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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

  St Nicholas Church, Sturry       TR 176 601

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1993

LOCATION: The church lies immediately east of Sturry Court (now Miler Court), with the main road through Sturry (a diversion from the Roman road) not far to south and east. The church also not far from the river Stour (near its tidal limit), and is at only c. 15ft above O.D.

DESCRIPTION: Though a church is mentioned here in Domesday Book, there is nothing in the visible fabric to suggest a date as early as this for the present structure. The main walls of the chancel, nave and tower (eastern half) must, however, date from the earlier part of the 12th century. At the eastern end of the chancel, round-headed windows survive in the north and south walls (restored externally on the south). In the nave, the tops of three now-blocked round-headed windows are visible above the later arcades. The gap in the second bay from the west shows that the original doorways were in this position, opposite where they now are in the later aisle walls. The lower part of engaged columns for the chancel arch are probably 12th century. In the western tower it is clear that the western part of it and the top stage (with four pointed arches) was built in the late 12th century after it had become unstable (and had perhaps collapsed). Internally at the lowest stage the eastern halfs of large round-headed windows can still be seen. In the stage above, both the internal and external jambs of two more windows (one north and one south) can also be seen. Externally there is also a very clear break between the western and eastern halfs of the tower, and it is certain that a larger (square in plan) tower was built in the first half of the 12th century. Then, after the collapse, a new west wall was built with clasping corner-buttresses. When this was put up, the remains of the earlier north and south windows were blocked. These earlier windows must have been placed centrally in the north and south walls - hence the suggestion that the tower has been shortened on the west.

Quite early in the 13th century three new windows were put into the chancel. Unusual two-light windows on the east and south and a single light trefoil headed window on the north. They all have fine carved external jambs. At about the same date diagonal buttresses were added to the east end of the chancel and another buttress was put on the south side of the chancel. The east gable end was also rebuilt, and all this new work is characterized but the use of rubble blocks on Iron-cemented gravel-stone. The roof over the chancel is probably also of the same date. It is of spindly rafter, collar and soulace construction with one tie-beam in the centre, and a single crown-strut (no collar purlin). Very shortly after this a small vestry was added to the north of the chancel, and connects with the latter by a small doorway with a continuous roll on its south side. The external doorway to the vestry (on the west) and the east window in it are, however entirely of a 19th century date. The walls of the vestry are almost all made of Iron-cemented gravel stone.

Aisles were also added to the nave in the 13th century, but this is only now shown by the very plain arcades in the north and south walls of the nave. All the jambs have blocks with comb-chisel marks on them, and there is a plain chamfer on all the arises which terminated at the bottom in a brooch stop. The wider arch into the west tower is of the same construction and date.

The outer wall of the south aisle with its four 2-light windows (one above a doorway), and three-light windows in the return walls, was probably built in the earlier 14th century. It has however, many features in it (eg. a continuous plinth and upper string course) which suggest that it was rebuilt in the later 15th century (confirmed by Childmel's will of 1496 which gives lead for the roof). At the east end of this aisle was the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, and there is still an agee-headed piscina on the south side of the site of the altar. There is a small 14th century niche in the west wall of the first pier on the west to the south aisle.

The outer wall of the north aisle must have been rebuilt in the later 14th century, and has some fine 'perpendicular' windows with figured external hood-mould stops. The wall top and parapet here may also have been rebuilt in the late 15th century. The roofs over both aisles, however, are of slate, and probably replace nearly flat late 15th century lead roofs (internally both aisle roofs are masked by a ceiling). There is also an inserted two-light perpendicular window above the west doorway in the tower. The font has a late 15th century octagonal top, but its base is probably earlier. It was moved one bay to the east this century. The side walls of the north porch are of brick, and must be 19th century. However, the remains of an early 16th century 2-bay porch still survive above them and in the north elevation with its side-windows and projecting large-boards. There is also an original tie-beam inside with its supports and braces below. Fragments of similar braces and the cut-off ends of another tie-beam can be seen to the south. Supports for a Rood beam (? over a screen) were put into the chancel arch jambs in the 15th century.

A gallery for singers was put into the west end of the nave in 1744 (it acquired an organ in 1816) but this was removed in 1855. There was also a fine timber spire on top of the west tower (? 14th century) until early 19th century (? c. 1812). After this a crenellated parapet was erected. This was rebuilt and the present tower roof was put in in 1878.

The major restoration of the church top face in 1867-73, and much new Bathstone was put in (the north and west doorways are entirely of Bathstone). An new reredos was erected in 1867 (removed 1972) as well as a chancel screen (removed 1953) and many other fittings (pews), stalls, etc).
BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The earliest (12th century) walls are made of Tertiary sandstone, reused Roman bricks, flint and some ragstone with Caenstone quoins. From the late 12th century, a local source of iron-cemented gravelstone was used for rubble (particularly noticeable in the N.E. vestry), and this was also perhaps reused in the other aisle walls with other materials. Caen is also used for most later tracery and quoins.

After the coming of the Railway in 1846, much Bathstone was used for repairs to the church. There are also traces in the church of the ? stencilled decoration put onto the walls, etc. of the church at this time - most has been removed.

Brass to Thomas Childmel (1496) in nave rear font.

Size: Large area around the church.

Shape: Approx. rectangular.

Condition: Good

Apparent extent of burial: Burials in churchyard documented from 1473.

Boundary walls: Late 16th century brick walls (to Sturry, now Milner, Court) on north + west.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: One ugly concrete-block immediately south of the church.

Exceptional monuments: Some fine headstones in churchyard.

Ecological potential: ? Yes - there are quite a few fastigiate Yews in the churchyard.

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

Late med. status (vicarage\appropriation): Appropriated in 1310 (see Thorne's Chronicle (trans. A H Davis), 395-6 and 534-7), with Vicarage endowed from 1323.

Patron: ST AUGUSTINE'S ABBEY, CANTERBURY till 1538, then the Archbishop received the Advowson of the Vicarage 1542 - later he was also given the Patronage.

Other documentary sources: Test. Cant. (E. Kent 1907) 328-330 mentions "altar of St Mary" (1482), and the Trinity Chapel. Also lights of the Trinity, High Cross or Holy Cross, St Mary, St Christopher, St Erasmus, St James, St Katherine and St Nicholas. Also the Hoke Light (1504), the Image of the Holy Cross (Rood), and repairs to the Tower (1476) are mentioned.

Hasted IX (1800), 81-4 who mentions a will of Thomas Childmas, giving lead to the covering of the church to the value of 40 (1496).

Reused materials: Reused Roman Bricks.

Inside present church: Good

Outside present church: Quite good, but large drainage channel has been all around the outside of the church.

To structure: Diagonal steel ties put into upper part of tower in 1970. Bells and 19th century frame being removed (and new frame made) - early 1993.

To floors: New tile floor in western part of nave a few years ago.

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): August 1991. ANDREW CLAGUE (also report of bells and frame by N J Davies - June 1989.

The church and churchyard: A large 12th century nave, chancel and west tower was a major rebuilding in the 13th century, with aisles added. 14th century rebuilding of side aisle walls. The west side of the western tower seems to have fallen in the later 12th century.

The wider context: One of a group of large churches belonging to St Augustine's Abbey.

REFERENCES: M Sparks, 'Sturry Church' in K H McIntosh (ed) Sturry, the Changing Scene (1972), 15-17.

Guide Book: Short Guide (Arron c. 1977) - no plan.

Photographs: Old photos of the interior (pre the d 869 restoration).

Plans & drawings: View from S.E. in 1801 by H Petrie (Copy in K.A.S Library) with spire on tower. (Also reproduced in op cit supra, 17).

DATE VISITED: 21/1/93                                REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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