Tuesday, 30 November 2010

St. John the Baptist, Barham

     Barham nestles among the Downs in the beautiful Nailbourne Valley, and the first view one gets when approaching from across the A2 Dover road is of the slender copper spire of St. Johns towering attractively above the trees on the wooded slope which runs down to the village. 

     Barham Downs has been the backdrop to many notable events which go to make up the rich tapestry of this country's history.  The Romans camped here on their way inland after landing at Richborough in Thanet; William the Conqueror met the Men of Kent here to receive their oaths of loyalty, and to take delivery of hostages as insurance; Royalist troops massed here during the Civil War before their attack on Dover Castle, and the British army camped here during the Napoleonic Wars prior to embarkation on their way to the Continent.

   The church, dating mostly from the 13th and 14th centuries, has a hint of Norman in the tower, so has played silent witness to many of the great events mentioned here.  It is cruciform with nave; chancel; north and south transepts and south aisle.  The tower, situated at the west end of the building, has been elongated to the north and south making shallow chambers.  Though not remarkable, St. John certainly graces its surroundings and, when viewed from the south, I find its long sleek outline hugely pleasing.  The only sour note for me is the removal of many of the gravestones to the perimeter of the churchyard.  It may make the upkeep of the churchyard more manageable but, in so doing, I feel that it destroys its character.

     Inside there is an elaborate memorial to Sir Basil Dixwell (d.1750), which received extremely short change from John Newman, brasses to Roger Digges (d.1375), and John Digges and Wife (c.1460).  On the war memorial can be seen the celebrated name of Kitchener who owned nearby Broome Park.  Broome Park consisted of the 17th century mansion and 500 acres when Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener of Khartoum purchased it in 1911.  He planned to spend his retirement years here but it was never to be.  He made many alterations and filled the interior with treasures he had collected during his long career in the army.  He was known as an avid collector, and one whose methods were not over-scrupulous.  If he fancied something, he would say so, and was often presented with it by the owner who felt almost compromised into handing it to the great man.  Kitchener spent his last hours in England in the garden at Broome Park, before leaving on the 3rd June 1916 for Scapa Flow.  He embarked there on the cruiser "Hampshire" bound for Russia, but perished when the ship struck a mine and sank.

     As can be seen, Barham certainly enjoys its fair share of colourful connections, as do many other villages in this charismatic county that can boast an historical heritage second to none.  As a lover of history it makes me proud to call it home.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

St. Nicholas, St. Nicholas-at-Wade

     "Large and impressive."  "One of the most rewarding churches in the north-east corner of the county."  These are just two of the epithets used to describe St. Nicholas whose tall 14th century tower dominates the village and surrounding farmland.  Today's church - dating in part from the 12th century, but largely 13th/14th century - gave its name to the village, and originated as a Saxon chapel of ease subordinate to the Parish of Reculver.  St. Nicholas, however, became a separate parish on the appointment of Adam de Brancestre as vicar in 1294 during the reign of Edward III.

     Built of flint and ragstone, it consists of a clerestoried nave; chancel; north and south chapels; two-storeyed porch and a broad west tower with a south-west stair-turret.  Battlemented virtually all the way round, the use of other local stones in the fabric gives the building a distinctively attractive aspect.  The interior is no less compelling, and offers much to preoccupy the aficianado.  Some of the carvings on the arcade pillars are said to be "superb Kentish examples of the medieval Green Man"; the beautiful east window in the chancel depicts Christ on the cross, flanked by St. Nicholas and St. Augustine; and the Jacobean pulpit, dating from 1615, is the earliest dated example in the county.

     There are many interesting ledger stones in the nave and tower floor, the oldest of which is dated 1582, and one, to a William Henaker (d.1609), has an inscription that is memorable in its understatement:  '(he) lived to the age of 39 yeares or thereabouts and then died and was buried.'  Another reads thus:  'Here lieth the body of Edward Hannis who departed this life 23 April 1750 aged 55 years.  And also 9 of his children.'  Does this mean he had more!

     The south chapel - dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket - is used as a vestry, but up until 1833 was the parish schoolroom and still has the fireplace intact.  Next to the main door a very rickety ladder (which I climbed at the risk of life and limb) leads to a room above the porch.  This is used as a storeroom but, back in the 18th century, was rented as a workshop by the local plumber.

     The north chapel contains several memorials to members of the Bridges family, one of which is to a former Poet Laureate - Robert Bridges (1844-1930).  I suppose, from time to time, we are all reminded by certain events of our own mortality, but perhaps the verse found on a tomb chest to two young members of the family is as stark a reminder as any:  'Stay reader, stand and lend a tear.  Unto the dust that slumbers here;  And when you read the state of me.  Think on the glass that runs for thee.'  Enough said!

Monday, 15 November 2010

St. Anthony the Martyr, Alkham

     I eventually arrived here - after a pleasant drive through the scenic Alkham valley on a beautiful summers day - having completely missed the church the first time.  Finally locating it, sitting above the village backed by tall trees behind the local hostelry, my immediate problem was where to park the car.  I couldn't leave it on the main road because of the double yellow lines, and the lane leading up to the church was too narrow to park without causing an obstruction, so I elected to cheekily leave it in the pub car park and hope that the landlord wouldn't complain.

     On entering the churchyard through the lychgate, I was glad to see that it was spacious - with no unsightly telegraph wires - and that it allowed me to virtually pick any spot from which to take my shots.  I was confronted by a building which Newman describes as being of "considerable interest and beauty" and I wouldn't argue with that.  It seems that there has been a church here at least since the Conquest (possibly earlier), but the present flint structure is largely Early English dating from the 13th century, with a west tower; chancel and, unusually, a narrow south aisle with clerestory windows.  The 14th century saw the addition of a singularly grand north chapel and chancel, the sum of which we see before us today.  It once belonged to the abbey of St. Radigund, but has certainly fared much better than that ivy-clad ruin situated high on the isolated chalk plateau behind Dover.

     The first recorded rector was Herbert de Averenches, son of Simon, the Lord of the Barony of Folkestone.  His short incumbency lasted between 1199 and 1203, and would certainly have been in the original Norman church, the only traces of which are to be found embedded in the walls of the present building.  He lies buried in an engraved stone coffin in the floor of the north chapel and the inscription, claimed to be the earliest to be found anywhere in a Kent church, reads thus:  'Here lieth Herbert, offspring of Simon.  A man open-hearted, assured by hope of good things, fluent in words of faith.'

     To complete the very pleasant picture here, set above the church among clumps of beech trees sits the Old Rectory, a handsome early 18th century house in different shades of red brick with an adjoining entrance gate into the churchyard - no doubt the abode of the rectors past and present.  In order to cut down the glare on the church walls, and to maximise the effect of the blue sky, I decided to shoot with a polariser and warm-up filter.  I was reasonably pleased with the result, although one is never entirely happy and always feels that one could do better.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

St. Mary, Chartham

     Situated south-west of Canterbury, at the foot of the North Downs on the River Stour, Chartham promises much as one approaches it down the hill from the A28, and sees the red-tiled roofs surrounding the church.  Sadly, the village doesn't live up to this early promise but, happily, the same cannot be said of this fine cruciform building that stands heroically against the press of the adjacent paper factory.  This impressive building is known to have been in the course of erection in 1294, for it is recorded that in that year Edward III remitted part of a fine to the vicar 'towards the works of a church begun by him.'

     Built of knapped flint, it has the usual arrangement of aisleless nave, chancel and north and south transepts, but with a Perpendicular-style (1350-1500) tower situated at the west end of the building and not, as is more usual, over the crossing.  With diagonal buttresses and square north turret, the tower was probably built after 1490 - when money was left for repairing the original - and houses what are claimed to be the oldest set of five bells in Kent.  According to John Newman, the stained glass in the chancel was greatly renewed in 1881, but enough remains from 1294 "to guarantee the authenticity of the whole."

     The magnet that draws most interest is its fine life-size brass to Sir Robert de Septvans, a crusader who fought with Edward I.  This celebrated brass, 6 feet 3 inches in length - the oldest in Kent and fourth oldest in England - portrays the knight with his hands clasped in prayer; cross-legged, bareheaded with finely curled side locks and wearing a surcoat over his mail armour.  He wears a massive sword and carries a shield dotted with his emblem, a winnowing fan.  He also wears ailettes - a type of early 14th century epaulet - which is a rare feature on monumental effigies.  Situated in the north transept, it originally lay in the centre of the chancel, and was probably moved during the Victorian restoration of the sanctuary in 1873-5.  Unfortunately, the key-holder was not at home when I photographed the church, so I have yet to see this brass with my own eyes - hopefully I shall do so eventually.

     Moving back to the paper factory, although the present mill was opened in 1949, papermaking has been a major industry in the village for more than six-hundred years and, the owner of an earlier mill is credited with introducing straw into papermaking technology for the first time.  In 1939, the Chartham mill was a very important site producing all the tracing paper Britain needed for use, among other things, in the design of tanks, planes and other weapons to assist the war effort.  The village therefore can justly claim to have played its part in the defence of this sceptered isle.  All-in-all, one feels that Chartham's old warrior would have approved.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

St. James the Great, Elmsted

     This is precisely the sort of church that I like so much, in fact it is one of my personal favourites, standing alone with no village to hem it in - only a farm on the opposite side of the lane - on top of the breezy Downs.

     St. James is of Norman origin with nave, chancel, gabled aisles, and north and south chapels resulting in the typically Kentish three equal gables at the east end.  The most striking feature of this attractive church, and the one that does the most to distinguish it from the realms of the ordinary, is the Early English (1200-1300) flint tower with an overlapping wooden belfry and shingled spire.  The whole thing looks slightly top-heavy and probably explains the unusually large Elizabethan buttress which helps support it.  Masons marks can be still be seen quite clearly on the north and south doorways, of which, according to the church pamphlet, the oblique strokes are Norman and the neater claw marks are medieval - just the kind of feature that serves so well to remind us of the timeless nature of these fantastic old buildings.

East window in the Honeywood Chapel
      The interior, which has an unmistakable air of antiquity, has several fascinating features - enough to interest the most casual 'church crawler.'  There is a Norman font of local marble but, unusually, of an octagonal shape; the 15th century arcade pillars which stand on their original Norman bases; carved corbel heads with one poking its tongue out (what is the significance of this?) and, at the west end of the north aisle, an original vestry doorway which Newman tells us is "a very rare late medieval survival."  The vast majority of the monuments are to the Honeywood family, and eponymously, the south chapel is named after them.  An interesting feature of this, which I made a point of photographing, is the east window.  It commemorates Arthur Honeywood who died in the Afghan wars in a battle that only a dog survived.  Apparently, the dog was decorated by Queen Victoria (taking the old adage of the British being a nation of dog-lovers a bit too far, I think!)  The chapel also has an altar stone which was recovered from the churchyard, and a ledger stone to another Honeywood described as 'Controller of Ye Revenue of Tenthes and First Fruits' (the medieval version of the tax man?)

     There was so much room to shoot, from in and out of the churchyard, that I was able to take my time and select my spot carefully, finally settling on the shot used here.  This is an uncommonly handsome church of which its parishioners have every right to be proud.  At the time of writing I have visited it three times, shooting in both colour and monochrome and, doubtless, I shall return again.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

St. Mary the Virgin, Eastry

     St. Mary's is a grand-looking church befitting the former importance of its village, for Eastry was once the Royal capital of the Saxon Kingdom of Kent.  It is generally accepted that Eastry Court, which stands next to the church, was built on the site of the Royal Hall of Kentish Kings.  It was here that the murder of King Egbert's nephews took place - the tale of which (as the more unflagging readers among you may recall) was recounted earlier in the narrative on Minster-in-Thanet.

     Built of flint and Caen stone, the church dates from the 12th century and consists of a mostly Early English chancel (1200-1300) and clerestoried nave with north and south aisles, and is finished off with a solid west tower complete with a north-east stair turret; low lean-to annexes north and south; Norman doorway; and Norman windows in the north and south faces. 

     My wife and I were fortunate enough to be visiting the village one day, with some friends who were searching the churchyard for signs of a relative who had lived in the village years before.  While so engaged, we were approached by a very friendly gentleman who happened to be one of the church wardens.  He very kindly obtained the key and then treated us to a highly entertaining guided tour.  He told us that Becket hid in the tunnel, which links the church with Eastry Court, when fleeing the wrath of Henry II from Sandwich in 1164, and showed us the spot where he entered the tunnel.  He pointed out the circular arcade pillars and asked us if we could spot the oddity.  This was one octagonal pillar, a late 13th century substitute, with carvings said to represent a perpetual calendar from which feast days were calculated.  Above the chancel arch are some faded medieval wall-paintings.  These are in medallion form, in four tiers of seven roundels, and were discovered beneath a coat of plaster.  The walls are bedecked with hanging memorials, one of which is to a Captain John Harvey RN, a native of Eastry, who died of his wounds at the battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794 when the British defeated the French fleet off Brest.  It features a circular relief of the battle, over which floats an angel holding scales and a victors palm.  Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton are known to have visited Eastry during their visits to Heronden House - possibly visiting our aforementioned Captain?

