Henry Audley’s magnificent monument stands in St. Michael’s Church, Berechurch, a mile or two south of Colchester in Essex. “His date of death is not known but, as he is known to have been alive in 1664, this monument, erected in 1648, took shape during his lifetime. Flanked by flaming urns, his armour-clad effigy reclines on its side, looking out. His head rests upon his helmet and one of his gauntlets rests upon his sword. Beneath are the figures of his five children – Katherine, Marian, Abigail, Thomas and Henry, one of whom carries a skull, indicating that he had already died. Above is the Latin inscription, crowned by a curved pediment, with a central cartouche where his coat of arms was once painted”.1
The Audley Chapel is all that survives from the earlier church on this site – this small brick-built structure, abutting the north side of the church, dates to the 1500s. The rest of this brick-built church was replaced in the 19th century, with the nave and chancel reconstructed to the designs of the architect Charles Pertwee of Chelmsford. The chapel was retained to accommodate the Audley monument which, in 1872, was reportedly causing the north wall of the church to warp under the considerable weight of the monument.
Evidence for the earlier church takes us back to the pre-Conquest period. Berechurch is documented as ‘Beredchurche’ in around 1270, suggesting a church built of boards or timber existed at this site, probably originating in the pre-Conquest period; perhaps not too dissimilar in form to the surviving wooden church at Greensted near Ongar, also in Essex.
Henry Audley’s ancestors include Thomas, brother of Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor (also Thomas, founder of Magdalene College, Cambridge and town clerk of Colchester) who was given the manor of Berechurch along with Walden Abbey in Saffron Walden. Lord Chancellor Audley resided at Saffron Walden and built his manor there, the predecessor to Audley End House. His impressive monument can be seen in St. Mary’s church in Saffron Walden, his burial place.
Owing to its remote location, in a woodland setting and standing a mile or so from the village’s population, St. Michael’s was declared redundant in 1975, with the main body of the church turned over to alternative commercial use as offices. The historical significance of the chapel guaranteed its survival and was vested in the Redundant Churches Fund, now The Churches Conservation Trust, in 1981.
The chapel is normally open daily to visitors but at the time of writing, it is temporarily closed to the public in line with the response to the Coronavirus outbreak.
- Tricker, R. 2006, The Audley Chapel Berechurch, Essex. Churches Conservation Trust Guidebook