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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

  St Mary Church, Westerham       TQ 4475 5410

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1994

LOCATION: The church lies at c.350 feet above O.D. at the N.E. corner of the Green with the land falling away steeply to the north, east and south. The main `town' is to the west and the Court Lodge about  ?  mile to the north.

DESCRIPTION: Unfortunately every window in this church was replaced in the very large restoration of 1882-3 (costing 6,000), and the new windows did not in any way resemble the earlier ones (as Petrie's SE view of 1802 shows clearly). The external masonry, particularly on the north side, has also been heavily restored. Despite this, two main phases of work can be readily distinguished : the western tower and chancel east wall of the 13th century, and series of fine early Tudor north and south arcades (and nave, north aisle, and south aisle roofs). The main features of interest were briefly (but carefully) summarised by the Revd G M Livett in 1913 (op. cit. below).

It is likely that the nave was the core of the original part of the church, but apart from, at the extreme south-west corner, nothing of the original nave survives above ground. At the lowest level of the south-west corner of the nave externally, there is a trace of the bonding-break between nave and south aisle (above this the face has mostly been restored). This masonry, however, appears to be of the same date as the tower masonry, so it probably all dates from the 13th century.

The tower itself is not regularly placed against the west side of the nave, but its lower north side is obscured by the later vestry/offices. It must date to the 13th century and has relatively thin walls and north and south buttresses running off its west wall. It is made of local sandstone rubble, with an original south doorway with Reigate stone jambs (a smaller early Tudor doorway was later inserted here). Livett suggested that originally the west side of the churchyard was so cramped that north and south doorways through the tower would be required for the processions. He may be right, but there is no visible evidence for an original doorway on the north. In the upper walls of the tower, and internally, are traces of the original lancets into the Bell Chamber. On the south side, the lower rectangular part of a blocked window with Reigate stone jambs is particularly obvious. All these windows were cut into by the late Medieval two-light belfry windows.

The only other visible 13th century feature in the tower is the tall tower-arch, which was entirely made of Reigate stone. It was possibly heightened at a later date, but has elaborate bar-stops at the base. Above the tower arch on the outside of the present roof, there are apparently the remains of the earlier roof-line.

The other obvious 13th century feature in the church is the east wall of the chancel. Here the original Reigate stone quoins (with some cement repairs) can still be seen, as well as the upper parts of two tall lancets (also of Reigate stone). These were, no doubt, part of a triple lancet design, and the extreme north and south jambs of these windows can still be seen inside, along with the adjoining masonry, and a fragment of a string-course. Slightly more of the south-east corner of the 13th century chancel survives inside (retained perhaps to provide a space for the piscina, and the upper walls (partly pared-back on the south) of the chancel also survive above the arcades.

Because of the very heavy 19th century restorations, it is very difficult to tell the date of the aisles and chapels. However it seems likely that the buttressed aisles and their eastern chapels were first added in the 14th century. The main evidence for this is now the blocked north doorway (of Reigate stone) into the north chapel, the buttresses themselves (with plinths and offsets), and the trefoil-headed piscinae at the south-east corner of the south aisle, and in the east wall (south end) of the south chapel. The latter piscina is stylistically a little later, suggesting perhaps that this chapel was extended eastwards in the later 14th or 15th century. The masonry of the outer walls of the chapel are also slightly different, and there is an external plinth around most of the lower wall.

The south side also seems to have lost a buttress (immediately east of the porch) at a later date, and the porch itself was originally of wood (perhaps 16th), and though completely rebuilt in 1878, it perhaps still retains earlier barge-boards.

The font, at the west end of the nave, which is of Reigate stone, is octagonal and is probably of a later 14th century date.

As we have seen, the top stage of the tower was refenestrated in the later 15th century with two-light square-headed Perpendicular windows for the bell-chamber. The brooch spire on top (which is shingled) is probably of the same date. There is also a c. 1500 west doorway and three-light window above (all restored).

The final stage of rebuilding was of the nave and chancel arcades in the early 16th century. This was probably done in several sub-phases, after the demolition of earlier arcades and the chancel arch. All the pier-forms are roughly the same, as are the depressed four-centred arches. However the nave south arcade has much more elaborate mouldings and carved corbels on the north, and the south chancel arcade was run at a slight diagonal to take up the narrower width of the chancel. On the north the arcades are plainer and step in for the chancel in a more conventional way (all this is well described by Livett). Above the nave and north and south aisles are very fine contemporary roofs with moulded principals and ridge-ribs. (There is a crown-post roof over the south chapel, and probably another over the north chapel - the chancel has a 19th century boarded ceiling).

There were major restorations in 1852-3 and 1882-3 when the whole interior was refurnished as well.

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The main building material is the local iron-stained sandstone, with Reigate stone being used for all dressings. Externally there is also a little Ragstone, and this is best seen in the plinth to the south-east chapel. Horsham slab is used on much of the roofs.

Mechanically cut Bath-stone was used for all the 19th century restorations. There is an elaborate 1883 reredos in the chancel, as well as raised chancel and sanctuary floors. Also a wooden octagonal stair-turret in the north-west corner of the tower - perhaps of late Medieval date but very heavily restored.

There is also an old parish chest in the north aisle.

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: A series of interesting early- to mid-16th century brasses. Various other good monuments, including Thomas Potter (ob. 1611). Unique Royal Arms of Edward VI on north wall of tower (and 1804 Royal Arms to south).

Size & Shape: Large rectangular area around church on north, east and south, with steep hill down to east, and large extension downhill to NE.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: Brick and sandstone wall on west and north-west.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: Buildings along west boundary - brick house.

Exceptional monuments: Some good headstones.

Ecological potential: ? Yes

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

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): Chapel of Edenbridge attached.

Late med. status: Vicarage appropriated 1290 to Christ Church Priory, Canterbury, by King Edward I (in exchange for the Port of Sandwich).

Patron: Crown, then from 1290, Christ Church Priory, Canterbury. Then to Henry VIII and on into private hands after the Dissolution.

Other documentary sources: Hasted III (1797), 172-9, mentions `the uppermost part of the north (a)isle . . ., called the organ room', given as the burial place of the Strood family of Squerries, from 1637.

Test. Cant. (West Kent 1906), 80-81. To be buried in `St Katheryn chauncell next the grave of my father' (1522). `To the reparacion of the body of the church' (1539).

Reused materials: Reigate stone as rubble in later walls.

Inside present church: Good, as east end levels are raised.

Outside present church: ? Good

To graveyard: Ugly 1969 extension added on north-west side of church.

The church and churchyard: A very heavily over-restored church with all windows of the 19th century. However the west tower and east wall of the chancel are of the 13th century, and there are north and south aisles and chapels, probably of the 14th century. All the very fine arcades, and nave and north and south aisle roofs, are of an earth 16th century rebuilding.

The wider context: One of a group of churches with much nave rebuilding in the years just before the Reformation.

REFERENCES: S Glynne, Churches of Kent (1877), 280-1. See especially his description of the three east windows. Brief notes by Dr Maude, the Revd G M Livett and Revd C E Woodruff in Arch. Cant. 31(1915) 1ii - 1viii.

Guide book: by P T Jones (1948, and many later reprintings and some revisions).

Photographs: Kent Churches 1954, 151 : shows the c. 1548 Royal Arms.

Plans and drawings: Petrie view of 1802 from SE showing two x three-light early Tudor windows of south wall of south chapel. Roughly phased plan on north aisle north wall.

DATES VISITED: 24.8.94                                              REPORT BY Tim Tatton-Brown

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