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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

  St Mary Church, Stelling       TR 1422 4859

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1993

LOCATION: Isolated site at c. 450 ft above O.D. and _ mile of Stone Street. Stelling (Court) Lodge farm is c. mile to the north. The main settlement is around the Minnis (Common) to the south-east. The church is on heavy clay with flints, once probably forested but now in open fields.

DESCRIPTION: Although a church is Stelling is mentioned in Domesday Book (1086), no part of the visible fabric of the present church can date from before the 13th century, except just possibly the N.E. quoin of the nave (of small-block Caenstone), though this appears to have been rebuilt later. In fact all the dateable architectural features in the church (except the small lower "perpendicular" window in the west face of the tower), are 13th century or early 14th century.

The nave and chancel, in their present form, seem to date wholly from the 13th century, as does probably the western tower, though this is slightly off centre to the south. (The tower may be contemporary with the nave, though external joins cannot be seen). The three completely plain lancets in the chancel can be of any date in the mid to later 13th century, though the trefoil-headed piscina (and shelf above) is perhaps earlier 13th century. The simple jambs for the tower arch, which are continuous of the N. + S. tower walls have straight chamfers with bar-stops at the top - another earlier 13th century feature.

At the end of the 13th century, the south aisle was added to the church. It extends all the way along the south side of the nave and tower, and probably had two arches from the nave (made into a single, very wide, span at the end of the 18th century). Only the engaged piers and capitals at either end of the aisle now date to the 13th century. The east window to the south aisle is a very fine three light affair with good tracery containing trefoils and quatrefoils in its head (compare the north and south transept windows in Addisham church). There is also a simple trefoil-headed window in the southwall. (Inside the east jamb of this is a carved head), and a very wide lancet in the west wall, and a south-facing buttress at either end of the south wall. The doorway in this southside (also 13th century) has hollow-chamfers and engaged shafts in its jambs, and very plain moulded capitals - also a keeled roll in the 2-centred arch over it. All the windows, and the doorway, are of Kent Rag with very little restoration (many of the glazing bars are also probably medieval).

At about the same time as the south aisle was built, the north wall of the nave seems to have been totally rebuilt, with a simple north doorway (having only a plain flat chamfer with brooch stops) flanked by trefoil headed lancets (these are also in Rag with Medieval glazing bars). Further east there is a 2-light window with reticulated tracery in its head, and a hood-mould with head stops. This is apparently all in Caenstone with only the side jambs and sill in Ragstone. Though it is possible the tracery head was inserted later, this seems unlikely, and all the windows and doorway in the nave wall are probably contemporary and date from c. 1300 (The eastern two-light window has an internal head stop on its east jamb. Also of about the same date is the 3-light reticulated tracery east window in the chancel. The simple rafter, collar and solace chancel roof may also be of c. 1300.

The nave roof, which is mostly hidden by the ceiling, is perhaps also an early king-strut roof of c. 1300. A central and a western ? king-strut, with braces up to the collars/solaces, sit on original tie-beams. (The down-braces to the western beam are later). In the north and south walls of the chancel are stone corbels which presumably had a timber beam on them, possibly the Rood beam. The fine perpendicular octagonal font (? early 15th century) was moved from the west end of the nave to under the west tower in the last c. 30 years. There is also a cinquefoil headed small west window in the west wall of the tower (under a square hood mould with head stops).

The church originally contained much fine medieval stained glass, but this was moved to Upper Hardres church in c. 1790.

The special feature of Stelling church is that it has remained totally unrestored. All the internal box pews, the "two-decker" pulpit (with tester) and the south gallery all remain from the reordering of c. 1790. The work at this time also involved major structural work including the rebuilding of the tower (the north wall was totally refaced in brickcourses and knapped-flint with galleting), with rebuilt brick buttresses (the south face of the tower was given a tile hanging). The buttresses at the east end of the chancel and on the S.W. corner of the church were also rebuilt, and a new brick south porch was constructed. The new wide flat brick arch (pierced by round holes in the spandels) to the south aisle was also built to give a view of the pulpit from the gallery. The north doorway was bricked up, and a vestry was created at the west end of the south aisle (later to receive a fireplace and flue in its north-east corner). This vestry, the south aisle and the porch were all given new coved ceilings.

Unfortunately the unity of the church has been spoilt more recently by the removal of the box-pews from the N.W. corner.

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The principle material is the local flint, which can be seen in all the outer wall faces in a coursed form. All the quoin jambs etc., are in Kentish Rag (from E. Kent), but there is also a small amount of Caenstone.

For the major late 18th century restoration, red brick is used.

Some more recent repairs in a yellow-brown sandstone.
For stained glass removed from this church in 1790-1 see C R Councer, Lost Glass from Kent Churches (Kent Records XXII, 1980), 118-120.

1814 Benefaction Board on S. aisle W. partition.

Size & Shape: Rectangular area around church, with various trees in it. Hedges (to open fields) surround the churchyard.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: Flint + brick foundry wall to S. (with Church Cottages).

Exceptional monuments: Some fine headstones in churchyard.

Ecological potential: Hasted notes "three fine yew-trees, of remarkable size" in the churchyard. One west of tower, has survived but another to the south fell over in the great storm of Oct. 87. To the north are smaller (? daughter) yews.

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

Late med. status (vicarage\appropriation): Chapel to the church of Upper Hardres.

Patron: Rector of Upper Hardres.

Other documentary sources: Hasted VIII (1799), 94-5.
Test. Cant. (E. Kent 1907), 321 mentions burial in churchyard (1499+), and lights of the Trinity, Rood, Blessed Mary (in the chancel), and St Mary "near the door", St Christopher, St John-the-Baptist, St Katherine, St Lawrence + St Nicholas.


Outside present church: ? Good, though drainage trench dug around outside of church.

To structure: Font moved west to under tower and box-pews from N.W. corner of nave, removed (and organ put in) within the last 30 years. Much damage to tiled roofs in Oct. 87 storm. Also in tie-beams (in nave + vestry) repaired recently.

To graveyard: One great yew collapsed in Oct. '87 storm.

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): John Sell

The church and churchyard: This church is a very rare local example of a church that was left untouched in the 19th century, though in more recent times box-pews have been removed from the north-west side of the nave (to be replaced by an organ). The large scale restoration work and the fittings of c. 1790 are an important survival.

The wider context: The tracery and the chancel and south aisle windows in largely unrestored late 13th/early 14th century work.

REFERENCES: Glynn, Notes on Kent Church (1877), 259. He visited in 1868.

Guide Book: Sheet only - info. from V J Torr (op cit below) only.

Photographs: View west of nave in H R Pratt Boorman + V J Torr Kent Churches 1954, 63, showing church before font was moved and N.W. corner box pews taken out for new organ.

Plans & drawings: H Petrie's view from S.E. in 1808.

DATE VISITED: 18/1/93                                            REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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