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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St John the Evangelist Church, Groombridge  TQ 531377

ROCHESTER DIOCESE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1993

LOCATION: Situated at c. 165 feet above O.D. and just north of the County boundary with Groombridge Place to the S.E. and a new 17th/18th cent. village around a triangular green immediately to the west. The main new settlement of Groombridge is now over the County boundary to the south, in Sussex.

DESCRIPTION: This is an unusual church as it was built in 1625, probably on a new site, replacing an earlier manorial chapel (probably situated in the moated site to the south-east). It is a chapel of ease within the parish of Speldhurst, and was built early in 1625 (before the death of James I). Hasted says it was later called St. Charles chapel. Over the south porch is the inscription D.O.M. 1625 and D.O.IP. with a Latin text referring to Prince Charles' safe return from Spain (without a wife!) Above this is the name William Camfield, and around it the date 1757. Above it, on a separate placque in the pediment, are the Prince of Wales' feathers.

The church has a simple rectangular plan with a continuous plinth and angle-buttresses, and two buttresses on the north (making 3 bays) and one buttress and the porch on the south. The buttresses on either side of the west window are 19th century additions. The walls are all of red brick, mostly in header bond, with local sandstone jambs, quoins, etc. The horizontal quoins in the buttresses stand proud, and have distinctive tool-markings in the centre of each block.

The church is mostly very late Perpendicular in style, though the porch does have a 'classical' semi-circular arch over it and balls in the spandrels; also a pediment above and 'rusticated' quoins as on the buttresses.

All the windows are in a perp. style with 3 x three-light windows on the north and south sides, and 5-light windows with transoms in the east and west walls. All the window tracery was heavily restored in the 19th century (1825 and 1895), though apparently as a copy of the earlier work (see Petrie 1808 drawing).

There may have been a 1757 restoration (see porch inscription), but the first main restoration was in 1825 when the west gable top was rebuilt with a new bell-turret and a weathervane over it dated 1825. Below this is the lozenge shaped clock-face dated 1792. New west buttresses were also added at this time. All the side window tracery was redone at this time and the brickwork over the window heads was rebuilt.

After a fire, caused by lightning in 1895, the east end of the church was rebuilt and a new gable was made (also? new roof) with a new cross on top. Much new stained glass was put in at the end of the 19th century.

The fine font, with fluted bowl and relief decoration on the annulus around the stem, must date from c. 1625 (cf. nearby font at Chiddingstone church of 1628). There is also a contemporary pulpit and sounding board.

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
Brick in mostly header bond with Tunbridge Wells sandstone quoins, jambs, etc., some 17th cent. glass, but mostly 19th cent. glass by Kempe and by Clayton + Bell.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH:
On north side of chancel: Philip Packer (ob. 1686) - by Bushnell (Newman) and John Packer (1697) - See list in Reg. Roff. (1769), 810.

CHURCHYARD AND ENVIRONS:
Size & Shape: Rectangular area around church with larger area going down hill to south.

Condition: Good

Exceptional monuments: Many good gravestones, including some unusually shaped 20th cent. ones (eg. Short monuments against S.E. side of church).

Ecological potential: ? Yes

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: ? 13th cent. manorial chapel - Hasted says that in 23 Hen. III (c. 1239, 'William Russell and Hawis his wife, granted lands.....to the chapel of St. John of Gromenebregge'.

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): See Reg. Roff. (1769), 609-615.

Late med. status (rectory): Chapel of ease to Speldhurst.

Other documentary sources: Register of bishop Hamo de Hythe (1319-52)
Charters in Reg. Roff.(1769), 609-615 (see above), c. 1239, 1254, 1256, 1257, 1264, etc.

SURVIVAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DEPOSITS:
Inside present church: ?

Outside present church: ? Quite good, but drainage ditch and boiler house on the north.

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

ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT:
The church and churchyard: An unusual 1625 chapel (with many 19th cent. repairs) in a neat graveyard with many fine gravestones. Part of a 17th/18th century group with the village green and houses to the west and Groombridge Place to the south-east.

The wider context: An unusual Carolean brick structure of the early 17th century, still having late Perpendicular windows.

REFERENCES: Hasted III (1797), 292-3.
S R Glynne, Notes on the Churches of Kent, (1877), 181 - brief description (he visited in 1853, when the five-light w. window was 'closed', and it was 'fitted with open seats.'D. Mackinson, History of Speldhurst ( ), 65 etc.

Guide Book: By B.W. S-W (purchased by T.T.B. many years ago for 6d).

Photographs: Kent Churches 1954, Pratt Boorman + Torr, has the porch (p.47) and font (p.124).

Plans & drawings: View from N.W. in 1808 by Petrie, showing earlier bell-turret.

DATE VISITED: 6/3/93                                   REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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