St Martin Church, Canterbury TR
CANTERBURY DIOCESE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1992
LOCATION: On the east side of Canterbury about _
mile beyond the City Wall just north of the Sandwich road (exactly as
described by Bede Hist. Ecc. I,26), it lies in its own 'soke",
a detached portion of the Archbishop's manor of Westgate. The church
is on a sloping hillside at c 90ft above O.D.
DESCRIPTION: This exceptionally famous church can justifiably claim to
have the longest continuous use of any church in Britain. Much has
been written about its very early fabric (the nave and western half of
the chancel), and this need only be summarised briefly here. The
latter medieval fabric of the church has, however, only be discussed
very briefly. The fabric of the whole church was first studied in
detail in 1896 when limited excavation and much plaster stripping was
The earliest part of the church is the western half of the chancel,
which was probably built before the arrival, in A.D. 597, of the St.
Augustine and his followers. Only further excavation will reveal
whether it is late Roman in date or early Anglo-Saxon. The walls are
built of large broken Roman bricks, and in the southwall is an
original doorway covered by a large flat lintel, which is just
possibly a reused Roman gravestone. The 1896 excavation revealed that
this doorway communicated with a small 'particus' on the south which
had an opus signinum floor. This porticus was probably
demolished, and the doorway blocked when the nave was built. Cut
through the south wall of the charnel a little to the east of the
porticus is another round-headed doorway which is clearly a later
insertion, perhaps of the time of the nave. It too has a later
blocking, and on the western external jamb is a ? reused block on
which is a Middle Anglo-Saxon inscription.
The nave of the church, which survives to probably its full height,
was probably added in the 7th century. It is of distinctive masonry
with small blockwork of local sandstone, etc., a string-courses of
Roman brick. Original windows only survive in the west wall where they
can still be seen inside. They were enlarged upwards perhaps in the
later Anglo-Saxon period and then blocked in the late 14th century by
the tower walls. Externally the nave probably had pilaster buttresses
at each of its corners, but many of these have been knocked off. In
the centre of the south side is a small semicircular buttress, and
there may have been another on the north, but this would have been
removed by the later north doorway. Many of the original quoins stones
are of Calcaire Grossier (from the Parish Basin), but these are
probably reused Roman. There may have been an original west doorway,
but this was rebuilt in the late 14th century.
The small round-headed piscina on the S.E. side of the nave is perhaps
mid-12th century. No further additions were made to the fabric until
in the very late 12th or early 13th century the chancel was doubled in
length to the east. (Livett suggested two stages of extension 12th and
13th centuries.) At this time the three lancets in the south wall were
added as well as another in the new north wall. An early 19 century
drawing also apparently shows a doubt lancet further west (now
obliterated by the c. 1845 vestry opening). Unfortunately the
external jambs of these windows are all heavily restored, and the
eastern end of the chancel was virtually rebuilt and perhaps slightly
lengthened in 1859. The east well now contains a 19th century triple
lancet, but this replaced a three-light c. 1300 window that is shown
in the 1839 view of the interior of the church by William Burgess. On
the north side of the extended chancel is a tomb (opened in 1844)
under a semicircular arch. On the south side is a so-called 'sedile'
also under a semi-circular arch of Roman bricks.
Perhaps in the 12th century a new doorway was put into the middle of
the north side of the nave, but when this was blocked up in the
mid-19th century (and the later porch destroyed), all traces
externally of the architecture were destroyed but parts of the small
block internal jambs are visible. The doorway on the south-west side
of the nave was probably inserted in the 13th century, but only the
pointed relieving arch above the now- blocked opening survives. It is
cut through by an early 14th century lancet with a trefoil head (and
curiously other tracery fragments above), and this is presumably the
date of the blocking of the doorway after only a short period of use.
All the other windows that survive in the nave are also early 14th
century. They consist of a pair of trefoil-headed lancets which flank
the now-blocked doorway on the north side, and two two-light windows
with quatrefoils above, which are found at the east end of the nave on
the north and south sides. It is interesting to note that no aisles
were added to the nave in the 12th, 13th, or early 14th centuries,
showing that the population of the 'Soke' or 'Ville of St. Martins'
remained quite small during this period of population growth (the nave
is however wider c. 25 feet than the Norman naves of other
churches in Canterbury). The north-east buttress to the nave (now
incorporated into the vestry) is also perhaps 14th century in date.
The final addition to the church is of the small western tower and
porch. This was perhaps being erected at the very end of the 14th
century (the Rector, John Vagge's, will of 1397 gives 6s. 8d. to the
'work of the bell-tower'). The tower is square in plan (10ft. square
internally) and has an external plinth. A simple pointed west doorway
was also inserted into the west wall of the nave at this time, and
this is a small version of the pointed west arch in the tower which
must have become the main doorway of the church at this time with a
porch on the ground floor of the tower (also used by the
bell-ringers). Because of the steep slope upwards to the east, 4 steps
up had to be made into the church under the eastern part of the tower.
Three further steps lead up into the chancel, and a whole flight of
steps lead up to the church from the west. The tower, which is only
just over 40 feet high, has small windows in its upper (bell) chamber
and one window (restored) over the west doorway. It has two large
west-facing buttresses, a simple crenellated top and a pyramid roof.
The upper wall at the west end of the nave, and probably the simple
collar and rafter roof of the nave, is the same date as the tower. The
chancel arch may also be c. 1400, though a rebuilding perhaps
of a 13th cent. arch. On either side of the nave at its extreme east
end are holes for the rood beam.
A major restoration was carried out in 1844-5, and new panelling and
pews were inserted by Daniel Firch. The chancel was rebuilt with a new
roof (and new vestry and organ chamber on the north side).
BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The earliest materials are all reused Roman bricks and quoins of
Calcaire Grossier (also some Marquise stone). Local Tertiary sandstone
and some tufa, flint and chalk is used for the rubblework in the nave,
etc. The later windows and tower quoins use Kentish Ragstone.
In the nave there is much visible use of the original Salmon pink
mortar (containing crushed Roman brick). Unfortunately there is much
heavy recent pointing on the outside of the chancel.
For the use of Calcaire Grossier and Marquise stone, see B.C. Worssam
and T.K.T. Tatton-Brown 'The stone of the Reculver Columns and the
Reculver Cross' in D. Parsons (ed.) Stone: Quarrying and Building
in England AD 43-1525 (1990), 51-69, especially 59-61 and fig. 20.
EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH:
Brasses to Thomas Stoughton (1591) and of Fraunces family (1587) in
chancel. Also very large monument under the tower to Sir John Finch
(1660) - on the south side. Also a fragment of a medieval grave-slab.
CHURCHYARD AND ENVIRONS:
Size & Shape: Large rectangular area around church, with large
19th cent. extension to N. and more recent extension on higher terrace
Boundary walls: 19th cent.
Building in churchyard or on boundary: 19th cent. Lychgate to S.W.
Exceptional monuments: Some good 18th cent. monuments on S. wall of
nave (but worn), and some good 18th - early 19th cent. gravestones,
but mutilations in late 1970s when bodystones were removed.
HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Bede Hist. Ecc. I, 26 (seek Sherley-Price
for Penguin Classics translation, (1955), 70-1).
Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): ?Minster church for
Middle-Saxon Community, with seat for suffragan bishop (Chorepiscopus)
in Late Saxon period.
Late med. status: Rectory.
Patron: The Archbishop of Canterbury.
Other documentary sources: Many sources - see full discussion by M.
Sparks and T. Tatton-Brown 'The History of the Ville of St. Martin's,
Canterbury' in J. Rady op. cit. (below), 200-212. See also E.
Hasted Hist + Top Survey of Kent (2nd ed. 1800), 182-5, and W.
Somner, The Act. of Canterbury (1703 ed.), 45.
Wills in Test. Cant. (E. Kent, 1907), 53-4 mention 'the High
Cross in the nave' (1482), and 'Light of the cross in the Roodloft
(1504). There were also lights of Our Lady (1387+), St Christopher,
St. Martin and a new cross was bought in 1462. The will of John
Vagge (Rector) of 1397 is the earliest surviving in the County and in
it he gives 6s. 8d. to 'operi campanilis' see Guide to the Kent County
Archives Office (1958), 234 + pl. XI.
Reused materials: Many Roman bricks.
Finds from church/churchyard: From church, late Medieval Chrismatory
discovered on nave wall-top during 19th cent. restoration (1859).
From the churchyard the famous "St. Martins' Hoard" (a c.
A.D.600 necklace of reused coins) found in c. 1845 - now in
Liverpool Museum. See P. Grierson 'The Canterbury (St. Martin's) Hoard
of Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Coin-Ornaments, British Numismatic
Journal 27 (1952-4), 39-51.
Previous archaeological work (published): Brief observations below
chancel floor by Dr. Frank Jenkins in Jan. 1954, published in Med.
Arch. IX (1965), 11-15.
Excavations just to the south of the church in 1984-5 are fully
published in J. Rody, 'Excavations at St. Martin's Hill, 1984-5' Arch.
Cant. 104 (1987), 123-218.
G.M. Livett's 1896 excavations are described in Routledge's 1897 and
1897 publications (see over).
G.M. Livett's drawings of the early Saxon work (coloured elevations)
were found in the boiler house - now at C.A.T.
SURVIVAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DEPOSITS:
Inside present church: ?Good, though cut into by burials.
Outside present church: Good, despite gutter S. of chancel, and 1896
To structure: Heavy repointing of early fabric on S. side of chancel
early 1980s. Also restoration of tower in 1984 (+ additional minor
works in 1991).
To graveyard: Many 18th cent. bodystones on S. side of church
destroyed when local authority took over maintenance c. late
Quinquennial inspection (date/architect): APRIL 1989 ANDREW CLAGUE
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT:
The church and churchyard: Archaeologically, this is one of the most
important churches in Britain with its uniquely early surviving fabric
and documented history. Apart from the 12th/13th century eastern
extension to the chancel, and the late 14th century west tower, this
church has a fabric that is probably entirely early Anglo-Saxon (or
even incorporation late Roman work). The surrounding surviving
below-ground archaeology is therefore of very great importance.
The wider context: It need hardly be added that the uniquely early
history and fabric of this church make it of national importance. The
Late Roman/Early Anglo-Saxon fabric probably has its closest parallels
in 6th century Rome.
REFERENCES: C.F. Routledge, The Church of St Martin, Canterbury: an
illustrated account of its history and fabric (London, 1898), and
C.F. Routlege 'St Martin's church, Canterbury' Arch. Cant. 2.2
(1897) 1-28. Also my brief summary 'St Martin's church in the 6th +
7th centuries' in M.J. Sparks (ed.) The Parish of St. Martin and St
Paul (1980), 12-18. Also H.M. + J. Taylor Anglo-Saxon
Architecture (1965), 143-5.
Guide book: Early photos of 1896 excavation in Routledge (opp, cit.
Plans & drawings: Many early views from the mid-17th cent. (in the
Bird's Eye view of St. Augustines in Dugdale), onwards, including
Stakley's 1722 view from south (It. Cur.). There is also an
early 19th cent. interior view looking east before restoration by
William Burgess (1839). First measured plan by G.M. Livett (1896) in Arch.
Cant. 22 (1897), op.p.1. View from N.W. c. 1801 by Petrie,
showing N. Side before Vestry was built.
DATES VISITED: 26/7/91 +
REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown