Allow me to present to you the wonderfully mysterious Mistley Towers. They can be found in the village of Mistley in Essex, where they stand, overlooking the River Stour, just inside the entrance to a small cemetery, seemingly for no reason whatsoever. Built in the neoclassical style, they look more like tall, slender pavilions, decorated with ionic columns and cornices, each topped by a cupola.
The towers are part of a series of unusual places I am compiling with the thought of putting them into a book, provisionally titled Unexpected Essex.
The towers date back to the 1770s when civil servant and politician Richard Rigby of Mistley Hall was Chief Secretary of Ireland and Paymaster General of the Forces. Mistley at this time was a trading port, but Rigby decided to take the area more upmarket, calling in architect Robert Adam to help turn the area into a fashionable spa. It didn’t happen, but Adam’s services were retained to build a new parish church. Rigby’s brief was for it to be grand and easily seen from the windows of his mansion.
When it was built, it was all of that, looking more like a small cathedral than a parish church. In the 18th century, most churches followed the traditional design of a rectangular building with a tower on the western end. But Adam’s ideas were far from traditional. Out went convention and in came an unconventional design featuring towers at both eastern and western ends of the building. The actual church that lay between the towers was small by comparison, single storey with a pitched roof and ornamental entrance porches on the north and south sides. You can see how it looked on a sign at the entrance to the cemetery.
The Parish Church of Mistley stood for nearly 100 years, but in 1870, it was replaced with a more fashionable Gothic Revival church built nearby. The main body of the old church was demolished, but the towers were allowed to remain intact. Two local families bought them with the intention of using them as mausoleums. It never happened. The towers fell onto disrepair but were restored to their former glory in the 1950s. Which is the way you can see them today, standing alone, dwarfing the graves that surround them.