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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St Mary Church, Lamberhurst       TQ 682 366

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1994

LOCATION: Situated on the ridge top at c.175 feet above OD with the Court Lodge immediately to the west on slightly higher ground. The valley of the river Teise (the old county boundary) is immediately to the south.

DESCRIPTION: A church is first documented at Lamberhurst in the mid 12th century when it was given to Leeds Priory, but the earliest visible fabric, on the south-west side of the south (Scotney) Chapel is probably later than this, perhaps dating from the earlier 13th century. A 12th century date for the rough rubble walling here, is, however, possible.

The early nave and chancel were probably on the site of the present early 14th century nave and chancel, with the earlier south wall part of an early chapel. It has a pilaster buttress on the south-east, but only the western two-thirds of this is early.

The chancel and south chapel were probably extended down the hill to the east in the very late 13th century, but the restoration of 1870 has made it difficult to understand how this was done, and what further changes took place here in the early 14th century. Two lancets and a blocked doorway were said to have been uncovered in this area in 1870. The east window of the south chapel was, until 1870, a fine 4-light late 13th century window, but this was replaced by a three light window with reticulated tracery in 1870.

In the 1840s the lower easternmost arch in the chancel arcade was opened up, and this arch indicates a possible basement at the extreme east end of the chancel and south chapel. Without internal excavation, however, it is impossible to understand further the late 13th century arrangements (and levels) here.

In the first half of the 14th century almost the whole church was rebuilt, and from the mouldings etc, at least two main stages can be made out. First a completely new nave and south aisle (with a new four bay arcade between them) was built. This has a chamfered plinth, buttresses and a series of two-light windows with ogeed trefoiled heads with quatrefoils over. On the hood-moulds are a clear series of masons' marks and much of the original glazing bars survive in the windows. The south porch is also integral with this work. All the buttresses used in this phase, and in those added to the chancel slightly later have distinctive gabled tops. In the chancel area only the buttresses have plinths, suggesting that they are an addition to the earlier walls. The windows in the chancel and south chapel may also have been inserted into an earlier wall though this is only clear on the south-west side, where the two-light cinquefoil headed window (with an octofoil over) has clearly been put into a much earlier wall.

The arcade between the chancel and south chapel of St Katherine is also earlier 14th century, as are the arches into these two `chancels' from the west, but their mouldings are slightly different. The distinctive sedilia on the south side of the chancel, with its bench end on the west and two quatrefoils in the back is clearly a later insertion into the arcade. Immediately east of it is a piscina, with an ambry above.

The east window of the chancel and west window of the nave are clearly perpendicular insertions of the 15th century. Wills suggests that the west window was being put in in c.1446. The west doorway beneath is still, however, the 14th century one, with distinctive masons marks on its hoodmould. The crown-post roofs over the nave and chancel are also of the 15th century, as is that in the south porch, though its southern crown-post has now gone. Another odd 15th century addition to the south porch is the large arch with square hood-mould and quatrefoils in the spandrels that has replaced the earlier arch. Cracks in the side walls of the porch suggest that the new arch may have been put in when the earlier one became unstable. There is still a small 14th century niche immediately above the inserted arch.

The largest 15th century addition, however, was of the new tower added at the west end of the south aisle after the demolition of the aisle's west wall. It is made of fine ashler masonry with a large plinth, angle buttresses (on the west), and a semi-octagonal stair-turret on the south-east. Under it on the west is a fine 3-light late perpendicular window. There are single light square headed windows at the first stage, and two-light square-headed perpendicular windows (with louvres) in the second (bell chamber) stage above. There is then a moulded string course with a crenellated parapet over, and on top a small shingled spire. (The small doorway on the north side of the tower was cut through in 1840).

A late 15th century Rood-screen was clearly put in but the only major trace of this is the doorway and stair leading out of the north-west corner of St Katherine's chapel to the Roodloft.

The first major restoration was in c.1840 when a large buttress was added to the south-east corner of the south aisle. The chancel was very thoroughly restored in 1870 by Ewan Christian as we have seen, with most earlier fittings being removed, and the chancel roof being reconstructed. The west gallery and inserted floor in the lower stage of the tower survived, however until 1920.

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): The local Tunbridge Wells sandstone is the main building material, with rubble walling being used in the early south chapel wall. Wellcut blocks are used for the later medieval work and the tracery etc.

Some medieval floor tiles have been relaid on the dais around the altar in St Katherine's chapel.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: There is a fine pulpit (dated 1630) in the north east corner of the nave. The Royal Arms of Queen Anne (originally in an 18th century `reredos' are over the south doorway.

A medieval grave-marker is reused (along with crosses) on the roof gables.

Size Shape: Large nearly square area to north and south of church, with 19th century extension to the north; early 20th century extension to south, and recent extension downhill (on lower terrace) to the east.

Condition: Good.

Boundary walls: To the Court Lodge on the west.

Earthworks: None, but terracing down on hillside.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: Small brick building in churchyard to the north (? 18th century Sextons building)

Exceptional monuments: Some fine 17th/18th century headstones and tombs. The Hussey tombs are immediately to the east of the church.

Ecological potential: Yes. Large very ancient Yew to the South West of the church.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Mid 12th century.

Late med. status: Vicarage endowed from 1448.

Patron: Given by Robert de Crevequer to Leeds Priory c.1137 and appropriated to them. After the Dissolution, given by the crown (c.1542) to the Dean and Chapter of Rochester.

Other documentary sources: Hasted V (1798), 307-310, Test.Cant (W.Kent, 1906) 44-5, mentions money for `the work on west window' and the `cancelli Sancte Katerine' (1446); to repairs of bell-tower (1489); for paving from the south door into the chancel of St Katherine (1494).

Finds from church\churchyard: Two crosses and one medieval grave-marker (in 1870) and put on the end gables to the chancel, nave and porch.

Previous archaeological work (published): For uncovering of eastern arch in 1840 - ref?

Inside present church: ? Good.

Outside present church: ? Quite good but disturbed by 1960s underpinning.

To structure: None, but major reordering and putting in of partitions, etc in 1992.

To graveyard: Underpinning of church walls in early 1960s.

The church and churchyard: The fine large church with parallel nave/chancel and south aisle/south chapel is largely of the earlier 14th century, with a 15th century tower added on the south west. There are, however, some survivals of the earlier 13th century east end, and some rubble walling on the south west side of the south chapel of the earlier 13th (or even 12th) century.

REFERENCES: S. Glynne, Churches of Kent (1877), 283-4.

Guide Book: "The Church in Lamberhurst" by W Morland (1968 + 2nd rev. ed 1978); also leaflet with rough plan.

Photographs: South porch doorway and sedilia with piscina in chancel in Kent Churches 1954, p.42 + p.115.

Plans and early drawings: Measured plan of 1920 on window sill in Scotney Chapel (by the Vicar, S Le Mesurier) showing W gallery. View from SE by H Petrie in early 19th century, showing early 14th c. 2-light windows in S wall.

DATE VISITED: 16-17/9/91 & 31/7/94                      REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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