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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 All Saints Church, Maidstone         TQ 760 554

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1994

LOCATION: Situated close to the east bank of the River Medway at 36-40ft. (east end) above O.D. The Archbishop's Manor/Palace is immediately to the north-west, with a lane leading down to the Medway (?Ford) on the south side of the churchyard. Beyond it to the south is the gatehouse to the College. The centre of the town lies further north with a street market leading down to the bridge on the west.

DESCRIPTION: This was one of the most important churches in Kent, and must have the remains of an Anglo-Saxon (perhaps cruciform) church beneath it. This earlier church of St Mary, which is mentioned in Domesday Book, was no doubt enlarged and rebuilt in the period between the late 11th and late 14th century, but in c.1395 it was demolished by Archbishop Courtenay so that he could build a very large new collegiate church. Despite various suggestions in the earlier literature (Cave-Browne, etc.), there is no evidence that the present church contains above-ground walling of a pre-1395 date. Both the chancel and the large nave (both of them aisled) were almost certainly built between June 1396 (when Archbishop Courtenay was allowed to take 24 masons called `fre maceons' and 24 masons called `ligiers' (stone layers) for the works of the college) and the early 15th century when Archbishop Arundel helped finish off the work. There is a continuous plinth all around the outside.
   This very large church is, therefore, unusual in being all of one style of c.1395-1405, which John Harvey attributes to Henry Yevele. It certainly has close connections with the rebuilt nave and S.W. transept in Canterbury Cathedral both historically and architecturally. The nave with its aisles is of great size, 99 ft. (east-west) by 93 ft. internally, while the chancel, and its much smaller aisles, is a perfect square of 60ft. The whole church is c.187 feet long externally (including buttresses) but is relatively low in height. The south porch, however, was also a tower, and until 1730 it had a c.80ft. high timber-and-lead spire on top of it. The vestry on the south side of the chancel is also contemporary with the rest of the church, though it was heightened in 1849, and an organ-chamber was made immediately to the west of it in 1886. On the north side of the nave, the stair-turret, leading to the roof (and Rood-loft as well originally), is all contemporary with the adjoining walling. The north porch, however, dates from 1927, though there was an earlier flat, battlemented porch there until the mid 19th century.
   The nave has slender perpendicular arcades on either side (of six bays) and above this are two-light perpendicular windows with depressed heads. The chancel, and its aisles are raised several steps and have wider arches in the arcades (of three bays), with above them 2-light windows with a daggered-quatrefoil above. Above the clerestory the wall-top is now crenellated, but this only dates from 1886, when the clerestory windows were also heavily restored externally. Before this, however, only the aisle outer walls and the tower top were crenellated.
   In 1395, the dedication of the church was changed from St Mary to All Saints, and the nave north aisle was given an altar of Our Lady at its east end. (The whole aisle was also called the `Lady Aisle'). This north aisle is roughly in line with the late 11th century buildings of the Archbishop's Manor/Palace to the west, and it is possible that the north aisle lies over the centre of the earlier church.
   Outside the north-east corner of this aisle is a statue niche, now filled with a modern statue. The nave aisle windows are all 4-light early perpendicular ones (except for 2 two-light ones flanking the tower/porch), and these fill almost all the space between the buttresses. At the west end of the aisles are 5-light windows, with a 6-light window at the end of the nave above the west doorway, and 4-light windows above the altars at the east end of the aisles. The south aisle had an altar of St Katherine at its east end (also called the Vinter's chapel), and it is very likely that the whole of the eastern bay of the nave was closed off behind a 93feet long Rood screen. The high up blocked doorway into the Roof loft from the stair-turret on the north can still be seen, though the screen has totally disappeared. It is worth noting, however, that the bench along the south aisle wall stops at this point. There was a similar Rood-screen arrangement in the smaller church of the Holy Cross in Canterbury (rebuilt in c.1380), where the easternmost bay of the nave, with its flanking chapels is screened off.
   The porch on the south was originally meant to be vaulted below the tower, but this was never completed, and there is a 15th century moulded-timber ceiling instead. Earlier some of the bells seem (from rubbing marks) to have been rung in the porch, but there are two levels of chambers above the porch below the bell-chamber. The timber roof over the bell-chamber (which has a modern iron bell-frame), is still the timber base for the original spire, with various re-used (and burnt) spire timbers for rafters. (The spire was struck by lightning and burnt on November 2nd 1730). The base of the spire was clearly on four posts (cf. the surviving spire at Wingham), with scissored-braces.
