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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St John the Baptist Church, Tunstall         TR 8956 6190

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1996

Situated at just under 200 feet above O.D. on the Upper Chalk, the old manor was apparently (Hasted) situated at Grove-end c mile to the south-west of the church. It was moved to a site nearer the church in the early 17th century by the Cromers (this building was not finished, however).

This church was thoroughly restored by R.C. Hussey 1848-56, and externally there is much evidence of this restoration with renewed flint facing and Bathstone dressings covering most of the nave aisles and tower. The top of the tower has been completely rebuilt, with east and west gables, in a `saddleback' form that was apparently suggested to Hussey by churches in Normandy. Petrice's 1807 view of the church from the south-west also tells us that the south nave aisle had a crenallated parapet and that the porch originally had a parapet and flat roof. Glynne (in 1850) describes a `low west tower' with a `moulded parapet' and the belfry-window single and trefoil-headed?
   Despite this the church still has a fine later 13th century chancel, and an early 14th century nave, aisles and west tower, and a south-east chapel that was built in two stages in the 15th and probably 16th centuries. The architectural history has been well-described by Grayling and Greensted (1908 op. cit. below), and only needs a few minor points to be corrected.
   The earliest visible part of the church is the 13th century chancel, but this must have been built onto an earlier nave underlying the present nave. It is noticeable that the chancel and nave are continuous. The chancel has three late lancets on the north side, and one of the original three survives on the south side (east end) with its iron glazing bars (It was presumably reopened in the early 1850s). These lancets have rere-arches springing from small carved corbels at the top of the internal side-jambs. The east window is now a late 15th century one with hollowed out side jambs, but in 1907 part of the north side of an original 13th century lancet was uncovered. This was presumably one of a triplet. Externally a roll-moulding ran around the chancel, and it appears that all the original dressings were of Caen stone. On the north side of the chancel, at the east end, is am aumbry, and opposite it is a double piscina within a double trefoil-headed niche, though only one basin is now visible.
   The whole of the nave, two side aisles, west tower and south porch were all rebuilt in the early 14th century at about the same time, and no main building breaks can be seen. However, the engaged piers at either end of the south arcade have smaller blocks of Caen stone for the lower part of the main shafts, and more elaborate moulded bases, also Caen stone. This suggests that work started here. The other octagon piers and all the capitals, including those in the tower arch, are all of well-cut Kentish Ragstone, and the capitals have the same moulded form. The arches above are mainly of double hollow chamfers, though this is not uniform, and the tower arch has two flat chamfers. The contemporary chancel arch has double hollow chamfers and springs from shallow corbels. The octagonal piers appeal to have different mason marks on each one (particularly noticeable are small squares and `alphas').
   The tower has a circular stair-turret on the north east, and a fine ogeed and crocketed west doorway (but with the top finial gone). This has recently been restored, though the Victorians left it alone! A continuous plinth runs all the way round the outside of the tower and aisles and much of the knapped flintwork above it was restored in the 1850s. The original aisle windows also have ogeed tops and finials, though all the masonry was restored in 1854. Before this, Glynne (visiting in 1850) tells us that the ogee heads were mutilated and had mullions mostly wood, `but the finials remain'. The south doorway inside the south porch is a particularly fine deep moulded doorway, and it still contains its original door. This door has later had a pair of openings (with grates) made in it, with a shutter behind. The north doorway opposite is much simpler and was reopened in 1987 to give access to the new hall. The tower is unbuttressed, but the aisles have diagonal buttresses at the corners (that on the south-east was probably replaced by a straight buttress in the 15th century, when the chapel was built). Another usual feature of the aisles is the use of a continuous roll moulding (now much restored) below the windows. Internally this runs up and over the top of the north and south doorways.
   In the later 15th century three new 3-light windows were put in at the east end of the north aisle, and a large new 5-light east window was made (restored and regaled in 1850). Also the south-east chapel (probably dedicated to St. Margaret) was created as a manorial chapel for the Crummier family. It has two 3-light windows on the south and two (unequal in height) arches into the chancel, as well as an arch into the south aisle. This chapel was extended eastwards, in brick, probably just before the Reformation, as it contains a piscine in the extension. When the fine Hales tomb was put in, in 1655, the chapel was apparently refurbished (some black and white marble paving survives at the wasted), and a new brick parapet was put on, with a plague inscribed E.H.1655 on its east side.
   The nave and chancel were probably given new 4-centred arched ceilings in the later 15th century. The nave timbered and paralleled ceiling on carved corbels in a fine example. Part of a Rood Screen, a corbel for the north side of the Rood beam survey, and the medieval font (mentioned by Glynne) were unfortunately removed in the 1850s when whole interior was given expensive new pews, pulpit, font etc. R.C. Hussey's restoration started in the chancel in 1848-50, and then moved on to the nave, as we have seen in the early 1850s. The ring of six 1843 bells were increased to light, and rehung and tuned in 1975. They were recast in 1995.

