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."

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

St. John the Baptist, Barham

     Barham nestles among the Downs in the beautiful Nailbourne Valley, and the first view one gets when approaching from across the A2 Dover road is of the slender copper spire of St. Johns towering attractively above the trees on the wooded slope which runs down to the village. 

     Barham Downs has been the backdrop to many notable events which go to make up the rich tapestry of this country's history.  The Romans camped here on their way inland after landing at Richborough in Thanet; William the Conqueror met the Men of Kent here to receive their oaths of loyalty, and to take delivery of hostages as insurance; Royalist troops massed here during the Civil War before their attack on Dover Castle, and the British army camped here during the Napoleonic Wars prior to embarkation on their way to the Continent.

   The church, dating mostly from the 13th and 14th centuries, has a hint of Norman in the tower, so has played silent witness to many of the great events mentioned here.  It is cruciform with nave; chancel; north and south transepts and south aisle.  The tower, situated at the west end of the building, has been elongated to the north and south making shallow chambers.  Though not remarkable, St. John certainly graces its surroundings and, when viewed from the south, I find its long sleek outline hugely pleasing.  The only sour note for me is the removal of many of the gravestones to the perimeter of the churchyard.  It may make the upkeep of the churchyard more manageable but, in so doing, I feel that it destroys its character.

     Inside there is an elaborate memorial to Sir Basil Dixwell (d.1750), which received extremely short change from John Newman, brasses to Roger Digges (d.1375), and John Digges and Wife (c.1460).  On the war memorial can be seen the celebrated name of Kitchener who owned nearby Broome Park.  Broome Park consisted of the 17th century mansion and 500 acres when Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener of Khartoum purchased it in 1911.  He planned to spend his retirement years here but it was never to be.  He made many alterations and filled the interior with treasures he had collected during his long career in the army.  He was known as an avid collector, and one whose methods were not over-scrupulous.  If he fancied something, he would say so, and was often presented with it by the owner who felt almost compromised into handing it to the great man.  Kitchener spent his last hours in England in the garden at Broome Park, before leaving on the 3rd June 1916 for Scapa Flow.  He embarked there on the cruiser "Hampshire" bound for Russia, but perished when the ship struck a mine and sank.

     As can be seen, Barham certainly enjoys its fair share of colourful connections, as do many other villages in this charismatic county that can boast an historical heritage second to none.  As a lover of history it makes me proud to call it home.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

St. Nicholas, St. Nicholas-at-Wade

     "Large and impressive."  "One of the most rewarding churches in the north-east corner of the county."  These are just two of the epithets used to describe St. Nicholas whose tall 14th century tower dominates the village and surrounding farmland.  Today's church - dating in part from the 12th century, but largely 13th/14th century - gave its name to the village, and originated as a Saxon chapel of ease subordinate to the Parish of Reculver.  St. Nicholas, however, became a separate parish on the appointment of Adam de Brancestre as vicar in 1294 during the reign of Edward III.

     Built of flint and ragstone, it consists of a clerestoried nave; chancel; north and south chapels; two-storeyed porch and a broad west tower with a south-west stair-turret.  Battlemented virtually all the way round, the use of other local stones in the fabric gives the building a distinctively attractive aspect.  The interior is no less compelling, and offers much to preoccupy the aficianado.  Some of the carvings on the arcade pillars are said to be "superb Kentish examples of the medieval Green Man"; the beautiful east window in the chancel depicts Christ on the cross, flanked by St. Nicholas and St. Augustine; and the Jacobean pulpit, dating from 1615, is the earliest dated example in the county.

     There are many interesting ledger stones in the nave and tower floor, the oldest of which is dated 1582, and one, to a William Henaker (d.1609), has an inscription that is memorable in its understatement:  '(he) lived to the age of 39 yeares or thereabouts and then died and was buried.'  Another reads thus:  'Here lieth the body of Edward Hannis who departed this life 23 April 1750 aged 55 years.  And also 9 of his children.'  Does this mean he had more!

     The south chapel - dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket - is used as a vestry, but up until 1833 was the parish schoolroom and still has the fireplace intact.  Next to the main door a very rickety ladder (which I climbed at the risk of life and limb) leads to a room above the porch.  This is used as a storeroom but, back in the 18th century, was rented as a workshop by the local plumber.

     The north chapel contains several memorials to members of the Bridges family, one of which is to a former Poet Laureate - Robert Bridges (1844-1930).  I suppose, from time to time, we are all reminded by certain events of our own mortality, but perhaps the verse found on a tomb chest to two young members of the family is as stark a reminder as any:  'Stay reader, stand and lend a tear.  Unto the dust that slumbers here;  And when you read the state of me.  Think on the glass that runs for thee.'  Enough said!

Monday, 15 November 2010

St. Anthony the Martyr, Alkham

     I eventually arrived here - after a pleasant drive through the scenic Alkham valley on a beautiful summers day - having completely missed the church the first time.  Finally locating it, sitting above the village backed by tall trees behind the local hostelry, my immediate problem was where to park the car.  I couldn't leave it on the main road because of the double yellow lines, and the lane leading up to the church was too narrow to park without causing an obstruction, so I elected to cheekily leave it in the pub car park and hope that the landlord wouldn't complain.

     On entering the churchyard through the lychgate, I was glad to see that it was spacious - with no unsightly telegraph wires - and that it allowed me to virtually pick any spot from which to take my shots.  I was confronted by a building which Newman describes as being of "considerable interest and beauty" and I wouldn't argue with that.  It seems that there has been a church here at least since the Conquest (possibly earlier), but the present flint structure is largely Early English dating from the 13th century, with a west tower; chancel and, unusually, a narrow south aisle with clerestory windows.  The 14th century saw the addition of a singularly grand north chapel and chancel, the sum of which we see before us today.  It once belonged to the abbey of St. Radigund, but has certainly fared much better than that ivy-clad ruin situated high on the isolated chalk plateau behind Dover.

     The first recorded rector was Herbert de Averenches, son of Simon, the Lord of the Barony of Folkestone.  His short incumbency lasted between 1199 and 1203, and would certainly have been in the original Norman church, the only traces of which are to be found embedded in the walls of the present building.  He lies buried in an engraved stone coffin in the floor of the north chapel and the inscription, claimed to be the earliest to be found anywhere in a Kent church, reads thus:  'Here lieth Herbert, offspring of Simon.  A man open-hearted, assured by hope of good things, fluent in words of faith.'

     To complete the very pleasant picture here, set above the church among clumps of beech trees sits the Old Rectory, a handsome early 18th century house in different shades of red brick with an adjoining entrance gate into the churchyard - no doubt the abode of the rectors past and present.  In order to cut down the glare on the church walls, and to maximise the effect of the blue sky, I decided to shoot with a polariser and warm-up filter.  I was reasonably pleased with the result, although one is never entirely happy and always feels that one could do better.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

St. Mary, Chartham

     Situated south-west of Canterbury, at the foot of the North Downs on the River Stour, Chartham promises much as one approaches it down the hill from the A28, and sees the red-tiled roofs surrounding the church.  Sadly, the village doesn't live up to this early promise but, happily, the same cannot be said of this fine cruciform building that stands heroically against the press of the adjacent paper factory.  This impressive building is known to have been in the course of erection in 1294, for it is recorded that in that year Edward III remitted part of a fine to the vicar 'towards the works of a church begun by him.'