     Syms remarked how vividly the old village churches brought alive the history of this country and how, for him, this was part of their appeal.  I totally agree, but would go further and say that, allied to this, is the pleasure of meeting so many pleasant people who often stop and chat when they spot me in the churchyard.  Just like our churchwarden friend, whose name now sadly escapes me, and who made our visit so memorable.  They are a credit to their respective villages, and do great honour to the churches in which they display such obvious affection.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

St. Giles, Kingston

     I made my way here having just photographed Lyminge church and, although St. Giles is not as grand and cannot quite claim the historical pedigree of the former, it is still something of a rarity.  Being early Norman it is constructed of flint but, like Elmstone, is one of only a few Kent churches where the corners are not dressed with quoins as the stone was expensive to import.  It possesses an aisleless nave and lower chancel, and has not undergone a great deal of enlargement - a 14th century tower, north porch and an extension to the east end of the chancel being the only additions.  It stands on an elevated churchyard above its small village, and I found this old and compact little building very easy on the eye as I made my way up the path to the accompaniment of the nesting birds in the trees alongside.

     The first listed rector here was Alexander de la Knolle in 1265, but there must have surely been others before this in a church dating from the 11th century.  In 1647, a Nicholas Dingley was appointed "in the tune of the Commonwealth" but at the Restoration, an attempt was made to eject him and Miles Barnes, the rector of Brooke, was appointed on August 2nd 1660.  He, however, failed to replace him and Mr. Dingley continued in possession until his death in 1671.  Good for him!

     I found the welcoming interior most interesting.  There is an Elizabethan pulpit dating from the 16th century; a somewhat time-worn corbel head under the tower overlooking the font, which I think is supposed to represent St. Augustine; a Norman font with octagonal bowl on shafts, with two sunken arches and round-topped each side ( a rarity for a Norman font); and there is supposed to be a complete set of armour with tabard, but I didn't see it myself.  Perhaps it has been removed for safekeeping, and this was why I found the church to be open (Syms notes that when he visited he found it locked).

     There is a fascinating story concerning the font.  It dates from the very beginning of the 13th century and was apparently cast out of the church on account of its age and used to hold pig food!  It was rescued "from profanation" (to quote the church pamphlet) by one, Bryan Faussett in 1775, and kept in his summer-house at Heppington where it remained until it was finally restored to Kingston church - after an absence of one-hundred-and-sixty years - in 1931!

     I really enjoyed my visit here, and even the weather smiled on me as the sun finally put in an appearance for the first time that day.  I used a warm-up filter to enhance the winter sunshine and a grey graduated filter to slightly darken the sky.  Following Lyminge, it was the perfect culmination of a days photography.

Monday, 1 November 2010

St. Martin of Tours, Herne

     My wife and I arrived here having come from little Westbere, and how enormous this large church seemed by comparison.  It resembles those more frequently found in the Weald of Kent, which were usually built on a grander scale than those in the eastern part of the county, largely with the help of the rich wool merchants.  How Herne warranted a church of these proportions, or how it was funded in such a small village can only remain a mystery.

     Apparently, during the late 1980's, the apsidal foundation walls of an earlier smaller church were found beneath the north chapel.  Syms puts forward the theory that this smaller building was here when Herne was a chapelry of Reculver, and after Reculver "succumbed to the sea" this larger church was built.  It is 14th century, of ragstone and flint, and comprises a nave and chancel with aisles continued as chapels, and a broad north-west tower with an avenue of chestnuts leading up to the north porch.  This building (especially the tower) has been afforded the highest acclaim by the architectural specialists, and I bow to their superior knowledge.  However, if I am to remain true to my purpose and record my impressions, I have to say that it is not the type of church that attracts me, being too large and square for my taste and lacking the rustic simplicity of the smaller country church.

     Historically, it is quite another story.  A former incumbent was Nicholas Ridley (1538-1549) who, while he was vicar, allowed the Te Deum to be sung here in English for the first time in England.  Following promotion to the See of Rochester, and later to London, he became heavily involved in affairs of state.  He, subsequently unwisely, championed the claims of Lady Jane Grey to the throne in 1553, and two years later was convicted of heresy and sentenced to death.  He was burned at the stake along with his fellow Bishop, Hugh Latimer, on 16th October 1555 in Broad Street, Oxford.  While at the stake, Latimer spoke these inspiring words:  "Be of good comfort Master Ridley.  Play the man.  We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England as I trust shall never be put out."  Religious or otherwise, one cannot help having a high regard for members of the clergy for their courage in the face of such horror and adversity.  No doubt such examples are still being demonstrated in various trouble-torn parts of the world today.

     The day of shooting was dull and overcast, so I experimented with warm-up, graduated and soft focus filters to add some much needed colour and atmosphere.  Ironically, this church that didn't particularly appeal to me, yielded a shot that I rate among the best in my collection.  Such is the unpredictability and fascination of this hobby that I love so much.