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!

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