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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 All Saints Church, Staplehurst      TQ 786 429

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1996

LOCATION: Staplehurst church is situated in the Kentish Weald at about 130ft above O.D. on top of a hillock of Small Paludina limestone (with a scarp face to the south). It is therefore raised above the surrounding Weald Clay, with the river Beult running through it. This river also defines the north-east boundary of the parish. Immediately west of the church is a long fragment of a north-south Roman Road, with the late Medieval village spread out along it. Spilsill Court is half a mile to the east.

DESCRIPTION: There is no evidence for an Anglo-Saxon or early Norman church at Staplehurst, and as F.C. Elliston Erwood pointed out in 1948, the north side of the nave (east of the 1876 organ chamber) is probably of a 12th century date. The lowest walling, of Small Paludina Limestone rubble, has a ‘herringbone’ (or counter-pitched) course at the bottom, as well as a higher course of ‘herringbone’ work higher up in the centre. Some of the upper wall was probably rebuilt in the early 14th century. There is also a small amount of ‘herringbone’ work at the base of the north wall of the chancel in the centre (above the so-called ‘anker-cell’ floor), suggesting that the western two-thirds of the chancel is also perhaps 12th century. Some of the lower quoins, of diagonally tooled Tunbridge Wells sandstone, also probably survive of the 12th century north-east corner of the nave.
   It has been suggested that the famous ironwork-covered south door of this church dates from the late Anglo-Saxon period. The ironwork of the door, which is on most of its original vertical planking (but with some repairs at the bottom), was certainly for a round-headed opening, but this is likely to have been the south doorway of the present 12th century nave. The door was then retained in the 13th and early 14th century rebuilding (see below). This 12th century date for the door is perhaps confirmed by the recent study of the similar door at Stillingfleet, Yorks. The door is, nevertheless, an exceptionally rare survival of a Romanesque iron-covered doorway. The nearest similar 12th century door and doorway is at Old Woking church is Surrey.
  As Elliston Erwood also showed, the nave was probably lengthened to the west and the chancel to the east in the 13th century and a 5-bay arcade for a south aisle, and a 3-bay arcade to a south-east (Lady) chapel were also made in the 13th century. The nave arcade, which is of alternating round and octagonal piers - following the late 1170s Canterbury Cathedral choir - also has some very late 12th/early 13th century elements like spurred bases. This arcade soon leant over to the south (and the extreme south-west half-pier to the west), and probably the original south aisle only had a shed roof, and a low wall on its south side. Here only perhaps the very lowest part of the south aisle outer wall is 13th century. The outer walls of the north-east side of the 13th century chancel and of the south and east sides of the Lady Chapel were also later replaced (see below), but the plain pointed arches, with double flat chambers of both the south arcades (nave and chancel) are quite early 13th century pieces of work, but with the nave arcade preceding the chancel one. The north-west corner of the 13th century nave is probably marked by some visible quoin stones at its extreme north-west, where it is abutted by the tower’s north-east buttress.
   There is one Reigate stone block (in the east side of the central south buttress of the Lady Chapel) which is perhaps reused from the 13th century south wall, as are perhaps some of the Caen stone blocks in the neighbouring walling.
   In the early 14th century, and perhaps after some of the 13th century work became unstable, three separate campaigns of work took place. First, three two-light windows of Tunbridge Wells sandstone were put in the north wall of the nave, and the upper wall was rebuilt and two buttresses were added to the north. Unfortunately the most easterly and westerly of these windows were heavily restored in c. 1853 as 14th century windows, though they apparently replace 15th century square-headed windows, according to Glynne. Secondly, the whole of the north and east walls of the chancel were also rebuilt in the early 14th century, with buttresses on the north, and two new north windows (a two-light one to the west and a single light to the east, both with very similar reticulated tracery) were also made. All these chancel windows had moulded rere-arches (with sunk chamfers on the north) and moulded hood moulds with carved stops. The east window was also shafted. The chancel arch, though a 19th century restoration, is in early 14th century style with double chamfers. Glynne tells us that, in his time, ‘the chancel arch has been removed, and is replaced by an ugly Italian one of wood’, while Scott Robertson recorded late medieval stalls in the chancel in c. 1825.
   Finally the outer wall to the south aisle was completely rebuilt with buttresses and a contemporary south porch, which contains a plain early 14th century south doorway of Ragstone with a continuous flat chamfer and pyramid stops. Into this doorway was reset the well-known door. Above the doorway can be seen (externally) the weatherings for the original porch roof. This roof still survives with a tie-beam, scissor-braces and single crown-post, though it was restored in c. 1853 with a rebuilt south gable top (with new corbelled-out eaves and new coping). Half-way up the south aisle wall is a continuous moulded Caen stone stringcourse (restored in 1853), on which are three fine 3-light windows, all built of Caen stone. The east and west windows have invented reticulated tracery and internal rere-arches and hood-moulds with head stops, and are entirely of 1853. The central window also has much 19th century renewed tracery, but inside its jambs have moulded shafts and a hollowed chamfered rere-arch and hood. Inside the south door and east of it is a small stoup and tomb recess with moulded arch over. There is also a two-light west window to the south aisle (restored recently), and a small doorway just to the north (restored externally). The 5-bay crown-post roof over the south aisle is perhaps if a 15th century date, with gables at either end rebuilt in the later 19th century, and a new arch inserted into the east end of the aisle at the same time (c. 1853). It, no doubt, was built to buttress the new chancel arch.
   In the earlier part of the 15th century the west wall of the nave was removed and a fine new west tower, with timber spire on top, was built. The spire was blown over ‘by a great wind’ in 1673, but its base and supports are still partly in situ, and were recorded by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust in July 1996. The tower has a continuous hollow-chamfered plinth of Ragstone (at three levels), as well as the brick jambs for the doorway into the 1764 gallery. The tower has Perpendicular traceried windows under square hood-moulds and a larger 3-light west window, all with Ragstone dressings. The fine west doorway also has a square hood-mould and decorated spandrels with shields in them, and a shield, with a lion rampant, over the top. Most of the doorway is of Kentish Ragstone, but the lowest part and the carved spandrels, are of Caen stone. The lower walls of the tower are of large Tunbridge Wells sandstone blocks (with iron nodules) with Ragstone quoins. Higher up, the local Small Paludina Limestone rubble is used once again. There are some early 16th century decorated wooden panels reused in the tower ceiling, They came from a dormer window in the nave.
  The fine moulded arch-braced roofs over the Lady Chapel and chancel must also date from this 15th century rebuild, as does the slightly different nave roof. This very long nave roof of
5½ bays sits on wall-posts that in turn are on fine semi-octagonal corbels with carved heads on them. The roof was restored and boarded in 1853. It is possible that the original chancel arch was removed at this time in preparation for the new Rood loft (see below).
   The south-west or Lady Chapel was rebuilt in the 15th century. It has a continuous hollow-chamfer on top of the external plinth which is made of Large Paludina Limestone, as are some of the quoins (mixed with Kent Rag). There is a separate doorway (with s stoup just inside it), and some fine new Perpendicular windows. This rebuilding was probably paid for by Spilsill Court.
   At the end of the 15th century (c.1497 from wills), the east arch of the nave south arcade was replaced with a wider 4-centred arch (with double hollow chamfers) in preparation for the new Rood screen. A northern rood-stair (still visible) was also built and a passage through the wall above the arcade was also made. Sadly the last remains of the Rood screen, along with the late Medieval chancel stalls, were completely removed in the 1853 restoration. An approximately contemporary two-light window was also made at the west end of the north wall of the chancel, and to the east of this the north wall of the chancel was pierced for the round window of the so-called ‘anker-cell’.
   The large ragstone ‘font’ now in the sought-east part of the nave on a new base was perhaps originally a large stoup set in a wall. It is only in fact a half-octagon, and may have been pulled out of the most westerly piers.
  The inside of the church otherwise only contains its later 19th century pews and fittings, including a raised high altar with decorated tiles and a reredos. In 1876 the north wall of the nave was pieced for an organ chamber. Some early glass from the east window was apparently removed in 1882, when the present stained glass was put in, and set into a panel now displayed on the window sill in the south aisle (west of the porch).
   At the west end of the Lady Chapel is a fine Bethereden (Large Paludina Limestone) marble table tomb, on top of which were the brasses of Walter Meyney (ob. 1577) and his two wives. This tomb was originally at the east end of the chapel and only the southern female brass now survives.

