Saturday, 5 March 2011


The Kent Village Book
Countryside Books, 1986

Red guide to Kent
Waymark Publications, 1989

Kent Country Churches (Trilogy)
Meresborough Books, 1986, 1987, 1989

The Buildings of England: North Kent and The Weald, and Northeast and East Kent
Penguin Books, 1969

The Ingoldsby Legends
J.M. Dent & sons, 1960

Kent Churches
Kent Messenger, 1972

Kent Churches
Alan Sutton Publishing, 1995

Kent's Historic Buildings
Robert Hale Ltd., 1977

Church Poems
John Murray, 1980

Parish Churches of Engalnd and Wales
Collins, 1980

The Companion Guide to Kent and Sussex
Collins, 1973


AUMBRY - A receptacle in the wall, square or rectangular, and used to store the holy oils used in baptism  or confirmation.  They originally had doors and many medieval hinges still survive.

APSE - Semi-circular or polygonal end of a chancel or a chapel.

BUTTRESS - Brickwork built against a wall to add strength to a structure.

CHANCEL - The part of the east end of a church in which the altar is placed.

CLERESTORY - The upper section of the nave walls pierced by windows.

CROSSING - The space at the intersection of nave chancel and transepts found in cruciform churches (built in the shape of the cross).

EASTER SEPULCHRE - Special type of tomb chest, with flat top, and situated to the north of the high alter.  During the Middle Ages, the consecrated host was placed on it on Maundy Thursday, which was a focus of devotion until its unveiling on Easter morning.

FONT - Used in the Baptism ceremony.  Many have a lockable cover, or, on many others, the holes or rusty hinges indicate where the cover used to be.

HAGIOSCOPE - Internal 'window' cut through walls to allow priests at side altars to see the main altar.  Mass was often said at several altars at the same time.

HANGING MONUMENT - These originate from the Elizabethan period, and are similar to the standing type, but hang on the wall without touching the floor.

HEART SHRINE - Medieval in origin.  As the name suggests, built to contain the heart of the deceased.  Two examples can be found in Kent - one at Leybourne and the other at Brabourne.

JAMB - Straight side of an archway, doorway or window.

LANCET WINDOW - Slim pointed-arched window.

LEDGER STONE - Large stone slabs found in the floor, which have dedications to the deceased, but do not necessarily cover the grave.  Many were lost during the 19th century restorations when the floors were generally re-laid.

LYCHGATE - Wooden structure, with a roof and open sides, at the entrance to the churchyard to provide space for the reception of a coffin.  The word lych is Saxon for corpse.

MASS DIAL (or Scratchdial) - Used to determine the times of Mass.  Usually found on the south wall beside the door, they were small sundials with a hole in the centre where the gnomon was inserted to cast the shadow from the sun.

MONUMENTAL BRASS - Generally found set into the floor - but sometimes on walls - with name and date to commemorate the deceased.  Not actually made of brass, but an alloy known as latten.  Kent can boast more of these than any other county.

MISERICORD - Hinged bracket on underside of choir-stall seat which offered the occupant some support during long period of standing.

MURALS - Pictures painted on walls.  The interior walls of most churches were decorated during the Middle Ages, but during the 17th century were often whitewashed over (to avoid offending the Puritans) and forgotten.  Subsequently, when churches were restored in the 19th century, most were lost for good when the plaster was replaced.  There are however a few surviving examples.

PISCINA - A receptacle to hold water for the priest to wash his fingers before Mass.  Always found next to every medieval altar.

QUOINS - Dressed stones at the angle of a building.

REREDOS - Structure behind and above the altar.

ROOD - Crucifix usually placed on the screen which divided the chancel and nave, or on a beam above.  Most statues and screens were demolished during the Reformation, but there are a few survivors.

ROYAL ARMS - Since the Reformation, Royal Arms were placed in churches to signal the monarch's position as head of the Church.  There are not many survivors as most were ordered to be taken down during Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth period (1649-1660).

SEDILIA - Seats for the priests (usually three) on the south side of the chancel.

STANDING MONUMENT - An alternative to the tomb chest, with a carved effigy beneath an ornamental canopy that is usually let into a wall.

