Nicholas Church, St Nicholas at Wade
TR 265 667
DIOCESE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1993
LOCATION: In the centre of the village in the
north-western part of the Isle of Thanet at about 70ft above O.D. The
'wade' across the Wantsum Channel to Reculver was just over a mile to
the north-west i.e. in the area of Chambers Wall.
DESCRIPTION: The earliest church here (a chapel to Reculver) was
almost certainly built in the late 11th century (St. Nicholas became
popular in western Europe after the body of saint was brought from
Myra in Southern Turkey to Bari in Italy in 1087). The west wall of
the nave in its lower section probably dates from this period. It is
of Thanet Beds sandstone and large flints, and though the west doorway
is externally entirely of cement-repairs, a few Quarr stone blocks can
just be seen appearing behind the cement. Other Quarr stone blocks can
be seen on the north-side of the chancel, where they are clearly not
in situ. The very long nave must be from the original church, though
it is possible that originally this was a nave and chancel combined.
There is no visible evidence for early work in the north-east and
south-east corners of the nave.
By the mid-12th century a south aisle had been added to
the nave, and the very fine mid- to late 12th century arcade for this
still survives. The decorative elements suggest that this arcade is
not earlier than c. 1170, and the most westerly of the three
round-headed arches is probably a bit later still (c. 1180 - 1200). A
north aisle was probably also built at this time but the arcade was
replaced in c. 1340.
In the very late 12th or early 13th century, a completely
new east end was created with a new long chancel flanked by two
smaller chapels (probably from the beginning dedicated to Our
Lady-north-and-St. Thomas Becket-south). Vestiges of the original east
lancet windows (probably triplets) survive in the chapels' east walls
cut through by the later windows. Another lancet jamb can be seen on
the S.E. side of the chancel. The north chapel has a completely plain
pointed arch into the north aisle (with a bar stop) and two pointed
arches into the chancel with a round pillar and scalloped capital in
between. The south chapel still has an original lancet on the
south-east (but perhaps of the mid/late 13th century), and an internal
roll moulding. It has a small external S.W. doorway and another into
the centre of the chancel. To the west of this is a plain pointed arch
between chapel and chancel, and it seems probable that a smaller
chapel was extended later in the 13th century.
In the late 13th to early 14th century various new
windows were put into these chapels and the chancel. There is a very
fine 5-light decorated east window to the chancel (restored) as well
as a 3-light reticulated window to the north chapel, and two other
2-light north windows to this chapel. At about the same time, a vestry
was perhaps added on the north-east side of the chancel. It has now
disappeared except for a small blocked doorway (with broach stops) in
the chancel north wall. A fine 2-light window put into the middle of
the south wall of the south chapel has fine external and internal
carved-head label-stops. The simple rafter, collar and soulace roof
over the chancel may also be early 14th century.
Also in the late 13th/early 14th century, a new
buttressed south wall with three two-light windows was built for the
nave south aisle, and a new wide chancel arch was made. The nave
3-light west window may also have been of this date, but is entirely
renewed. Glynne says that the upper part of it was walled up before
In c. 1340 a major rebuilding of the nave was undertaken
with a completely new north aisle and arcade (compare this with the
nearby Birchington church, where the arcade is documented). The arcade
has finely cut Ragstone columns, capitals and bases with Caenstone
arcades over. The half columns at either end are also of Caen. The new
north aisle wall has contemporary two-light Ragstone windows (several
with their original glazing and saddle-bars), and external buttresses
with a continuous plinth. The contemporary north doorway is externally
covered with cement repairs. Glynne also tells us of a lead font, of
octagonal form on a circular base.
On the south-west side of the nave a magnificent new
tower was also built in c. 1340. It has elaborate internal mouldings,
and a very fine south window (compare this with the c. 1342 windows of
the Table Hall at Canterbury Cathedral Priory). The west window in the
tower was never made, nor was the projected rib-vault completed.
Externally the tower has superb tabular knapped flint (and some Thanet
Beds sandstone) facing in its lower part (compare with the
contemporary tower at Herne). It also has an octagonal south-west
stair-turret with Ragstone side-alternate quoins. The plinth around
the tower is now covered by a cement gutter. A little after the tower
was built a new south porch (with chamfer above) was constructed. The
plinth of a tower buttress can just be seen inside the north west
corner of the porch. The doorway into the church still contains its
fine original pair of doors. Opposite it is a contemporary arch (with
a Ragstone half column), completing the nave south arcade. The larger
floor area here (just east of the tower) suggests that a wider south
aisle may have been projected but never built.
