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)

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