   The chancel has two narrow aisles and a high altar on an original raised platform in the central eastern bay. On either side were lower altars: to the Corpus Christi (Holy Name) chapel on the north and St Thomas Becket on the south. Between the sanctuary and St Thomas' chapel is a magnificent canopied 4-seat sedilia (with a double piscina to the east) which doubles as the tomb of the College's first master, John Wotton (ob. 1417) on its south side, where there is a Purbeck marble indent for a (now-robbed) brass over the tomb. Above this there is a fine wall painting on the back wall. The chancel south aisle was perhaps originally meant to be vaulted, as indicated on half piers against the south wall. There is also an original smaller doorway into the eastern bay of the south aisle from the churchyard, with a stoup inside it on the west (and the chapel's piscina not far to the east). The next bay has a door into the vestry, which is lit by several 2-light windows with some internal shutter hooks. Above it was a small chamber (with rectangular windows), and this was heightened into an organ chamber in 1849, and then into the bellows room in 1886, when a new organ chamber was created outside the aisle wall to the west of the vestry. The north chancel aisle also had a small doorway on the north, but this is now blocked up. In the western part of the chancel were 28 fine wooden stalls, with misericordes, for the Master, Chaplain and Clerks of the College. Most regrettably the eight western return-stalls and base of the screen were cut off in 1976 and moved to the west end of the north nave aisle. In the centre of these stalls was built the intended tomb for Archbishop Courtenay. (He was, however, buried in Canterbury Cathedral on the King's orders.) This was lowered to floor level in the early 19th century, and the large brass indent is now flush with the floor.
   The stalls have some fine carved misericordes, and it is clear from the arms of Archbishop Courtenay and others on them, that they were made at the time the church was being rebuilt. On the west side was a screen, but this was only for the stalls and not a Roof screen. A new `Rood' screen and loft was, however, erected on top of the earlier screen base in 1886 by J T Pearson.
   On the north side of the sanctuary is another wooden screen with a coved out top, which is probably later medieval in date. It is still in situ with, in front of it, the modern bishop's throne.
   The church had probably been rebuilt and finished by 1406 when Archbishop Arundel founded a chantry (with one chaplain) at the altar of St Thomas. (At the same time he founded another chantry in the nave of Canterbury Cathedral which was to hold the proposed site of Arundel's tomb.) This chantry, at the altar of St Thomas Becket in the south chancel aisle, then gave this area of the church a new name, the Arundel chapel. When the first chaplain was appointed in 1410, it was a man walled William Storton, and he was `to pray for the soul of William Courtenay, formerly archbishop, Thomas Chillinden the late Prior, William Topclyf, Elizabeth his wife, their son John, and all the faithful departed'. (See Kent Chantries (ed. A. Hussey, 1932)32-4). It is possible that it was Arundel who wanted the chapel to be vaulted, but that this was not completed after the archbishop's death in 1414. There was a third tomb in the north chapel but this has now been destroyed. It is recorded by Dering in his `Surrenden Notes' in c.1630, and was probably the tomb of Sir Richard Woodville (ob. c.1441) and his wife.
   No other later medieval work is known, or visible, in the church, and in 1548, the chantries were suppressed. The font dates from the early 17th century, and by this time the church was being filled with family pews. From the late 17th century galleries were put into the aisles and the west end, and then a tall `triple-decker' pulpit and organ. (All of this is covered fully in Cave-Brown op.cit.inf.). Hasted tells us it was `newly and regularly pewed' in 1700.
   All of this was swept away between 1844-9 when the architect, R C Carpenter, was brought in to completely repew the church, and put a new organ in the space above the vestry. All this cost about 2,500. In 1871 the great east window was heightened, and the following year was given expensive new stained glass.
   In 1885-6 the architect, J L Pearson, was brought in to completely re-roof the whole church and restore its exterior (particularly the clerestory with its new crenellated parapets). He also built the new organ chamber between the vestry and south aisle, and did much refurnishing work. The huge reredos behind the high altar was not designed until 1896 (and installed in 1904), and this was followed in 1907 by the painting of the chancel walls (the north chapel was restored in 1897). The north porch was added in 1927, while much external masonry repair was carried out in 1972, and the organ was restored in 1980.
   The mutilation of the medieval stalls was done in 1976 in a misguided attempt to open up the chancel to the nave. The front pews in the nave were removed at the same time, and the mayoral pews were moved back. Other of the 1849 pews have also gone.

