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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

  St Mary the Virgin Church, Downe       TQ 432617

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1992

LOCATION: In centre of village at c.520 feet above O.D. on clay-with-flints on the Chalk downland top. The village no doubt grew up later, around the Chapel-of-ease.

DESCRIPTION: As this church was initially only a chapel to Hayes, it may only have come into existence in the 12th century.

The earliest evidence in the fabric is the c. late 12th century lancet in the middle of the south wall of the nave. It has deeply splayed jambs and is very narrow (the external jambs are entirely 19th century restoration). The surrounding wall face is also probably contemporary and is composed of coursed whole flints. This early wall face terminates under the Perp. window to the east where there is a straight joint with a ragstone jamb of side alternate quoins. This and the face to the east (with smaller flints, a few knapped) is perhaps 13th century, and may present the first extension of the chancel. The later extension of the chancel has brought the nave and chancel together under one roof with no break between the two (a very slight kink in the plan of the N. wall may also mark an earlier break between nave/chancel.

The west tower may also be 13th century, but its diagonal buttresses and tower arch perhaps suggest that it was first added in the 15th century after the west wall had been demolished. There is quite a lot of reused Reigate stone (?12th/13th cent.) reused in the face, while the large blocks of the tower arch (engaged semi-octagonal piers and capitals + bases, + arch over are of Kentish Ragstone. Also of 15th century date are the two and three light perpendicular windows on the north and south sides of the church. They all have cinque-foiled heads and square hood-moulds, and, though much restored, some part of them (window-head etc) are still in original ragstone. The doorway on the north (now blocked) is of the same date and also of ragstone. and it seems likely that the whole north wall of the nave was rebuilt in the 15th century with a plinth and added buttresses, perhaps due to the instability of the earlier wall. There is also a plinth west of the porch on the nave south wall, and a curious projecting quoin on the outside S. side of the sanctuary. The continuous crown-post roof over the whole of the nave and chancel must also date from the 15th century rebuilding, as did presumably the east wall + window, though this has been heavily restored (including all the quoins) in 1879 and 1950. The inner jambs of the east windows are probably 15th century, but all the inner jambs in the church are obscured by whitewash/thin plaster. It seems likely that the tower was built/rebuilt in the 15th century with diagonal buttresses. The shingled broach-spire on top is also probably late medieval. There is a plain octagonal font of Purbeck Marble (5 blocks) on a Ragstone moulded plinth (15th cent.).

Glynne (1877) p.273 tells us that in 1832 "the interior is neatly and even elegantly fitted up, the pews and pulpit are handsome, and there is a barrel organ. The roof is covered and boarded. the chancel contains a feathered niche. The east window has modern stained glass; the altar rails and table are handsome, and the altar cloth is a curious ancient one of damask".

Unfortunately there was a very heavy restoration in 1879 by Daniel Bell, and the interior was completely reorganised. A Vestry was added to the north of the chancel (with boiler-room beneath - ? reusing earlier brick burial vaults). In 1832, the vestry was in the base of the tower. The north window of the chancel seems to be totally new in 1879, as was the E. window tracery. The ambry (N.) and Piscina (S.) were also remade at this time, and steps were made in the chancel (also a boarded ceiling over the sanctuary). An organ was added under an arch between vestry. Much disturbance was done to the floors at this time (evidence from recent work), when many of the brick vaults were broken into, and filled with rubble.

Externally there was much refacing and a new south doorway and porch were built. Charles Darwin, a local resident (from 1842 to 1882) no doubt saw all the changes being carried out.

The vestry was extended to the west a bit later (?1904).

After war-time bomb damage, the east end was rebuilt in 1950 with new N.E. + N.W. quoins (and new quoins to the jutting S.W. corner of the sanctuary), and new stone in the east window (new glass was also put in).

In 1991-2 a new central heating pipe duct was built down the centre of the tower, nave and chancel, exposing many already damaged brick vaults + burials. The legers were taken up and relaid after new brick walls (on a reinforced concrete slab) were inserted. Disturbance down the centre of the church has therefore gone down 3-4 feet.

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): Flint with ? Reigate stone quoins for the earliest work (12th/13th cent.), and Kentish Ragstone quoins, etc., for the 15th cent. Bath stone was used in the 1879 restoration, while the 1950 east end restoration is of ? Clipsham (Check).

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: There are some small brasses in the legers (figures and inscriptions) - all relaid down the nave + chancel aisle. Also very fine brasses to Jacob Verzelini (Venetion Glassmaker) + Family (1606). The indent is in the centre of the chancel, but the brasses are now set on a board in the N.W. corner of the nave.

Size & Shape: Small irregular-shaped churchyard around church. To the north-west there is a newer, detached churchyard.

Condition: Good

Present burial: closed, but detached extension still open for burial.

Exceptional monuments: Some good 18th century table tombs and headstones.

Ecological potential: One very ancient Yew tree to the south of the church porch (mentioned by Glynne in 1832 as 'a very fine yew'.)

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Late med. status: Chapel to Hayes, having curate only.

Patron: (In the Archbishop of Canterbury's exempt Deanery of Shoreham) Rector of Orpington (Patron) Manor was part of Great Orpington Manor - see Hasted II (1797), 54-9.

Other documentary sources: Thorpe Reg. Roff. (1769), 947-9 lists the monuments and memorials.

Reused materials: A few Roman bricks in the walls.

Inside present church: Poor in centre of nave + chancel, but ? better under pews. Many burials exposed in 1991 work (see below).

Outside present church: Quite good.

To structure: Rebuilding of E. end in 1950 after war damage.

To floors: New brick-lined channel for heating pipes dug from tower W. wall, up the centre of the nave aisle and into the chancel, exposing brick vaults, etc.

To graveyard: Drainage trench dug along north side of church 1990-1.

The church and churchyard: A small chapel-of-ease on the Downland top with mostly late medieval fabric - over-restored in 1879.

Plans & drawings: Lithograph published 1786 (view from S.W.) and early 19th cent. view from SE by H Petrie. Plan drawn by Frank Elder (May 1991), partly based on earlier plan in records (1:72).

DATES VISITED: 21.1.92. & 25.1.92.                       REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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