TEXT BOARDS - Painted oval or rectangular boards carrying biblical text and scriptures.  Originating during the 18th and 19th centuries and - so far as Kent is concerned - found mostly in the Romney Marsh churches.

TOMB CHEST - Solid rectangular block of stone - some with plain polished top, or with effigy of the deceased.  Usually with some decoration with differing degrees of elaboration.

TRACERY - Intersecting ribwork in the upper part of a window.

TRANSEPT - Transverse portion of a cross-shaped (cruciform) church.

TYMPANUM - Space between the lintel of a doorway and the arch above it.

VOUSSOIR - Wedge-shaped stone in an arch or arch-shaped window.

WATER STOUP - Made to contain holy water that had been blessed by the priest, and with which the congregation would cross themselves on entering or leaving the church.  Usually found near the main door.

WHEEL WINDOW - Rose-shaped window, with patterned tracery, arranged to radiate from the centre.


     Well, here I am, amazingly, at journey's end in this tentative venture into the realms of authorship.  Having never considered that I would ever embark on such an endeavour, the novelty and complete wonderment of filling a blank page with the results of collective research has, for me, only been exceeded by the liberating experience of being able to air in print one's own personal thoughts and feelings.

     I acknowledge the debt that I owe to the learned John Newman, whose towering work on the Kent sections of 'The Buildings of England' has proved invaluable; to the late Sir John Betjeman whose knowledge, enthusiasm and inimitable brand of humour has made the study of this fascinating subject hugely entertaining and informative; and to the authors of all the meritable volumes listed in the Bibliography who, between them, filled in the considerable gaps in my knowledge and understanding.  Through them my personal comprehension has grown, if not to expert proportions, to vastly more than I possessed at the start of this venture.  Thanks are also due in no small measure to my wife, Carol, for indulging my whim to attempt the written word, and for her good humour during my frequent moments of frustration when I struggled to find the right words, and to all the members of my extended family for displaying such fortitude in reading each part as it progressed and giving me their constructive criticism and constant encouragement to continue - for this I give them all my love and lasting gratitude.

     Finally to the churches themselves, my affection for which has grown to immeasurable proportions.  These noble old buildings have moved me sufficiently to take up the pen; inspired me, during the writing of this book, to try my hand at watercolour painting with results, though modest, far beyond that which I would have considered myself capable; have given my wife and I many memorable days in the Kent countryside and, through their study, helped me - to a much larger degree - believe in what they stand for.  For these reasons alone I love them dearly as one loves old friends.  One thing has become crystal clear during my travels through the various villages - that Kent's remarkable medieval churches are not simply the decaying remains of a bygone age, but a living, breathing testimony to the faith of the great men of history who built them, to the skills of the old stonemasons who fashioned them, and to the affection of all those who lovingly care for them and worship in them today.  In conclusion, perhaps I will leave the last word to the Reverend Harry Williams, one-time Dean of Trinity College, Cambridge, who said:  "Churches are banks of affection, and it is affection that keeps them standing."  Here's to the next volume!


GODMERSHAM, St. Lawrence the Martyr

     This simple flint building is perhaps one of the most attractively situated churches to be found anywhere in Kent, sitting above the River Stour, framed by trees, with its churchyard - often occupied by sheep - running down to the river bank.  When driving past I always find it something of a struggle to take my eyes off it and concentrate on the road.  It is not by chance, therefore, that I have chosen St. Lawrence to bring this personal 'literary milestone' to a close as, for me, its uniqueness and setting represents all that I find so charismatic in the country churches of this beautiful county.

     The nave and western half of the chancel is Saxon in origin, but no architectural details survive from this period today.  Early in the 12th century a north tower was added to the north of the nave, and here we have the feature that is of such antiquarian interest, for here alone, is a Norman tower with an east apsidal chapel.  Originally it opened by way of a wide arch to the nave, but there was also a north doorway to make it independent of the church.  Apparently, tower-naves were a Saxon speciality, possibly the tower-chapel is a later version of this arrangement.  Of the same period is the remarkable stone carving of an archbishop, possibly Archbishop Theobold (d.1162) or Becket (d.1170).  John Betjeman favours the latter.  Now displayed in the chancel it was, until 1935, attached to the now demolished 14th century Court Lodge.  The church was nicely restored during the 1860's with the inclusion of a rather fine rood screen, the Devonshire marble font, and the east window.  Fine Minton tiles were laid in the sanctuary, and their medieval predecessors carefully removed and preserved by placement on the window-sill.  It occurs to me that I am ending, as I began, with a church that is connected to the great Jane Austen, for memorialised in the church is her brother, Edward Knight (d.1852), a former vicar of Godmersham and owner of Godmersham Park (he changed his name to Knight when he inherited the property from Thomas Knight in 1794).

     Jane was a frequent visitor to the mansion, which is situated behind the church on the slope of the Downs.  It was here, amid this absorbing scenery, that she studied many of the characters who would later appear in her writings.  In fact, the mansion was the setting for 'Rosings Park' and Godmersham vicarage the model for the parsonage in 'Pride and Prejudice' - much of which was written here and which, as I write, has just undergone a highly acclaimed television dramatisation.  It is no wonder to me that she found the inspiration here to create what was probably her most famous work, indeed, Richard Church ('The Little Kingdom') aptly described this stretch of countryside as "...still magical with a quality and character wholly English.."  On reflection, he might have been describing Jane Austen and her wonderfully witty novels.

Friday, 4 March 2011


     Reculver is approached through what Pevsner described as "the vulgarest caravan site in the county."  I don't know whether it is or not, but it seems a pity that it had to be located - along with its attendant amusements - so close to a site that is such a remarkable example of this country's historical heritage. 

   It was here that the Roman fort of Regulbium stood to defend the northern entrance to the Wantsum channel.  The remains of the walls - part of the southern perimeter - are still here, (most of the northern section having been lost to the sea by erosion), and I find it awe-inspiring to think that these stones have stood for close on sixteen-hundred years.  Next to come was King Ethelbert's palace, built here after leaving Canterbury having been influenced to accept Augustine by his Christian consort, Bertha, in 597 AD.  Sadly, no trace remains of it today.  In 669 AD, King Egbert's priest, Bassa, built a Saxon minster on land within the fort, which amazingly survived virtually intact until 1809, when it was disgracefully pulled down by the vicar of the parish, having been persuaded that it was "nothing but a poppet show" by his mother.  What little is left can still be seen at ground level.

     The substantial remains that can be seen today are the medieval additions effected during the 12th and 13th centuries.  The western facade of the twin towers - often referred to as the 'Two Sisters' - were once topped with two spires of nearly equal proportions, virtually doubling the height, and must have been an impressive sight in its day.  Legend has it that they were erected by the Abbess of Davington in honour of her dead sister, and in thanksgiving for her own life having been spared from drowning.  The Abbess had been very ill and had vowed that, should she recover, she would make a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Blessed Virgin at Bradstow to make an offering.  She embarked by ship, with her sister Isobel, but ran into a storm which drove them onto a sandbank near Reculver.  They were all rescued but her sister, who had suffered badly from the cold and exhaustion, died the following day.  The Abbess had the towers built to immortalise her sisters' memory.  The spires were eventually removed as they had become unsafe, but the square-topped towers were spared as a sea-mark for shipping in the estuary.

     Given the significant historical importance of Reculver, and the spectacle of the lonely towers standing on their isolated and windswept promontory, I consider it little wonder that I find myself returning again and again to try to capture the scene in all photographic conditions.  It is in the hope of imparting the spirit of this unique place that I have not confined myself to illustrating it with the usually seen aspect from the west, but have used the imposing view from the beach.  To this end, it is to be hoped that I have succeeded.



TENTERDEN, St. Mildred

     My family and I have often visited this lively town deep in the Kentish Weald, and never fail to appreciate its quality.  H.E. Bates (of 'Darling Buds of May' fame) described it perfectly in 'The Country Heart' when he wrote:  "Of Tenterden it is enough to say that it could sit with grace in the front row of any prize-winning selection of English country towns.  That charming High Street of black-and-white and tile-hung houses of warm terra-cotta, widening to a sort of tree-lined boulevard at one end, is hardly surpassed in England."

     At one end of the High Street is the William Caxton pub, bearing testimony to the claim that the pioneer of printing was born here - a claim which historians give little credence to these days.  Off the High Street, at the bottom of Station Road, is the railway station, which once linked up with the main line to Headcorn.  In earlier days it was a great hop-pickers line, but it closed in the 1950's.  Now restored and called the Kent and East Sussex Railway, it has become a major attraction for enthusiasts and the 'uninitiated' alike, running trips to Northiam just across the East Sussex border.

     In Saxon times, Tenterden belonged to Minster-in-Thanet, which almost certainly explains the rare dedication of this church to St. Mildred.  Hemmed in by dwellings around the churchyard, the embattled south front dates from the 13th century, and the north aisle was a 14th century addition.  The Bethersden marble tower, added later in the 15th century and considered by John Betjeman as being "the best parochial tower in Kent," dominates the end of the town, and is clear evidence of Tenterden's past prosperity as a wool town and port.  With its four miniature turrets it makes a fine contrast to the ironstone and sandstone used for the rest of the building, and proved its value during the 16th century when flames from the beacon on top warned of the approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588.  St. Mildred's is clearly a building of some singularity, for the nave ceiling is considered to be a rare example of 15th century workmanship, and two blocked 13th century windows, unusually situated above the chancel arch, are uncommon in a Kent church.

     Although there are no historically important monuments to be found here, there is one link which endears it to me immensely.  Those who know me well, are aware of the great esteem in which I hold Horatio Nelson - the most enduring of all my boyhood heroes (the subsequent knowledge that he was a somewhat flawed hero has done nothing to diminish this one jot).  It was, therefore, with much delight that I learned that a former vicar's wife was none other than Horatia Ward, the beloved daughter of the great man and Lady Hamilton, and the church pamphlet carries a reproduction of an embroidered picture of the church done by her own fair hands.  It is, for me, little touches like this that makes the study of this subject so fascinating and worthwhile, and it is so typical that they are often stumbled upon in the most unexpected places.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

St. Nicholas, Milton-juxta-Canterbury

     "Without a church I think a place lacks its heart and identity," observed John Betjeman.  Here we find a church without a "place", with no village or hamlet appreciably close-by.  Flanked on one side by a farm, and on the other by a gravel quarry with only sheep to keep it company, this dear little church appeals to my predilection for isolated settings, standing all alone like a symbolic "Rock of Ages" against the irrepressible tide of the 20th century.  Not having - so far as I am aware - any notable architectural merits or historical associations, St. Nicholas never rates a mention in most celebrated publications, and only qualifies for five lines in Newman's "Buildings of England."  However, exercising my usual propensity for backing the underdog I include it here, as I feel that it probably serves better than most to illustrate the sheer diversity of Kent's medieval country churches and, not least, because I like it.

     This simple little flint church with limestone dressings has been described as one of the smallest in England, consisting only of a nave and lower chancel, west bell-gable and, in all, totalling only 45 feet in length.  It is medieval in origin (traces of a medieval village having been found in the fields to the north), but was completely rebuilt in 1829 by a local benefactor, John Bell, as a memorial to his daughter and a mausoleum for his family.  It is, perhaps, interesting to note that Syms has this building dedicated to St. John in his "Kent Country Churches."  While I wouldn't expect him to lose any sleep over any thoughts I may have on the matter, I am sure he would understand my opting for Newman's version.  As Syms himself said, "I now regard John Newman as infallible and all-encompassing in the field of Kent."

     My son-in-law and I came here to photograph this bantam of a building on a stiflingly hot summer's day.  Having to leave the car on the road to the east of the church, we humped our equipment - by virtue of rights of way - across privately owned land and, not finding an official entrance, had to finally climb a fence to gain access to the paddock in which it is situated.  It seemed as if we were on private ground but nobody troubled us while we were there.

     I used a golden filter to add a warm glow to the colours, and a graduated light-violet to enhance the clear blue sky.  From a compositional standpoint I would have liked the sheep on the far right of the picture to have been a little nearer the bottom of the frame, but sheep rarely, if ever, do what you want them to.  I relished our 'safari' here, and although this little church is of modest proportions compared to the majority of its contemporaries, for me it is perfect proof that, sometimes, "less is more."