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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

St Peter & St Paul Church, Leybourne       TQ 689 589

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1995

LOCATION: Situated at about 60 feet above O.D. on the 2nd gravel terrace (over Folkestone Sands). The main road from West Malling to Rochester is just to the east and beyond this is the West Malling stream which runs into the Medway a little further north. Leybourne castle gate-house (part of a fortified manor) is not far to the west.

DESCRIPTION: This church was unfortunately over-restored by Sir Arthur Blomfield in 1874, especially his recasting and heightening of the tower.

A church is mentioned in Doomsday Book (1086), and this is perhaps the nave and western part of the chancel of the present church, which shows clear signs of their early Norman date. There is much herringbone work on the south side of the nave, east of the porch, as well as in the south wall of the chancel. A near complete early Norman window on the south-east side of the nave was reopened in 1961, and its internal splay was covered in 13th century red-painted decoration. Its original external jambs are of tufa. Above the porch is the eastern tufa jamb of a second window, and this can also be seen inside. Glynne (in 1847) also says: `One window to the north, of Norman work, is filled up.' He may have meant the south, or there may still be two other Norman windows above the later arcade. The south-east quoin to the nave (in side-alternate tufa blocks) is the original one, and there are other odd tufa blocks on the north-west corner of the nave, and in the rebuilt south-west corner (not in situ). The chancel was enlarged eastwards in the 13th century and two lancets were put into the south wall with, internally, a two bay blind arcade. Only the western arch is fully visible, but part of the blocked eastern one can be seen, as well as the free-standing shaft (heavily plastered, but probably of Purbeck marble) in the middle. The simple pointed arch into the north chapel was totally restored in the 19th century, but it almost certainly replaces an earlier 13th century one leading into the 13th century north-east chapel of the de Leybourne family. A fine later 13th century heart-shrine is now set into the late 15th century north wall of this chapel. It was `rediscovered' (as a heart-shrine) in 1861, and fully discussed by the Revd. L.B. Larking (Refs. below). The western tower was also probably first built in the 13th century, but it is totally refaced externally, and internally the lancets in the first and second stages are covered in plaster/render. The restored south nave doorway may also be 13th century.

The three light east window in the chancel has reticulated tracery, but is totally restored in Bathstone. It perhaps reflects an earlier c. 1300 window which still has shafts on the internal jambs. There is also an early 14th century trefoil-headed piscina in the south-east corner of the chancel, with above it a trefoiled lancet (restored externally) which clearly replaced the earlier 13th century lancet here. Part of the Reigate stone west jamb (and tufa sill) of this earlier window is still visible in the outside wall. At about the same time (early 14th century), a new two-light window was put into the south-east corner of the nave. This window, and its pair to the west of the porch, are entirely of the 1874 restoration, but there was a larger window here before (shown in the early 19th century Petrie view with a vertical stanchion and two horizontal bars), and its larger internal wall-recess also suggests an early 14th century date. The two-bay north arcade of the nave, to the north aisle, and the chancel arch were also rebuilt in the early 14th century with octagonal piers and double hollow-chamfered arches. The north aisle must at this time have been wider. The south porch may have been added in the later 14th century or 15th century. It has very large Ragstone blocks in its south side, and a two- centred arch over. There is a 19th century boarded ceiling, but above it is probably a 15th century roof (with barge-boards at the south end). There is also a plain octagonal Ragstone font. In the late 15th century the north aisle and north-east chancel were totally rebuilt as a very narrow structure (perhaps after population decrease). The north wall of this new structure is of uniform Ragstone rubble on a hollow-chamfered plinth. The three two-light late Perpendicular windows, and the new two-light east window to the chapel, have square hood-moulds or 4-centred arch hood-moulds. They are of Ragstone, except the most westerly window which appears to have a little Caen stone in it (as well as some restored Bath stone). There is a late 15th century pitched roof over. There is a c. late 17th century pulpit in the south-east corner of the nave.

When Sir Stephen Glynne visited the church in 1847, he mentions a `low ugly western tower which seems to be modern, as is also the porch.' He must be mistaken about the latter, but the south-west corner of the nave (and probably the tower) were rebuilt in the early 19th century. The whole of thenave wall west of the porch is of galleted Ragstone masonry with red brick south-west quoin (with blue-headers). This is typical of early 19th century work, though the 2-light window here was clearly put in, in the 1874 restoration.

As we have seen, Sir Arthur Blomfield carried out a major restoration of the church between 1873-7, and completely refaced the tower in uncoursed Ragstone ashlar. The inside top stage of the tower is of brick, probably in part from the earlier campaign. Blomfield also restored much of the window tracery and put in roofs in the nave and chancel. He added new buttresses to the east end of the chancel (and one to the south-east corner of the nave), and completely refurbished in the interior of the church including removing the gallery from the north aisle (mentioned by Glynne). Floor levels were raised, particularly in the chancel (and a Reredos was put in behind the high altar in 1877). In 1937 the floor-levels in the chancel and north chapel were partly lowered again revealing some earlier leger stones.

In June 1966 the tower was struck by lightening, and the roof had to be rebuilt; the two bells were also re-cast into one at this time.

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): 13th century re-painted decoration on Norman window jamb in the nave. The original Norman church is of Ragstone rubble with tufa dressings. Then the 13th century chancel had Reigate stone dressings, and a ? Purbeck marble shaft. The 14th and 15th century phases have fine cut Ragstone and a little Caen stone. Also a few blocks of ironstone.

Galletted Ragstone masonry and red brick (with blue headers) was used for the early 19th century restoration, while in 1873-7 Ragstone facing was used, and Bathstone dressings.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: To Louisa Brockman (ob. 1837) - made 1866 by J.S. Westmacott. Also two wrought-iron crowns in the north aisle.

Size & Shape: Elongated oval around church - probably created in 19th century.

Condition: Good.

Boundary walls: Ragstone boundary walls all around.

adjacent: Part filled in ditch/moat to Leybourne castle to west.

Exceptional monuments: Some good early headstones (+ one chest tomb) to south of church.

Ecological potential: ? Yes - Yews planted all around church in 19th century, with curved lines of beaches outside churchyard wall to west.

Late med. status: Rectory

Patron: Leybourne Manor (given in 1377 and until the Dissolution, to the Abbey of St. Mary Grace by the Tower).

Other documentary sources: Hasted IV (1798), 506-8., Test. Cant. (West Kent, 1906), 50.

Finds within 0.5km: Leybourne castle to the west.

Inside present church: Quite good, but several burial vaults in church.

Outside present church: Good - drainage ditch on the north + south, but levels much built up in churchyard.

To structure: Top of tower rebuilt in 1966 after lightening strike.

The church and churchyard: Though this church was over-restored in c. 1874. The 13th century north-east chapel has a rare heart-shrine in it, but this chapel and the north aisle were completely rebuilt as a very narrow affair in the late 15th century. Early 14th century north arcade and a chancel arch, with the porch a little later. Restoration in the early 19th century and 1873-7.

The wider context: One of a group of early Norman churches in the area.

REFERENCES: L.B. Larking `On the heart-shrine in Leybourne Church, and the family of De Leybourne'. Arch. Cant. 7 (1863), 329-341, and 5 (1868), 133-193. S.R. Glynne, Churches of Kent (1877), 154-5. (He visited in 1847), when the nave aisle was galleted).

Guide book: Brief good leaflet (undated & anon). c. 1980s.

Photographs: Photo of Heart Shrine in Kent Churches 1954, 159.

Plans and drawings: Petrie early 19th century view from S.E.

DATE VISITED: 7/7/95                                REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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