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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St Martin Church, Herne         TR 183 658

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1994

LOCATION: In the centre of the village of Herne, at c. 65 feet above O.D. on the lowest part of the London Clay. The main street to Herne Bay from Sturry skirts the churchyard on the east.

DESCRIPTION: This magnificent, largely early 14th century, church was unfortunately very heavily restored in the later 19th century. Much external masonry was renewed, but despite this, there is still much fine 14th and some 15th century masonry surviving.
   The only evidence of the earlier chapel of Herne (appended to Reculver) above ground is in the many 12th and 13th century reused blocks in the early 14th century walls. These include some `chip-carved' blocks of c.1100 as well as some Reigate stone blocks, probably of the 13th century. An excavation, carried out beneath the Lady Chapel floor in 1976, discovered an apsidal foundation. This may be from an Anglo-Saxon church or possibly from an early Norman building. By the 13th century, it seems very likely that the nave and chancel were on the site on the present nave and chancel. There may well have also been aisles, and eastern chapels, at this time (cf. St Nicholas-at-Wade etc.).
   In 1301, with the inauguration of new parochial arrangements at Herne, a major new building campaign was started with a magnificent west tower to the north aisle and a new north aisle and arcade. A little bit later, the south arcade and aisle were rebuilt, and then the arcades to the chancel chapels. Much money for this may have come from the archbishop, the `founder' and in the 1339/40 accounts we have four `Wardens of the lights and fabric of the church at Herne' who are building the church porch. It seems likely that the whole of the church was rebuilt between c.1310 and c.1340, as were other churches/chapels in this part of north-east Kent like St Nicholas-at-Wade, Birchington, Shuart and Reculver itself. In the later Middle Ages (15th - early 16th century) only the chapels were rebuilt.
   The earliest stage of rebuilding was clearly the splendid tower that was added to the north-west side of the nave, with an ingenious use of trefoiled squinch-arches to support the nave wall and give a second arch into the tower from the south. The tower is vaulted and has a split-cusp two-light window on the north, and a fine three-light Decorated window on the west. There are fine carved heads below the vault springings, as well as on the external hood-mould stops for the tower windows and all along the north aisle. Externally the tower has very fine banded tabular knapped flint and Tertiary sandstone, with caenstone used for the carved windows, and Ragstone for the on-end buttress quoins. The upper stages of the tower, with trefoil-headed windows, have plainer masonry of black flint pebbles and sandstone rubble. The large stair-turret is in the north-east corner, and it originally had access from the inside. This was bricked up, and a new external doorway was made in the later 19th century.
   Following on from the tower was the new north aisle and arcade (of 3 bays) with fine new Ragstone pillars, capitals and large bases. The arches have wave mouldings and sunk chamfers, while the outer wall has 2-light windows with reticulated tracery (all renewed externally in Bath stone). Carved head-stops inside and out.
   The south aisle rebuilding must have followed on not long afterwards. There is a similar arcade (of 5 bays here), though the bases are at a higher level and the arches have double hollow-chamfered mouldings. The south aisle windows are plainer (no head stops), and are again heavily restored externally. At the east end of the south aisle is a fine contemporary ogee-headed piscina (possibly for the later `Jesus Altar'). Both aisle roofs were originally shallow-pitched `shed' roofs with a crenellated parapet. The north aisle roof was given its present form (shallow double-pitched roof) in c.1890, while the south aisle got its steep-pitched roof in 1850. The nave roof, with wind-braces etc., is also of 1850. Its early 14th century west doorway is completely restored externally, while the early 14th century chancel arch has had its underside mouldings cut away.
   The chancel has fine early 14th century 2-bay arcades into the flanking chapels and a cinquefoil-headed piscina and embattled sedilia on the south. It has a restored 3-bay crownpost roof (?15th century) over it, and a fine 5-light east window (restored) that is transitional between the Decorated and Perpendicular styles (c.1340s). In the centre is a large circle containing six ogee-quatrefoils, while the lights at the sides have early Perpendicular traceried tops. On the north-east side of the chancel, a large contemporary tomb-chest is built into the wall.
   The north porch, as we have seen, is documented to c.1340. It has pairs of trefoiled headed lancets on either side, and stoups on either side of the outer arch (that on the east has a Purbeck marble bowl). The porch, which has a 19th century roof, is built at an angle to the north aisle, perhaps to face the earlier northern entrance to the churchyard from the road. It has N.E. and N.W. diagonal buttresses with mostly restored Bathstone quoins (a little Caen survives).
   The fine octagonal font, with shields, can be dated by Heraldry to c.1405-14. It is now again at the west end of the nave.
   The south chapel, probably dedicated to St John-the-Baptist, was probably rebuilt in the early 15th century with a 4-light Perp. east window and two new south windows (all restored externally). Phillpot's notebook (see below) tells us that the ceiling was covered in shields (mainly of early 15th century date), probably of donors to the work (cf. contemporary cloister at Canterbury Cathedral). This south chapel still has a medieval rafter, collar and soulace roof, but its ceiling has gone. Its S.E. corner probably originally had two angle buttresses (the present diagonal one sits on brick foundations). In the post-medieval period the S.E. chapel became the Knowler Chapel (now a vestry) and the N.E. one, the Milles Chapel.
   The north chapel, almost certainly dedicated to Our Lady, was rebuilt c.1520 with two later Perpendicular 3-light east windows and a plinth. It was heavily restored c.1890, but still has a squinch to the High Altar. At the west end of this chapel is a very fine early 16th century Roof screen (the loft has gone), which presumably continued across the chancel and south chapel. It is documented as being gilded in 1522, and there is a Roof-loft door (and stair) on the south-east side of the nave.
   In the 1460's, the church was documented as being paved and given pews and a new organ. A gallery was added at the West end in the late 18th century (removed 1850) and the main restorations were in 1850, (with reseating in 1854, 1869-70), and c.1890 (north aisle and chapel).