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): Being on the upper chalk, the principal rubble and facing material is flint. Caen stone was, however, used for 13th century dressings, and for the beginning of the early 14th century work. Some Reigate stone was also used, but finely cut Kentish Ragstone was used for the 14th and 15th century main works. The mid-19th century restorations done with some new knapped flint, with Bathstone dressings.

Brasses of Ralph Wulf (ob. 1525), and a late Elizabethan Lady (rubbings on W. wall of nave). Also fragments of Cromer tomb of c. 1613, and a fine tomb for Sir Edward Hales, made by W. Sweet and M. Miles in 1655 (signed) with his white marble effigy on it. Wall monuments to Robert Clarke (ob. 1647) , and Edward Mores (ob.1740). There is also a fine uninscribed alabaster tomb that is now used as the altar in the south chapel.

Size & Shape: Irregular area around church with main rood curving around in to the south and east. Extensions terraced down to north and north-west.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: Flint boundary to slightly sunken main road on south and east.

Earthworks: enclosing: Terraced down on south and east

Exceptional monuments: Chest tomb and two 17th century gravestones to S.W. of South porch.

Ecological potential: ? Yes. The churchyard contains many fine specimen trees (including an 1865 Giant Redwood) and an ancient yew. Glynne in 1850, already says that: `the situation is pretty and retired; the churchyard shaded with fine trees'.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. To church: 13th century.

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB,DM, TR etc): Alone.

Late med. Status (rectory): Rectory.

Patron: The manor of Tunstall, until c. 1229 it was given by Hubert de Burgh to the Archbishop. In 1889 it was exchanged by the Archbishop with the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury.

Other documentary sources: Hasted VI (1798), 96-8. Testamenta Cantiana (E. Kent, 1907), 345, mentions burial in the churchyard from at least 1474. Also the altar of St Margaret' (1546), and lights of Our Lady and St Osyth. The (Easter) `Sepulcre', near the high altar is also mentioned in 1546 when a `new frame' and `a stone to lie upon it', are specified in a Will.

Inside present church: Probably good.

Outside present church: Good.

To structure: North doorway re-opened 1987. Bells recost 1995.

To graveyard: Modern hall built in churchyard to N.W. of church in 1987.

A fine early 14th century nave, two aisles, west tower and porch was added to a later 13th century chancel. This work perhaps relates to the acquisition of the church by the archbishop in c. 1229. It is worth noting that Simon of Meopham was Rector at the beginning of the 4th century before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. The south-east chapel was added in the 15th century for the Cromer family who owned the manor. It was extended in brick, probably just before the Reformation. A heavy and though restoration and refurnishing was carried out by R.C. Hussey from 1848 - 56.

The wider context: One of a group of churches in the area having ogee-headed windows, and more unusually an ogeed west doorway.

REFERENCES: E. Rowe, The History and Antiquities of Tunstall (18 ). Also J.F. Graglight H. Greensted, Notes of the History of the Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Tunstall, Kent (1908), and S.R. Glynne, Notes on the churches of Kent (1877), 165-6 (he visited in 1850).

Guide Book: Brief leaflet by Dr F.M. Mallison (Revised 1992) - good summary.

Photographs: Kent Churches 1954, p.41 of unrestored Ogeed west doorway, and moulded south doorway + doors. Also p.164 of Sir Edward Hales tomb in south chapel.

Plans & drawings: View from S.W. in 1807 in K.A.S. Library (by Petrie). Also view of church in 1712 in Mores' History of Tunstall (1780).

DATES VISITED: 5th July 1996                                      REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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