     Built of knapped flint, it has the usual arrangement of aisleless nave, chancel and north and south transepts, but with a Perpendicular-style (1350-1500) tower situated at the west end of the building and not, as is more usual, over the crossing.  With diagonal buttresses and square north turret, the tower was probably built after 1490 - when money was left for repairing the original - and houses what are claimed to be the oldest set of five bells in Kent.  According to John Newman, the stained glass in the chancel was greatly renewed in 1881, but enough remains from 1294 "to guarantee the authenticity of the whole."

     The magnet that draws most interest is its fine life-size brass to Sir Robert de Septvans, a crusader who fought with Edward I.  This celebrated brass, 6 feet 3 inches in length - the oldest in Kent and fourth oldest in England - portrays the knight with his hands clasped in prayer; cross-legged, bareheaded with finely curled side locks and wearing a surcoat over his mail armour.  He wears a massive sword and carries a shield dotted with his emblem, a winnowing fan.  He also wears ailettes - a type of early 14th century epaulet - which is a rare feature on monumental effigies.  Situated in the north transept, it originally lay in the centre of the chancel, and was probably moved during the Victorian restoration of the sanctuary in 1873-5.  Unfortunately, the key-holder was not at home when I photographed the church, so I have yet to see this brass with my own eyes - hopefully I shall do so eventually.

     Moving back to the paper factory, although the present mill was opened in 1949, papermaking has been a major industry in the village for more than six-hundred years and, the owner of an earlier mill is credited with introducing straw into papermaking technology for the first time.  In 1939, the Chartham mill was a very important site producing all the tracing paper Britain needed for use, among other things, in the design of tanks, planes and other weapons to assist the war effort.  The village therefore can justly claim to have played its part in the defence of this sceptered isle.  All-in-all, one feels that Chartham's old warrior would have approved.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

St. James the Great, Elmsted

     This is precisely the sort of church that I like so much, in fact it is one of my personal favourites, standing alone with no village to hem it in - only a farm on the opposite side of the lane - on top of the breezy Downs.

     St. James is of Norman origin with nave, chancel, gabled aisles, and north and south chapels resulting in the typically Kentish three equal gables at the east end.  The most striking feature of this attractive church, and the one that does the most to distinguish it from the realms of the ordinary, is the Early English (1200-1300) flint tower with an overlapping wooden belfry and shingled spire.  The whole thing looks slightly top-heavy and probably explains the unusually large Elizabethan buttress which helps support it.  Masons marks can be still be seen quite clearly on the north and south doorways, of which, according to the church pamphlet, the oblique strokes are Norman and the neater claw marks are medieval - just the kind of feature that serves so well to remind us of the timeless nature of these fantastic old buildings.

East window in the Honeywood Chapel
      The interior, which has an unmistakable air of antiquity, has several fascinating features - enough to interest the most casual 'church crawler.'  There is a Norman font of local marble but, unusually, of an octagonal shape; the 15th century arcade pillars which stand on their original Norman bases; carved corbel heads with one poking its tongue out (what is the significance of this?) and, at the west end of the north aisle, an original vestry doorway which Newman tells us is "a very rare late medieval survival."  The vast majority of the monuments are to the Honeywood family, and eponymously, the south chapel is named after them.  An interesting feature of this, which I made a point of photographing, is the east window.  It commemorates Arthur Honeywood who died in the Afghan wars in a battle that only a dog survived.  Apparently, the dog was decorated by Queen Victoria (taking the old adage of the British being a nation of dog-lovers a bit too far, I think!)  The chapel also has an altar stone which was recovered from the churchyard, and a ledger stone to another Honeywood described as 'Controller of Ye Revenue of Tenthes and First Fruits' (the medieval version of the tax man?)

     There was so much room to shoot, from in and out of the churchyard, that I was able to take my time and select my spot carefully, finally settling on the shot used here.  This is an uncommonly handsome church of which its parishioners have every right to be proud.  At the time of writing I have visited it three times, shooting in both colour and monochrome and, doubtless, I shall return again.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

St. Mary the Virgin, Eastry

     St. Mary's is a grand-looking church befitting the former importance of its village, for Eastry was once the Royal capital of the Saxon Kingdom of Kent.  It is generally accepted that Eastry Court, which stands next to the church, was built on the site of the Royal Hall of Kentish Kings.  It was here that the murder of King Egbert's nephews took place - the tale of which (as the more unflagging readers among you may recall) was recounted earlier in the narrative on Minster-in-Thanet.

     Built of flint and Caen stone, the church dates from the 12th century and consists of a mostly Early English chancel (1200-1300) and clerestoried nave with north and south aisles, and is finished off with a solid west tower complete with a north-east stair turret; low lean-to annexes north and south; Norman doorway; and Norman windows in the north and south faces. 

     My wife and I were fortunate enough to be visiting the village one day, with some friends who were searching the churchyard for signs of a relative who had lived in the village years before.  While so engaged, we were approached by a very friendly gentleman who happened to be one of the church wardens.  He very kindly obtained the key and then treated us to a highly entertaining guided tour.  He told us that Becket hid in the tunnel, which links the church with Eastry Court, when fleeing the wrath of Henry II from Sandwich in 1164, and showed us the spot where he entered the tunnel.  He pointed out the circular arcade pillars and asked us if we could spot the oddity.  This was one octagonal pillar, a late 13th century substitute, with carvings said to represent a perpetual calendar from which feast days were calculated.  Above the chancel arch are some faded medieval wall-paintings.  These are in medallion form, in four tiers of seven roundels, and were discovered beneath a coat of plaster.  The walls are bedecked with hanging memorials, one of which is to a Captain John Harvey RN, a native of Eastry, who died of his wounds at the battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794 when the British defeated the French fleet off Brest.  It features a circular relief of the battle, over which floats an angel holding scales and a victors palm.  Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton are known to have visited Eastry during their visits to Heronden House - possibly visiting our aforementioned Captain?

     Syms remarked how vividly the old village churches brought alive the history of this country and how, for him, this was part of their appeal.  I totally agree, but would go further and say that, allied to this, is the pleasure of meeting so many pleasant people who often stop and chat when they spot me in the churchyard.  Just like our churchwarden friend, whose name now sadly escapes me, and who made our visit so memorable.  They are a credit to their respective villages, and do great honour to the churches in which they display such obvious affection.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

St. Giles, Kingston

     I made my way here having just photographed Lyminge church and, although St. Giles is not as grand and cannot quite claim the historical pedigree of the former, it is still something of a rarity.  Being early Norman it is constructed of flint but, like Elmstone, is one of only a few Kent churches where the corners are not dressed with quoins as the stone was expensive to import.  It possesses an aisleless nave and lower chancel, and has not undergone a great deal of enlargement - a 14th century tower, north porch and an extension to the east end of the chancel being the only additions.  It stands on an elevated churchyard above its small village, and I found this old and compact little building very easy on the eye as I made my way up the path to the accompaniment of the nesting birds in the trees alongside.

