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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

Holy Trinity Church, Dartford         TQ 5440 7400

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1995

LOCATION: Situated on the Roman road itself, immediately west of the ford (later 15th century bridge) on the river Darent at c. 20ft above OD. The vicarage was immediately to the south-east of the bridge with the detached churchyard north-east of it. Dartford Creek (tidal) is not far to the north. The Kings Manor house and Dartford Priory were to the north-west.

DESCRIPTION: This important parish church, which stands blocking the end of the high street (the main road goes round it, to the south), has been heavily restored first by Robert Mylne in 1792-3 and then by A W Blomfield in 1862-3 and 1877. Mylne cut off the south-west corner (for road-widening) and raised the nave wall by 3 feet and put in a clerestory, and Glynne (in 1829) says that `the exterior has been much patched and modernised', and `parts have been rebuilt in brick, in an incongruous style'. He also tells us that the nave was crowded with pews and galleries, and had an organ at the west end. A view of the west end of the church in 1806 shows the rounded-off S W corner, and a low-pitched pedimented west gable to the nave. There is also a view of the interior showing the box-pews and wide, low chancel arch with the very large 18th century Royal Arms board above it. The south porch, which was inserted into a window space and was cut down through the lower wall, was built by Edward Cresy in 1846. The chancel arch was raised and rebuilt by Blomfield in 1862, and the chancel and sanctuary floors were raised, and a new east window was put in. Then in 1877 Blomfield restored the nave with a new steep-pitched roof. All the remaining galleries were taken out. (The nave aisles were also restored in 1877). A W Blomfield was first brought in by his cousin, Revd G J Blomfield (Vicar 1857-68). The only other repairs were by W D Caröe in 1910, who restored the Norman flint facing and quoins of the tower.
   The church mentioned in Domesday Book (1086) almost certainly is incorporated into the nave and western part of the chancel. The rough flint and Ragstone rubble in the west wall of the nave (seen between the south wall of the porch and the south-west buttress) may be part of the later 11th century fabric.
   Soon after this early Norman church was built, a tower was added to the north side of the sanctuary, and most of this tower, and many of its original windows, still survives. It is made of coursed whole flint with Tufa quoins, and has pilaster buttresses and a spiral stair in the north-west corner. The tower is likely to have been a bell-tower from the first (it is/was not a defensive tower).
   In the late 12th or earliest 13th century, aisles were probably added to the nave, though the only visible evidence for this is in the southern part of the west wall of the north aisle where the southern jamb and beginning of an arch (blocked by the latter window) can be seen. It is made in Reigate stone.
   In the earlier part of the 13th century the chancel was rebuilt and extended eastwards. The north chapel (of St Thomas, apparently) was built at the same time, as is shown by the continuous Reigate stone string course along the outside of the east wall. The north-west wall of the chancel has two bays of fine contemporary blind-arcading against the tower wall, and on the south-east side of the chancel is a now-blocked lancet window. The north chapel has two lancets (with external hood-moulds) in its north wall. There is also a blocked north doorway, with internal Reigate stone jambs, and in the south-east corner of the chapel is a round-headed piscina (there is also a piscina and restored sedilia in the south-east side of the chancel).
   The fine moulded west doorway to the church may be of the very late 13th century, though it is possible (as suggested by others) that it is part of the early 14th century work mentioned below.
   The largest phase of rebuilding was in the early 14th century, and there is a well-known reference to Bishop Hamo de Hythe's inspecting the newly completed 5-light east window in the chancel (put in at his expense). Unfortunately this window has disappeared, but there is still a contemporary west window in the nave with reticulated tracery. The nave arcades are also of the same date, and it is clear that the nave and aisles were rebuilt, and probably enlarged, at this time. Three of the four two-light north windows in the north aisle are probably of this date, and there was a north door (now blocked) into the north graveyard from this aisle. (The south aisle windows have been heavily restored and enlarged from 2-light windows). There was also probably an early 14th century window inserted into the north chapel (see Petrie view of c. 1800), and a new chantry was founded in the south-east or Lady Chapel. This chapel may also have originated in the 13th century, but only the late 15th century rebuilding of it is visible today. The chancel roof, with plain rafter, collar, and solace trusses may also be 14th century, and until 1862 the low chancel arch was also of this date.
   The final medieval rebuilding of this church was in the later 15th century. A perpendicular top stage, with two-light square-headed windows, was added to the tower (in the 1470s from the evidence of wills), and a west porch was added to the nave. In the south aisle a square-headed doorway was put in (only the eastern side now survives).
   The whole of the south-east side of the church was also rebuilt in the late 15th century. First the Lady Chapel (or Stanpit Chantry) was rebuilt with a two-storey vestry on the east side. The chapel itself had three three-light perpendicular windows (the middle one replaced by the 1846 porch), and on its east wall a fine contemporary wall-painting of St George and the Dragon was rediscovered in the early 19th century. This chapel still has its original nearly-flat lead-covered roof, and the crenellated parapet around it is in checkerwork (perhaps of an early 16th century date). This chapel is contemporary with the Rood stair turret (on the south-east of the south aisle, and they have a continuous plinth. It is clear that, at this time a Rood-screen was erected across all three aisles, and the passage between the different Rood loft sections can still be seen in the upper nave walls. At this time, also, double doorways were cut through the base of the tower, and a new east window was put in the chancel (blocked c. 1783 and replaced in 1862).