In the late 15th century, a new clerestory to the nave,
with square-headed two light Perpendicular windows, was built. The
contemporary shallow-pitched king-post roof now only survives at the
west end of the nave. At about the same time the top of the tower, and
the aisles and porch were given knapped-flint crenellated parapets
(and very low pitched shed roofs). There is also a shallow-pitched
king-post roof of the same date over the north chapel, though the
crown-post roof over the south chapel probably dates from earlier in
the 15th century.
In the early 16th century a new rood-screen was put in,
and though this has gone, the contemporary doorway and stairs
(blocked) to the upper doorway to the rood loft on the south-east
survive, as do the two wooden screens into the south-east and
After the Reformation there is a fine 1615 pulpit (now
without its tester) and a 1757 ten-branched chandelier (with crown and
mitre) in the nave. The flat nave ceiling is perhaps contemporary with
it. In 1773, lead boxes and down-pipes were added to the nave
clerestory walls (with the church wardens initials). The south chapel
was now the parish school. The chancel was thoroughly repaired and the
east wall rebuilt by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1875 (with a
new gable). The nave was restored and re-seated the following year.
BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
Thanet Beds sandstone and large flints with Quarr stone quoins were
used in the early Norman church with Caenstone for the 12th and 13th
The 1875 repairs are in Bathstone, and most recently Portland stone
has been used. There is a brick chimney stack (for the school) on the
south side of the chancel.
Some original glazing bars survive in the nave aisle windows.
EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: In the north (Bridges) Chapel, table
tomb of Edward Bridges (ob. 1757). Royal Arms of George III over south
CHURCHYARD AND ENVIRONS:
Size & Shape: Large roughly rectangular area around church, now
raised well above the road level outside the boundary walls.
Boundary walls: c. 18th/19th century
enclosing: None, but drop to street on west + south from 'higher
Late med. status (vicarage): Vicarage; Chapel to Reculver until the
end of the 13th century, then separate vicarage endowed by the
archbishop in 1310. After the Reformation it was united with Sarre +
Patron: The Archbishop of Canterbury
Other documentary sources: Test. Cant. (E. Kent 1907), 390 says John
Andrews in a will of 1481 asked to be buried in the Chapel of St.
Thomas-the-Martyr on the south side, and gave 6 marks to the making of
a window in the east part of the aforesaid chapel (? not done). Hasted
(2nd ed.) X, 243-5.
Reused materials: Early Norman Quarr stone in N.E. chancel quoin.
SURVIVAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DEPOSITS:
Inside present church: - Good
Outside present church: Good, except where boiler house and deep
heating access tunnel to church have cut into them on south side of
S.E. chapel. There is also probably a burial vault on the north-east
side of the chancel where the earlier 14th century vestry lay.
To structure: There have been many cement repairs to the external
masonry, but more recently new Portland stone has been used to repair
Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): April 1992 A. Stocker (P.M.T.)
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT:
The church and churchyard: An early Norman Chapel, with large new 13th
century chancel and contemporary flanking chapels. Very fine late 12th
century south nave arcade, and large-scale rebuilding of nave north
aisle (and arcade) and south-west tower in c. 1340. Nave clerestory
and roof of c. 1500, as well as new crenellated parapets to nave
aisles and tower.
The wider context: One of a group (with Birchington, Herne etc).
exhibiting major building works of c. 1340 (towers, arcades etc),
after it had a large population expansion and become a parish church
in its own right.
REFERENCES: Joseph Clarke 'The Church of St Nicholas-at-Wade' Arch.
Cant. 12 (1878), 19-26. S.R. Glynne, Notes on the Churches of Kent
Guide Books: Booklet anon (undated), with sketches by J. Doyle.
Plans & early illustrations: In Clarke (supra), but N.B. this is
inaccurate in various areas (eg. showing non-existent spiral-stair on
W. side of porch).
DATE VISITED: 11th October 1993 and 20th November
1993 REPORT BY: Tim