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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St James the Apostle Church, Elmsted   TQ 1167 4593

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1990

LOCATION: On High Downland (c.160m), near Elmsted Court, in centre of parish of dispersed settlements.

DESCRIPTION: The earliest structural evidence are the thick walls at the west end of the nave (and fragment of the north-east corner of the nave), which are perhaps late 11th/early 12th century (no features to date this closely). In the 12th century a north-south arch was put into the west end of the nave to make an oblong (in plan), base for a tower. Sometime later (late 12th century) unusual pointed arches were erected internally on the north and south sides of the tower space at just below eaves height to act as the base of a stone tower. This allowed a less oblong tower to be built with tiled shoulders on lean-to roofs north and south. The tower first stage has small-block Caenstone quoins and lancet windows at the higher level (the lancet on the north has been removed later and the space blocked). There is also a slightly larger lancet window in the west wall of the church above the west door. North and south aisles may first have been added in the 12th century - the only surviving evidence for this is the small-block quoining at the east end of the nave north arcade. There is also a fine octagonal 12th century Purbeck marble font. The walls at the east end of the chancel were built in the 13th century (no doubt a lengthening of the original chancel) - only the piscina in the south-east corner gives evidence for this. Early in the 14th century a north-east chapel was added with a fine 3-light east window (there is also a Y-tracery window on the north). On the south side of the nave at the west end, there is also an early 14th century 2-light window (the external tracery has been totally restored). Sometime later, the north and south arcades to the nave were totally rebuilt with large blocks of Kentish rag, also the chancel arch. At the west end of the south aisle is a two-light early perpendicular window, and the south porch appears originally to have been erected in the 14th century with fine tabular flint outside (the crown-post roof over it is perhaps 15th century). There is a mass-dial on the south-west corner.
    Various new works were carried out in the later 15th century. First a highly unusual timber-framed upper stage (belfry) was built on top of the tower with an integral spire above. To make this timber-framed upper stage square in plan, it was jettied out east and west, using a large central tie-beam as its principal support. The tower arch (underneath an earlier 12th century arch) may have been added at this time or, more likely, earlier. Various new late perpendicular windows were also added at this time (north aisle: north and west windows, chancel: east window, and south aisle: south window) and a new crown-post roof was built over the south aisle. A will of 1475 (Test. Cant., 116) documents the making of `new seats called Pews' in `that space from the place where St Christopher is painted to the corner of the stone wall on the north side of the church' (probably the north aisle). At about the same time the south-east chapel (dedicated to St John the Baptist) was rebuilt with new windows and a plinth around the outside (there seems to have been an earlier 14th century chapel here - money for the repair is given in a will of 1473. Another will of 1486 by John Ede, vicar who was buried in the chancel before the figure of St James (Test. Cant. 115) leaves money to the glazing of `two bays in the new Chancel of St John the Baptist'. This chapel later became the Honeywood chapel (with a vault beneath it and a 19th century vault outside the south wall). Another will of 1500 gives money `to the building of a vestry in the church' (Test. Cant. 116). This must refer to the vestry, still in use, at the west end of the north aisle. The timber partition, with a moulded and crenellated beam at the top which divides off the vestry, is reused perhaps from an earlier domestic building. The final major architectural change to the building came in the early 16th century when two new arcades were put in, with four-centred arches, on the north and south sides of the chancel. The supports to the chancel arch were perhaps also built at this time (they have Tudor rose decoration on them, and fine carved heads), and the projecting brackets are presumably for the (now destroyed) roof beam. There are similar responds into the south chapel from the west. At the east end of the south arcade, just below the capital, is an inscription below a carved angel (head destroyed) which commemorates Christopher Gay and his two wives, Agnes and Joan. Their leger slab, with only one of the brass female figures surviving (the indent of Gay himself in the centre, and of his other wife are still clear) is on the floor at the east end of the south chapel. His will of 1507 (Test. Cant.,115) records that he wanted to be buried here - his family owned Evington Court and later sold it to the Honeywoods (Hasted VIII, 37). c. 1507 must therefore be the date of the chancel arcades. (The eastern buttresses supporting these arcades have been rebuilt fairly recently.)
   The only major post-Reformation changes to the fabric are the large south-west angle-buttress to the tower in red brick (17th century) and the blocking of the north doorway. The altar rails are early 18th century. A major restoration was undertaken in 1877 (date on waterpipe heads) when the nave and north aisle roofs were replaced as well as some of the window tracery and the doors into the west dormer. At the same time the Honeywoods restored `their' chapel and put a new flat roof on the chapel, surrounded by an embattled parapet. (The steep-pitched roof was reinstated in c. 1960.) The large 3-light late perpendicular window in the south-wall was also totally renewed at this time. A 17th century pulpit survives, but all the old box pews were removed in 1877 and replaced by pitched-pine ones. In the 1960s the aisle pews were removed, leaving only those in the nave. At this time also, a large graveslab (found in the churchyard during levelling in 1956) was reused as an altar slab in the Honeywood chapel.

Size & Shape: Large rectangular area of mown grass. Faculty obtained (197?) to many gravestones and realign others (many around the edge of the churchyard). Remains of green to the east, and Court Lodge Farm (a working farm) - Elmsted Court - to the south.

Condition: Good

Ecological potential: ? Yes

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Domesday Monachorum.

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): Field chapel (to Waltham)

Late med. status: Vicarage, appropriated early 13th century.

Patron: The Archbishop: early 12th century to St Gregory's Priory, Canterbury then in 1537 King, and in 1538 to the Archbishop.

Other documentary sources: Domesday Monachorum; Cartulary of St Gregory's Priory, Canterbury (printed Camden Society 3rd Series, Vol. 88 (1956)); Testamenta Cantiana (1907), 114-6; Hasted (2nd ed.) VIII, 42-5.

Inside present church: ? Good, but brass indents, legers, etc. not apparently in situ (?moved 1877).

Outside present church: Churchyard levelled 1970s. Small drains and runs (1877 ).

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect):

The church and churchyard: A fine medieval church with many interesting and some unusual features, like the timber framed tower upper stage. The build shows how an early `chapel' (c.1100) developed into an important late medieval parish church with several dated late 15th/early 16th century features. Despite the loss of 3 of its 6 main roofs, the church has not been heavily restored (main restoration in 1877).

Immediate topographical context: The church is finely sited at c. 500 feet above sea level, with only the Court Lodge nearby. It stands in a large rectangular graveyard on a downland ridge only 1 miles north of the North Downs scarp. All settlement in the parish is dispersed.

Guide Books: September 1985 (revised 1985), by F Hopkinson (contains plan and section of tower by G. Denny).

Plans and early drawings: Petrie view from south-east in 1808.

Church locked. Key:

DATE VISITED: 22nd September 1990                                   REPORT BY: Tim Tatton Brown

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