Saints Church, Staplehurst TQ 786 429
DIOCESE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
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.
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
CHURCHYARD AND ENVIRONS:
Size & Shape: Large rectangular area around church, with two
extensions to the east
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.
SURVIVAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DEPOSITS:
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):
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT:
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
Guide Book: Undated (but c. 1996) guide by Anita Thompson - not
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
REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown