St Osyth

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St Osyth
St osyth sign.jpg
Village Sign
St Osyth is located in Essex
St Osyth
St Osyth
Location within Essex
Population4,277 (2011)[1]
OS grid referenceTM123156
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtCO16
Dialling code01255
AmbulanceEast of England
UK Parliament
List of places
51°47′56″N 1°04′48″E / 51.799°N 1.080°E / 51.799; 1.080Coordinates: 51°47′56″N 1°04′48″E / 51.799°N 1.080°E / 51.799; 1.080

St Osyth is an English village and civil parish in the Tendring District of north-east Essex, about 5 miles (8.0 km) west of Clacton-on-Sea and 12 miles (19.3 km) south-east of Colchester. It lies on the B1027, Colchester–Clacton road. The village is named after Osgyth, a 7th-century saint and princess. Locally, the name is sometimes pronounced "Toosey". It is claimed to be the driest recorded place in the United Kingdom.


Before being renamed to commemorate St Osgyth, the village was called Chich (also spelt Chiche or Chick), from an Old English word meaning "bend",[2] a reference to St Osyth Creek. Later, the manor of Chich (now St Osyth) in Essex was assumed as part of the royal demesne by the Danish King Canute, who granted it to Earl Godwin. By him it was given to Christ Church, Canterbury and at the Conquest it was transferred to the See of London.

Stan Jarvis, in his 2002 book Essex off the Beaten Track,[3] relates that Osyth was the daughter of the great Frithewald, King of the East Saxons. She grew up in the Christian faith and became prioress of a nunnery founded by her father in the tiny settlement of Chich. In the autumn of AD 653 a band of Danish raiders came up the creek in their boats and went on the rampage. They broke into the nunnery, intent on humiliating the nuns and subjecting them to sexual harassment. Osyth stood before them and faced up to the Danish chief. He demanded that the nuns deny their faith; she rejected his demands. In his wrath he ordered her to be beheaded and so Osyth died for her faith.

Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy of Chiche was buried in St Osyth.

St Osyth was the subject of an episode of Channel 4's Time Team programme, "Lost Centuries of St Osyth", (series 12 episode 9, first broadcast in February 2005). The programme sought to uncover the early origins of the village, which was presumed to have grown up about the same time as the Priory, in the 12th century. Many of the investigations round the current village centre found little evidence of settlement earlier than the 14th century; it appeared that the early village centre lay some way off, between the Priory and the river.

The village was a focus for the St Osyth witch persecutions in the 16th and 17th centuries. All of ten local women were hanged as a result. In 1921 the skeletons of two women were discovered in the garden of a house in the village. One was claimed to be the witch Ursley Kempe, who was the first to be prosecuted. The skeletons became a local tourist attraction.[4]

Legend of Saint Osyth[edit]

Burnt-out wreckage of a Junkers Ju 88 reconnaissance aircraft of 4.(F)/122 on Cockett Wick Farm, the aircraft was shot down on 20 July 1940 by No. 56 Squadron Hurricanes

Legend has it that Saint Osyth, Osgyth or Ositha was a young lady involved in various fantastic events in her lifetime (c. 700).[5] The legends include:

  • A young Osyth drowned in a stream, but was revived by nuns from the local convent praying for her for three days.
  • Osyth was executed by beheading; where she fell a spring issued forth from the ground. She picked up her head and walked to the door of the nunnery, where she knocked three times on the door before collapsing.
  • Osyth's ghost is said to walk along the priory walls carrying her head one night each year.

In the Napoleonic Wars two Martello Towers were built on the peninsula between the Colne Estuary and Brightlingsea Creek. One survives at Stone Point and is now the East Essex Aviation Museum. The peninsula was cordoned off and used by the Navy and Army in both world wars. Between 1942 and 1944 it was a large, minor landing-craft training base called HMS Helder. No 1 Martello Tower was a signal station and minefield control point, linked to the Navy at Brightlingsea.[6]


Earls Hall Farm Wind Farm, from St Osyth allotments on the east of the village. The wind farm consists of five turbines with a total nominal power of 10.25 MW.[7]

St Osyth is claimed to be the driest recorded place in the United Kingdom, with an average annual rainfall of just 507 mm (20 inches).[8]

St Osyth parish extends south from the village to the coast and includes the smaller villages of Point Clear and Lee-over-Sands. Although much of the parish boundary is coastline, which does not need to be "beaten," St Osyth is one parish that keeps up the tradition of beating the bounds on Rogation days.[9]


St Osyth's Priory Gatehouse[10]

The most notable building in the village is St Osyth's Priory,[11] a group of Grade I listed buildings.[10][12][13][14][15] The Abbey became home to the Earls of Rochford, after King William III created the title for William Nassau de Zuylestein in 1695.

St Osyth's Priory once held a herd of polled White Park cattle, until an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 1951, which led to their slaughter. A contemporary account states:

At St Osyth Priory, where an outbreak occurred last week, there was one of the few remaining herds of White Park cattle, one of the oldest breeds in this country. That has now been slaughtered, together with the small dairy herd and the stock of pigs. The farm is attached to the convalescent home maintained at the Priory by the Shepherds Friendly Society.[16]

The land within the Priory boundaries is shown as a Deer Park on the Ordnance Survey map.[17]

The village church is dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul.[18] The Martello tower at Point Clear has been converted into a war museum.[19]

Another landmark is Mill Dam Lake, which is filled and emptied from St Osyth Creek. It is used for water skiing.

St Osyth Beach[edit]

The neighbouring settlement of St Osyth Beach contains Essex's largest concentration of static caravan parks, including Seawick, St Osyth Beach (owned by Park Holidays UK) and Hutleys. The holiday parks boost the local population in the summer months by an estimated 7,000. Part of the beach is used for nude bathing.[20][a]

St Osyth Beach and adjoining Jaywick were the scene of fatalities during "The Great Flood" of 1953.


The Venue is an entertainment venue that opened in St Osyth in early 2009. In its opening year it played host to the Sugababes, N-Dubz, The Drifters, Ricky Tomlinson, Kevin Bloody Wilson and The Stylistics.

The St Osyth Social Club in Church Square is home to three league darts teams: St Osyth Social, The Priorymen and SOSC Ladies.

Notable people[edit]

In order of birth:

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Ward/Civil Parish population 2011". Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  2. ^ Hanks, Patrick; Hodges, Flavia; Mills, David; Room, Adrian (2002). The Oxford Names Companion. Oxford: the University Press. p. 1179. ISBN 0198605617.
  3. ^ British Library details. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  4. ^ Rowlands, Alison. "BONES OF CONTENTION". Centre for Local and Regional History. University of Essex. Retrieved 6 May 2009.
  5. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: Saint Osyth
  6. ^ National Archives: Brightlingsea Naval Base Records, 1914–18, 2nd World War Admiralty Green Lists and ADM 199 series files; veterans' interviews and correspondence with RNVR Lts Usher, Ruegg, Nixon etc. collected by J P Foynes, author of Battle of the East Coast 1939–1945 and Under the White Ensign.
  7. ^ "Earls Hall Farm windfarm (United-Kingdom)". The Wind Power. October 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  8. ^ Dwan, James (4 January 2007). "St Osyth: Village is driest place in the UK". Colchester: Daily Gazette. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
  9. ^ Parish Council website Archived 14 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ a b Historic England. "St Osyth's Priory, Gatehouse and east and west flanking ranges (Grade I) (1111495)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  11. ^ Henry Thorold, The Ruined Abbeys of England, Wales and Scotland, Collins, 1993
  12. ^ Historic England. "St Osyth's Priory the Darcy Tower also known as Abbot's Tower and vaulting to west (Grade I) (1146545)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  13. ^ Historic England. "St Osyth's Priory the Chapel of St Osyth and ruins attached to north (Grade I) (1166377)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  14. ^ Historic England. "St Osyth's Priory: The Abbot's Lodging and South Wing, the Darcy Clock Tower and C18 House (formerly listed as the Convalescent Home) (Grade I) (1337158)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  15. ^ Historic England. "St Osyth's Priory ruined east ranges of the Darcy House including the Tower and Chapel (Grade I) (1337159)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  16. ^ Essex Farming – 1900–2000 by Peter Wormell, published by Abberton Books
  17. ^ Joyce, Terry (2008). "TM1216: Deer Park, St Osyth". Geograph Britain and Ireland. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  18. ^ Historic England. "Church of St Peter and St Paul (Grade I) (1111513)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  19. ^ Historic England. "Martello Tower (Grade II) (1309070)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  20. ^ Rutherford, Tristan (15 June 2015). "Britain's best nudist or naturist beaches". Retrieved 16 August 2015.
  21. ^ "St Osyth Naturist Beach". Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  22. ^ Dwan, James (9 May 2007). "St Osyth: Which witch is which?". Echo. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  23. ^ Waugh, Michael Anthony (23 September 2004). "Golding, Benjamin (1793–1863), physician". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/10909. Retrieved 16 February 2019.

External links[edit]