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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

  St Peter & St Paul Church, Tonbridge     TQ 5926 4675

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1994

LOCATION: In the small town of Tonbridge, set back from the east side of the High Street, and north-east of the great bridge. The town ditch (Bordyke) runs along the N.E. side of the present churchyard. the church is at c.100 feet above O.D. and lies on Tunbridge Wells sand.

DESCRIPTION: As is plain from a visit to the interior of this church, the whole building was heavily restored, and a large new double south aisle, and organ chamber and vestry (south of the chancel) were added between August 1877 and the re-opening on 11 June 1879. The cost of this work, carried out under Ewan Christian was almost 15,000. In 1983, the south aisle and west end were reconstructed as a new church centre. Despite this, much survives of a fine medieval church, though most of the south side of the church was destroyed above-ground when a south aisle was first added in 1820, by the architect, John King.

Tonbridge came to prominence soon after the Norman Conquest, when the castle, and probably the neighbouring `Great Bridge', were first built. The earliest part of the present church is likely to be of the same date. It can be seen on the outside of the north wall of the chancel. Here the western part of this wall can be seen to have roughly coursed ironstone masonry (including some `herringbone' work) with one rough early Norman window. To the west of this, the eastern side of a second early window can also be seen. Both windows have a simple chamfered arris around them, and the rough jambs and voussoirs suggest a date in the late 11th century. This wall fragment is probably the north wall of the original chancel.

In the 12th century, the chancel was extended to the east, with masonry of roughly-coursed blocks (with diagonal tooling). In the lower part of the chancel wall, this masonry can be seen on the north, east and south sides. In the north wall there is also a surviving contemporary string-course with above it more roughly coursed masonry and another round-headed window. This window has better-cut jambs and voussoirs. The iron-stained sandstone of the masonry also exhibits a reddened colour (due to being burnt). The north side of the eastern part of the chancel also contains a blocked doorway, and some plaster on the face, suggesting that a later vestry was placed here. No trace of the 11th/12th century nave seems to survive above ground, unless it is in the south-east corner of the nave (now covered by 19th century plaster, masonry, etc.).

During the latter part of the 13th century, the whole of the north wall of the nave was demolished, including its join with the north-west corner of the chancel, and a new north-east corner was built for the nave, and two bays of arcading were put up for the start of a north aisle. The round columns for these arches, mostly in Reigate stone, have similar masonry to that used in the external east wall (i.e. large blocks of Reigate stone, set on end.

On the north side of this rebuilt wall is a double piscina with a trefoiled head, so there was certainly a chapel here from this date. It was perhaps the Lady Chapel, though this is not documented until the 15th century.

After the first two bays of the north aisle arcading there are three more bays in a slightly later style (early 14th century) with one octagonal and one round column. This masonry uses mostly Tunbridge Wells sandstone (with a little Reigate stone) and suggests that either the north arcade was rebuilt at the west end not long after it was built, or it was never completed in the first campaign.

Also in the early 14th century a fine new west tower was built with angle-buttresses and a plinth. The tower has trefoiled windows in the higher part of the ground floor on its north, west and south sides. Above this are fine cinquefoiled round windows in the first stage. A spiral staircase starts at first floor level in the north-east corner (above a squinch arch), and it has a turret on top. All the masonry is of good quality Tunbridge Wells sandstone blocks, and the whole of the west wall of the nave (where it survives) is of the same date, suggesting that the nave was lengthened westwards when the tower was built. There is a plain tower arch with hooks on both side for double doors. There is also a west doorway, with a contemporary stoup outside it on the south side. The western part of the north arcade of the church (mentioned above) is perhaps contemporary with the tower. The outerwall for this north aisle appears, however, to be a bit later with three light windows with early Perpendicular tracery, except at the west end where the window has reticulated tracery and a 2-centred hood. The buttresses and continuous plinth all perhaps suggest a later 14th century date for this outer wall, and the aisle itself is covered with a shallow-pitched ridge roof (of perhaps the 15th century).

Also in the 14th century, buttresses were added to the chancel and a new larger window was added on the south side (this was blocked up in c.1500 and replaced by the small round-headed window, with a hollow chamfer around its edge). In the south wall of the 1878 vestry are (reused) a two-light reticulated tracery window and a small doorway. These probably come from the earlier chancel, or possibly the small chapel on the S.E. side of the nave, demolished in 1820. The 1797 Petrie drawing that shows this chapel, with two south gables, it also shows a south porch.

