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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

  St Dunstan Church, West Peckham       TQ 6443 5258

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1994

DESCRIPTION: The west tower is almost certainly, as Dr Harold Taylor (op. cit. infra) has pointed out, of late Anglo-Saxon date. The rare dedication to St Dunstan may also suggest that it was first built in his time (c. 960-88), or not long after his death, when he was quickly considered a saint. It is also worth noting that the great manor of (East) Peckham was acquired by the Archbishop and community at Canterbury at an early date, and that in A.D. 961 (ie. during Dunstan's archiepiscopate), Queen Eadgifu gave more land at 'Petteham' (probably Peckham) to Christ Church (Sawyer No. 1212). This was confirmed by King Aethelred (AD. 995-1005). The tower is built in two stages - a levelling up course can be seen half way up - but there cannot be much difference in date between the two stages. The upper stage has tall single-splayed windows (all with rough rubble jambs) in the centre of the north, west and south faces. Rough early render (particularly inside) can also be seen. The lower stage has north and south windows with double-splays (the window on the north has unfortunately had its internal splays cut back), and these windows are offset to the east, possibly suggesting that originally they were to light the west end of the original nave. The north-west and south-west quoins to the tower are all of rough undressed Ragstone blocks (as are those on the north-east and south-east above the roof). All the other masonry is roughly coursed rubble, including that up to the splayed jambs of the windows. The round-arched heads are also in rough rubble. The tower arch into the nave is now, most unfortunately a mechanically cut 20th century round-headed arch. Glynne, who visited the church in 1873 mentions 'a low round arch to the nave', and F. Grayling, County Churches: Kent (1913) Vol. II, 65 says 'The tower Norman with arch in character'. This may have been an Anglo-Saxon arch. It is also unfortunate that much of the external walls of the tower have recently been pointed up with a smeared-on cement render.

The nave of the church is almost certainly an early Norman addition to the tower. On the south-west it has in situ tufa quoins (roughly side alternate). The original quoin on the north-west has been disturbed, but reset tufa can be seen in the neighbouring wall. Various reset blocks of tufa above, and on either side of the Perpendicular window on the south side of the nave also suggest an earlier Norman window. There is also some reused tufa in the south side of the 13th century chancel. The other feature that suggests a late 11th or earlier 12th century date for the nave is the used of 'herringbone' masonry.

Under the tower, but until c. 1891 in the north-west part of the nave, is a c. 12th century font made of Tunbridge Wells sandstone. It is a plain square bowl, with several repairs and without a lead lining (and c. 17th century wooden lid), which sits on five shafts and a contemporary base. The new plinth was made with a step in c. 1891 when it was moved.

The chancel continues the line of the nave to the east, and there is no chancel arch but there is a break in the masonry between the two that is visible externally in the south wall. Above this one can see the two butting ends of the two later medieval wall-plates. Somewhere in this area, Petrie's 1807 drawing of the church seems to suggest that there was a small (? lancet) window now blocked. There was presumably an earlier smaller Norman chancel, which was demolished and replaced by the present structure in the early 13th century. The south wall of the chancel, which is of coursed, squared ragstone, contained two lancet windows, with a smaller c. 14th century priest's doorway in between. The lancet on the east survives, but has had all its external masonry renewed (not good modern work), while that on the west has been replaced by a two-light Perpendicular window. The blocked eastern side of the original lancet and its pointed rere-arch above, can, however still be seen inside. Some Reigate stone over and beside the later east window to the chancel, may well have come from some earlier lancets. There are also some c. 13th century putlog holes in the east wall.

In the earlier part of the 14th century, a new north aisle to the nave and north chapel to the chancel were created. It is of ragstone rubble and seems to have started to lean to the north during building. A whole series of plinthed buttresses were therefore added, and these seem to bond into the upper wall. There is a north doorway (perhaps removed and blocked in the 17th century), with only the relieving arch for it visible externally. In the bay east of this is an early 14th century two-light window of Rag with squared head but containing rough decorated tracery. Nearby opposite to this in the south wall of the nave is a similar window. It also has a flattened rere-arch. At the west end of the north wall of the north chapel is an inserted c. 1340 window (it is vertical, though the neighbouring wall leans out), with a traceried top in a two-centred arch.

There are two arches from the north aisle into the nave, with a ragstone octagonal capital, column and base in between. The engaged half-column on the west has no capital, while that on the east has been renewed. There were also two similar arches between the chancel and north chapel, with another central octagonal column, but these were mutilated in the mid-17th century when the 'Geary' pew was made ( the western arch was actually cut away). An early 14th century west doorway was also made into the tower, and this has a chamfered flattish rear arch, and side-alternate jambs on the south. The squat pyramid spire on the tower may also date to the 14th century, though the 'skirt' on sprockets, was presumably made in the late 19th century. The weather vane on top is dated 1818.

The chapel on the north-east, whose dedication is not known, was turned into a chantry chapel in 1408-9 for the Colepepers of Oxenhoath (see A. Hussey (ed). Kent Chantries pt II (1934), 203-5), though they had been buried in the chapel from at least 1389 (see the will of Geoffrey Colepeper).

