Jacobes Hall.
The great tower, one of the finest in East Anglia, was built to the west of the church. When it had settled on its foundations, it was joined to the rest of the church by the building of two western bays of the nave, which are in perpendicular style. The south chapel and porch were added. The vestry was built in 1518 and the north chapel, where the Beriffes are buried, enlarged at the same time. Finally, the north aisle was reconstructed. A common feature of these additions is the use of knapped flints on the exterior walls.
During the reign of Edward V1, plate, vestments and two of the four original bells were taken into the king’s hands. In the Civil War of 1642- 6, Puritans destroyed the statues, removed paintwork and stained glass, hacked away at the beautiful niches, which are a feature of the church, and threw down the stone altar. One broken and headless figure, which may represent St Nicholas, was recovered and may be seen in the north chapel.
The biggest change came with the collapse of the nave roof, one Monday morning in 1814, bringing down all the clerestory windows which stood above the arches and brought light into the centre of the church. The churchwardens were allowed to make a national appeal and sold one o f the two remaining bells, but in the end, could only afford the present wooden roof without restoring the clerestory.
The font dates from the 15th century and has, since the 19th century, been under the tower. The octagonal bowl has a quatrefoil on each face enclosing a rose; traces of original colour and gilding can be seen. The single petalled roses were originally white for the House of York and red for the House of Lancaster; the double-petalled Tudor rose was white and red symbolising the union of the two royal Houses under Henry VII.
Around the walls of the nave is a series of memorial tiles which date back to 1872, the year in which Canon Arthur Pertwee began his long incumbency in Brightlingsea. The concept of such a memorial was born after the tragic year of 1883 when a large number of Brightlingsea men lost their lives in a “Great Storm” in the North Sea whilst pursuing their livelihood and there was a deeply felt need for an appropriate memorial. The tiles bear witness to the various losses suffered by this seafaring community. It is believed that such a memorial is unique in this country.