KENT ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY  --Studying and sharing Kent's past      Homepage

Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

St Mary Magdalene Church, Cobham, Kent  TQ6694 6835

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1990's

LOCATION: On the south-west side of the village street; the church is part of a complex of buildings with the College adjoining to the south and the school house to the north-east (later the 'Stone House').
It is situated on top of a hill at c. 380 feet above O.D.

DESCRIPTION: This church is, of course, universally known for its 'fabulous collection of brasses' to quote John Newman (B.O.E. West Kent + Weald 2nd ed. 1976,225). It is also of great importance because of its direct connection with the adjacent later 14th century college. Much has been written on the archaeology/architectural history of the church and only a summary need be given here. The following are the main phases (best summarised in Aymer Vallance + John Newman opp. cit.)
   1. Jamb of Roman tiles - ? Saxon-Norman.

   2. Blocked arch of the late 12th century in S.-W. corner of chancel. Was this the original chancel arch and hence with the nave where the present S. aisle is situated.

   3. Large c. mid 13th century chancel, with tall lancets (5 on each side + 3 in east wall) sitting on a continuous internal string-course. There is also a continuous internal hood mould, and all the windows are shafted internally, with Purbeck marble used in the three east windows.

   4. Later 13th century 4-bay aisled nave, with ? north arcade built before south one. Also font of this date (moved from nave to under tower in 1860, and set on new base - old one nearby).

   5. Church rebuilt soon after foundation of Sir John de Cobham's college in 1362 with western tower and new aisle walls (much wider N. aisle) and windows (with square hoods externally) and a new vaulted N. porch with chamber over. Also a new clerestory was built for the nave with four 2-light windows on each side.
The college buildings joined the church on the south, though a processional way was made through them. After the college was refounded in the late 16th century, it was detached from the church by pulling down the walls in between (fragments + scars survive), and turning it into 20 almshouses (1598). The piscina and sedilia on the south side of the chancel, of this period, are particularly fine - see V.J.B. Torr in Arch. Cant. 43 (1931), 156-160.

   6. The two aisles were extended westwards to clasp the western tower, probably in the 15th century. Only these aisle ends have a complete ashlar facing externally. The tower N. + S. walls were pierced for new arches, and the later windows have four-centred hood-moulds externally. All the roofs, though heavily restored, may be of this phase.

   7. Major restoration by Scott in 1860, when a new chancel arch was built, and much external masonry was repaired or replaced (eg. the three eastern lancets). The inside was also reorganised and the old chancel screen and north aisle screens were dismantled and taken to the west end of the church. All the brasses were also restored - for full details of all this, see Vallance (1931).

BUILDING MATERIALS (incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): There are some reused Roman bricks, tufa frags. and Reigate stone blocks in the walls. However, the main material is flint and Ragstone quoins, jambs, etc., Also some Caen stone.

A large lump of sarsen lies S.W. of the tower in the churchyard.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN THE CHURCH: All the many brasses. Also fine monument to George, 9th Lord Cobham (1561) in centre of chancel.

Size: Large, with an early (? 19th century) extension on its N.W. side. There is a large new detached graveyard down to the south-west.
Shape: - Roughly rectangular - most graves to the north. The earlier graveyard to the south was partly built over by the college after 1370.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: To the road on N. and to the school (Stone House) to N.E.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: The College to the south + School to N.E. (of c. 1370).

Exceptional monuments: Several good 18th century tombs.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Textus Roffensis

Late med. status: Vicarage\appropriation.

Patron: From 1133, Bermondsey Abbey (with Shorne appended to it) till 1538, then crown + various owners, till sold in 1794 to the Earl of Darnley.

Other documentary sources: See Vallence (1931) for "Inventory of Church goods, 1479", etc., Also Hasted III (1797), 429-442.

Reused materials: Roman bricks reused in church walls.

Previous archaeological work (published): Tester at College in 1962 (see Arch. Cant. 79/1964), 109-120).

Inside present church: - ? good except for any vaults.

Outside present church: - ? good.

The church and churchyard: This is an exceptionally important 13th, 14th (+ 15th) century Collegiate church, with an unrivalled collection of brasses.

The wider context: On the south side of the church is the College building complex - earlier the manor (court lodge may have been on this site).

REFERENCES: Aymer Vallence 'Cobham Colleigate Church', Arch. Cant. 43 (1931), 133-160 (see also P J Tester on the College in Arch. Cant. 79 (1964), 109-120.

Guide book: To village (including brief guide to brasses (n.d.).

Plans & drawings: Plan (not very accurate) in Vallence also 1843 litholint of chancel looking S.W. (see also other plans - 1858 + 1847 - and refs. quoted therein). Also Petrie's view from S. in 1807.

Surveyed 1990's by  Tim Tatton-Brown

To Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information Introduction          To Church Committee Introduction

For details about the advantages of membership of the Kent Archaeological Society   click here

Kent Archaeological Society is a registered charity number 223382
Kent Archaeological Society December 2011

This website is constructed by enthusiastic amateurs. Any errors noticed by other researchers will be to gratefully received so that we can amend our pages to give as accurate a record as possible. Please send details too