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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

   St Vincent Church, Littlebourne         TR 211 579

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1996

LOCATION: Situated at about 40 feet above O.D. on Head brickearth (over Upper Chalk). A little to the west of the river Little Stour. Littlebourne Court, originally belonging to St. Augustine’s Abbey, lies immediately to the north-west. Wickhambreaux and Ickham churches are not far away to the north and east.

DESCRIPTION: As with many North-East Kent churches, this church points south-east, and it is first documented in Domesday Book, with the eastern three-quarters of the nave of the present church presumably being, in part, of an early Norman date. The only visible evidence for the earliest structure, however, is outside the south-west corner of the nave. Here one can see reused Roman bricks, and the original steep slope of the very early 13th century south aisle (continuing the line of the nave roof). The nave must be earlier than this, so is at least 12th century in date. It is also worth noting the very rare dedication, to St Vincent.
   The whole of the south arcade for the south aisle still survives in its very early 13th century form, with four pointed arches (that on the west is smaller). The arches have continuous flat
the piers themselves. All the dressings are in Caen stone.
   Later in the 13th century a large new chancel was built, probably at about the time (c. 1245) when St Augustine’s Abbey were endowing the new vicarage there, after the appropriation. The chancel has four tall lancets on either side, and an eastern triplet which has internal shafting on the jambs, and deeply moulded rere-arches and hood-moulds. All the other lancets have plain rere-arches, and all the chancel windows sit internally on a filleted roll-moulding which steps up at the east end and runs under the triplet. There is a piscina on the south-east with a pointed arch (with hood) over it, and bar-stopped chamfers on the sides. On the north-west side of the chancel is a small doorway, which was restored in the 19th century. The chancel was fairly heavily restored on the outside in the 19th century (‘1865’ on one of the rain-water hoppers), but much of its original coursed whole flints are still visible, as well as some of the rows of putlog holes. The chancel also has a separate roof, with a west gable, but this was rebuilt completely in c. 1865.
   At about the same time as the chancel was being rebuilt in the early to mid-15th century, a very plain tower was added at the west end (It is similar to the neighbouring tower at Ickham). This has a tall simple pointed arch (with flat chamfers and abaci) into the nave, and on the west is a simple pointed doorway with flat chamfers and a tall lancet above it. The tower is unbuttressed, and has four more wide restored lancets (one in each face) in the top (belfry) stage. Externally the tower has the remains of its original plastering over coursed flint with side-alternate Caenstone quoins. On top of the tower is a later medieval (14th/15th century) brooch spire (now covered in slates).
   The tower was restored in 1899, and the bells were rehung in a new timber and cast iron frame. There are now six bells, dated 1597,1610, 1650 and three of 1899 (said to have been recast from two late medieval ones). Glynne tells us that there was an organ in a west gallery under the tower, but this was removed during the restoration. A shed (now 2 cloakrooms) was also added to the north side of the tower in c. 1899.
   A small Lady Chapel may have been added to the north-east side of the nave in the later 13th century as shown by its two light trefoil-headed (with circular opening above) east window (it has an internal rere-arch). All other evidence for this above ground was removed by the early 14th and early 19th century re-buildings (see below). The Lady Chapel is first documented in the late 15th century, but most churches acquired a separate Lady Chapel in N.W. Kent in the 13th century.
   In the early 14th century both the south and north aisles had their outer walls rebuilt. On the south this was a continuous heightening and rebuild for the full length of the nave (with the evidence for the earlier lean-to aisle surviving in the west wall, as shown above). There is however still a later 13th century lancet in the centre of the south wall, with a probable later 13th century south doorway next to it (though completely rebuilt externally in the 19th century). The other aisle windows are all, however, 2 - light early 14th century traceried windows, and the gables and separate pitched roof over the aisle is also perhaps 14th century (it is still hidden under a flat plaster ceiling). In the south aisle wall are some reused Reigate stone fragments, and the large later south buttress has Ragstone quoins and reused Reigate And Caenstone fragments (and heavy 19th century knapped flintwork). Some Purbeck marble is reused in the wall west of the south porch. This aisle also has a small square-topped piscina in its south-east corner, and a very small stoup just inside the door on the east.
   Hasted tells us that ‘a few years ago the north isle fell down, when there were some curious paintings discovered by the breaking of the plaster from the walls. This aisle was immediately rebuilt’. It is however, clear from the present remains (and from the Petrie water-colour view), that the church was again rebuilt in the early 19th century, with the present flatish 4-bay crown/king post nave roof and lath and plaster ceiling. The two dormers on the south side of the nave roof are presumably of the same date as is the shallow-pitched shed-roof over the north aisle, and the wooden post and two semi-circular arches into the north aisle. On the north-west side of the nave one can see an infilled pointed arch (? of chalk) with abaci, suggesting that there was originally a 13th century 3-bay north aisle (and Lady Chapel). The scar for the south-west corner of this aisle which did not continue to the west end of the nave, is just visible, and the late 18th century collapse was clearly at the west end of this aisle, which was not rebuilt (the other aisle-wall window being reset in the nave wall). The north wall of the north aisle must have been rebuilt in the early 14th century with buttresses and new two-light traceried windows. There may have been a north door here.
Only the chancel was heavily restored in the later 19th century (1865) with a new south porch in 1896, replacing a brick one, according to Glynne. A porch is documented from at least 1505.

