St Mary Church, Westerham TQ 4475
ROCHESTER DIOCESE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1994
LOCATION: The church lies at c.350 feet above O.D.
at the N.E. corner of the Green with the land falling away steeply to
the north, east and south. The main `town' is to the west and the
Court Lodge about ? mile to the north.
DESCRIPTION: Unfortunately every window in this church was replaced in
the very large restoration of 1882-3 (costing £6,000), and the new
windows did not in any way resemble the earlier ones (as Petrie's SE
view of 1802 shows clearly). The external masonry, particularly on the
north side, has also been heavily restored. Despite this, two main
phases of work can be readily distinguished : the western tower and
chancel east wall of the 13th century, and series of fine early Tudor
north and south arcades (and nave, north aisle, and south aisle
roofs). The main features of interest were briefly (but carefully)
summarised by the Revd G M Livett in 1913 (op. cit. below).
It is likely that the nave was the core of the original part of the
church, but apart from, at the extreme south-west corner, nothing of
the original nave survives above ground. At the lowest level of the
south-west corner of the nave externally, there is a trace of the
bonding-break between nave and south aisle (above this the face has
mostly been restored). This masonry, however, appears to be of the
same date as the tower masonry, so it probably all dates from the 13th
The tower itself is not regularly placed against the west side of the
nave, but its lower north side is obscured by the later
vestry/offices. It must date to the 13th century and has relatively
thin walls and north and south buttresses running off its west wall.
It is made of local sandstone rubble, with an original south doorway
with Reigate stone jambs (a smaller early Tudor doorway was later
inserted here). Livett suggested that originally the west side of the
churchyard was so cramped that north and south doorways through the
tower would be required for the processions. He may be right, but
there is no visible evidence for an original doorway on the north. In
the upper walls of the tower, and internally, are traces of the
original lancets into the Bell Chamber. On the south side, the lower
rectangular part of a blocked window with Reigate stone jambs is
particularly obvious. All these windows were cut into by the late
Medieval two-light belfry windows.
The only other visible 13th century feature in the tower is the tall
tower-arch, which was entirely made of Reigate stone. It was possibly
heightened at a later date, but has elaborate bar-stops at the base.
Above the tower arch on the outside of the present roof, there are
apparently the remains of the earlier roof-line.
The other obvious 13th century feature in the church is the east wall
of the chancel. Here the original Reigate stone quoins (with some
cement repairs) can still be seen, as well as the upper parts of two
tall lancets (also of Reigate stone). These were, no doubt, part of a
triple lancet design, and the extreme north and south jambs of these
windows can still be seen inside, along with the adjoining masonry,
and a fragment of a string-course. Slightly more of the south-east
corner of the 13th century chancel survives inside (retained perhaps
to provide a space for the piscina, and the upper walls (partly
pared-back on the south) of the chancel also survive above the
Because of the very heavy 19th century restorations, it is very
difficult to tell the date of the aisles and chapels. However it seems
likely that the buttressed aisles and their eastern chapels were first
added in the 14th century. The main evidence for this is now the
blocked north doorway (of Reigate stone) into the north chapel, the
buttresses themselves (with plinths and offsets), and the
trefoil-headed piscinae at the south-east corner of the south aisle,
and in the east wall (south end) of the south chapel. The latter
piscina is stylistically a little later, suggesting perhaps that this
chapel was extended eastwards in the later 14th or 15th century. The
masonry of the outer walls of the chapel are also slightly different,
and there is an external plinth around most of the lower wall.
The south side also seems to have lost a buttress (immediately east of
the porch) at a later date, and the porch itself was originally of
wood (perhaps 16th), and though completely rebuilt in 1878, it perhaps
still retains earlier barge-boards.
The font, at the west end of the nave, which is of Reigate stone, is
octagonal and is probably of a later 14th century date.
As we have seen, the top stage of the tower was refenestrated in the
later 15th century with two-light square-headed Perpendicular windows
for the bell-chamber. The brooch spire on top (which is shingled) is
probably of the same date. There is also a c. 1500 west doorway and
three-light window above (all restored).