     The first listed rector here was Alexander de la Knolle in 1265, but there must have surely been others before this in a church dating from the 11th century.  In 1647, a Nicholas Dingley was appointed "in the tune of the Commonwealth" but at the Restoration, an attempt was made to eject him and Miles Barnes, the rector of Brooke, was appointed on August 2nd 1660.  He, however, failed to replace him and Mr. Dingley continued in possession until his death in 1671.  Good for him!

     I found the welcoming interior most interesting.  There is an Elizabethan pulpit dating from the 16th century; a somewhat time-worn corbel head under the tower overlooking the font, which I think is supposed to represent St. Augustine; a Norman font with octagonal bowl on shafts, with two sunken arches and round-topped each side ( a rarity for a Norman font); and there is supposed to be a complete set of armour with tabard, but I didn't see it myself.  Perhaps it has been removed for safekeeping, and this was why I found the church to be open (Syms notes that when he visited he found it locked).

     There is a fascinating story concerning the font.  It dates from the very beginning of the 13th century and was apparently cast out of the church on account of its age and used to hold pig food!  It was rescued "from profanation" (to quote the church pamphlet) by one, Bryan Faussett in 1775, and kept in his summer-house at Heppington where it remained until it was finally restored to Kingston church - after an absence of one-hundred-and-sixty years - in 1931!

     I really enjoyed my visit here, and even the weather smiled on me as the sun finally put in an appearance for the first time that day.  I used a warm-up filter to enhance the winter sunshine and a grey graduated filter to slightly darken the sky.  Following Lyminge, it was the perfect culmination of a days photography.

Monday, 1 November 2010

St. Martin of Tours, Herne

     My wife and I arrived here having come from little Westbere, and how enormous this large church seemed by comparison.  It resembles those more frequently found in the Weald of Kent, which were usually built on a grander scale than those in the eastern part of the county, largely with the help of the rich wool merchants.  How Herne warranted a church of these proportions, or how it was funded in such a small village can only remain a mystery.

     Apparently, during the late 1980's, the apsidal foundation walls of an earlier smaller church were found beneath the north chapel.  Syms puts forward the theory that this smaller building was here when Herne was a chapelry of Reculver, and after Reculver "succumbed to the sea" this larger church was built.  It is 14th century, of ragstone and flint, and comprises a nave and chancel with aisles continued as chapels, and a broad north-west tower with an avenue of chestnuts leading up to the north porch.  This building (especially the tower) has been afforded the highest acclaim by the architectural specialists, and I bow to their superior knowledge.  However, if I am to remain true to my purpose and record my impressions, I have to say that it is not the type of church that attracts me, being too large and square for my taste and lacking the rustic simplicity of the smaller country church.

     Historically, it is quite another story.  A former incumbent was Nicholas Ridley (1538-1549) who, while he was vicar, allowed the Te Deum to be sung here in English for the first time in England.  Following promotion to the See of Rochester, and later to London, he became heavily involved in affairs of state.  He, subsequently unwisely, championed the claims of Lady Jane Grey to the throne in 1553, and two years later was convicted of heresy and sentenced to death.  He was burned at the stake along with his fellow Bishop, Hugh Latimer, on 16th October 1555 in Broad Street, Oxford.  While at the stake, Latimer spoke these inspiring words:  "Be of good comfort Master Ridley.  Play the man.  We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England as I trust shall never be put out."  Religious or otherwise, one cannot help having a high regard for members of the clergy for their courage in the face of such horror and adversity.  No doubt such examples are still being demonstrated in various trouble-torn parts of the world today.

     The day of shooting was dull and overcast, so I experimented with warm-up, graduated and soft focus filters to add some much needed colour and atmosphere.  Ironically, this church that didn't particularly appeal to me, yielded a shot that I rate among the best in my collection.  Such is the unpredictability and fascination of this hobby that I love so much.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

St. Cosmas and St. Damian, Challock

     If the claim of a local nurseryman in 1983 had been upheld, Challock might have been world famous.  He declared that he had developed the blue dahlia which, in horticultural circles, was roughly akin to discovering the lost Ark!  Unfortunately, his claim was dismissed when the flower was judged to be purple.  The old village was hard-hit by the Black Death in the 14th century, so the villagers moved away from the plague-ridden centre and resettled on a new site.  This, plus the enclosure in 1589 of the old road that passed the church within the confines of Eastwell Park, has left this beautiful old building isolated among woods at the bottom of a dead-end road about one mile from the present village.

     The church is one of only two in Kent that is dedicated to the Arabian medics SS. Cosmas and Damian (the other being Blean, near Canterbury).  Of 13th century foundation, it consists of a nave with north and south aisles, chancel and north chapel.  The attractive west tower, added in the 14th century, comes complete with a south-east stair turret, diagonal buttresses that die-in halfway up and a flint cross embedded in the fabric just above the first stage.  The chancel was virtually rebuilt in 1873 and, following extensive bomb damage in 1944, the church was largely rebuilt and rededicated in 1958.  It would seem that the 'fickle finger of fate' was at work here for the church to sustain a direct hit, situated as it is in such an isolated spot.   One finds it hard to believe that even an enemy aircraft would wilfully bomb a church having no strategic value - one would like to think not anyway!

     I first came here on a wet and dreary day in November 1995, when the long roomy churchyard was crawling with pheasant and, immediately falling under its spell, quickly made a firm decision to return under better photographic conditions.  This I did during the church Flower Festival in August 1996, when the inside was beautifully decorated with flower arrangements interpreting The Revelation of St. John the Divine, and a gentleman was playing songs from various Lloyd-Webber musicals on the church organ.  It gave me an opportunity to see first-hand the celebrated wall paintings for which the church is justly acclaimed.  Those in the north chapel show country scenes - with roundels - depicting the adventures of SS. Cosmas and Damian, and were executed in 1953 by two students of the Royal Academy School; the chancel paintings, effected in 1955 by Royal Academician and book illustrator John Ward, are scenes from the life of Christ with figures in modern dress alongside the biblical characters.  The paintings lend a lively feel to the light and airy interior, and although I am not one to find the more formal demeanour of a church discouraging, I have to say that the almost carnival atmosphere revealed a face that the Church in general might do well to show more frequently.  Well-done Challock!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

St. Mary, Betteshanger

     When my wife and I set out to photograph St. Mary's, I did so with a large measure of suspicion.  Having read that it was a 19th century attempt to rival peerless Barfrestone, I have to confess to harbouring a preconceived feeling, bordering on contempt, for a building - described by Syms as a "Victorian extravaganza" - with such lofty aspirations.  We found the church at the end of a narrow lane past a large paddock full of grazing livestock, and I have to say that on receiving my first view, I was totally captivated by what stood before me.  This is, without exception, the most attractive Victorian church that I have ever seen.

