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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St Mary Church, Fordwich         TR 1810 5984

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1992

LOCATION: The church lies on the north-east side of the village close to the river Stour at only c. 13 ft. above O.D. (the river is tidal here). It is only 3 miles north-east of Canterbury, and was connected directly with the City by a track leading N.E. from St. Martin's church, and with Sturry by a ford (later a bridge).

DESCRIPTION: By the late Anglo-Saxon period, Fordwich had become an important small port for Canterbury at the tidal limit of the river Great Stour. It was perhaps formally created a borougly (parvus burgus in Domes Day Book) by Edward the Confessor in c. 1055 when he gave two-thirds of the town to St. Augustine's Abbey. They received the other third from Odo of Bayeux a decade or so after the conquest, and it is perhaps at this time that the first church was built.
   The earliest evidence of date from the fabric of the church are in the quoins at the eastern end of the nave. On the north-east are large 'long and short' blocks of Quarr stone (from the Isle of Wight) as well as local Tertiary sandstone. Similar quoins can be seen behind the later buttress on the south-east side of the nave. Though no other architectural details survive, it seems very likely that the shell of the nave and western part of the chancel were built as a new church in the late 11th century.
   The north aisle must have been added in the late 12th century. Three very plain pointed arches on rectangular piers with only simple chamfered abaci were used to give access to the north aisle, and a round-headed window at the west end of the north aisle must also be of this date, as is the window on the north side of the aisle at the east end. This has an external round head of Reigate stone, though all the other original quoins and jambs of this phase are in Caen.
   The simple square Purbeck marble bowl of the font (with simple blank-arcading on its sides) is also probably of the mid-to late 12th century.
   In the early 13th century the chancel was enlarged to the east, and this still contains lancets on either side. Externally these are heavily restored in cement (? covering Reigate stone).
   The tower was added in the later 13th century, and this has been built at a strange angle to, and off centre from the west end of the nave. It has an exceptionally tall tower arch with high up abaci. There is only one window in the whole of the tower, and that is a tall wide lancet (with rere-arch) in the west wall. The upper chamber of the tower is windowless, and on top is a fine broached, shingle-covered spire (the internal frame is perhaps of the early 14th century). There is an earlier slightly steeper-pitched roof-line in the east face of the tower above the present nave roof.
   Because of the strange way the tower was added to the nave odd buttresses were added to the west end of the nave, that on the south is a large clasping affair (see plan).
   Early in the 14th century five fine two-light windows with a pair of quatre-foils above under square hood-moulds were inserted in the walls (3 in the nave south wall and 2 in the north aisle). *ef. windows in S.E. Mildred's Canterbury). The buttresses on the north and south sides as well as a new south doorway were also added at this time. The original east window as shown (with chamfered plinths) in Petrie's 1801 view is also 14th century. The crown-post roof over the nave may also be of this date, or a little later.
   The perpendicular chancel arch is probably of the later 15th century, and the sawn-off ends of the rood beam can still be seen just above the moulded capitals. The painted board (tympanum) with the Royal Arms and W.R. 1688 that once filled the chancel arch has been put on the wall above the arch.
   The inserted two-light windows on either side of the west end of the chancel must also be later 15th century. A will of 1474 gives stained glass for the southern window. The timber-framed south porch (with unusual dragon-ties) is also perhaps 15th century, but with later repairs and brick casing and underbuilding.
   Wills also tell us that the east end of the north aisle (the area around the altar of St. Katherine) was being rebuilt in the late 15th and very early 16th century. The area over the altar was "ceiled in" in 1493 and a new east window was made in 1503. This window is a 3 - light one with a flat four-centred arch over it. In the gable above is early English - bond red brickwork (perhaps contemporary). The whole of the simple rafter and collar roof of the north aisle may be of the same date.
   The church still contains most of its box pews of c. 1800 (with some reused decorative panelling). There was a plan to reseat the church in 1852, but this was never carried out. The two pews at the west end of the chancel were, however, inserted in the late 19th century. The 'singers pew' is in the south-west corner of the nave, and the vestry is at the east end of the north aisle, with the organ under the arch to the south. The east end of the chancel was rebuilt in the 19th century, and the east window was only given simple y - tracery. A four-centred doorway with heavy knapped flint around it was also put into the south side of the tower at this time, but it clearly fills an earlier (? 13th century) opening.