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The main building material for the c.1396 church is Kentish Ragstone, no doubt quarried locally for both ashlar and rubble work. The finer carved material is of Caen stone (in the external window tracery and piers) and Reigate stone (used for the sedilia/tomb). There is also some Caen and Reigate stone reused from the earlier church (and a Quarr stone block in the churchyard wall). 19th century work is in Bath stone.

No ancient (i.e. pre-19th century) stained glass is left, except the arms of Henry VII which was moved from the vestry to the north nave aisle in February 1989. Some earlier glass is documented in C R Councer, Lost Glass from Kent Church (1908) 81-2.

Some fine wall-paintings and painted decoration, survive on the tomb of John Wotton, while there are some medieval floor-tiles in the south-east side of the `Holy Name' chapel.

The 8 bells were recast into 10 in 1784, and in 1958 they were all recast again and hung in a new frame.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: Many fine monuments (all described in Cave-Browne). The finest are perhaps the Astley monuments (early 17th century), originally in the chancel - now at S.W. end of nave. Also Beale monument (1593) with 6 generations of the family on a brass. Many other good 17th/18th century monuments hang all over the church.

Size & Shape: Oval shaped area around church, with the largest open area to the east and south-east. The south-range (including c.1100 walls) of the Archbishop's Palace is immediately to the west.

Conditions: Good

Boundary walls: Ragstone boundary walls - ? 19th century.
adjacent: Sunken lane down to River Medway on S.W.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: South Range (`The Dungeon') of the Archbishop's Palace - see below.

Exceptional monuments: Many good headstones/monuments.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Domesday Book

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): In Domesday Monachoram it was a `Minster' church with 17 chapels attached (Boxley, Detling, Thurnham, Aldington, Hollingbourne, Lenham, Boughton, Ulcombe, Leeds, Sutton (Valence), Chart (Sutton), Headcorn, Frinsted, Goudhurst, Marden and `Welcumeweg'?

Late med. status : Rectory with chapels of Loose and Detling attached. Appropriated to the new college 1395, with a vicarage. Then perpetual curate from 1537.

Patron: The Archbishop until 1538. Then sold to the crown, and briefly in private hands till it returned to the Archbishop.

Other documentary sources: V.C.H. (Kent) II (1926),232-3 for history of the college, which was suppressed in 1549. Test.Cant (E. Kent, 1907), 206-9 mention burials in the church and churchyard as well as many lights (The Rood, Holy Trinity, Our Lady, `Our Lady of Pity in the chancel', `Our Lady, near Altar of Corpus Christi', `Our Lady, near the Holy Water Stoup', `Our lady near the image of St Erasmus'. St Christopher, St Clement, St Erasmus, St George, St Katherine, St Lawrence, St Margaret, St Mary Magdalene, St Nicholas, St Thomas of Canterbury, St Peter, Brotherhood of Jesus). Also `chapel of Blessed Mary in the north part of the ........ church'. Repairs to the steeple in 1513. See Also Hasted IV (1798),317-324

Reused materials: Some reused Caen and Reigate stone architectural fragments (?from earlier church) in rubble walls.

Finds from church/churchyard: Reused Quarr stone in quoin of building on N.W. boundary of churchyard (part of s. range of Archbishop's Palace - see G. M. Livett. Early-Norman masonry at Maidstone, Arch. Cant.24(1900),91-5).

Finds within 0.5km: Excavations at the Archbishop's Palace, immediately to the north- west in c.1991. The medieval vicarage building in Priory Road was demolished in 1964. It contained a c.1300 King-strut roof (see E. W. Parkin, 1965).

Previous archaeological work (published/unpublished): None, except those at the Archbishop's Palace (mentioned above).

Inside present church: Quite good (there must, however, be many burial vaults).
N.B. The earlier church of St Mary almost certainly lies below the present floor.

Outside present church: Good, except where cut into by boiler house below the medieval vestry.

To structure: Medieval return-stalls and base of screen cut out 1976. -

Quinquennial inspection (date/architect): August 1992. Charles Brown.

The church and churchyard: This is the finest Perpendicular church in Kent, and was totally rebuilt from c.1396 to c.1410. Beneath it must lie the remains of a large Anglo-Saxon church, and the foundations of the late 11th to 14th century church. It forms part of an important group with the neighbouring Archbishop's Palace and college buildings.

The wider context: The finest of only a very small number of totally new Perpendicular churches in Kent (cf. Holy Cross, Canterbury and Queenborough), it is one of a group of late medieval churches benefitting from the Archbishop's patronage (compare, for example, Ivychurch or Lydd).

REFERENCES: S R Glynne, Notes on the Churches of Kent (1877),1-3 (He visited in 1829).
J Whichcord, The History and Antiquities of the Collegiate Church of All Saints, Maidstone (1845)
Beale Poste, History of the College of All Saints' Maidstone (1847)
J Cave-Browne, The History of the Parish Church of Maidstone (n.d. but c.1889) and review in Arch.Cant.18(1889),451-4.
C E Woodruff `Inventory of church goods, 1548', Arch.Cant.22 (1897)29-33.
Also notes on former brasses in the church by H L Smith in Arch.Cant.1(1858),176-183 and
J Dahmus, William Courtenay, Archbishop of Canterbury 1381-96(1966).

Guide book: By the vicar, P A Naylor, (undated, but c.1980s). Also a brief leaflet.

Photographs: Some early 20th century ones of the church - also late 1880s photos in Cave-Brown (Supra).

Plans and drawings: 2 drawings by R C Carpenter (1848-9) at Society of Antiquaries, showing earlier box pews, etc. and proposed new pews; Petrie early 19th century view from S.E. Also various mid 19th century views (inside and outside) at the church. John Wotton's tomb is shown with brass (c.1630) in Dering/Philpot notes in Arch/Cant I (1858),180.

DATES VISITED: 31st October 1994 - 14th November 1994      REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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