An early Perpendicular window was also put into the north-west side of the chancel, and the 5-light east window is probably an insertion of the 15th century. Wills mention the making of the Rood-loft in 1483 and 1488, and though no sign of this remains, the 2
chancel arch was perhaps rebuilt at this time as a new wide arch to allow the Rood loft and screen to run below. The nave roof was rebuilt in 1878 with a clerestory, but may incorporate some reused 15th century crown-posts.

The top stage of the western tower, with 2-light Perpendicular windows, under square hood-moulds, set in neat tooled masonry is also of the late 15th century. It has a crenellated parapet and turret.

The major rebuilding campaign of 1877-9 has already been mentioned. At this time virtually all post-Reformation features like galleries and box pews were stripped out.

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): The early Norman work is in roughly-coursed local irony sandstone, with some Tunbridge Wells-type sandstone used for early jambs and voussoirs. A little Ragstone rubble seems also to have been used in the 12th century chancel extension. then from the 13th century Reigate stone (and perhaps a little Caen stone) is introduced for the north aisle, with Tunbridge Wells sandstone being used for the 14th century and later work.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: Two fine effigies on south side of chancel (c.1615) of Sir Anthony and Lady Denton. Also some other good 17th and 18th century monuments, including R. Children (ob.1753) by Roubiliac.

Size & Shape: Large irregular area around church with extensions to north and east to Bordyke.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: Brick 18th/19th century boundary walls to west and south.
adjacent: Slight remains of old town rampart and ditch (Bordyke) on N.E.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: 17th century Almshouses (rebuilt 1847) on S.W. corner of churchyard. Old Vicarage to south east of churchyard.

Exceptional monuments: Some fine tombs and headstones around the church.

Ecological potential: ? Yes.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: 12th century.

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): None, but chapels of Shipbourne, and Capel attached to it. Tonbridge, however, only became an important place after the building of the castle, soon after 1066.

Late med. status: Vicarage. Like other parishes in the area, it was transferred to Canterbury diocese from 1846 to 1905.

Patron: Given by Roger de Clare to the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem c.1152; appropriated by them in 1267 (and vicarage instituted). Parsonage given by Henry VIII to Fane family in c.1527 (and Rectory and advowson added in 1548).

Other documentary sources: Hasted V (1798), 250-5 Test.Cant (W.Kent, 1906), 79-80: Wills mention `the great repairs to the church` (1473), the Lady Chapel (1473) and the making of the `Rodelofte' (1483 and 1488); also repairs to the bell-tower (1516), and works in the `Rode Lofte' (1517), and repairs to the `pynnaclorum' (1521).

North aisle galleried from 1663 for the boys of Tonbridge School; also in 1759 George Hooper gave 500 in his will for new paving and pewing the church (these were all removed in 1877).

Inside present church: ? Good, but disturbed on south side, and probably by burial vaults.

Outside present church: ? Good, at least on north side.

To structure: Interior of south aisle and west end reconstructed as church centre in 1983, with galleries etc.

To graveyard: Small new boiler house built on extreme N.W. corner of church.

The church and churchyard: A major church from the late 11th century, with the north-west side of the chancel of this date. The chancel was extended to the east in the 12th century, and a north aisle was added from the late 13th century. The west tower was built, and the nave perhaps was extended to the west in the early 14th century. The north aisle outer wall was completed later in the same century, and other windows were put in, in the 15th century, also the top stage of the tower was built.

The wider context: One of a group of large early Norman churches at important `central places'. The north wall of the chancel is an important survival.

REFERENCES: C W Chalklin, `A seventeenth-century market town: Tonbridge'. Arch.Cant. 76 (1961), 152-162. S Glynne, Churches of Kent (1877), 279-80 (He visited in 1833).
Also W V Dumbreck, `The Lowry of Tonbridge', Arch.Cant. 72 (1958), 138-47, and J C Ward, `The Lowry of Tonbridge and the lands of the Clare family in Kent, 1066 - 1217',
Arch.Cant. 96 (1980), 119-131.

Guide Book: `A short history of Tonbridge Parish Church`, by D Power (1991).

Photographs: Useful copies of early drawings and photos (+1866 O.S. 1st edition 1:500 map) in the above booklet.

Also useful view in 1797 from S.E. by Petrie showing S. porch and 2-bay

Plans and early drawings: (transverse gabled)? S. chapel. Also plan by Ewan Christian (of 1880) in vestry (+ painting of church interior with box pews and galleries in 18th century).

DATE VISITED: 1/8/94                                               REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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