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The main local material is flint, and whole flints, in courses, are used for all the early work with dressings of Caenstone. Some Reigate stone is then used in the 13th century, with Kent Rag for the quoins in the early 14th century. There is also some reused Purbeck marble in the walls, and Bathstone is used for the late 19th century restorations. Hasted mentions ‘the remains of good painted glass’ in the chancel side lancets and ‘seven sacraments, etc. handsomely done, with rich borders’ in the eastern lancets, ‘but they have been some few years since removed’ (op. cit. below, p.155). Also he mentions armorial glass in the S.E. window of the south aisle, and other now-vanished glass is known from the church - see C.R. Councer (below).

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: None, but remains of medieval wall-painting on the north side of the nave, at the west end. Also a leger slab, with a small brass inscription in it, dated 1585, in front of the chancel arch. Also some early 19th century Benefaction boards on the west wall of the south aisle. Most of the furnishings in the church date from the restoration of 1864-4, or later.

Size & Shape: Large north-south rectangular area around church, with large extensions to north (20th century) and south (19th century).

Condition: Good

Building in churchyard or on boundary: Lych Gate of timber (1892) to the south. Very large c. early 14th century great barn of Littlebourne Court (172ft long) runs along west boundary of the churchyard.

Ecological potential: ? Yes. The burial under a ‘great palm’ (ie. Yew Tree) in the churchyard is mentioned in a will of 1542, and there are still some quite large Yews north of the church.

Late med. Status: Vicarage endowed in 1245 with a house, some tithes, etc. A chaplain had to be found to celebrate weekly in Garrington Chapel.

Patron: St. Augstine’s Abbey, Canterbury (and alienated to the Italian monastery of Monte Mirteto in Italy, 1224). In 1538 it went to the crown, and then on to the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury in 1541.

Other documentary sources: Hasted IX (1800) , 155-8. There is much documentation in Thorne’s Chronicle and the ‘Black Book’ of St Augustine’s. Testamenta Cantiana (E. Kent, 1907), 196-8 mentions burial in the churchyard from 1473, the church porch (1501), various ‘lights’, the altar of Our Lady (1499+), reparation of the altars of St James and St Nicholas (1473), for paving between the chancel and the west door (1419).

Inside present church: ? Good.

Outside present church: ? Good, though there is a large soil build-up around the church, and a brick-lined drainage gulley (up to 2ft deep) has been made all around the church.

To structure: None, but chancel stalls brought from St Johns, Herne Bay in 1974, and organ in north aisle from Holy Cross, Canterbury in 1972.

To floors: Brick floor relaid at east end of S. aisle - Oct 1991.

Quinquennial inspection (date/architect): Feb. 1990 Maureen O’Connor.

A Norman nave was given a lean-to south aisle and perhaps extended to the west in the very early 13th century, with a plain west tower being added soon after. The chancel was rebuilt (and greatly enlarged) in the mid 13th century, and there was probably also a Lady Chapel and nave north aisle by the later 13th century. The outer walls of the aisles were rebuilt in the early 14th century. A timber spire was also built. In the late 18th century the west end of the north aisle collapsed and this was rebuilt along with the nave roof, etc. again in the early 19th century. Chancel restored in 1865, and west tower in 1899 (with rehung bells). A new south porch was built in 1896.

The wider context: One of a group of churches belonging to St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury with major rebuildings in the 13th and early 14th centuries.

REFERENCES: S.R. Glynne, Notes of the Churches of Kent (1877), 167-8. (He visited in 1851). C.R. Councer, Lost Glass from Kent Churches ) (1980), 77-8.

Guide Book: None available in church, but see St Vincent’s Church, Littlebourne by Elizabeth Jeffries (1984) - very poor for architectural history.

Plans & drawings: Petrie early 19th cent. view from N.E., with continuous roof slope over nave and N. aisle.

DATES VISITED: 19th December 1996                             REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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