The final stage of rebuilding was of the nave and chancel arcades in
the early 16th century. This was probably done in several sub-phases,
after the demolition of earlier arcades and the chancel arch. All the
pier-forms are roughly the same, as are the depressed four-centred
arches. However the nave south arcade has much more elaborate
mouldings and carved corbels on the north, and the south chancel
arcade was run at a slight diagonal to take up the narrower width of
the chancel. On the north the arcades are plainer and step in for the
chancel in a more conventional way (all this is well described by
Livett). Above the nave and north and south aisles are very fine
contemporary roofs with moulded principals and ridge-ribs. (There is a
crown-post roof over the south chapel, and probably another over the
north chapel - the chancel has a 19th century boarded ceiling).
There were major restorations in 1852-3 and 1882-3 when the whole
interior was refurnished as well.
BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The main building material is the local iron-stained sandstone, with
Reigate stone being used for all dressings. Externally there is also a
little Ragstone, and this is best seen in the plinth to the south-east
chapel. Horsham slab is used on much of the roofs.
Mechanically cut Bath-stone was used for all the 19th century
restorations. There is an elaborate 1883 reredos in the chancel, as
well as raised chancel and sanctuary floors. Also a wooden octagonal
stair-turret in the north-west corner of the tower - perhaps of late
Medieval date but very heavily restored.
There is also an old parish chest in the north aisle.
EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: A series of interesting early- to
mid-16th century brasses. Various other good monuments, including
Thomas Potter (ob. 1611). Unique Royal Arms of Edward VI on north wall
of tower (and 1804 Royal Arms to south).
CHURCHYARD AND ENVIRONS:
Size & Shape: Large rectangular area around church on north, east
and south, with steep hill down to east, and large extension downhill
Boundary walls: Brick and sandstone wall on west and north-west.
Building in churchyard or on boundary: Buildings along west boundary -
Exceptional monuments: Some good headstones.
Ecological potential: ? Yes
HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Early 12th century (Textus Roffensis)
Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): Chapel of Edenbridge
Late med. status: Vicarage appropriated 1290 to Christ Church Priory,
Canterbury, by King Edward I (in exchange for the Port of Sandwich).
Patron: Crown, then from 1290, Christ Church Priory, Canterbury. Then
to Henry VIII and on into private hands after the Dissolution.
Other documentary sources: Hasted III (1797), 172-9, mentions `the
uppermost part of the north (a)isle . . ., called the organ room',
given as the burial place of the Strood family of Squerries, from
Test. Cant. (West Kent 1906), 80-81. To be buried in `St
Katheryn chauncell next the grave of my father' (1522). `To the
reparacion of the body of the church' (1539).
Reused materials: Reigate stone as rubble in later walls.
SURVIVAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DEPOSITS:
Inside present church: Good, as east end levels are raised.
Outside present church: ? Good
To graveyard: Ugly 1969 extension added on north-west side of church.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT:
The church and churchyard: A very heavily over-restored church with
all windows of the 19th century. However the west tower and east wall
of the chancel are of the 13th century, and there are north and south
aisles and chapels, probably of the 14th century. All the very fine
arcades, and nave and north and south aisle roofs, are of an earth
16th century rebuilding.
The wider context: One of a group of churches with much nave
rebuilding in the years just before the Reformation.
REFERENCES: S Glynne, Churches of Kent (1877), 280-1. See especially
his description of the three east windows. Brief notes by Dr Maude,
the Revd G M Livett and Revd C E Woodruff in Arch. Cant. 31(1915) 1ii
Guide book: by P T Jones (1948, and many later reprintings and some
Photographs: Kent Churches 1954, 151 : shows the c. 1548 Royal Arms.
Plans and drawings: Petrie view of 1802 from SE showing two x
three-light early Tudor windows of south wall of south chapel. Roughly
phased plan on north aisle north wall.
REPORT BY Tim Tatton-Brown