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The main rubble material is the local Small Paludina Limestone, though large Paludina Limestone is also used in the 15th century plinth and for some quoins of the south-east chapel. The dressings are however of Tunbridge Wells sandstone, and in the later medieval period there are carved dressings in Caen stone and Kentish Rag. Caenstone and Bathstone was used for the 19th century restoration

Size & Shape: Large rectangular area around church, with two extensions to the east

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: Boundary walls of small Paludina limestone around original churchyard (19th century).

Exceptional monuments: Some fine 18th century gravestones and table-tombs on south side of church. Much paving in local Bethersden marble (Paludina Limestone).

Ecological potential: Yes

Late med. Status: Rectory.

Patron: The Lord of the Manor

Other documentary sources: Hasted VII (1798), 127-9. Testamenta. Cantina. (East Kent 1907), 319-321 mentions burial in the churchyard from 1462, also ‘the chancel of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1464 + 1527). Very many lights also mentioned, as well as the High Cross, Low Rood etc. and the ‘new Roodloft’ in 1497.

Previous archaeological work (unpublished): c. 1936 excavation down to floor of anker-cell on north side of chancel.

Inside present church: ?Good.

Outside present church: ? Good, though some shallow drainage channels around outside of church.

To structure: Renewal of tracery + mullion to west window of south aisle, Timber floor of belfry chamber removed, as well as 1885 bell-frame, in 1996. (Timbers seen lying on floor of south aisle in August 1996 - English Heritage was to retain them).

Quinquennial inspection (date/architect):

A fine Wealden church, though over-restored in 1853. The eastern two-thirds of the nave are probably 12th century, and it is probably from this church that the famous decorated iron-covered south door comes. From the very late 12th century, the nave was lengthened and given a new south aisle, and this was followed in the early 13th century by the lengthening of the chancel and the addition of S.E. ‘Lady Chapel’. The south wall of the south side was rebuilt with a porch in the early 14th century as was the north and east sides of the chancel. A new west tower was added in the 15th century, and the outer walls of the Lady Chapel were also rebuilt. Finally in c.1497 the Rood screen was inserted (now gone), and the Rood stair was made and the eastern arch of the nave arcade rebuilt.

The wider context: One of only very few churches in England to have a 12th century door covered in decorative ironwork.

REFERENCES: Brief notes and measured plan, by F.C. Elliston Erwood in Arch. Cant. 61 (1948), 49-52. W.A. Scott Robertson ‘Church of All Saints, Staplehurst’, Arch. Cant.9 (189-202. S.R. Glynne, Notes on the Churches of Kent (1877), 87-9, with engraving of south door with ironwork (He visited before the Restoration) cf also P.V. Addyman + I.H. Goodall ‘The Norman Church and Door at Stillingfleet, North Yorks’ Archaeologia 106 (1979), 75-105.

Guide Book: Undated (but c. 1996) guide by Anita Thompson - not very accurate.

Photographs: Photo of west doorway in Kent Churches 1954, 43.

Plans & early drawings: Petrie pencil sketch from S.E. in 1810 in K.A.S. Library; drawing of S. doorway (c. 1870) in Glynne (op. cit) + Scott Robertson (op. cit.).

DATES VISITED: 18th December 1996                          REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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