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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St Magdalene Church, Davington Priory     TR 0110 6176

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1992

LOCATION: On the east side of the Davington hilltop (at c.40ft above OD) above the tidal limit of Faversham Creek, it is only about mile west of Faversham town centre. A small surrounding medieval parish (540 acres) now joined to "The Brents" parish on the east (earlier part of "Faversham Without"). The Medieval parish church of St Lawrence was probably elsewhere (see below).

Only the largely later 12th century aisled nave of the Priory church survives today. It is of five bays (there was probably a 6th bay to the east), and had flanking towers on the north and south sides of the western bay. Most of the southern aisle does not exist because the north alley of the cloister was built here (see useful plan in Tester fig. 1 opp. p.207 cited below). Tester suggests that the nave may originally have been unaisled without towers. There are large clerestrory windows (still blocked on the south) which do not aline with the arcade below. All the arches and windows are completely plain with just a moulded course at the top of each rectangular pier. The piers also have stopped chamfers down each aris. The west wall has a large central doorway with three equal large windows above (at clerestory level), and two more above that in the gable (unblocked in c. 1845). Externally the west doorway, which is very worn, is a fine decorated affair (of c.1160) having three orders with foliated capitals and dogtooth etc, in the round arch above. The NW tower is cut off at N aisle roof level (was it ever built?). The SW tower, containing the 19th century bells, etc, is of four stories with pairs of windows in the top level. Virtually all the stonework around the outside of the late 12th century windows was completely restored in the late 1840s. At the same time a new pyramid roof was put on the tower.
   All the windows, arches etc, except those eastwards from the towers into the aisles, are round-headed; the latter are pointed. The original aisle roofs must have been steep-pitched and come down to a very low north wall (cloister on the south). The north aisle wall was then rebuilt in the 13th century with new, larger lancet windows. At this time a higher steep-pitched roof was built, which survived, in form at least, until 1845. The original pitch still survives over the decapitated NW tower (see Petries 1806 view from NW for earlier aisle roof). The most westerly of the new lancets is probably slightly later (? c.1300) as it has an internal rere-arch. It is also associated with a tomb below. At the east end of this aisle a chapel/altar was added - see piscina. This area was rebuilt in the late 1840s for Willement's burial vault.
   The lower east wall contains the remains of the later medieval rood screen, with two doorways on either side of the nave altar. Above this screen, it was originally open.
   After the Dissolution, as already mentioned, the nave became the parish church and the eastern arm was demolished (Tester's 1977 excavations revealed the rough plan). The east wall was given a rough (? brick) infill with a new east window of three lights. The gable above was perhaps only of lath and plaster.
   In an explosion at the Gunpowder Mill below in 1767 (and another in 1781), the east wall was badly damaged (the southern part of the Priory was also badly damaged).
   In 1845 Thomas Willement bought the priory and over the next 3-4 years completely restored the church. The east wall was completely rebuilt with new triple lancets, and a new gable, the windows were all rebuilt and the north aisle was given an almost flat lead roof. There was also a new pyramid roof fro the SW tower, and the triple west windows were refaced externally, and the pair above unblocked.
   The church was then refurnished and decorated (see details in Country Life article etc,). A new porch on the north (replacing an older one) was also made, and a new churchyard wall on the north, east and west was built.
   In the early 1930s, Willement's redecorated walls were whitewashed over, and his western screen and boarded chancel ceiling was removed.

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The west doorway and the original window jambs on the north, etc, are of Reigate stone, with flint rubble, etc, being used for the main walls. There is also some original Caenstone.

Much later restoration with Ragstone etc.

Two early 17th century brasses on south wall.

Shape: Only the rectangular area to the north of the church (? area of old lay cemetery)

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: of masonry - probably of the late 1840s (ie. Willement's time)

Building in churchyard or on boundary: Priory buildings to the south

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Benedictive Nunnery founded by Fulke de Newnham in 1153 (VCH II (1926)) with nave parochial (for 26 nuns using chancel as choir). (It may only have become parochial at the 'Reformation' (see below)).

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): None, but wills (see Test Cant. (E Kent 1907), 92) from 1494 - 1532 tell us that there was also a parish church of St Lawrence, Davington separate from the Priory/Nunnery.

Late med. status: Rectory appropriated to the Priory Nuns, whose chaplain acted as vicar.

Patron: Davington Priory, then in 1535 the crown, and from 1543/6, the Cheneys (of Sheppey) till 1570, then sold.

Other documentary sources: See VCH (Kent) II (1926), 144-5. There are also apparently manuscript notes by Thomas Willement at the Priory.

Previous archaeological work (published): Excavations carried out to the east and south of the church by Peter Tester in 1977 (see Arch. Cant. 95 (1979), 205-12)

Inside present church: Quite good

Outside present church: Quite good, see P J Tester's article (below)

To structure: Cracks in 1840s east gable (N side) repaired 1992

To floors: Pulpit stairs were repositioned (c. 1989), with very minor floor disturbance

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): Jonathan Carey

The church and churchyard: There is an important and rare survival of a later 12th century aisle (? parochial) nave for a Benedictine nunnery.

The wider context: The site of the medieval parish church of St Lawrence, Davington (? nearby) needs locating.

REFERENCES: Arch. Cant. 22 (1897), 275-92 - Revd C V Collier "Davington Priory" and Hasted VI (1798) 379-81. Arch. Cant. 95 (1979), 205-12 and plan P J Tester "A plan and architectural description of the medieval remains of Davington Priory" also Anon. An account of the Church and Priory of St Mary Magdalene, Davington (1850, reprinted Faversham Soc. 1988) and T Willement, Historical Sketch of the Parish of Davington (1862) and Country Life 9th and 16th December 1971.

Guide book: None, but a 1933 guidebook by G G Culmer

Photographs: See Country Life article (above)

Plans & drawings: Internal views (looking W and E) in church - done c. late 19th century after the restoration ? by F W Monk c.1850. H Petrie - view from N W (1806) and Willement view of the E end (1845) (showing painted decoration and boarded chancel ceiling, etc).

DATES VISITED: 31st March 1992                                         REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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