History of the Church

Old Heath History

Old Heath is the parish to the south east of Colchester and is bordered by the River Colne and the Mersea Road. At its’ southern boundary is Rowhedge and Fingringhoe and from the north it is approached along Military Road or Mersea Road. The Village of Old Heath (originally Old Hythe) has existed since Saxon times though it has largely lost its’ village look now. Nevertheless there is a good community atmosphere and we are ‘steeped’ in history. A book  published by Father Richard (The Vicar) and Patrick Denney (Local resident and historian) is worth a read and is available from Fr Richard , from the Post Office or from Red Lion Books in Colchester High Street.

The stream known as Bourne Stream which flows from Bourne Mill upper pond down to the river Colne marks the parish boundary between Old Heath and New Town St.Stephens.

The Saxons created the first Port for Colchester in a meander in the river between what is now Haven Road and Quay and the boundary with Rowhedge.What we now call’The Hythe’ was formerly known as ‘New Hythe’ signifying the fact that Colchester’s Port had moved up river.

The Parish Church (On Abbot’s Road)was first established in 1874 having previously been served from St. Giles’ which is near the Town Station. The old church was demolished in 1949 having been declared unsafe and the new church built. It is, to say the least, plain outside but undoubtedly beautiful inside and serves as a real centre for the community.


The original church

Bourne Mill sits on one boundary and Distillery Pond (so called because a Malt Distillery was located there from 1812) with its historic associations is firmly within the parish.

We have a number of convenient shops , a thriving school, a Senior Citizens’ Activity Centre, three sheltered homes for the aged and a Community Centre.In addition to the parish Church (Church of England) there is a small Chapel known locally as the ‘Tin Tabernacle’ which is a Congregational Chapel and various Pentecostal Churches meeting in our Community Hall every Sunday.


The church today

Housing varies from the early developments in the 18th and 19th centuries to the developments along the Old Heath Road which are largely 1920’s -1940’s structures. A later housing estate grew up on Speedwell Road and further developments along Abbot’s Road and now down by the Quay have increased our population to in the region of 6,000 people many of whose families have lived here for generations.  A large Industrial Estate provides employment.
It is a good safe place to live and we are surrounded by the Military Ranges and open spaces and so keep our distinctive existence whilst being firmly and proudly a  part of Colchester.


1950 – Rev’d George Cooper becomes the ‘Minister’ of Old Heath after it was granted full Parish status.

1955 – (10 August) – The new church was dedicated after the old church was declared unsafe in 1949.

1957 – Rev’d Timothy House appointed Priest in Charge.

1959 – St. Barnabas is consecrated.

1971 – Rev’d Edward Stevart appointed Priest in Charge.

1976 – Rev’d John McCulloch appointed Priest in Charge.

1978 – Rev’d John Scott appointed Priest in Charge.

1980 – Rev’d John McKellar appointed Priest in Charge.

1982 – Rev’d Brian Lewis appointed Priest in Charge

1984 – Rev’d Brian Lewis becomes vicar (All rights and privileges of a Parish granted, the Clergy are granted a ‘living’ and Priest in Charge becomes Vicar).

1988 – Rev’d Peter Walker becomes the new vicar.

1990 – Old Heath celebrates 40 years of being a Parish.

1994 – Rev’d Dr. Robert Beaken becomes the new vicar.

2000 – To tie in with the millennium, Old Heath has a celebration of ’50 Years of being a Parish and 2000 years of Christianity.

2003 – Rev’d Richard Tillbrook becomes the new vicar (incumbent).

2004 – St. Barnabas church gets a new icon installed.

2006 – Old Heath gets a clear identity by the erection of ‘Welcome signs’ incorporating the coat of arms for the parish.

2007 – Church hall refurbished and dedicated by the Bishop of Richborough.

2007 – New Community hall opened by the Bishop of Colchester. The refurbishment brings the piece of land and the hall on the site back into community use after many years of dereliction.

2013 – Fr. Richard celebrates 10 years of being Vicar, the first Vicar of Old Heath to do so.


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