A new two light Perpendicular window with a square hood mould was put into the eastern part of the north wall of the north-east chapel, though it was half-blocked in c. 1720 when the Bartholomew monument was put in. It still contains its original iron saddle-bars. There is also a two-light Perpendicular window at the west end of the north aisle (also with square hood-mould). Two-light Perpendicular windows with square hood-moulds were also put into the south wall of the nave and chancel, and there is a three-light Perpendicular window in the east wall of the chancel (with a renewed hood). Just visible under the c. 1720 Bartholomew monument in the chapel are the decorated spandrels of a wall tomb of the Colepepers. The main south door to the nave is also a fine 15th century one with a large square hood-mould. The north aisle was re-roofed in c. 1500 with a five bay wind-braced clasped side-purlin roof, and a roof-loft was also put in at about this time (see doorway to loft on north side of chancel).

In the mid-17th century the fine 'Geary' pew (with vault under) was made (for the owners of Oxenhoath) in the north chapel. It still contains many fine seats, door, panelling, roof, hatchments and monuments, and a new doorway on the east with steps up (This area was redone in the early 18th century with a new door, etc.) There is also a 17th century hexagonal pulpit (on c. 1891 base) and three 17th century bells in the tower. The south porch with rough rag rubble walls and rag quoins may be 17th century or a little earlier. It has a blocked window on the west. The major restoration took place in c. 1891 when the nave roof was repaired and a boarded ceiling was put in the chancel, also a new screen and rood-loft and western organ gallery. New pews were put in, and the font was moved to the tower. The north aisle was refurbished and given an altar in 1935.

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): The principle building material was the local Ragstone used first for the late Saxon Tower. Tufa was introduced for quoins in the early Norman period, and a little Reigate stone in the 13th century. The later tracery was mostly in Ragstone.

Brick was used in the north-east chapel in the mid-17th and early 18th century.

There is one fragment of ancient glass (an Agnus Dei) in the south east lancet.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: The finest is the c. 1720 large monument to Leonard Bartholomew and his wife in the north chapel, but there are other good monuments in the chapel and chancel.

There are also two table tombs in the north-east and south-east corners of the chancel. The latter is to John Stanley (ob. 1616), while the north-east one is for Sir William (ob.1457) and Lady Elizabeth Colepepper. Only her brass survives, while the inscription is oddly dated 1417. The neighbouring steps to the Geary Pew are made from a cut-up indent with one brass shield in it.

Size & Shape: Rectangular area around church, with large extended area to the north, given by Mr F Geary in 1877. It is all surrounded by a Ragstone wall.

Condition: Good - sheep graze in a large part of it.

Boundary walls: Ragstone wall with brick capping (? Late 19th century).

Building in churchyard or on boundary: War Memorial dais built into east churchyard boundary wall.

Exceptional monuments: Some fine table-tombs; also a fine row of 18th century grave and body stones immediately east of the chancel.

Ecological potential: Good - used for sheep grazing. Yew to south of porch.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: This is possibly the church mentioned in D. Bk. as held by the archbishop, rather than East (Great) Peckham. Later it is certainly West, or little Peckham.

Late med. status: Vicarage from at least 1387.

Patron: Granted by Edward I in c. 1286 to Leeds Priory, and appropriated by them. This was formalised in 1387. After the Dissolution it went to the Dean and Chapter of Rochester.

Other documentary sources: Hasted V (1798), 66-70.
Testamenta Cantiana (West Kent, 1906), 58, mentions the burial in the church of Geoffrey Colepeper (1389) and nearby of his son John Colepeper (1413). Burial in 'ye alley before the church porche' is mentioned in 1532; also the burial in the chancel, in 1557 of the vicar, Hugh Burneby.

Reused materials: A few Roman bricks in tower + nave south walls.

Inside present church: -? Good. The burial vault in the north-east chapel seems to be above the old floor level.

Outside present church: ? Good

To structure: Renewal of external window jambs in unsuitable new stone. Heavy 'smeared' pointing of tower.

The church and churchyard: This is an exceptionally rare survival of a complete late Anglo-Saxon western tower, with added to it, a Norman nave and early 13th century chancel. The north aisle and north-east chapel were added in the early 14th century, and into the latter was inserted, in the mid-17th century, the Geary Pew and burial vault.

The wider context: One of only a handful of later Anglo-Saxon churches surviving above ground in Kent.

REFERENCES: H. M. + J. Taylor, Anglo-Saxon Architecture (1965), Vol.II, 489. S.R. Glynne, Notes on the Churches of Kent (1877), 208-9.

Guide Books: Useful guide book (Anon - no date, but c. mid 1980s) in church.

Photographs: The double-splayed window on the south side of the tower is in Kent Churches 1954 (Pratt Boorman + V.J. Torr), 82.

Plans & drawings: Faded plan hanging up in N.W. Corner of church by J. Jempson (+ L.R.A. Grove). Made Aug. 69 at 8ft to 1 inch (not very accurate). See also Petrie view from S.S.W. in 1807. An interior view (in 1845) at the British Museum is mentioned in the guide.

DATE VISITED:12/10/93, 22/11/93, 11/1/94                           REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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