Mary Church, Bishopsbourne
TR 1876 5262R
DIOCESE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1991
Situated at about 120 above O.D. just S.W. of the mostly dry
Nailbourne and 1 mile S.W. of the A2 (Roman Road) from Canterbury to
Dover. It is just over 4½ miles from Canterbury. The Court Lodge is
just to the S.W.
Bishopsbourne is another example of a parish church belonging to the
church (the archbishop, in this case), which was totally rebuilt on a
large(r) scale in the 13th century (cf. Chartham). The chancel, as
rebuilt, was as wide as the nave, and there is no chancel arch (and
probably never has been).
The nave and chancel both show at least two phases of
work of about the mid to later 13th century, so it seems likely that a
rebuilding programme was being carried on in stages during the 2nd
half of the 13th century (no sign exists, above-ground, of the earlier
Perhaps the earliest visible work are the two pairs of
two-light windows on either side of the chancel. They have geometrical
tracery and all sit on an internal moulded string course (there is
medieval glass at the top of all these windows). This string course
rises up in the east wall, and has on it the five-light east window,
within trefoiled lancets, which is perhaps slightly later in date.
There is also a late 13th century piscina at the east end of the south
wall (though with a 19th century back wall). Externally the N.E. and
S.E. corners of the chancel have angle buttresses, but these are
heavily restored. It is also just possible that there were further
geometrical windows further west in the chancel, which were
covered/removed when the 15th century additions were made.
In the nave, as John Newman has pointed out, the two
slender arcades have slight differences (N. capitals more complex than
the S. ones). Also that the nave abaci are undercut, while the chancel
string course is not. Originally the south arcade was at least three
bays long (ie. longer than the present nave), but on the north this is
not so clear. The aisles themselves are very narrow, with shed roofs
continuing the slope of the main nave roof (though this shape may only
be 15th century when the aisles were remodelled). The only surviving
feature of the 13th century in the outer aisle walls (again heavily
restored externally in the 19th century) is the north doorway with its
niche (called a stoup by some writers, but not necessarily one)
immediately to the east. This doorway has slightly projecting
pilasters on either side, and the whole was covered by a porch until
The second main phase of work took place in the later
15th century. First, the whole of the west end of the church was
demolished and a new tower was constructed with diagonal buttresses.
The tower is of three main stages with the top stage rendered. The
whole of the south face is mostly rendered. As this was being built,
short walls were erected from the eastern diagonal buttresses to the
13th century arcade (ie. leaving the western ends of the aisles
outside). (This is perhaps due to a population decrease in the
parish). New west walls (containing two light perpendicular square
headed windows) to the shortened aisles were also built, and four new
2-light perpendicular windows were inserted into the outer aisle
walls. Along the top of the inside of the aisles walls a new moulded
timber stringcourse was made (the roofs were perhaps also remade, but
they are hidden beneath plaster in the aisles, and the main nave roof
was replaced in 1871). At the west end of the nave the new short north
and south walls contain five 3-light windows with perpendicular
tracery under a 2-centred arch in their heads. On the upper nave
walls, above the arcade, are remains of some fine painted figures on a
painted 'ashlar' background. These were perhaps painted after the 15th
century rebuilding (a date of around 1462 for the rebuilding is
perhaps suggested by the will of William Harte (see below). At the
extreme west end of the nave are two areas (N. and S.) of in situ
medieval floor tiles. It is just possible that they predate the tower
building work. (They must continue eastwards under the pews). There is
also a 15th cent. octagonal font bowl (on a 1975 base). The southern
chapel (the Bourne Pew after the Reformation) with its diagonal
buttresses and 3-light east window is also 15th century but it was
very heavily restored in c. 1853 (date over new S. door). It has a
separate roof (and plaster ceiling). The rectangular N. addition with
a plinth is also 15th century and was perhaps built as a vestry. It
had an external door and only a small door into the chancel until the
rebuilding of 1865, when a massive new arch was put in to accommodate
a new organ (earlier the organ was under the tower arch). At this time
also a totally new pitched roof was built over the vestry, perhaps
replacing a low pitched 15th century roof. There is a high up window
on the north side above the pulpit, with some old glass in it.
