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.

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