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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St Nicholas Church, St Nicholas at Wade   TR 265 667

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1993

LOCATION: In the centre of the village in the north-western part of the Isle of Thanet at about 70ft above O.D. The 'wade' across the Wantsum Channel to Reculver was just over a mile to the north-west i.e. in the area of Chambers Wall.

DESCRIPTION: The earliest church here (a chapel to Reculver) was almost certainly built in the late 11th century (St. Nicholas became popular in western Europe after the body of saint was brought from Myra in Southern Turkey to Bari in Italy in 1087). The west wall of the nave in its lower section probably dates from this period. It is of Thanet Beds sandstone and large flints, and though the west doorway is externally entirely of cement-repairs, a few Quarr stone blocks can just be seen appearing behind the cement. Other Quarr stone blocks can be seen on the north-side of the chancel, where they are clearly not in situ. The very long nave must be from the original church, though it is possible that originally this was a nave and chancel combined. There is no visible evidence for early work in the north-east and south-east corners of the nave.
   By the mid-12th century a south aisle had been added to the nave, and the very fine mid- to late 12th century arcade for this still survives. The decorative elements suggest that this arcade is not earlier than c. 1170, and the most westerly of the three round-headed arches is probably a bit later still (c. 1180 - 1200). A north aisle was probably also built at this time but the arcade was replaced in c. 1340.
   In the very late 12th or early 13th century, a completely new east end was created with a new long chancel flanked by two smaller chapels (probably from the beginning dedicated to Our Lady-north-and-St. Thomas Becket-south). Vestiges of the original east lancet windows (probably triplets) survive in the chapels' east walls cut through by the later windows. Another lancet jamb can be seen on the S.E. side of the chancel. The north chapel has a completely plain pointed arch into the north aisle (with a bar stop) and two pointed arches into the chancel with a round pillar and scalloped capital in between. The south chapel still has an original lancet on the south-east (but perhaps of the mid/late 13th century), and an internal roll moulding. It has a small external S.W. doorway and another into the centre of the chancel. To the west of this is a plain pointed arch between chapel and chancel, and it seems probable that a smaller chapel was extended later in the 13th century.
   In the late 13th to early 14th century various new windows were put into these chapels and the chancel. There is a very fine 5-light decorated east window to the chancel (restored) as well as a 3-light reticulated window to the north chapel, and two other 2-light north windows to this chapel. At about the same time, a vestry was perhaps added on the north-east side of the chancel. It has now disappeared except for a small blocked doorway (with broach stops) in the chancel north wall. A fine 2-light window put into the middle of the south wall of the south chapel has fine external and internal carved-head label-stops. The simple rafter, collar and soulace roof over the chancel may also be early 14th century.
   Also in the late 13th/early 14th century, a new buttressed south wall with three two-light windows was built for the nave south aisle, and a new wide chancel arch was made. The nave 3-light west window may also have been of this date, but is entirely renewed. Glynne says that the upper part of it was walled up before the restoration.
   In c. 1340 a major rebuilding of the nave was undertaken with a completely new north aisle and arcade (compare this with the nearby Birchington church, where the arcade is documented). The arcade has finely cut Ragstone columns, capitals and bases with Caenstone arcades over. The half columns at either end are also of Caen. The new north aisle wall has contemporary two-light Ragstone windows (several with their original glazing and saddle-bars), and external buttresses with a continuous plinth. The contemporary north doorway is externally covered with cement repairs. Glynne also tells us of a lead font, of octagonal form on a circular base.
   On the south-west side of the nave a magnificent new tower was also built in c. 1340. It has elaborate internal mouldings, and a very fine south window (compare this with the c. 1342 windows of the Table Hall at Canterbury Cathedral Priory). The west window in the tower was never made, nor was the projected rib-vault completed. Externally the tower has superb tabular knapped flint (and some Thanet Beds sandstone) facing in its lower part (compare with the contemporary tower at Herne). It also has an octagonal south-west stair-turret with Ragstone side-alternate quoins. The plinth around the tower is now covered by a cement gutter. A little after the tower was built a new south porch (with chamfer above) was constructed. The plinth of a tower buttress can just be seen inside the north west corner of the porch. The doorway into the church still contains its fine original pair of doors. Opposite it is a contemporary arch (with a Ragstone half column), completing the nave south arcade. The larger floor area here (just east of the tower) suggests that a wider south aisle may have been projected but never built.
   In the late 15th century, a new clerestory to the nave, with square-headed two light Perpendicular windows, was built. The contemporary shallow-pitched king-post roof now only survives at the west end of the nave. At about the same time the top of the tower, and the aisles and porch were given knapped-flint crenellated parapets (and very low pitched shed roofs). There is also a shallow-pitched king-post roof of the same date over the north chapel, though the crown-post roof over the south chapel probably dates from earlier in the 15th century.
   In the early 16th century a new rood-screen was put in, and though this has gone, the contemporary doorway and stairs (blocked) to the upper doorway to the rood loft on the south-east survive, as do the two wooden screens into the south-east and north-east chapels.
   After the Reformation there is a fine 1615 pulpit (now without its tester) and a 1757 ten-branched chandelier (with crown and mitre) in the nave. The flat nave ceiling is perhaps contemporary with it. In 1773, lead boxes and down-pipes were added to the nave clerestory walls (with the church wardens initials). The south chapel was now the parish school. The chancel was thoroughly repaired and the east wall rebuilt by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1875 (with a new gable). The nave was restored and re-seated the following year.