A new boiler house was dug under the western half of the
vestry (in the 1880s - date on radiator), and its N.W. corner was
rebuilt, incorporating a fireplace and chimney. The cut through N.
chancel wall (and foundation) can be seen in the boiler room below.
The door into the Rood loft is in the S.E. corner of the
In 1871-2 a major restoration took place under Scott,
when the boarded wagon roofs were put in (nave and chancel) and new
pews were installed (and choir stalls). The c. 18th century pulpit was
remodelled and has its larger tester removed. The west window contains
1874 Morris & Co glass with figures by Burne Jones. There is also
much c. 1877 mosaic work on the lower chancel walls and a large
Reredos. The chancel floor was also raised.
BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles, etc.):
The main building materials are flintwork with Rag and Caenstone
quoins/jambs, etc. However much of this has been removed externally by
the heavy 19th century restoration. The nave arcades are of Reigate
stone. The 15th century tower has fine large quoins of Kent Rag
(Hythe/Folkestone stone with boring mollusc holes), and a few reused
pieces of Caen, Reigate and Roman brick.
The south chapel was "partly of brick" in 1846
(Glynne) but this has now gone in the Restoration. There is also some
fine early post-medieval glass in the east window of this chapel.
(For medieval glass, wall paintings and floor tiles ,see above).
(Also 15th century choir stalls, see below). There are also the arms
and Cardinals Cap of Cardinal Morton (hence 1494-1500) in the S.W.
There are now 4 bells (2 J Hatch of 1618; Christopher Hodson 1685 and
Robert Mot 1597). The later from St. Mary, Bredman, Canterbury was
installed in 1975 (a cracked bell was 'discarded').
A late medieval brass (of John and Elizabeth Colwell) lies under the
organ - another of 1617 (John Gibon) is under the choir stalls.
EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH To Richard Hooker (1633) - originally
on N chancel wall and moved to S chancel will c. 1865.
Also John Cockman (+1734) - also on N. chancel wall and moved to E.
wall of N. aisle c. 1865 (when the organ was put under new vestry
Also a fine Purbeck marble (14th century) grave slab under the N.E.
corner of the tower.
There are also two fine 15th century (c. 1462) stall fronts in the
chancel with carved panels and ends (and 'poppy heads'). The added
Victorian choir stalls copy them.
CHURCHYARD AND ENVIRONS:
enclosing: drop on N. and W. sides (?Ha-Ha) into Bourne Park adjacent:
Building in churchyard or on boundary: Lychgate of 1911
HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Domesday Book
Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.):
Late med. status: Rectory
Patron: The Archbishop
Other documentary sources: Test. Cant. (E. Kent 1907) 23
mentions 'one piece of that stone on which the Archangel Gabriel
descended when he saluted the 'BVM' to the Image of the BVM of the
church of Bourne. Towards the work of the Church of Bourne, of the
stalls and other reparations, 4 marcs. Wm. Haute (1462). Also 'Beam,
now before altar of B. Mary in the church' (1477) and Lights of St.
Mary, St. Katherine and St. Nicholas (1484) and light of Holy Cross
(1462) and 'The altar of St. Mary and St. Nicholas in the nave'
SURVIVAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DEPOSITS:
Inside present church: Good - main nave and chancel floor raised in
19th century (earlier levels should be intact beneath (except where
Outside present church: Drainage trench cut round outside of church.
Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): October 1987 David Martin
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT:
The church and churchyard: A fine 13th and 15th century church, with
an impressive collection of medieval wall paintings, stained glass,
floor tiles and pew fronts inside. The 13th century architectural
details of the chancel windows and nave arcade are very good. There
are, no doubt, the remains of the earlier church beneath.
The wider context: One of a group of fine later 13th century
rebuildings (cf. Hythe, Chartham, Adisham, etc.)
REFERENCES: Notes by FC Elliston Erwood, Arch. Cant. 62 (1949),
101-3 (+ plan) + S. R. Glynne Notes on the Churches of Kent
(1877), 130-1 (He visited in 1846); Hasted IX (1800), 335-7; Newman
BOE (N.E. and E Kent) (3rd ed. 1983) 144-5.
Guide book: by Miss Alice Castle (1931, rev. 1961, 1969, 1980) - no
Plans & drawings: Early 19th century engraving of interior looking
W. NW (before restoration).
DATES VISITED: 25th November
REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown