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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 All Saints Church, Westbere          TR 192 611

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1994

LOCATION: Situated on Thanet Sands/Head brickearth on the south side of the Blean Forest (London Clay) and just above the flood plain of the Great Stour at c. 50 feet above O.D. It is now in the centre of a 'loose' village.

DESCRIPTION: It is possible that the core of the walls of this simple two-celled church date from the 12th or 13th century, but everything about the fabric suggest that it was totally rebuilt in the early 14th century. The origins of this church are obscure, but there is no doubt that Westbere parish was cut out of the much larger and older manor of Chislet. It seems likely, therefore, that Westbere was originally a chapel to Chislet. Halfway along the south side of the chancel, there is a break in the external facing with coursed whole flints and Thanet-Beds sandstone to the west, and iron-cemented gravel stone (the so-called 'Puddingstone') to the east. This may show two phases of construction, with originally a shorter chancel.
   All surviving architectural details; of this fine church date from the early 14th century, and it seems likely that it was rebuilt at this time by St. Augustine's Abbey as a new church. (The abbey itself was doing much rebuilding at this time, and the Fyndon or Great Gate is a good surviving example of this work).
   The two-light windows on either side of the nave and chancel are all fine examples of Decorated tracery and they have the additional feature of internal and external hood-moulds which end in finely carved heads (there is quite a lot of external restoration). The church is now entered through a west doorway, but there were originally doors on the north and south sides of the nave as well (for processions). The south doorway had a timber-framed porch outside it until the 19th century restorations, and it is possible that there was also a north porch (as evidenced by the corbels on either side of the blocked doorway). The north-east vestry appears to be an original (early 14th century) feature, though its upper quoins suggest a slight heightening of the walls in the 19th century (of Bath stone - the originals are in Ragstone). There is a trefoil-headed lancet on the east, and there is an early 14th century doorway into the chancel. The east and west windows of the church also have fine three-light Decorated tracery. The curvilinear
tracery in the west window is particularly striking. There is also a small (now-blocked) doorway into the north side of the chancel at the west end.
   Inside the chancel, on the south side, is a very fine triple sedilia with arm-rests and embattled tops. The eastern seat is more elaborate and cuts deeper into the wall. Just beyond it is a fine contemporary piscina with an ogee head, and small hood-steps. The sedilia can be compared with other fine sedilia put into St. Augustine's Abbey's churches, including the nearby Chislet, and Snave and Willesborough churches. The finest surviving early 14th century features, however, are the two superbly carved supports to the capitals for the chancel arch. They are still in perfect condition. Over the west end of the nave there was a wooden turret with two bells in it, until removed in 1853.
   There are a fine pair of late 17th century west doors, inscribed W.E./C.W. ANNO/1673.
   During the 19th century there were no less than three restoration campaigns. The first in 1853 included the making of a new triple bell-cote over the west gable (3 new Whitechapel bells were provided). Then in 1859 repewing took place and 54 additional seats were created. Finally in 1884-5, 14 more seats were provided, and a new organ was put in. Externally the nave has been completely refaced in heavy knapped flintwork, much repair was done in Bath stone. There is also quite a lot of pebble-dashed render at the east end.

BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.): At the west end of the chancel, the walls are of coursed whole flints and Thanet-beds sandstone with occasional lumps of iron-cemented gravel stone. This latter material is used exclusively in the eastern half of the chancel, and in the east faces of the eastern nave buttresses. Caenstone is used for the windows and Ragstone for the buttress quoins.

For the 19th century restorations, there is much new knapped flint and Bath stone.

Some original stained glass fragments survive in the nave north window - see article by E.P. Loftus Brock op.cit. (below).

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: One fine monument to H. Twyman (ob. 1727) by H. Scheemakers and H. Cheese (signed)

Size & Shape: Rectangular area around church, with a large extension to the west on the other side of the lane (dedicated in 1891).

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: Brick wall on south to garden of Westbere House.

Ecological potential: ? Yes

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known): Earliest ref. to church: A Pension is mentioned in 1242 in the records of St Augstine’s Abbey.

Late med. status: Rectory

Patron: St. Augustine's Abbey till 1538, then to the crown.

Other documentary sources: Hasted IX (1800), 72-4.

Inside present church: ? Good

Outside present church: ? Good, but small drainage gulley around church.

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): JUNE 1992 Andrew Clague

The church and churchyard: A fine early 14th century church with some quite exceptionally good carved Decorated period work, including tracery and head stops.

The wider context: One of a group of churches in the area with high quality early 14th century building work.

REFERENCES: R. Paine 'Westbere church' in Chislet and Westbere : villages of the Stour Lathe ed. K.H. McIntosh (1979), 42-5. E.P. Loftus Brock. 'Ancient Stained Glass in Westbere Church' Arch. Cant. 17 (1887), 1-3 (and drawing of the glass).

Photographs: Kent Churches 1954, 112 shows the triple sedilia and piscina.

Plans and early drawings: Petrie view from S.W. in 1807 showing ? timber bell-turret. Also view from the south (belonging to the church) in 1756 (reproduced in McIntosh (ed.) supra, p.42).

DATE VISITED: 11th February 1994                                   REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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