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.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Holy Cross, Goodnestone (Nr. Wingham).

     When I was initially moved to capture Kent's medieval churches on film in 1992, it was to Goodnestone that I turned to open my account.  I had no pre-planned reason for making this the first, it was purely a random choice, but I remember how inspired I felt when I received my first glimpse of this beautiful church in its pleasant little village, and thinking that I really couldn't have made a better choice for my maiden photographic outing, and hoping that perhaps many such delightful surprises lay ahead.  Goodnestone was built as an estate village to the nearby Goodnestone Park and, apparently, most of the houses that line the street to the Park are still in its ownership - at least, they were in 1987.  M.R James, the celebrated writer of ghost stories was born at a Goodnestone Parsonage in Kent, but whether it was this one or the other Goodnestone near Faversham I do not know.  By the general look and feel of this village I would like to think it was here.

     On entering the churchyard, the first thing I noticed was an area designated as a Wild Flower Conservation Area, and in the porch was a list of the various varieties to be found there.  The church itself is 12th century in origin and built of knapped flints and Caen stone.  The tower is well proportioned and of the type found commonly in Kent, with a stair turret running up the south-east corner.  Along with the north side of the church, the tower is still the original medieval construction, as the three shields of arms above the spandrel of the west doorway testify, but the nave and chancel were restored in 1840.

     According to John Newman in the excellent volume "The Buildings of England", there are several brasses to be found inside, one of which, in memory of a Thomas Engeham (d.1558), has a verse that begins:  'By doleful dynt of deathes dyre dart....' (they were obviously not troubled by false teeth back in the 16th century).  The pews used to face south across the nave, commonly known as prayer-book style, and would certainly have done so when that famous parsons daughter, Jane Austen, occasionally used the church during her visits to Goodnestone Park before they were turned to face the altar in 1910.

     When one views this church end-on to the tower, it is easy to visualise the days of Jane Austen, and it was for this reason that I chose this viewpoint for my photograph.  I have since visited many other 'picture book' churches, but Goodnestone will always hold a special place in my affections for being such a memorable first.

St. Martin, Canterbury

     "There was on the east side of the city a church dedicated to St. Martin which had been used by the Roman Christians in Britain.  To this church the Queen, accompanied by Bishop Luidhard, came to worship."  So wrote the Venerable Bede in "The Ecclesiastical History of the British People" in the year AD731.  The queen in question was Bertha, the Christian consort of the pagan king, Ethelbert.  She was worshipping here in the year AD562, some thirty years before Augustine and his followers were to arrive in Kent on their great mission, to re-introduce the Christian message to these pagan shores.  The Queen and her ladies would come out each day, passing through the Quenin Gate in the city wall, past the heathen shrine that is now St. Pancras Church to her little chapel on the hill.  Here, in the midst of a heathen city, she would pray for the conversion of England and her people in a land dotted with the ruins of ancient Christian temples deserted since Roman times.  As we now know here prayers were to be answered, for it was to Canterbury that Augustine came and, for a brief space of time, St. Martin's became the centre of his mission in this country and where his followers first worshipped.  Ethelbert granted Augustine freedom to undertake his task "provided (he) used no compulsion or force in making converts."

South side of nave-chancel

     One approaches the church - the oldest parish church still in use - towards the Perpendicular tower which, amazingly, is a thousand years younger than the rest of the building.  It is only when viewed from the south side that one fully appreciates its antiquity.  Here, the walls are a mixture of flint, ragstone and brick-red Roman tiles in regular courses, and I find it astonishing to consider that these tiles have seen the light of day for close on two-thousand years!  Inside the narrow nave and chancel, one can see a blocked Roman doorway with flat stone lintel, a blocked Saxon doorway - said to be the one Bertha used - edged with Roman tiles, and a blocked Norman doorway with a semicircular arch.  The beautiful Saxon font is traditionally associated with the eventual conversion of Ethelbert.  Although it is not known for certain where this took place, Bede describes Augustine using St. Martin's for baptism and, almost in the same sentence, the baptism of the King.  This has led to the supposition that this unique stone font is the one in which he was baptised.

Whatever the truth, standing here in this holy place, the most ancient in all of the realm, I was hugely affected as I contemplated the walls that are closer in origin to the lifetime of Christ than they are to us, and pondered on the immense significance of what took place here so long ago.  It occurred to me that it was on this spot that one can say, absolutely and irrefutably, this is where it all began.

Friday, 15 October 2010

St. Nicholas, Barfrestone

     Given that St. Nicholas - though not the oldest - is arguably the most famous church in Kent, and that hardly any publication on English churches fails to give it a mention, I find it hard to believe that it took me three years to get around to photographing it.  Here, truly, is an absolute gem, so different to anything I have ever seen, and as I drove up the narrow street through the village I can only describe my first view of this unique little 12th century church as stunning.  There before me, resplendent upon a slope above the road and overflooking a picturesque valley, stood a building comparable to a mini Roman temple in the Kent countryside!

     Being Norman, it is a simple two-cell structure, but unlike most other original Norman churches, has had no later enlargements or additions, thus still consisting of just a nave and lower chancel.  The lower walls are of flint; the upper half and all of the dressings of Caen stone; with a beautiful 'wheel window' in the east end of the chancel and, remarkably, the whole thing is less than fifty feet in length.

South Door
      The focus of most attention, and the object of prodigious esteem throughout the architectural fraternity, is the celebrated south door.  Apart from several mass dials, above the semicircular arches of the doorway are original eight-hundred year old Norman carvings depicting Our Lord in Glory, with medallions of the signs of the zodiac and labours of the month.  The fact that these carvings are so relatively well preserved is largely due to the fact that they were protected from the elements by a porch that was only removed during the 1839-41 restorations.  The Victorian restorers, when virtually rebuilding the chancel which had slipped on its foundations, obviously recognised this buildings matchless qualities.  They made every effort to put almost everything back without disturbing the surface of ashlar masonry, and full marks for the first class job they made of it.

     On the north side of the church is a doorway which has some intriguing graffiti, circa 1700 (which shows that todays urban street 'Picassos' haven't had it all their own way), and the church bell hangs on a rope in a Yew tree.

     Much of the interior is the result of the restorations, but it is the Romanesque  exterior that it will always be exalted for.  How fitting then that Jasmine Cottage - which sits above the church - should have once been the home of England's most celebrated sculptor, Henry Moore, during the early part of his career.  I left, having taken my photographs, feeling totally uplifted by what I had seen, and wondering whether any other church could ever affect me in quite the same way again.