Chapel of St Peter on the Wall, Essex: ‘The deepest living root of the church in Britain’

Our 21st century Grand Tour of Britain moves on to an ancient church in Essex: the Chapel of St Peter on the Wall.

In the middle of the 7th century, King Sigebert of the East Saxons was converted to Christianity by his friend King Oswy of Northumbria, who sent Cedd, a monk from Lindisfarne, as a missionary.

Cedd made his way down the coast and landed at the old Roman fort of Othona on the south side of the Blackwater estuary. Here, he built a chapel and a small monastery.

The interior of the chapel, which dates back to 654AD.

The buildings would have originally been wooden, in the Celtic tradition to which Cedd belonged, but with so much stone and tile at hand from the fort, it was soon decided to replace it with a masonry structure, which was large by Celtic standards.

It is one of the oldest ecclesiastical buildings of its size in Britain and forms, as the guidebook evocatively describes it, ‘the deepest living root of the church in this country’.

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A side view of the Saxon chapel of Saint Peter-on-the-Wall at Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex on the Dengie Peninsula. It is one of the oldest Christian churches still in regular use in England. The church was founded by Saint Cedd in 654 AD on the foundations of an abandoned Roman fort. It was restored as a chapel in the 1920’s.

How to visit the Chapel of St Peter on the Wall

It’s just 50 miles from central London, but by the time you get to the chapel you’ll probably feel as if you’re a thousand miles from the metropolis — a thousand miles, and a thousand years. It’s tucked away on the very far coastal north-east corner of the Denige National Nature Reserve, a part of Essex that’s shaped by mudflats, salt marshes and the thousands of birds that make this their home.

The chapel itself is a half-mile walk across a field from the car park, but free to visit — and there are communion services on the last Thursday of every month, as well as at a few other times. Ther website at has more detail.

The local town is Bradwell-on-Sea, a 40-minute drive from Chelmsford, and 15 minutes from Southminster where there’s also a station. But if you want to explore Bradwell and the nature reserve more completely, there are a couple of nearby pubs, a campsite and caravan park.