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The earliest walling is of flint and local sandstone (with mollusc holes) with large Quarr stone quoins. There are also a few tufa blocks and rounded granite boulders (? from the Stonar bank). Caenstone quoins (with some Reigate) was used from the later 12th to 14th centuries, though some of the large early 14th century windows are carved in Hythe stone.

The external walls were rendered originally and some early glazing bars remain in the windows. The upper quatre-foil lights to the main windows still contain much early glass - but restored (? 14th cent. on the south and 15th cent. on the north).

Most external repairs to mullions, jambs, etc., in the 19th century have been done in Bath stone.

The "Fordwich stone" (early Norman) - see S.E. Rigold 'The Fordwich stone and the church porch' in ed. K.H. McKintosh, Fordwich, the Lost Port (1975), 131-2 - Probably came originally from Canterbury (? St.Augustines).

Shape: Rough rectangle around church, with large extension to N.E.

Condition: Good - more trees in churchyard than in the last century.

Apparent extent of burial: Burial in churchyard mentioned in wills from 1470 onwards.
Boundary walls: On south side. Hedge, then river, to the north.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: Give Ale cottage (c. 14th cent. + 17th cent.) on S.W. side of churchyard.

Ecological potential: ? More trees in churchyard than in the 19th century.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: ? 13th century.

Late med. status (rectory): List of Rectors from 1282 in Woodruff (op. cit. supra).

Patron: St. Augustine's Abbey till 1538, then went with manor.

Other documentary sources: Test. Cant. (E. Kent, 1907) 133-4. Wills mention the Rood + lights of Our Lady, St. Christopher, St. George, St. John, St. John-the-Baptist + St. Katherine. Also buried before the Altar of St. Katherine (1477) and the making of a bar of iron called a beam, that shall go from a pillar there to the wall against the Altar of St. Katherine (1477). 'To the selyng in and over the Altar of St. Katherine' (1493), and 'to the making a window in St. Katherine's aisle' (1503). Hugo Egirle's will (he was Rector) of 1474 bequeathed - 4 for a stained glass window on the s. side of the choir, with figures of St. Mary Katherine, St. Oswald, St. David + kneeling priest in a surplice with label CONSERVA FAMULOS VIRGO MARIA TUO's (in Woodruff, 142).

Reused materials: Few Roman bricks.

Inside present church: ? Very good - few burial vaults, and no 19th cent. flooring.

Outside present church: Good (raised G.L. around church).

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): February 1992 Andrew Clague.

The church and churchyard: A largely unrestored church of the late 11th to early 14th century, still containing box pews. The rising river-level probably means the below-ground archaeological remains are well-preserved.

The wider context: One of a small group of Norman town churches (cf. Sandwich, Romney, Hythe + Dover).

REFERENCES: C.E Woodruff A History of the Town + Port of Fordwich (1895), esp. Ch.VI. See also 93-4. Also ed. K.H. McIntosh, Fordwich, the lost part (1975), including M. Sparks on 'Fordwich church', pp. 127-130.

Guide Book: Small guide - needs revising (no date) by D.W. (based on notes by C. Phillips, Rector 1947-9).

Photographs: In guide book.

Plans & drawings: Plan of church (at 6ft. to 1 inch) made in 1852 for new seating (never carried out) - now in Cathedral Archives U3/78/6/21. Petrie view from N.E. showing original E. window (made in 1801).

DATE VISITED: 6th & 27th November 1992.                         REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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