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): Thanet Beds sandstone and large flints with Quarr stone quoins were used in the early Norman church with Caenstone for the 12th and 13th cen

The 1875 repairs are in Bathstone, and most recently Portland stone has been used. There is a brick chimney stack (for the school) on the south side of the chancel.

Some original glazing bars survive in the nave aisle windows.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: In the north (Bridges) Chapel, table tomb of Edward Bridges (ob. 1757). Royal Arms of George III over south doorway.

Size & Shape: Large roughly rectangular area around church, now raised well above the road level outside the boundary walls.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: c. 18th/19th century

enclosing: None, but drop to street on west + south from 'higher churchyard level.

Late med. status (vicarage): Vicarage; Chapel to Reculver until the end of the 13th century, then separate vicarage endowed by the archbishop in 1310. After the Reformation it was united with Sarre + Shuart.

Patron: The Archbishop of Canterbury

Other documentary sources: Test. Cant. (E. Kent 1907), 390 says John Andrews in a will of 1481 asked to be buried in the Chapel of St. Thomas-the-Martyr on the south side, and gave 6 marks to the making of a window in the east part of the aforesaid chapel (? not done). Hasted (2nd ed.) X, 243-5.

Reused materials: Early Norman Quarr stone in N.E. chancel quoin.

Inside present church: - Good

Outside present church: Good, except where boiler house and deep heating access tunnel to church have cut into them on south side of S.E. chapel. There is also probably a burial vault on the north-east side of the chancel where the earlier 14th century vestry lay.

To structure: There have been many cement repairs to the external masonry, but more recently new Portland stone has been used to repair the masonry.

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): April 1992 A. Stocker (P.M.T.)

The church and churchyard: An early Norman Chapel, with large new 13th century chancel and contemporary flanking chapels. Very fine late 12th century south nave arcade, and large-scale rebuilding of nave north aisle (and arcade) and south-west tower in c. 1340. Nave clerestory and roof of c. 1500, as well as new crenellated parapets to nave aisles and tower.

The wider context: One of a group (with Birchington, Herne etc). exhibiting major building works of c. 1340 (towers, arcades etc), after it had a large population expansion and become a parish church in its own right.

REFERENCES: Joseph Clarke 'The Church of St Nicholas-at-Wade' Arch. Cant. 12 (1878), 19-26. S.R. Glynne, Notes on the Churches of Kent (1877), 30-1.

Guide Books: Booklet anon (undated), with sketches by J. Doyle.

Plans & early illustrations: In Clarke (supra), but N.B. this is inaccurate in various areas (eg. showing non-existent spiral-stair on W. side of porch).

DATE VISITED: 11th October 1993 and 20th November 1993         REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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