The Legend of St Osyth
The first nunnery was founded for Osyth, daughter of Redwald, the first Christian King of East Anglia and of Wilburga, his wife, daughter of Penda, King of the Mercians.
She was, when very young, entrusted to the care of St. Modwen, at Pollesworth, in Warwickshire. While there she was sent with a book from St. Edith, Alfred's sister, to Modwen, fell off a bridge into a river, and was said to be drowned. Happily she was restored to life by the prayers of St. Modwen.
Osyth's parents, as soon as she returned to them, betrothed her to Sighere, King of Essex; on her wedding day a white hart appeared, which Sighere and the rest of the male party went in chase of, allowing Osyth to escape. This white stag appears on the stained glass windows in the Chapel and the hart is also seen on other parts of the buildings too.
When Sighere eventually found Osyth she explained that she had vowed herself to Christ, and could not be his wife. Sighere was generous and religious; he accepted her decision, and let her take religious vows. Then he gave her his village of Chich, which became Chich St Osyth, and built a nunnery for her in Nun’s Wood, of which she became the Abbess.
The house was of the order of the Maturines. But in October, 653, a band of Danes under Inguar and Hubba landed in the neighbourhood of Chich, and ravaged the country. They came to Osyth's nunnery, and, bringing forth the young abbess into the Nun's Wood, commanded her to worship their gods; she steadfastly refused; they threatened her with scourging and worse torments, but she continued faithful to her own creed: "she would worship only Christ." Then, infuriated, Hubba bade her lay down her head to be cut off. She meekly obeyed. Her head was severed from her body close by the spring, that is called by her name, and which still flows to feed the historic lakes.
Her executioners were astonished when she picked up her head and, holding it at arm’s length, walked to the village church, where she knocked several times on the door before slumping to the ground. Legend holds that every October 7th her ghost repeats the miraculous feat, and can be seen in the churchyard at midnight, holding her severed head.
1712 - Earl of Rochford
In 1712 the estate passed to Frederic Zuleistein de Nassau, the 3rd Earl of Rochford, who is regarded as the creator of the fine house that existed at St Osyth in the 18th century. Rochford concentrated his building work on the west wing of the Darcy House and added westward onto the old Bishop’s Lodging creating a series of entertaining rooms which continued round to meet the west range of buildings to form a partial quadrangle. There was an oval carriage sweep and lawn to the north of a deep block and wilderness gardens to the west of this on the site of the old monks’ cemetery.
The extent of the 18th century work is considerable and included alterations to the Gatehouse where the second floor drawing room retains its cornices of this period and to the west range of the Gatehouse which also retains many 18th century features. The garden and park owe much of their current form to the Rochford period, the 4th Earl being a keen plantsman and au fait with all the current trends. The northern access and lodges, the ha-ha, pleasure grounds and the introduction of the Lombardy poplar into England [c. 1768] all date to the Rochford period. Frederick Nassau, illegitimate son of the 4th Earl, was responsible for modernising the estate around 1800. It was maintained in this form until the death of his son William in 1857.