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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

  St Peter Church, Hever       TQ 477448

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1998

LOCATION: Situated at c. 170 feet above O.D. on a level area with hillside sloping down to Hever `Castle' a quarter of a mile to the north-east. Just beyond is the river Eden (the whole area was re-landscaped in 1903-7, when the bridge was moved a short distance to the west and the river was diverted into a lake.

DESCRIPTION: This church is perhaps now most famous for the very fine brass of Sir Thomas Bullen (ob. 1538), and it has been, and still is, closely connected to the well-known Hever `Castle' immediately to the north-east.

No evidence, above ground, for the earlier church can be seen, but the south side of the nave is probably the earliest surviving wall. It is the only wall without a plinth, and may date from the 12th or 13th century. On the west, its quoins were replaced when the tower was built, while to the east the join with the chancel was obscured by the building of the Rood stair. The two Perpendicular windows in the south nave wall were inserted at a later date, that on the west having a transom.

On the north side of the nave is a three-bay arcade with round pillars that must date from the earlier 13th century, showing that a north aisle was required at this time. The outer wall of the aisle was, however, completely rebuilt at a later date.

The chancel, which is as wide as the nave, was perhaps rebuilt in the early 14th century, as suggested by the two-light trefoiled window on its south-west side. It has buttresses and a plinth all the way round, and its main masonry is small blockwork of Tunbridge Wells sandstone. At this time, there may already have been a north chapel leading off the north aisle. Does the central east-facing buttress in the east wall suggest this? The Perpendicular east window is perhaps of the later 14th century.

During the 15th century the north aisle was rebuilt with a new outer wall with buttresses on the north side and a plinth. The three two-light windows on the north perhaps suggest a later 15th century date. Over the top of this aisle a small rafter, collar and soulace roof was built, which still survives, and because it only has double wall-plates on the north side, it seems to be displaced to the north.

Shortly after (or perhaps just before) the north aisle was rebuilt, the west wall of the nave was demolished, and the large new tower was built. It also has a plinth and is joined to the west end of the nave by two small contemporary buttresses. There is a large new tower arch with beyond a west doorway, and above this a two-light late Perpendicular west window. Above this the tower steps in slightly and there are two stages of simple windows, with the upper ones being late `lancets' for the bell-chamber. Above a top moulded string course is a fine slender brooch spire (covered in shingles) which is perhaps contemporary with the tower. All the masonry of the tower is roughly coursed local sandstone, with slightly harder, and better cut, side alternate quoins. The lancet window on the south side of the tower at ground level is entirely 19th century Bath-stone. Inside the tower, on the north side, a steep wooden block stair leads up to the belfry.

In 1465, Sir Geoffrey Bullen, who owned the manor of Hever, was able to found a chantry. The north-east chapel, however, seems to have been built sometime after this, perhaps in the very early 16th century. It connects with the chancel by two very depressed four-centred arches (there is another into the north aisle), and on the north it has diagonal buttresses and a contemporary fireplace (reopened in 1987). There is also a small doorway in the north-west corner with a square hood-mould over it. The three-light east window is in a later Perpendicular style. Under the eastern arch between the chapel and chancel is the very worn Purbeck marble tomb-chest of Sir Thomas Bullen, which stands on the old (lower) floor level. The chapel is covered by a slightly strange `four-canted' purlin roof.

The one other late 15th/16th century addition was the small stair on the south-east side of the nave for the rood-loft. It still has its original wooden door into it (and the staircase and doorway above). Externally there is a slight projection in the nave wall for the inserted stair, and it has a plinth at the base.

The very fine flattened barrel-vaulted roof in the nave is probably also of the same date (c. 1500). It has small crown-posts at either end, and a collar purlin. A single-light window, with four-centred head, was inserted into the south-east side of the chancel at about the same time.

Only the pulpit, with tester dated 1621, survives from the early post-Reformation fittings, though there are also some early chests in the Bullen chapel, and part of a wall inscription on the south wall of the nave.

The main restoration came in 1894, when the church was completely re-fitted. The match-board chancel ceiling and the font are also of this date. Reglazing of windows, and other additional furnishings (including pictures) have followed on from this. The chancel and north chapel floors were also raised at this time, and the south porch was also built, as was a small heating chamber north-west of the Bullen chapel.

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): The main building stone is Tunbridge Wells sandstone, used both for rubble work and dressings. A little Reigate stone can also be seen in the south-east window of the chancel.

Restoration in Bath-stone as well as Tunbridge Wells sandstone.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: Tomb and brass of Sir Thomas Bullen (ob. 1538), and very fine brass of Margaret Cheyne (ob. 1419) in the raised chancel. Also brass to William Todde (ob. 1585) on chancel window sill.

Size & Shape: Trapezoidal area around church, with extension (terraced down) to east. The main gateway area to Hever Castle is now immediately north of the church.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: Brick boundary walls (modern)

Building in churchyard or on boundary: Elaborate lychgate (covered in stone slates) on south-west side.

Ecological potential: ? Yes - several fastigiate yews, other yews, and rhododendron, shrubs, etc.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Textus Roffensis (c. 1120) - it paid 9d. for Chrism.

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

Late med. status: rectory

Patron: The Archbishop (a peculiar in the exempt Deanery of Shoreham). The advowson was held by Combwell Priory (Goudhurst) till 1516, then to private hands.

Other documentary sources: Hasted III (1797), 199-202.
Test.Cant. (W Kent, 1906), 36. Money given for repairs to the roof in 1415.

Inside present church: ? Good - all of eastern area floors raised.

Outside present church: ? Good

The church and churchyard: Perhaps 12th century nave with 13th century north arcade, and 14th century chancel. North aisle rebuilt in the later 15th century and west tower added at about the same time (with fine slender spire).

The Bullen chapel, with its famous tomb and brass of Sir Thomas, was added in the early 16th century.

The wider context: One of a series of early Tudor chantry chapels in the county.

REFERENCES: Brief note in Arch. Cant. 31 (1915), 1xxix, S Glynne, Churches of Kent (1877), 326.

Guide book: Colour guide, with measured plan on back (1986), and brief leaflet (c. 1991)

Plans and drawings : Petrie view from NE in 1808

DATES VISITED: 26/4/91 and 25/8/94.                           REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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Kent Archaeological Society December 2011

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