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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St Laurence Church, Hawkhurst         TQ 7558 2940

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1992

LOCATION: Situated on high ground (c.230ft above O.D.) at 'the Moor' about mile north of the Sussex border. Large vicarage immediately to the south. The main population is at Highgate on either side of the main E.W. road on the ridge to the north. It acquired a new chapel-of-ease of All Saints in 1860-1 (by G.G. Scott).

DESCRIPTION: The earliest apparent work which may be of the late 13th cent. is on the N.E. side of the church (i.e. N. chapel area). The lower part of the E. wall of the N. chapel has two blocked rectangular windows in it, and the adjacent N. wall has a battered plinth. Three bays to the west (immediately west of N. turret) is rubble walling with a broken high stringcourse and an inserted 14th cent. window. Inside this wall is seen to be thicker than the neighbouring ones and has a high offset (to later parapet wall). Jeffreys (op. cit 243) records finding two ? earlier parallel walls 'along either side of the western half of the present nave. They were formed of concrete, and were as hard as adamant.' (? early Nave walls). In c 1360, the whole of the eastern half of the church was rebuilt externally with a magnificent late 'Decorated' large east window (+ blind window in gable above) and reticulated 4-light windows in the S. chapel and more 'Decorated windows in the N. chapel. The whole of the nave arcades (4 bays), the very tall chancel arch, and the west arches into the N + S chapels are also mid 14th century.
   In the 15th century the outer walls of the nave were completely rebuilt with new windows and new almost flat roofs over them (the crenellated beams for them survive only in the N. aisle roof). At the same time a western tower was built and a north and south porch, both with spiral stairs in the west from the church up to first-floor chambers. The south porch also has a ribbed vault. A battlemented wall was built along the tops of the aisle walls (and on the tower) and this was continued along the top of the N + S chapel walls and around the east end to the central gable. The porch tops are also battlemented. The later walls have a plinth all the way round. There is a fine later 15th cent. font with an octagonal bowl with shields and roses.
   Later in the 15th century, when the rood screen and loft were built, the walls on the north side of the chancel arch was cut through to connect the rood loft in all three aisles (these passages were reopened in 1859), and a stair-turret was built on the north to allow entry into the rood loft and to go up to the roof. Only the south porch turret continues to the roof. There is also part of an ? earlier spiral stair to the central rood loft in the north pier.
   Late 15th/early 16th cent. wills indicate that the South chapel was the Lady Chapel while the north chapel was probably dedicated to St. Nicholas. There was also an altar of St. Stephen (? on the north).
   In the early 16th century (and probably referred to in the will of 1513 - see below), the arcades to the north and south chapels from the main chancel were probably rebuilt with very flat four-centred arches.
   There is a 17th cent. reredos.
   In the 18th century, five galleries were put into the church for the expanding population of the parish (they were removed in 1859 and a new church of All Saints was built at Highgate). For entry into these galleries the existing stair-turrets were used but new doorways were cut directly into the porches and from the upper part of the south stair into the gallery through the upper aisle wall. A doorway also apparently led from the north porch chamber (parvise) into the gallery on that side (now only a niche). The south porch chamber (parvise) contains shelves and still houses parish records, a table, etc. It was used by the vicar in the 19th cent. for writing sermons, etc.
   The first major restoration was in 1849 when R.C. Carpenter replaced the wooden mullions in the west window with perp. tracery. He also roofed over the late medieval vestry east of the east end and made a new doorway from it into the north chapel. He added two east facing buttresses above the vestry on either side of the great east window. In 1849 Jeffreys tells us that the chancel roof was shingled while the north side of the nave roof was tiled and the south side slated. A decade later it was all covered in slate, and these in turn were replaced in tiles in the 1950s restoration.
   The second restoration by William Slater was in 1859. This saw the galleries removed and the roofs reslated (see above) as well as various other repairs. Much new stained glass by Clayton & Bell was put in but this was destroyed in 1944. (The late medieval glass, destroyed in the mid 17th cent.) is partly described by Kilburne. The 'Parclose screens' also date from this time and the boarded ceilings (the latter removed in the 1950s).
   On 13th August 1944 a flying-bomb landed in the churchyard and blew out the south windows and badly damaged the roofs. These were completely replaced in the early 1950s, except the north aisle roof, and new tracery was made for the south aisle windows.

BUILDING MATERIALS (incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The principal building material is Tunbridge Wells sandstone, used in rubble work for the earlier walls and in fine squared ashlar for all the later work.

Jeffreys records using some Caenstone in the 19th cent. restoration.

There are now 8 bells in a 1904 Mears + Stainbank frame; 3 are 17th cent. (2 x Hatch, 1613, 1617) and a forth was recast in 1847.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN THE CHURCH. Brass of John Roberts, ob.1499. Leger slab in north chapel to R Kilburne (1678) - the early historian, who left notes on the early glass (see above).

Size: Large area around church, with extensions to S.E. + S.W. (with vicarage kitchen garden in between). Burial in churchyard mentioned in wills from 1464.

Exceptional monuments: Headstone of 1633 (near S. wall of church) + some fine 18th + 19th cent. headstones still in situ

Ecological potential: Yes

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: c 13th cent. (Den of Hawkhurst part of Royal Manor of Wye, given to Battle Abbey). Advowson + first/Rector mentioned from 1285.

Late med. status: Rectory till Dissolution, then vicar.

Patron: The Abbey of Battle till 1539, then to king etc. till c 1547 to D. + C. of Christchurch Oxford (with perpetual curate). From 1312 (till 1873) an annual fair and weekly market was granted to Battle Abbey - held on 'the Moor'.

Other documentary sources: Hasted VII (1798) 153-7. Many wills (Test. Cant. (E Kent 1907) 153-7) mention Lady Chapel in S. chancel (1472) and St Nicholas' chapel (? north) and St Stephen's chapel (north). Sir Nicholas Norpice, the chaplain of Hawkhurst directs in his will (1513) that he is to be buried before St Nicholas' altar covered by a 'marbill stone' with a 'picture of a priest with superscription underneath graves in laten', etc.. He also willed that 'my chapel be made up into the church and finished according unto such covenants and bargins between Edmond Robert and Russell'. - This is ? the N. arcade to N. chapel.

See also Inventory of Books and Documents in C.E. Woodruff(ed). Canterbury Diocesan Records (1922), 92-4+219-224 including drawings + plans of the church in 1859 by Wm. Slater. (The latter are still in the south porch chamber).

Inside present church: ? quite good

To structure: Very badly damaged by flying-bomb which fell in churchyard on 13 August 1944. Restoration (including reroofing) not finished till 1957.

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): ? Robert Chitham

The church and churchyard: A fine large Wealden church, with as usual mostly late medieval work and a 15th cent. west tower. Badly damaged in 1944, but having an exceptionally large collection of records to make up for it. The large 14th cent. east window is the finest architectural feature.

The wider context: One of a small group of 'High Weald' churches made of the local sandstone.

REFERENCES: H A Jeffreys (Vicar 1839 - 97) 'The church of St Laurence, Hawkhurst' Arch Cant 9 (1874). 240-65 W J Lightfoot Notes from the records of Hawkhurst church, Arch Cant 5 (1863), 55-86. (early churchwarden's accounts + perambulation of the 5 Denns in Hawkhurst, 1507).
Kilburne's Survey (1659).

Guide book: Leaflet by A S M Leese (Vicar) - not available now.

Plans & drawings: Engravings in Jeffreys (supra), also reproduced in Glynne, Churches of Kent (1877), 80-1.

DATES VISITED: 25th April 1992                             REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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