     It is situated in a delightful spot bordering the easternmost extremity of Betteshanger House - I would have used the term 'idyllic' had it not been for the rather ugly modern buildings that were under construction by the side of the churchyard.  Commissioned by Lord Northbourne, it was built by Anthony Salvin in 1853 on the site of an earlier 12th century church, and consists solely of a chancel and nave with a north tower.  The north entrance is genuinely Norman incorporated from the earlier building (the one feature that qualifies it for club membership in this modest work), and the elaborately carved neo-Norman south doorway is protected by a large Byzantine-like portico.  Inside, a couple of features remain from the earlier church.  A 13th century piscina - the carved receptacle for water where the priest washed his fingers before Mass; and the Royal Arms of William III.  The churchyard boasts three Yew trees of some note.  One, beside the south door, and unfortunately damaged during the Great Storm of October 1987, is three-hundred-and-fifty years old; and two, situated in the north-west corner were planted in 1854.  One, by Viscount Hardinge, Commander of the British Army after Wellington, and the other by William Gladstone - then leader of the Liberal Party and personal friend of Lord Northbourne.

     When in the process of writing this account one describes its various features, it seems an unusual mix yet, to the eye, this singular little building exudes immense charm, and although its pedigree doesn't equal Barfrestone - it never could - it need make no apology for its existence.  Rupert Brooke, the poet-soldier of the First World War, penned what is probably his most enduring poem "The Soldier" while encamped at Betteshanger, before his young life came to an end on the way to the Dardanelles in April 1915.  One cannot escape the sentimental notion that perhaps he had Betteshanger's little church in mind when he wrote the opening lines:

'If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England'

Friday, 29 October 2010

St. Mary and St. Ethelburga, Lyminge

     I had driven through Lyminge on countless occasions during our family perambulations through Kent, but had never stopped here to view what is one of the oldest village churches in the county.  I decided to redress the situation on a bitterly cold March morning, but any preoccupation with the weather was soon forgotten when confronted by this prestigious 'old pile', sitting on its elevated plateau, a short distance from the village.  My initial expectation that this building might prove to be something special was immediately proved well-founded as I made my way beneath a flying buttress which, amusingly, straddled the churchyard path.  It is of medieval origin, and supports the south-east corner of the chancel and is, to date, the only example I have seen of such an arrangement.

     It was here that Ethelburga, daughter of King Ethelbert and wife of Edwin of Northumberland, the founder of York, built her abbey as a mark of her widowhood in 633 AD - just two-hundred-and-fifty-years after the retreat of the Romans.  Part of the original foundations are still visible at ground level beside the south porch as, too, is the tomb of Ethelburga.  Marked by a stone tablet in a shallow recess, the tomb was originally in the north part of the abbey, but today's building stands slightly north of this so, consequently, the present south walls are situated where the north walls once stood.  The present building - with the exception of the north aisle and sturdy west tower added in the 16th century - is Saxon in origin, and was built by Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 965 AD.  The nave and square-ended chancel are large by Saxon standards, and contain four windows with Roman tiles for voussoirs (wedge-shaped stone in an arch or arch-shaped window).  Its size is probably explained by the fact that Lyminge was the centre of Limowart lathe - one of seven administrative centres of Saxon rule in Kent - and was no doubt built to reflect its importance.  It is a fine church that carries its age well.

     I wasn't surprised to find the church locked, as one understands the dilemma facing the Church in our increasingly lawless society, but I was disappointed at the lack of information in the porch as to where the key might be obtained.  When one has travelled a considerable distance to pay their respects to such an eminent monument to Christianity, it tends to make one feel that their interest is not welcome.  However, having, as I do, strong feelings for this church and not wishing to appear boorish, I refuse to end this account on a churlish note.

     Apart from being extremely cold, the day was overcast, so I used a strong warm-up filter to boost the colour; and the branches of the tree to help fill a rather large area of blank sky.  Under the circumstances I was satisfied with the result and felt, the key apart, that I had achieved what I went for.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

St. Nicholas, Pluckley

     The biggest problem when visiting this charming little hill-top village is finding somewhere to park the car.   Pluckley featured heavily in the hugely successful dramatisation of H.E. Bates' "The Darling Buds of May".  This has inevitably led to a large influx of sightseers and visitors, particularly in the summer months.  Good news no doubt for the village traders, less so I suspect for the residents of this otherwise tranquil little outpost in the beautiful Weald of Kent.  The redbrick cottages are mainly 19th century, with the quaint schoolhouse dating from 1849.  The cottage windows are unusual, having two arched-lights.  They are known as Dering windows after Sir Edward Dering (1807-1896), who had them fitted to his own house, and in the buildings on his estate.  His fancy that they brought him good luck was tenuously based on the legend of a Sir Edward Dering, a Royalist supporter, who supposedly escaped from the Roundheads through one such window during the Civil War.  The only building that seems to have avoided their inclusion is the church itself.

     St. Nicholas, of 13th-14th century date, is a very pretty church which adorns its village like the distinguished elder that it is.  Built of ragstone, it has a 13th century chancel; west tower with a recessed shingled spire; and a nave rebuilt in the 14th century with the addition of a south aisle.  The south chapel, named after the Dering family, was added by Richard Dering in 1475, and is separated from the church by two outstandingly beautiful screens.  One is probably contemporary with the chapel's construction, the other was added in 1635.  There are several brasses to be seen inside, including seven (three in the nave, four in the south chapel) to members of the Dering family said to date between 1425 and 1610.  According to John Newman these are all "ingenious forgeries," installed in the church from 1628-35 by Sir Edward Dering (our Cavalier friend) as testimony to his family origins.  The bounder!  There are two windows worth seeing.  Designed by Francis Stephens and John Hayward in 1954, they have a strong emphasis on local objects such as oast houses, and even the church itself.

