St Dunstan Church, West Peckham TQ
ROCHESTER DIOCESE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1994
DESCRIPTION: The west tower is almost certainly, as
Dr Harold Taylor (op. cit. infra) has pointed
out, of late Anglo-Saxon date. The rare dedication to St Dunstan may
also suggest that it was first built in his time (c. 960-88),
or not long after his death, when he was quickly considered a saint.
It is also worth noting that the great manor of (East) Peckham was
acquired by the Archbishop and community at Canterbury at an early
date, and that in A.D. 961 (ie. during Dunstan's archiepiscopate),
Queen Eadgifu gave more land at 'Petteham' (probably Peckham) to
Christ Church (Sawyer No. 1212). This was confirmed by King Aethelred
(AD. 995-1005). The tower is built in two stages - a levelling up
course can be seen half way up - but there cannot be much difference
in date between the two stages. The upper stage has tall
single-splayed windows (all with rough rubble jambs) in the centre of
the north, west and south faces. Rough early render (particularly
inside) can also be seen. The lower stage has north and south windows
with double-splays (the window on the north has unfortunately had its
internal splays cut back), and these windows are offset to the east,
possibly suggesting that originally they were to light the west end of
the original nave. The north-west and south-west quoins to the tower
are all of rough undressed Ragstone blocks (as are those on the
north-east and south-east above the roof). All the other masonry is
roughly coursed rubble, including that up to the splayed jambs of the
windows. The round-arched heads are also in rough rubble. The tower
arch into the nave is now, most unfortunately a mechanically cut 20th
century round-headed arch. Glynne, who visited the church in 1873
mentions 'a low round arch to the nave', and F. Grayling, County
Churches: Kent (1913) Vol. II, 65 says 'The tower Norman with arch
in character'. This may have been an Anglo-Saxon arch. It is also
unfortunate that much of the external walls of the tower have recently
been pointed up with a smeared-on cement render.
The nave of the church is almost certainly an early Norman addition to
the tower. On the south-west it has in situ tufa quoins
(roughly side alternate). The original quoin on the north-west has
been disturbed, but reset tufa can be seen in the neighbouring wall.
Various reset blocks of tufa above, and on either side of the
Perpendicular window on the south side of the nave also suggest an
earlier Norman window. There is also some reused tufa in the south
side of the 13th century chancel. The other feature that suggests a
late 11th or earlier 12th century date for the nave is the used of
Under the tower, but until c. 1891 in the north-west part of
the nave, is a c. 12th century font made of Tunbridge Wells
sandstone. It is a plain square bowl, with several repairs and without
a lead lining (and c. 17th century wooden lid), which sits on
five shafts and a contemporary base. The new plinth was made with a
step in c. 1891 when it was moved.
The chancel continues the line of the nave to the east, and there is
no chancel arch but there is a break in the masonry between the two
that is visible externally in the south wall. Above this one can see
the two butting ends of the two later medieval wall-plates. Somewhere
in this area, Petrie's 1807 drawing of the church seems to suggest
that there was a small (? lancet) window now blocked. There was
presumably an earlier smaller Norman chancel, which was demolished and
replaced by the present structure in the early 13th century. The south
wall of the chancel, which is of coursed, squared ragstone, contained
two lancet windows, with a smaller c. 14th century priest's
doorway in between. The lancet on the east survives, but has had all
its external masonry renewed (not good modern work), while that on the
west has been replaced by a two-light Perpendicular window. The
blocked eastern side of the original lancet and its pointed rere-arch
above, can, however still be seen inside. Some Reigate stone over and
beside the later east window to the chancel, may well have come from
some earlier lancets. There are also some c. 13th century
putlog holes in the east wall.
In the earlier part of the 14th century, a new north aisle to the nave
and north chapel to the chancel were created. It is of ragstone rubble
and seems to have started to lean to the north during building. A
whole series of plinthed buttresses were therefore added, and these
seem to bond into the upper wall. There is a north doorway (perhaps
removed and blocked in the 17th century), with only the relieving arch
for it visible externally. In the bay east of this is an early 14th
century two-light window of Rag with squared head but containing rough
decorated tracery. Nearby opposite to this in the south wall of the
nave is a similar window. It also has a flattened rere-arch. At the
west end of the north wall of the north chapel is an inserted c.
1340 window (it is vertical, though the neighbouring wall leans out),
with a traceried top in a two-centred arch.
There are two arches from the north aisle into the nave, with a
ragstone octagonal capital, column and base in between. The engaged
half-column on the west has no capital, while that on the east has
been renewed. There were also two similar arches between the chancel
and north chapel, with another central octagonal column, but these
were mutilated in the mid-17th century when the 'Geary' pew was made (
the western arch was actually cut away). An early 14th century west
doorway was also made into the tower, and this has a chamfered
flattish rear arch, and side-alternate jambs on the south. The squat
pyramid spire on the tower may also date to the 14th century, though
the 'skirt' on sprockets, was presumably made in the late 19th
century. The weather vane on top is dated 1818.
The chapel on the north-east, whose dedication is not known, was
turned into a chantry chapel in 1408-9 for the Colepepers of Oxenhoath
(see A. Hussey (ed). Kent Chantries pt II (1934), 203-5),
though they had been buried in the chapel from at least 1389 (see the
will of Geoffrey Colepeper).
