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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

  St Mary Church, Nettlestead       TQ 685521

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1995

LOCATION: At the top of a steep, partly terraced slope on the west side of the River Medway. Just to the south-east is the fine manor-house, Nettlestead Place, which was also partly rebuilt in the 15th Century (it also has a 13th Century vaulted undercroft). It is at c.100 ft. above O.D. on Atherfield clay.

DESCRIPTION: This church was almost totally rebuilt in the 15th Century by the lords of the manor, the de Pympes (only the tower is older, and was built in c.1300). The architectural and building history of the church has been very well studied by G. M. Livett - his survey was carried out in 1908 - so no detailed new survey is needed here, as virtually nothing new can be added.

A church is mentioned in Domesday Book at Nettlestead, so the earliest church on this site probably dates from the late 11th Century, and was perhaps a simple nave and chancel as in the present church (and probably underlying the present church).

The west tower seems to have been added in c.1300, but later changes to its west doorway, windows and tower arch, make closer dating difficult. On the lower parts of the tower arch are traces of burning on the masonry, so it is possible that the earlier church was burnt.

In c.1420-30 the nave of the church was demolished, and rebuilt in its present form with its `tall and well-proportioned windows' and `fine intervening buttresses' (to quote Livett) that `presents a design which is not commonly seen in churches built on so small a scale'. Much high quality cut Kentish Ragstone was used, and it is clear that the windows were designed to contain fine new stained glass. Unfortunately much of this glass has been destroyed (particularly in a great storm in August 1763), but the central window on the north side still gives a good impression of all the windows here. Good fragments of canopies, etc. also survive in some of the top lights of the south nave windows. The main windows (with three lights in each) contained figures of apostles with angels holding shields in the smaller lights above. There are also fragmentary scenes from the life of Thomas Becket in the north-west window.

Against the east wall of the nave two altars are documented, and John Pympe's will of 1496 gives details of a new Rood screen and loft to be made, but all this has disappeared.

The chancel appears to have been rebuilt a little later in the 15th Century (c.1440-50), and as Livett points out there is a straight joint between the nave east wall and the chancel. Also the chancel has nothing of the architectural pretension of the nave. Its three-light east window apparently contained stained glass with a dated inscription of 1465 (all heavily restored in 1909). The two- light north chancel window does have some c.1460 glass (restored in 1867).

Both the nave and chancel still have their original 15th Century arch-braced roof (with low 4-centred arches). The nave roof still has a lath and plaster ceiling with only simple mouldings on the wall plates, while the chancel has moulded wall plates, purlin, etc., and the lath and plaster was removed in 1858.

The south porch was probably built soon after 1496 (as specified in John Pympe's will - see below). It was given a flat lead roof so as not to obscure the glass in the window above it.

There is also a plain 15th Century Ragstone font (moved to its present position at the west end of the nave in 1869).

The first major post-medieval changes came in 1841 when the tower arch was raised c.4½ft. for an organ gallery with vestry below. Tracery (? from Teston church) was put in above the west door, and a window was put in above the tower arch. There is a board (now loose in the N.W. corner of the church) commemorating this restoration. The north-west stair-turret was also added in 1841.

In 1858 the old box-pews, parson's pew, etc. were removed from the nave and the walls were replastered inside. The I.C.B.S. had given a grant of £50 in 1856 for 69 new seats in the church (a second grant was given in 1923).

The stained glass windows were restored at various dates from 1867 onwards, and a new organ was put in, under the tower arch, in 1869.

A boiler room was created under the south side of the nave (with external steps down) in 1891.

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): Almost the whole of the church is of high quality Kentish Ragstone (see particularly the nave). A few tufa fragments were found high up in the east side of the tower.

There is still some fine 15th Century `stained' glass in the church (see above).

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: On the east wall of the nave are two fine late Elizabethan/Jacobean wall monuments - to Elizabeth Scott on the north (ob.1598) and Katherine Scott on the south (ob.1616). These monuments are above the sites of earlier altars.

Size & Shape: Rectangular area around church, with c.early 20th Century extension to north.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: Ragstone boundary walls (?19th Century) on west, south and east (collapsed).

Building in churchyard or on boundary: None, but manorhouse to S.E.

Exceptional monuments: Some good headstones and table tombs.

Ecological potential: ? Yes - Fastigiate yews etc in churchyard.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Domesday Book (1086)

Late med. status: Rectory, with the chapel of West Barming (Barmingjett or Barnjet) united to it from 1486. (This, now demolished chapel was at TQ 714 539.).

Patron: The Lords of the Manor of Nettlestead.

Other documentary sources: Hasted V (1798), 124-6.
Notes by the then Rector, W. F. Cobb in Livett op.cit (1909), 278-282. Also the very important will of John Pympe (of 1496) is transcribed in full (op.cit. pp.275-7). This mentions the making of the south porch (within 2 years) and other items, like the recovering of the tiled nave roof with lead, `as the chancel is'. Also the floor of the nave and tower to be tiled, and the tower arch to be filled and given a door, etc., and a rood screen to be made with loft, etc. (all now gone).

Reused materials: Tufa blocks in upper east wall of tower.

Inside present church: ? Good , except for possible burial vaults.

Outside present church: ? Good

The church and churchyard: A simple nave and chancel with west tower of c.1300. The nave was rebuilt in c.1420-30 of high quality Kentish Ragstone to contain fine new stained glass. The chancel was also rebuilt a decade or so later. Both were done by the local lords of the manor, whose fine house is just to the south- east.

The wider context: One of a small number of churches rebuilt in the late Middle Ages, in the diocese.

REFERENCES: G. M. Livett `Nettlestead Church: Architectural Notes, Arch. Cant. 28 (1909), 251-262, with measured plan and moulding details.

Photographs: In Livett (1909) - see above.

Plans and drawings : Fine measured plan in Livett (1909), and Petrie (1807) view from S.E. in K.A.S. Library, apparently showing a gabled top to the porch.

DATES VISITED: 8/5/95                                       REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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