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): In the earlier `chapel` the dressings were of Caen and Reigate stone. Also some Purbeck Marble frags. There is also a reused shelly limestone at the east end of the chancel. The 14th century rebuilding has black flint pebbles and Tertiary sandstone, and Septaria rubble with Caen and Ragstone dressings. Also tabular knapped flint and sandstone in lower tower wall. Much 19th century restoration with Bathstone.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: Several fine brasses - 5 with effigies and 4 with inscriptions.

Several good monuments

Size & Shape: Large rectangular area around church with main road on east and north-east with extension to west.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: Some brick walls to north and south.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: 19th century Lychgate to north.

Exceptional monuments: Some good head and bodystones.

Ecological potential: ? Yes, in western part. Horse chestnut avenue to north porch from Lychgate.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Domesday Monachorum (c.1100) has: monsterium aet Hyrnan

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): Chapel to Reculver.

Late med. status: Vicarage. An `exempt' parish.

Patron: The Archbishop of Canterbury - originally Herne was a chapel to Reculver.

Other documentary sources: Hasted IX (1800), 90-6. Thomas Philpott's notebook (BL MS. Harley 3917) with Heraldry of S.E. chapel ceiling etc. Test.Cant. (East Kent, 1907), 160-4, has: Reparation of church walls about Our Lady's chancel' (1526); to making of window over St Christopher' (1510); `The chancel of St John-the-Baptist' (1459,1471); For new organ (1466); `Towards gilding the new Roodloft' (1522), `Towards Shoting (i.e. casting) of the leads at the north side of the church' (1542). Also churchwardens accounts (destroyed in 1953 flood at Herne Bay) were transcribed by C E Woodroff, Canterbury Diocesan Records (1922) Appendix pp 224-35. This includes church porch (built 1340) and roof repaired and leaded (1397). Chantry of St Mary (Founded 1355) by Thomas Newe. Paving and Pews added in the 1460's.

Reused materials: Much reused 12th/13th century stonework in early 14th century walls.

Previous archaeological work (published): B Philp and H Gough, `Early Church discovered at Herne' Kent Archaeol. Review 44 (1976), 86-91

Inside present church: ? Good, but cut by many burials and vaults (see plan in KAR.44 (1976).

Outside present church: ? Good, but large burial vaults outside east end.

To structure: Font moved from under tower to west end of nave.

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): Nov. 1989. P Marsh

The church and churchyard: The church was completely rebuilt in the early 14th century with first a magnificent new vaulted tower, then an almost contemporary north aisle, and soon after a south aisle. The chancel and two flanking chapels are also slightly later, with the north porch added in 1340 (documented). The fine octagonal font was made in 1405-14 (date from heraldry) and the north-east (Lady) Chapel was rebuilt in c.1520; the south chapel having been rebuilt in the early 15th century. Heavy restorations in 1850, 1869-70 and c.1890.

The wider context: One of a group of north-east Kent churches rebuilt on a grand scale in the first half of the 14th century like St Nicholas-at-Wade and Birchington.

REFERENCES: C.R. Councer, `Heraldic notices of the church of St Martin, Herne', Arch.Cant. 53 (1940), 81-100. J Duncombe, History and Antiquities of the two Parishes of Reculver and Herne (1784); Rev. J R Buchanan, Memorials of Herne (1887), K H McIntosh and H E Gough (eds.) Hoath and Herne: the last of the Forest (1984).

Guide Book: Very good by Harold Gough, The Ancient Church of Herne (no date c.1970s).

Plans and early drawings: Petrie view from N.W. in 1808 - plan in Buchanan (1887) see above. Internal views of North aisle and chapel before restoration in Buchanan (1887) see above.

DATE VISITED: 8th July 1994 REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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