Tuesday, 19 October 2010

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."

1 comment:

  1. Great idea: school in a church with a nice fireplace!