St Mary Magdalene
Church, Cobham, Kent TQ6694 6835
ROCHESTER DIOCESE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
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.
CHURCHYARD AND ENVIRONS:
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
Boundary walls: To the road on N. and to the school (Stone House) to
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
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).
SURVIVAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DEPOSITS:
Inside present church: - ? good except for any vaults.
Outside present church: - ? good.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT:
The church and churchyard: This is an exceptionally important 13th,
14th (+ 15th) century Collegiate church, with an unrivalled collection
The wider context: On the south side of the church is the College
building complex - earlier the manor (court lodge may have been on
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