     Pluckley's other claim to fame is that it is, reputedly, the most haunted village in Britain.  It is not known how many ghosts walk the village, but they include a schoolmaster who hanged himself; a mysterious Red Lady searching for her child among the gravestones in the churchyard; and an old Gypsy watercress seller who burned to death when she dropped her clay pipe on her straw bedding.  Reflecting on the lovely "chocolate-box" church and, that one only has to walk a few hundred yards to the edge of the village to enjoy beautiful views across the Weald, it seems something of a perversity that it is better known these days as a backdrop to a popular television programme.  Such is the way of the world I suppose.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

St. Mary, Eastwell

     Eastwell church, or what is left of it, stands about one mile to the north of the magnificent gates to the once great estate of Eastwell Park.  The large ornamental  reed-covered lake is inhabited with water fowl, and the old deer park now converted to farmland, and here amid this romantic setting - looking rather forlorn and mysterious - sits the ruin of St. Mary's, like a classic illustration from one of M.R James' ghost stories.  All that is left of the original building is the west tower and the shell of a window beside it, but the most significant remnant is found standing pathetically alone, surrounded by rubble, in what would probably have been the north wall of the chancel.  It is a stone tomb with the inscription: 'Reputed to be The Tomb of Richard Plantagenet 22 December 1550.'  He was the illegitimate son of Richard III, and his story came to light in the 18th century when the Earl of Winchelsea was examining the Parish Register.  He found an entry "Richard Plantagenet was buried the 22nd daye of December 1550."

The tomb of Richard Plantagenet
      When Eastwell was being rebuilt in 1540 the owner, Sir Thomas Moyle, observed that during his breaks, one of the bricklayers would often be reading a book which he hid whenever anyone approached.  He came upon him unobserved one day and found that the book was in Latin.  Puzzled by this, he questioned him about it.  The bricklayer told him that he had been brought up by a nurse whom he had taken to be his mother and, when still young, had been sent away to a Latin master and taught to read and write.  His only visitor was a gentleman who came occasionally to pay his board and keep.  When sixteen, the same gentleman took him on a journey.  They rode to Leicester and, on Bosworth Field, he was taken to the tent of King Richard.  The King, embracing him, told him that he was his father, and that the next day he had to fight for his crown.  He told the boy that, if defeated, he would be sure to lose his life and that if this happened, never to reveal his identity, as he would be in danger too.  The King gave him a purse of gold and, the next day, kept his date with destiny.  Following his father's defeat, the boy had himself apprenticed to a bricklayer, and eventually came to Eastwell where he worked and lived until his death at the age of eight-one in a small cottage that he built just east of the church - now long since gone.

     I felt strangely moved, standing here in the  ruins by this lonely tomb picturing the quiet, dignified man (the last of the Plantagenets), living his life in obscurity here as a simple mason.  It also shed fresh light on Richard III, whose actions as a caring father seem completely at odds with the monstrous picture Shakespeare painted of him.  It makes one wonder if he simply suffered a bad press.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

St. Mary, Chilham

     The first bombs of World War II are said to have fallen on Chilham though, thankfully, not on the village itself.  Had they have done so, we would not have the delightful village square we see before us today, which is reputed to be the most perfect in Kent.  The village, castle, and church are situated on high ground around the square, with the church and the 15th century White Horse Inn to the north; the castle gates to the south; and the east and west sides taken up with a mixture of brick and timber-framed buildings.  The whole thing is reminiscent of the Middle Ages, and has been used as a film set on several occasions.  It is a real "tourist-trap" and is generally heaving with humanity during the summer weekends.

     St. Mary's is a large church, which plays a major role in the compelling picture here.  Constructed wholly of flint, and dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, it has a clerestoried nave with aisles; north and south transepts; a chancel with aisles; and a two-storeyed porch.  The west tower has an octagonal stair-turret and a clock face that is two-hundred years old.  The church is entered through the foot of the tower and not, as we might suppose, the south porch.  The interior was heavily restored in the 19th century, and is highly regarded for its quality.  We find some medieval stained glass - believed to represent the Popes of the day; many ledger stones paving the floor; and two quite outstanding monuments.  One of polished Bethersden marble is to Sir Dudley Digges, a former owner of Chilham Castle and Master of the Rolls to James I; and another to the Hardy children (d.1858), pictures them reading "The Babes in the Wood" surrounded by their toys.  Originally made for the castle, it was presented to the church in 1919.

     There is a story that St. Augustine's remains were moved here after the dissolution of his abbey, and that his tomb was defiled and his bones scattered by the powers-that-be of Canterbury Cathedral, who were afraid that Chilham might have become a more important place of pilgrimage.  There doesn't appear to be any firm evidence to support this story, although there is an extremely old-looking stone coffin (empty!) to be found in the church which certainly looks old enough to qualify.  If true, he couldn't have had a more idyllic setting in which to rest his bones - even if only for a short time.

     The photograph used here was not taken on my initial visit, as the churchyard was occupied by lager-swilling "yuppies."  It was a living example of Chilham's problem - a peaceful village often spoiled by its own attraction.  No doubt, however, the innkeeper would be inclined to disagree.

Monday, 25 October 2010

St. Mary Magdalene, Denton

     Syms observes that anyone who manages to find this church deserves a prize.  How right he is!  It is reached by entering the private drive of Denton court, and one feels like a trespasser until, halfway up, one spots the small turnstile gate at the edge of a crop field with a sign "to Denton church."  The church is found in the middle of a copse, a short walk across the field, amid gentle rolling downland which must rate as some of the loveliest countryside in East Kent.  Spring was truly in the air this day (glorious sunshine and heavy rain showers), with sheep grazing in the fields with their new-born lambs, and daffodils and primroses in the churchyard.

     The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, states that there was a Saxon church here then, but nothing remains of that now.  St. Mary's today is mostly of simple early 13th century build, wholly of flint, with nave; lower chancel; and an un-buttressed west tower.  Apparently, two 15th century bells remain of a former peal of three bells, and Denton used to have a unique system of bell-tolling to announce a death in the parish.  The knell was 3x3 for a man; 3x2 for a woman; 2x3 for a male under twenty; and 2x2 for a female under twenty; but the practice died out about two hundred years ago.  On entering the church,, I noticed the pilgrim's crosses on the jambs of the north doorway, and in the chancel a noteworthy memorial to a John Boyes Esq., (d.1543) Attorney-General for the Duchy of Lancaster, and former owner of Denton Court.  In the chancel floor can be seen a well-worn ledger stone to Sir Anthony Percival (d.1646), and Dame Gertrude, his Lady (d.1647).  The verse inscribed thereon begins:  'Behold the ashes of a worthy knight!"  A point of interest to me was the list of recorded rectors on the nave wall.  Sometime between the years 1520 and 1550 - the list didn't specify exactly - a former incumbent was a Peter Dalton.  Although unlikely to be a direct relation, if one takes the broad view, all people sharing the same surname are probably loosely related somewhere down the line - however remotely.

Tappington Hall
      About a mile from the church, set in a picturesque fold in the downs, is Tappington Hall.  This beautiful Jacobean farmhouse is the former family home of Richard Harris Barham, better known as Thomas Ingoldsby the author of the "Ingoldsby Legends."  The most famous of the Legends, "The Spectre of Tappington" clearly refers to the farm here, and tells of a former owner - a Bad Sir Giles - who welcomed a stranger who disputed the ownership of the house.  Following an evening of feasting and drinking, the stranger retired to his bed and was found in the morning "a swollen and blackened corpse."  Considering the nature of many of the Legends, and the church in its lonely copse, it seems somehow appropriate that the two buildings are virtually neighbours.  As Syms succinctly put it, (here is) "a church and setting that cry out for a ghost story."  Absolutely!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

St. Clement, Sandwich

     Michael McNay ("Red Guide to Kent") asks:  "Is this the loveliest town in England?"  I wouldn't know, but it certainly rates as one of the most historic, so much so that you can almost taste it!   Sandwich was the most important of the Cinque Ports in the Middle Ages, being England's most powerful naval base and chief port for the export of wool.  Its three parish churches confirmed its prosperity, but St. Clement is the only one still in use as a place of worship, and which still retains its original tower.  By the 16th century the harbour had silted up and the town faced financial ruin, but the Protestant cloth-workers from Holland and France returned it to affluence after settling here in the late 1500's  The Dutch influence can still be seen here today, and in much of the county's architecture.

      In keeping with such an historical heritage, one would expect St. Clement to possess a comparable persona, and it certainly doesn't disappoint, being considered one of the most impressive churches in Kent.  It has an Early English chancel with north and south chapels; a 15th century nave; a two-storeyed porch protecting a door that dates to 1655; 15th century choir stalls with poppeyheads; and an elaborately carved octagonal font (c.1400-06), showing the Tudor Rose with the Arms of the Cinque Ports and of England and France.  Keeping the best till last, the tower is a pure delight and is all that remains of the original cruciform church.  It is a central tower of Mid-Norman construction, with richly ornamented arcading all around in three tiers, a circular north-west stair turret and battlemented top, and has been described by Pratt-Boorman as "one of the most valuable Norman towers in all England."  Becket landed here in 1170 when returning from exile, determined to assert his authority as head of a Church independent of State control.  No doubt he would have stopped at St. Clement's - passing through the Fishergate - to give thanks for a safe journey, before moving on to Canterbury and martyrdom.

     A few years ago I was visiting the church with my wife and youngest daughter, Ria, who asked us what a church was.  We replied, I suspect somewhat patronisingly, "It's Jesus' house."  While we were looking around, she spent most of the time chatting to an old lady who - it being close to Evensong - was handing out hymn books inside the door.  On leaving, Ria suddenly ran back into the church and, re-emerging shortly after, we asked her why she had done this.  She replied with a smile, "I went to say goodbye to Jesus' nanny!"  Over the years I have spent many pleasant hours in Sandwich, with my family, having picnics by the river and soaking up its timeless flavour, but I think it's this memory as much as any other that cements its place in my affections.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

St. Peter, Monks Horton

     There was a church here at the time of the Domesday survey, when Horton (in the Hundred of Stowting) was in the possession of Hugo de Montfort.  Almost nothing is known of that church, but it probably stood on the site of today's building.  This neat little church is found in its walled churchyard, down a quiet country lane, surrounded by fields below the Downs.

     The nave and lower chancel is Early English - of flint and stone - with a west bell-gable.  There was, originally, a tower and belfry of timber containing four bells, but it was removed when the church was heavily restored in 1847, leaving only a 14th century chancel arch, the remains of the rood-loft stairs outside on the north wall, and a part-13th century font.  The original south doorway was built up, but a surviving Mass dial can be seen close-by.  It seems such a shame that so many of these ancient buildings were restored so heavily by the Victorian "improvers" - largely losing their original character, however, I suppose we must recognise that without their efforts many of the churches we so love and admire today would probably no longer exist, or at best, would be little more than ruins.

     My visit here, accompanied by my wife and daughter, Ria, coincided with the church Flower Festival.  The interior looked wonderful decked out with beautiful flower arrangements interpreting that evergreen hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful."  Opposite the church in the old barn of Horton Court Farm, craft stalls were exhibiting and selling corn-dollies, jams, cakes and dried flowers etc., dispensing welcome refreshments, and demonstrating such crafts as wool-spinning.  I must pay tribute to these people who give so much of their time and talents, entirely unpaid, to raise funds in this way.  It is a testimony to the love and pride they have in their respective churches, which, I find heart-warming in this age where so many are indifferent to the existence of these ancient buildings.  It serves, also, to remind us of a time when they were the focal point of the community, and at the very centre of village life.  One cannot help reflecting that perhaps all of our lives might be a little richer were it still so today.

     The viewpoint of my photograph was not the result of any decision, artistic or otherwise, I literally had no choice.  The building was impossible to photograph from the north side, and almost completely obscured from the south by a huge Yew tree, said to be as old as the church itself.  I was not unhappy with the result, however, as I feel that it illustrates it to reasonable effect.

Friday, 22 October 2010

St. Mary, Minster-in-Thanet

     No narrative of this monumental parish church can rightly commence without first recounting the legend of Minster's original Abbey, founded in the year 669 AD.  The manor was held by the Saxon King of Kent, Egbert.  His two nephews were his heirs, and the suggestion was put to him by one of his thanes, Thunnor, that they would try to usurp his throne.  Thunnor suggested that it would be better to do away with them, and offered to take care of it himself.  Egbert agreed but, after the deed was done, was filled with remorse.  He asked the Archbishop of Canterbury how he could atone for the murders, and was told to found an abbey for the boys' sister, Ermenburga, Queen of Mercia.  Egbert complied, and asked her how much land she would need.  She replied that she would need as much land as her pet hind could cover in one run.  The animal was let loose but Thunnor, in an attempt to scare it off, rode across its path and, according to legend, was lost when the earth opened up and swallowed him.  The spot where this is said to have happened is a pit on the hill above the village of Eastry which, to this day, is known as "Thunnor's Leap."

Minster Abbey
      Ermenburga's abbey was built at Minster, and she took the religious name of Domneva, first Abbess of Minster.  Her daughter, Mildred, succeeded her, becoming the most famous local saint after Augustine, and is still regarded today as the Patron Saint of Thanet.

     St. Mary's today is the grand result of a gradual rebuilding of an earlier Saxon church, the remains of which may be seen in the square south-east turret, and the reused Roman tiles in the quoins low down in the tower.  The work began in 1150 with the Norman tower, north and south transepts, and nave with aisles; and ended in 1230 with the Early English chancel.  Unfortunately, the original spire was brought down in the Great Storm of October 1987, and replaced with one of those awful ribbed spires encountered earlier in this journal at Elham.  Many of the ledger stones that paved the gangway between the pews have been moved outside and flank the churchyard path, presumably effected during the restorations of 1861-3, or later in the 1970's.

     The church houses a set of eighteen 15th century choir stalls, with misericords, and an ancient muniment chest.  Some say that it was William the Conqueror's treasure chest, or, that it was brought to Minster full of rations for Cromwell's troops.  Syms remarks that it is "certainly old enough for either flight of fancy."  Whatever, it seems an appropriately ancient relic to be found in this fine church, whose genesis can be traced back to the 7th century - and the dark days of yore.


Thursday, 21 October 2010

Dedication Unknown, Elmstone.

     I first saw this diminutive little church as a sketch in J.R Syms' trilogy, "Kent Country Churches", and made up my mind to make it one of my first assignments.  On confronting it in the flesh, so to speak, it completely lived up to my expectations, looking exceptionally charming surrounded by trees fields and grazing horses in this peaceful little hamlet on the edge of the Stour marshes.

     It is a nicely proportioned, unsophisticated structure of early Norman origin, consisting of a north-west tower, aisle, nave and chancel, and whose vintage is apparently authenticated by the jambs of the tiny Norman windows (one north window in the chancel, two south windows in the nave).  It is usual to find the vertical edges of windows strengthened by dressed stone, but here, the windows were too early to qualify for this and were finished in unworked flints - a seemly pedigree befitting a hamlet known successively as Aelvetone, Ealmstone, Elmestone, Elmerstone, and now Elmstone, and recorded in the Domesday Book.  There was some enlargement and remodelling during the 14th century, resulting in the addition of the tower and north aisle - both built of squared knapped flint - and the Y-tracery in the west window.  In keeping with the external aspect, the interior is simple yet yields some fascinating discoveries.  In an open space in the nave is a sizeable font which Newman dates as Norman, with Bethersden marble bowl - square below, round at the top, and with anvil-shaped corner pieces; four beautifully carved bench-ends with simple poppeyheads; a handsome standing monument of black and white marble dedicated to Robert Jacques, alderman and Sheriff of London (d.1671); a prayer desk, said to have been donated by a grateful priest who survived a shipwreck in the Wantsum Channel and, allegedly made from some of the wrecked ships timbers.  The most fascinating find for me was a finely carved headstone beside the porch with a still legible date of 1762; thus far the most ancient I have seen anywhere**.

     So, this classic little sanctuary sits in its well-kept churchyard, complete with neatly trimmed yews and rustic-like fencing, looking every inch the ornament that it is.  It was an irresistible prospect to photograph but, in the event, not an easy one, as I ended up with my camera and tripod backed right up against the fence of the field opposite.  Of the churches that I have photographed so far, this one undeniably ranks among the foremost for its sheer simplicity and beauty.  It is my fervent hope that I have done it the justice it deserves.

** Since bettered at Northbourne (1739)

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


     When I first conceived the idea for this journal, my initial concern was where to start.  After much consideration, I felt that I could no better than to explain my reasons for undertaking such a mammoth task of recording Kent's beautiful medieval churches.

     My reason for using the medium of photography was a logical one as, firstly, I make no claims to any artistic ability with paintbrush or pencil, and secondly, as a keen amateur photographer of the English landscape and historical places of interest, it seemed to me to be a perfectly natural progression.  My motives, however, for committing these churches to film in the first place were not so much of the practical but rather the spiritual variety.

     As a lover of the great outdoors, it had always appeared to me that the old country church seemed to adorn the countryside like a "jewel in the crown", and that any country view without it seemed somehow diminished.  One of my most enduring childhood memories is of staying at my uncles house on Beddington Farm in Surrey, and hearing the bells of old Beddington church echoing across the farmland on those balmy Sunday summer evenings.  The overpowering sense of peace and serenity that pervaded me at these moments - as if all was right with the world - has always stayed with me and, to my mind, one senses the essence of the Almighty far more keenly in the churchyard of a simple country church than when standing in the most feted cathedrals in the land.  So, dear reader, if you are still with me, you can probably see that first and foremost this photographic crusade was, and remains, a labour of love.

     I have tried to analyse why these old churches should have such a conscious effect on me.  The answer probably lies in my general love of all things historic, and given that many of them have stood for up to eight or nine hundred years, it is, perhaps, this air of permanence (in a modern world where nothing seems to last for more than five minutes) that fascinates me.  It certainly captures my imagination to consider that these lovely old buildings existed at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta; survived the infamous attentions of Henry VIII; witnessed the events of the Civil War and Cromwell's puritanical regime; and played host to their respective congregations prayers of thanksgiving when that greatest of all Englishmen, Admiral Lord Nelson, defeated the combined French and Spanish fleet at Trafalgar.

     That Kent is blessed with so many churches of the type that excite my interest is by no means coincidental.  Being so close to mainland Europe meant that most migratory influences first touched our shores here in Kent, thus making its inhabitants the most civilised.  The Roman legions sent by the emperor, Claudius, to add Britain to the Roman Empire landed here in 43 AD, as did the Danes in 449 AD.  So it was with St. Augustine.  Sent by Pope Gregory the Great from Rome in 597 AD to convert the people to Christianity and build churches for them, he met with the pagan king, Ethelbert, and preached his first sermon at Ebbsfleet in Thanet before moving on to Canterbury, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Kent therefore, being in the vanguard of the Christian explosion, can justifiably claim to be the 'cradle of Christianity' in this country - a fitting crown perhaps for the only English county to still retain its earliest known name, and whose kings were the first kings of England starting with Hengist in 455 AD.

     Should the reader prove interested and read on into the main body of this book, he or she will quickly realise that I make no claims to expertise on the architectural merits of the buildings covered therein.  I leave the learned evaluation of these to more meritorious works than this.  Any comments I make are purely subjective and only reflect my personal impressions.  This book, therefore, does not pretend to be a definitive guide book on the subject, but is aimed purely at those who, like me, have noticed these old country churches when passing in the car or looking around them here and there on days out, and, in spite of knowing nothing about them, have found them interesting and infinitely appealing.  I have tried to record in layman's terms what I have seen or felt and, as this book is illustrated with my own photographs, have thrown in here and there why I have approached the subject in the photographic manner or style that I have.  Furthermore, as these marvellous churches reflect the historical legacy not only of Kent but of the country as a whole - and, as a book devoted to the minutiae of the churches alone may make (for the average person like me) rather dry reading - I have included any historical associations, direct or indirect, which I feel may illustrate the point to good effect.  However, where in parts it may seem that the historical content of the village overshadows the church itself, it must be remembered that it was the church that drew me there in the first instance, and which, has my overriding interest.

     To further assist the reader, I have included the following dating table for the various building styles mentioned in the book (e.g. Early English, Perpendicular etc.,).  Other versions may differ slightly, but generally speaking, this is it:

     Norman Romanesque................................1066-1200        
     Early English Gothic...................................1200-1300  
     Decorated Gothic......................................1250-1350
     Perpendicular Gothic.................................1350-1500
     Early Tudor (or late Perpendicular)............1501-1550

     I feel that perhaps here I should make mention of the laudable work of such admirable organisations as The Friends of Kent Churches and The Historic Churches Trust who, by their untiring efforts, do so much to assist in the upkeep and continued existence of these historic buildings.  Long may they continue to do so, for they are an important part of our heritage and I feel that we would all be the poorer without them.

     In any event, may I express the modest hope that this journal will prove to be of some interest, and that it might afford the reader at least a small measure of the enjoyment I have experienced in visiting and photographing these remarkable old buildings.  It is with is in mind that I offer this humble effort.



