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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St Nicholas Church, Barfreston         TR264 501

Tim Tatton-Brown's survey 1991

In the centre of hamlet on E facing chalk downland hillside, just over 200 feet above O.D. The parish appears to have been cut out of the S.E. corner of Nonington parish, only a small (c. 470 acres area (presumably the 1 yoke, mentioned in Domesday Book). The Court Lodge was nearby.

This church is famous for its sculptured decoration of the later 12th century. There is no evidence for a church here before the later 12th century. Almost the whole structure dates from the period c. 1170-1185, though the chancel arch may have been a second phase of the work. 'Decorated' windows from the south side of the chancel were removed by Hussey during the major restoration of the church in 1839-41. Much was rebuilt/replaced at this time (see R C Hussey's own account, 1886), but it was carefully done. The west wall was probably rebuilt in the late 14th/15th century (when the perp. window was inserted) as well as in c. 1840. Hasted records that (in the late 18th century) there was a south porch, and that "a small wooden turret was taken down a few years since." "There is only one bell". The earlier timber roofs were removed and replaced in c. 1840, but Hussey's account suggests that the roofs up to 1840 may have been simple trussed rafter roofs (?? 12th century). Wills of 1501 and 1508 mention lights of the rood loft/holy cross; also lights of St. Katherine (1508) and St. Nicholas (1530). Burials in the churchyard are recorded in wills of 1474, 1530, 1544 and 1545 (Test. Cant. 11).
   The plan of the church shows that none of the walls meet at right angles. It is a parallelogram not a rectangle.
   However, a nave of 30 feet long by 22 feet wide (externally) was clearly planned, with a chancel 20 feet long by 18 wide (externally). The walls are c. 2-2 feet thick, except the rebuilt west wall which is 3 feet thick. The internal dimensions are: 24-24 feet by 17 feet (nave) and 17 feet by 14 feet (chancel).
   The west wall was rebuilt in the late Medieval period (and again in c. 1840), when large ragstone ties were put in (see above). The tall round-headed window, and the quatrefoil in the gable above are however, probably of the late 12th century. The N.W. pilaster was also presumably built in the later Medieval period, by which time the north wall was already leaning out considerably.

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
All the 12th century ashlar and sculpture is in high quality Caenstone, with the rubble walls beneath in flintwork (much of it reset in c. 1840). The west wall contains some long (late Medieval) Kent Rag blocks - ? to tie in the failing N.W. and S.W. quoins.
   The roofs were totally restored and rebuilt in c. 1840. Also some ? Bath stone used (eg top string course at W. end of S. nave wall).

For wall paintings in chancel, see painting at Society of Antiquaries in London (reproduced in A Clapham, English Romanesque Architecture After the Conquest (1934) Plate 37.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: Wall monument to Thomas Boys (ob. 1599) in Alabaster.

Apparent extent of burial: Burial here mentioned in wills from 1474 onwards
Present burial: closed
Maintained by parish\local authority
Boundary walls: Terrace walls down to road on south and east.

SPCW 1635 on stone in wall near churchyard gate.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known): Earliest ref. to church: ?
Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): - (Small manor - 1 Yoke - mentioned in DB). Probably not first constructed until after the translation of St. Nicholas' to Bari in 1087 (or after the dedication/council of 1095).

Late med. status: Rectory

Patron: Went with the manor (secular) and to Boys family in the 16th century. From the late 17th century, it has belonged to St. John's College, Oxford.

Other documentary sources: Hasted X (1800), 76-8; and Test. Cant. (1907), 11

Inside present church: Perhaps quite good.
Outside present church: Probably disturbed around the walls, by the c. 1840 rebuilding.

To structure: Cleaning and repair of S. walls of nave and chancel by N Durran (Sept/Oct '91)

The church and churchyard: This is one of the most important late Romanesque churches in the County, despite the 1840 restoration and its small size.

The wider context: The sculptured decoration of c. 1170-85 is of national importance.

REFERENCES: R C Hussey "Barfreston church in AD 1840", Arch. Cant. XVI (1886), 142-151; A. H. Collins, "The sculptured ornament of the south doorway of Barfreston Church", Arch. Cant. XLV 91938), 1-12; D. Kahn, Canterbury Cathedral and its Romanesque Sculpture (1991), 20, 162-180. Newman (N.E. & E. Kent, 3rd ed. 1983), 139Guide book: F. H. Worsfold (undated) - many editions

Photographs: Of S. doorway in Collins (noted above) - many details of sculpture.

Plans and drawings: Plan (1:50) made by C.A.T. (1991) Pen & Wash drawing of E. Front (1749) published in English Romanesque Art 1066-1200 (Catalogue 1984), 47. Other drawings: Wall paintings in chancel, at Soc. Arts. Elevations at RIBA Library (c. 1890)

DATES VISITED: 15th & 23rd September 1991          REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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