A new two light Perpendicular window with a square hood mould was put
into the eastern part of the north wall of the north-east chapel,
though it was half-blocked in c. 1720 when the Bartholomew
monument was put in. It still contains its original iron saddle-bars.
There is also a two-light Perpendicular window at the west end of the
north aisle (also with square hood-mould). Two-light Perpendicular
windows with square hood-moulds were also put into the south wall of
the nave and chancel, and there is a three-light Perpendicular window
in the east wall of the chancel (with a renewed hood). Just visible
under the c. 1720 Bartholomew monument in the chapel are the
decorated spandrels of a wall tomb of the Colepepers. The main south
door to the nave is also a fine 15th century one with a large square
hood-mould. The north aisle was re-roofed in c. 1500 with a
five bay wind-braced clasped side-purlin roof, and a roof-loft was
also put in at about this time (see doorway to loft on north side of
In the mid-17th century the fine 'Geary' pew (with vault under) was
made (for the owners of Oxenhoath) in the north chapel. It still
contains many fine seats, door, panelling, roof, hatchments and
monuments, and a new doorway on the east with steps up (This area was
redone in the early 18th century with a new door, etc.) There is also
a 17th century hexagonal pulpit (on c. 1891 base) and three
17th century bells in the tower. The south porch with rough rag rubble
walls and rag quoins may be 17th century or a little earlier. It has a
blocked window on the west. The major restoration took place in c.
1891 when the nave roof was repaired and a boarded ceiling was put in
the chancel, also a new screen and rood-loft and western organ
gallery. New pews were put in, and the font was moved to the tower.
The north aisle was refurbished and given an altar in 1935.
BUILDING MATERIALS: (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The principle building material was the local Ragstone used first for
the late Saxon Tower. Tufa was introduced for quoins in the early
Norman period, and a little Reigate stone in the 13th century. The
later tracery was mostly in Ragstone.
Brick was used in the north-east chapel in the mid-17th and early 18th
There is one fragment of ancient glass (an Agnus Dei) in the south
EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: The finest is the c. 1720
large monument to Leonard Bartholomew and his wife in the north
chapel, but there are other good monuments in the chapel and chancel.
There are also two table tombs in the north-east and south-east
corners of the chancel. The latter is to John Stanley (ob. 1616),
while the north-east one is for Sir William (ob.1457) and Lady
Elizabeth Colepepper. Only her brass survives, while the inscription
is oddly dated 1417. The neighbouring steps to the Geary Pew are made
from a cut-up indent with one brass shield in it.
CHURCHYARD AND ENVIRONS:
Size & Shape: Rectangular area around church, with large extended
area to the north, given by Mr F Geary in 1877. It is all surrounded
by a Ragstone wall.
Condition: Good - sheep graze in a large part of it.
Boundary walls: Ragstone wall with brick capping (? Late 19th
Building in churchyard or on boundary: War Memorial dais built into
east churchyard boundary wall.
Exceptional monuments: Some fine table-tombs; also a fine row of 18th
century grave and body stones immediately east of the chancel.
Ecological potential: Good - used for sheep grazing. Yew to south of
HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: This is possibly the church mentioned in D.
Bk. as held by the archbishop, rather than East (Great) Peckham. Later
it is certainly West, or little Peckham.
Late med. status: Vicarage from at least 1387.
Patron: Granted by Edward I in c. 1286 to Leeds Priory, and
appropriated by them. This was formalised in 1387. After the
Dissolution it went to the Dean and Chapter of Rochester.
Other documentary sources: Hasted V (1798), 66-70.
Testamenta Cantiana (West Kent, 1906), 58, mentions the burial
in the church of Geoffrey Colepeper (1389) and nearby of his son John
Colepeper (1413). Burial in 'ye alley before the church porche' is
mentioned in 1532; also the burial in the chancel, in 1557 of the
vicar, Hugh Burneby.
Reused materials: A few Roman bricks in tower + nave south walls.
SURVIVAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DEPOSITS:
Inside present church: -? Good. The burial vault in the north-east
chapel seems to be above the old floor level.
Outside present church: ? Good
To structure: Renewal of external window jambs in unsuitable new
stone. Heavy 'smeared' pointing of tower.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT:
The church and churchyard: This is an exceptionally rare survival of a
complete late Anglo-Saxon western tower, with added to it, a Norman
nave and early 13th century chancel. The north aisle and north-east
chapel were added in the early 14th century, and into the latter was
inserted, in the mid-17th century, the Geary Pew and burial vault.
The wider context: One of only a handful of later Anglo-Saxon churches
surviving above ground in Kent.
REFERENCES: H. M. + J. Taylor, Anglo-Saxon Architecture (1965),
Vol.II, 489. S.R. Glynne, Notes on the Churches of Kent (1877),
Guide Books: Useful guide book (Anon - no date, but c. mid
1980s) in church.
Photographs: The double-splayed window on the south side of the tower
is in Kent Churches 1954 (Pratt Boorman + V.J. Torr), 82.
Plans & drawings: Faded plan hanging up in N.W. Corner of church
by J. Jempson (+ L.R.A. Grove). Made Aug. 69 at 8ft to 1 inch (not
very accurate). See also Petrie view from S.S.W. in 1807. An interior
view (in 1845) at the British Museum is mentioned in the guide.
DATE VISITED:12/10/93, 22/11/93,
REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown