One of the Oldest Churches in the area
In 893 AD on the lands around Benfleet creek, Viking warriors from 200 ships made the area their settlement.
An English army led by Edward the son of King Alfred, came to Benfleet to do battle with the invaders, and drove them back into the sea.
During the battle it is believed that the chapel which existed then, was destroyed, and tradition has it that the foundation stones of the existing St Mary’s church were laid in 894 AD.
The story of the expedition from London to defeat the Danes is given in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
The Battle of Benfleet 893AD – something like this!
The Danes had made a fortified camp at Benfleet and many ships had been moored in the Creek and in Hadleigh Ray. By the time of the Battle many of these had been sailed away and there were only about 80 left.
The Saxon army came from London, lead by Alfred’s son Edward and his daughter Ethelflaed’s husband Ethelred. There had been other battles to fight and the Saxon forces had been split so that many of the men who came to Benfleet were merchant’s sons and noblemen from London.
The distance from London was about thirty miles, but the country was difficult to get across because of thick forest and marshland. The force was possibly split into two to make it easier to keep under cover. They could not use an open road because they needed to make the attack a surprise.
The leader of the Danes, Haesten, took his men out plundering in the surrounding areas to get supplies. He left behind in the fort enough men to guard his wife and sons and other women and children. So when the Saxon army arrived they had not many men to fight. The Danes were going about their daily tasks when they were attacked.
Before the people in the fort knew what was happening the Saxon army had stormed the fort. The ships were burnt. Men were killed in the fighting. Some ran away. Some were captured along with the women and children. Among these were Haesten’s family.
Alfred was a merciful king and he returned Haestan’s wife and sons to him because he and Ethelred were godfathers to the boys. Haesten swore that he would not cause any more trouble.
The Danes who survived fled to Shoebury and there built another camp.
A year later the Saxons built a wooden church on the site of the Battle. We don’t really know exactly how the Battle took place because there is not much written about it, and nothing left to see. We know that not many were involved but it did mark a turning point in the war between the Saxons and the Danes.
Alfred is the only King we have ever called ‘Great’. It was he who had a vision of a united England and he fought hard to keep the Danes from taking over all the Saxon land.
There are several historical booklets which can be purchased from the Church. Including:
- Exploring St. Mary’s
- Welcome to St. Mary’s
- The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, South Benfleet
If you are researching family history and trying to trace names of ancestors who may be buried in our churchyard there is a list of names here.
If you have any old photos of the church that you would not mind sharing we’d love to have them!
These photos were sent to us by Nick and Mia Knowland. They are of her grandmother’s wedding (Pontin – Goble) which took place in 1944.
This photo is of Doris Harber, then Burnside, when she was a member of the choir. It was taken in about 1938 when she was 11. She is sitting on steps at the back of the bungalow where she lived in Hall Farm Road (it was then called Havenford).
If you want to know more about the history of Benfleet then the Benfleet Community Archive can be found at www.benfleethistory.org.uk