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): The early Norman tower is of coursed whole flint with Tufa quoins, and some Ragstone rubble is visible in the nave west wall. Reigate stone was used in the 13th century for most dressings, though some Caenstone is used, particularly in the west doorway. Ragstone is used for later medieval dressings (particularly in the late 15th century).

The 18th century restoration was in red brick with some Portland stone quoins. Then Bath stone was used in the 19th century, while Caröe used a little Doulting stone for replacing tower quoins.

18th century font of Portland Stone.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: Some fine 15th to early 17th century brasses and a wall tablet to John Twisleton (ob. 1682) by ? William Stanton. (for brasses, see Scott Robertson op. cit. (below), 387-391.)

Size: Only a tiny area of churchyard survives east of the church. The northern part is now mostly covered by the 1971 hall, and the southern area was covered over for road widening in the 18th century, and a new larger churchyard was made east of the town on top of the hill, around the suppressed chantry chapel of St Edmund-the-Martyr. The churchyard around this chapel was already being used for burial in the 15th century..

Boundary walls: On the east-modern.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: 1971 hall on the north. A cross, on the north side of the churchyard, is mentioned in 1523.

Exceptional monuments: Two 18th century tombs immediately south (by S wall) and east of the church.

Ecological potential: None, but a Yew tree on the south side of the churchyard is mentioned in 1506 (It is called a `great ewe' in 1542).

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: In Doomsday Book (1086), `the bishop of Rochester holds the church of this manor ..... there are now here three chapels'.

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc): Probably a `Minster' church, with 3 chapels attached to it in Domesday Book.

Late med. status: Vicarage endowed from late 13th century.

Patron: St Andrew's Priory, Rochester from late 11th century (given to Almonry by bishop Gurdulf). Then to bishop of Rochester from c. 1190 to 1253. After the dissolution it went to the Dean and Chapter of Rochester.

Other documentary sources: Hasted II (1797), 320-8. Test. Cant. (West Kent, 1906), 18-20 has various wills relating to the fabric, including `new bells to be bought' (1474) and work on the tower (1477). The setting up of a cross on the tower is mentioned in 1527-8. Various pews/seats are mentioned in the Lady Chapel in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. During the later Middle Ages the Consistory Court was often held in the church. For the chantries, see Kent Chantries Pt. I (1932), 114-120.

Reused materials:

Finds from church/churchyard: None, but guide book mentions possible foundations to the north of the nave.

Finds within 0.5km: Dartford Priory was situated _ mile to the north-west. Roman coffin found in East Hill in c. 1822 (put in the church - now in local museum).

Inside present church: Probably good, except where cut by burial vault. The chancel floor has been considerably built up (in 1862).
Outside present church: ? Good, the ground-level around the church has been much built up. There have been various floods of the river Darent (in 1766 and 1968, for example).

To structure: Plaster removed from lower wall in south aisle, chancel, etc.

To graveyard: Large hole dug on NE side of church in May 1995, but mostly through c. 4ft of graveyard build up levels.

Quinquennial inspection (date/architect):

The church and churchyard: Probably an early Norman nave, with a still existing early Norman tower on the north side of the chancel. Aisles probably added in the late 12th century with complete rebuilding of them in the early 14th century. Chancel enlarged in the early 13th century with a north chapel added. Fine late 15th century south-east rebuilt. Lady Chapel and vestry. Early detached churchyard around a chapel of St Edmund on the hilltop to the east.

The wider context: One of a group of early churches belonging to Rochester Cathedral (bishop and priory), it has an early north tower (cf. Otham, Orpington, etc). It is situated on/beside the main road from London to Canterbury, next to the ford.

REFERENCES: W A Scott Robertson `Dartford Church (Holy Trinity)', Arch. Cant. 18 (1889), 383-398 (with list of vicars, and several photos). S R Glynne The Churches of Kent (1877), 274-5 [He visited in 1829]. John Dunkin The History and Antiquities of Dartford (1844).

Guide book: Good guide by the late G H Porteus (1962 & revised 1974) with measured plan of the church at end (made by Robert Marchant in 1918).

Photographs: View from SE in Kent Churches 1954, 23.

Plans and drawings: Petrie early 19th century view from south-east. Also view of nave interior in c. 1840 in guide book. Engraving of E window in 1783 in J Thorpe custmale Roffense, plate xxxix.

DATE VISITED: 13th May 1995                          REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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