Easthorpe is a small village and civil parish in the Colchester District of Essex. It is on an old Roman road. Nearby settlements include the large town of Colchester and the villages of Marks Tey, Copford and Copford Green.
The church of ST. MARY, Easthorpe Road, the dedication of which was recorded in 1427, was built of mixed materials with Roman brick in the dressings, and has an undivided nave and chancel with a west bell turret and spire of timber.
The nave and west end of the chancel, which originally had an apse, are 12th-century and of that period are all or part of five windows and north and south nave doorways. In the mid 13th century the apse was destroyed and the chancel lengthened: it has an east triplet of lancets and sedilia, both enriched, and a piscina. Paintings in the splays of a nave window may also be 13th-century. The east end of the nave and west end of the chancel were mostly refen- estrated in the 14th century, a west window inserted, and a tomb recess, which incorporates a quatrefoil window, was made in the nave south wall. In the 15th century the porch, recon- structed in 1910, and a stoup were added, as was a rood loft from which rood-stair doorways remain.
In 1685 the floor needed mending in several places and the tiled roof needed repair. One nave window seems to date from the 16th or 17th century and the communion table is 17th- century. There was presumably a west bell- turret by 1705 when the steeple needed shingling. It was repaired in 1866 and in 1910. By 1892 the nave roof and walls and the porch were in poor condition, and the church was extensively restored in 1910-11 by F. Hutton of Birch, builder, to plans by Wykeham Chan- cellor.
The walls were repaired, especially the north wall where a buttress was built, a new roof was constructed, the tower was straightened and the north doorway was reopened. The old vestry was removed. The church was reseated with chairs and re-floored and a pulpit was provided.
In the tomb recess window is stained glass with several coats of arms; there are also remains of arms in a chancel south window. In 1831 there was in a north window a figure of an armed knight, with a red cross on his breast, supported under his arms by two angels, his helmet being removed by another angel.
Members of the Kingsmill family, buried in the chancel, are commemorated by floor slabs. There is a medieval scratch-dial.
The church sustained minor damage in the Second World War. The tower was damaged in a gale c. 1969, and subsequently restored.
Two bells were sold at the Reformation. Two bells were recorded in 1867 and 1877, one of which was of 1663 by Miles Gray, which survived in 1909 and was an exact duplicate of the single bell at Abberton.
The plate included a small Elizabethan silver chalice and cover; a pewter flagon was recorded in 1685.
The Easthorpe Sheela currently resides in the Castle Mueseum in Colchester but originally came form the small parish church in nearby Easthorpe. It was donated to the museum by the vicar of the church early in the 20th century as he thought it too "obscene" to keep in the church. The figure was originally kept above the south doorway in an alcove but also served time as an ornament in the garden rockery of the vicarage. Once again we have classic position for a sheela above or near entrances to the church, however it is possible to make too much of this positioning as the alcove may just have been a convenient place to put the carving. Interestingly this sheela has the word ELUI carved down the right hand side. The significance of this name is now lost however both Barbara Freitag and Jorgen Andersen put forward theories on the possible meaning of the name, With Andersen citing a possible connection, to St Eloi and Freitag giving several possible connections.
The figure stands with bent knees, both hands gesture towards the oversized vulva which reaches to below the feet and seems to include a clitoral hood. The figure has faint ribs inscribed on both sides of the chest and also appears to be wearing a headdress or cap. The "ears" either side of the head are over large but could equally be part of the headdress.
The carving is made of clunch being a form of gritty grey chalk. According to local historian A R West the stone is not native to the area which would mean either the stone was imported or the carving has come from elsewhere. It's curious that it should be named after the material it was made from rather than the subject matter.
The Thorpe in Easthorpe is thought to derive from the Saxon word Thorp meaning hamlet or farm. In the time of Edward the confessor it was held by one Eadric a freeman. The doomsday book records the village as Estorp being held by Hugh an under-tenant of Count Eustace of Boulogne. The successors of Hugh held the village until the late 12th century when it was granted to the Gernon family. The church originally had a semicircular apse which was demolished in the 13th century. Much of the remaining fabric of the church is Norman and a number of windows still exist from that period. Its difficult to say whether or not the sheela figure is an original part of the church. The carving is fairly small and highly portable and the material from which it is made is not local to the area. Other figurative carving on the church is in a different style and appears to be of a much later date. There are however fragments of dressed and molded stone work embedded in the outside walls of the church. Its hard to say whether these came from an earlier incarnation of the church or elsewhere but the re-used round window would seem to suggest that fragments from other buildings have been incorporated into the building.
If anybody would like to expand to this series please do, I would just ask that you could let Sadexploration know first so he can keep track of the Church numbers and names to avoid duplication