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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

  St Margaret Church, Darenth       TQ 5607 7130

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1992

LOCATION: The church is situated at nearly 70 feet above sea level on the hillside just above the eastern branch (for a mill?) of the river Darent. The Court Lodge was originally immediately to the south.

DESCRIPTION: This church has been very well described (and planned) by F C Elliston-Erwood in articles published in 1912 and 1948, so only a summary of the main features is needed here.

The nave has Roman brick quoins at its NE, NW and SW corners and a double-splayed window (with Roman brick arches over) about the later N door (with the very rare remains in it on an oak mid-wall shutter). There was probably another original window (now blocked) to the east. The date of the nave is therefore, probably pre-Norman Conquest but it is unlikely to be as early as 940 when the manor was given to Christchurch, Canterbury (Sawyer No.1210), as has been suggested (the AD 940 charter is a later copy/forgery). It is more likely that the nave dates from the 11th century and by the time of Domesday the Archbishop was the owner of the manor.

Textus Roffensis records both Darent church and the chapel of Helle attached to it. Both were perhaps constructed in the 11th century, reusing many Roman bricks from the large villa just to the south.

Early in the 12th century a new enlarged chancel, and beyond it a unique groin-vaulted sanctury were added (the latter seems to have had a chamber above it (see upper east windows)). In the mid 12th century, the fine decorated tub font was put in the church, and a new decorated doorway was made in the centre of the north side of the nave. Only a few decorated external voussoirs are now visible as the doorway was blocked, and a new doorway (further to the west) was made later in the Middle Ages.

Later in the 12th century, a new chancel south aisle (and possibly a nave south aisle) was built. The piers, and pointed arches above, that gave access to the new aisle are still visible, despite later blocking. In the 13th century a new south-west tower was added. It has a shingled pyramid roof over it as well as probably the south nave aisle (it may be a rebuilding of an earlier aisle). The two lancets in the north wall of the chancel were also added at about this time, as well as the consecration cross on the nave north wall.

During the 14th century, the south chancel aisle was demolished, and the arcade walled up. A new east wall to the south nave aisle was also built, as well as a new chancel arch, and the eastern part of the arcade into the south aisle (it seems to have been rebuilt on a new line a few feet to the north of the old wall line. A squinch was also constructed to allow a view of the sanctuary from the south aisle. There was also a new north doorway into the nave.

In the 15th century, the nave south arcade had to be rebuilt again, and the western pier, and the arches are of this date, as well as the roofs. There is also a new south door of this date, as well as two-light windows on the south side of the sanctuary and of the south aisle (the external tracery of the latter has all be renewed recently). A small north porch (? in timber) was also possibly built at this time, but it was replaced in 1889.

A black marble pavement "ex dono Edmund Davenport 1670" in the sanctuary has disappeared, and the c. early 18th century turned balusters for the altar rails etc, have been moved around (some are now back in the sanctuary, but others are in a sort of screen to the tower arch). There are Royal Arms of Charles II (now over the south doorway).

There was a heavy 19th century restoration (apparently carried out by Ewan Christian in the 1880s), renewing various windows in Bathstone (eg. nave west window and the lower Quoins etc. An ugly knapped flint vestry was added to the west end of the nave in 1922 (and a doorway was cut through into the tower), and much more recently (? 1989), there has been much renewal of windows, etc, in new stone (? Lepine). The arches of the blocked south chancel arcade have been entirely renewed externally, as has the east window of the south aisle.

In 1972, a new church hall was added to the south of the south aisle. This is not really in keeping with the earlier work.

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The earliest (nave) walls are of flint with reused Roman bricks, the latter being used for quoins and window arches. The 12th century work has quoins, jambs, etc, of Caen and Reigate stone. In the 13th century (tower) walls are roughly course flints and some Reigate stone lumps as well as a few Roman bricks. There is rendering on the earlier north and east walls. The later Medieval walls are of knapped flint, while the Victorian work uses Bathstone and heavy knapped flint (also the 1922 vestry).

There are original wall-paintings in the sanctury, and 3 bells in the tower (one is possibly late medieval, the others of 1609 ('Stephanus Swan') and 1856. Royal Arms of Charles II.

Shape: Rectangular area around church, with extension on lower terrace to north-west.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: ? 19th centurey wall on South East

Building in churchyard or on boundary: - Court Lodge farm buildings immediately to the south with new 1972 church hall in churchyard.

Exceptional monuments: Two large 18th century tomb chests E and N of sanctuary

Ecological potential: ? Yes

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

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): In T.R. "Derente" had the chapel of Helle attached to it (paying 4d chrism to the mother church). (For the later medieval status of St Margaret, Hills see Hasted 381-2 (and fig).

Late med. status (vicarage/appropriation): Also Chapel of St Margaret, Helles attached to it

Patron: The Archbishop, then from 1195 the Prior and Convent of Rochester, followed by the Dean and Chapter of Rochester (from 1541)

Other documentary sources: Hasted II (1797), 377-383.

Reused materials: Many reused Roman bricks (? from large villa, mile to south). The ruined chapel of St Margaret at Hills is described in Bagshow's Directory (1847) as having many Roman bricks "part of an arch is entirely turned with them" (see also Hasted II (1797), 382 (with fig). For Roman Villa, see George Payne in Arch. Cant. 22 (1897), 49-84 and B Philp Excavations in the Darent Valley (1984), 72-94

Finds within 0.5km: Large Roman Villa to the south found in 1894 (see above).

Previous archaeological work (published/unpublished): None, but see two articles on the church by F C Elliston Erwood (below).

Inside present church: ? Good

Outside present church: Disturbed by large 20th century drainage ditch round north east side of church.

To graveyard: Large 1972 hall added on S side of church with levels east of S aisle being cut away to below floor level.

The church and churchyard: This is a rare example of a pre-conquest church with a unique surviving mid-wall shutter in a double splayed window.

The wider context: One of an important group of Darent valley churches. Many have reused Roman materials, being close to Roman villas.

REFERENCES: Frank C Elliston-Erwood 'The Architectural History of the Church of St Margaret Darenth', Proc. of the Woodwich Antiquarian Society XVII (1912), 83-94. Also notes by F C E-E in Arch. Cant. LXI (1948), 46-9. Also brief account in Arch J. 79 (1922), 394 and H M & J Taylor Anglo-Saxon Architecture I (1965), 190-2 (and plan) and S Glynne, Churches of Kent (1877), 306-7. For the font iconography see A. H. Collins in Arch. Cant. 56 (1943), 6-10.

Guide book: Colour picture guide - Anon and undated, but c.1990 - inaccurate.

Plans & drawings: Good plan by F.C.E-E. in op. cit. supra. Drawing at V & A (early 19th century) from north; also Petrie view from NE at same date, and view from East in 1820 in Gents Mag.

DATES VISITED: 14/10/92 (external)                     REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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