St. Mildred, Preston

     At the time of the Domesday survey, the manor of Preston was recorded as being part of the possession of the abbot and convent of St. Augustine, but after years of private ownership, it passed to Juliana de Leybourne, the Infanta of Kent.  Juliana was the great grand-daughter of Sir Roger de Leybourne, the crusading knight who died on his way to the Holy Land accompanying his friend the future Edward I, and whose heart is said to be interred in the heart shrine in Leybourne church.  Preston Court, opposite the church, was the site of her palace where she lived until her death in 1367 - the remains of which are said to lie beneath one of the large ponds.

     St. Mildred, which is a particular favourite of mine, was probably built on Saxon foundations, as Saxon masonry can be seen in the tower.  Most of the church is 13th century, with Early English (13th/14thC) lancet windows lighting the altar.  The unusual dormer windows set in the roof could date from the 12/13th century, and may have been designed to give additional illumination when the Decorated-style windows in the north and south aisles were filled in (for reasons unknown and lost in the passage of time).  The apexes of the clear chancel windows contain only the remaining scraps of ancient coloured glass, and in the tower can be found the Royal Coat of Arms of Queen Anne, painted on wood, together with her motto 'Semper Eadem'.  Apparently, the north chapel was once used as a schoolroom where the parish poor were taught to read and write - the old fireplace can still be seen here.  I think this is rather nice as, like the churches who hold nursery groups, it is further proof that the Church can, and does, play a practical as well as spiritual role in society.  In fact, I think I would have liked to have been taught in one of these ancient old buildings, instead of the plain and featureless classrooms that we had to endure for what seemed like hours at a time.

     It would seem that the incumbency of Preston could sometimes be a rough ride as, on one occasion, the vicar was assaulted in the churchyard by villagers over the church tythes and, on another, the same unfortunate was arrested during the Holy Communion service accused (falsely) of being a drunkard.  Nevertheless, during the 900-odd years that St. Mildred has stood here, there have been times when it has been rendered unusable owing to damage to the fabric.  The fact that it has always been restored, not only by the efforts of the church authorities but, more notably, the parishioners, would seem to validate the words of John Betjeman (poet-laureate and church aficionado) who wrote, probably tongue-in-cheek:  "Churches are preserved so long as people like them, even if they don't like them very much."

Monday, 18 October 2010

St. Peter, Swingfield

     Swingfield is situated north-west of the Alkham Valley, a mile from the A260 Barham to Folkestone road, and what a pleasing impression this little village gives as one drives down its narrow main street, with the church on the left and an old country pub called "The Three Bells" opposite (the church only has one bell now, as two were sold to pay for repairs to the roof).  The first view of the church is extremely attractive, with the lychgate in front and the ancient west tower as a backdrop, and had it not been for the unsightly telegraph wires that ran parallel along the street, a constant problem when photographing ancient buildings, I would have taken my first shots from here.

     The church consists of a 15th century three-storeyed tower with semicircular stair turret; a partially Early English (12th-13thC) nave and south doorway with scratchdials; and a heavily restored chancel.  The simple interior contains a ledger stone, dated 1677, with an alarmingly fatalistic inscription:  'Death fears no colours, drums, guns, pike or blade, All these give place unto the fatall Spade.'  A comforting thought as one approaches the autumn of one's life!
The Preceptory of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John
     History has played its part in this sleepy little village, or at least half a mile from here at the Preceptory of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John where, in 1213, King John under threat of invasion by the French, met the papal legate and agreed to accept Pope Innocent as his overlord.  This was in exchange for the lifting of a decree of excommunication on himself and the country.  This was apparently caused by a disagreement over the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  John insisted that John de Gray, Bishop of Norwich, should fill the vacancy, but there was some argument in Canterbury about who had the right to elect the primate.  Innocent III proposed Stephen Langton, and on 17th July 1207, duly consecrated him as Archbishop.  John promptly reacted by seizing the revenues of Canterbury Cathedral and driving the monks into exile, thus directly challenging the authority of the Pope - a challenge which could have but one outcome.  The 13th century knapped flint chapel remains, complete with a north-west porch, and for many years was used as a farmhouse, but now stands under the care of English Heritage.
     As, in my view, the churchyard is as important as the church in reflecting the timeless nature of the place, I elected to take my shots looking up the path to include the lovely slanting age-worn headstones, sundial, and appealing little 14th century wooden porch.  The whole time that I was here, I didn't see a single person, proving that life here today is a good deal quieter and less turbulent than in the days of King John.  A fact for which, the local inhabitants must be eternally grateful.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

St. Mary, Elham

     This quaint old village is worth a visit for several reasons but, not least, for a pleasant drive past farms, verdant grazing pasture, and even a vineyard, which constitute the attractrive vale known as the Elham Valley.  Alongside all this, on its way to join the River Stour, flows the Nailbourne Stream which is said to flow just once every seven years by divine decree.  Local lore has it that when the valley was suffering a particularly bad drout, St. Augustine himself (still a bishop at the time) came from Canterbury to remedy the situation by striking the ground with his staff to bring forth a stream.  His interference angered the Old Gods, so they conjured up a storm to block the stream.  Augustine then called upon his God to intervene and, to appease the Old Gods, make the spring feed the stream once every seven years.

     The church stands on the south side of the village square and, presumably, it was here - in the days when it was noted for its hides and leatherwork - that Elham's famous Monday Market was held until it died out in the 19th century.  The perspicaciuos hold St. Mary's in high regard but, without wishing to offend, I have to say that, sadly, I find myself totally unable to appreciate its merits and fail to find it as attractive as its village.  The building programme ran from the 12th to the 15th century, but following heavy restorations in the early 1900's, and the addition of a rather ugly modern-looking ribbed spire - resembling an upturned ice cream cone - on a perfectly good 15th century battlemented tower, I feel that it has lost its aura of antiquity.  However I stand to be corrected by the discriminating.

   The interior is mainly the result of the 20th century alterations, but there are two windows of particular interest in the south wall of the chancel.  One is a 15th century figure of Becket, the other, a rather unusual 19th century window depicting David and Saul.  The face of David is based on Mme. Carlotta Patti, the opera singer, with Gladstone, Disraeli, and three of Queen Victoria's daughters in attendance.

     In the High Street is the Abbot's Fireside Restaurant, a timbered building dating from 1614.  This was originally the Smithies Arms where Wellington set up his East Kent headquarters while planning for the threatened Napoleonic invasion, and, allegedly, Prince Charles, later Charles II, hid there when fleeing the Roundheads in 1651.  Add to this that the man, on whom Baroness Orczy is said to have modelled the 'Scarlet Pimpernel' (in her novel of the same name), is supposed to have dined at the Rose and Crown while on his way to the coast during his real-life missions to France, Elham is profoundly rich in history and folklore.  It seems such a pity therefore, that to my untutored eye, the church doesn't seem to mirror the village's ambience.