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.

No comments:

Post a Comment