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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

  St Michael All Angels Church, Wilmington    TQ 538 725

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1993

LOCATION: At c. 100ft above O.D. and mile west of the Darent (c. 1 mile south-south-west of Dartford). Wilmington House lies immediately east of the church, on the other side of the Dartford road.

DESCRIPTION: Only the nave roof and the masonry of the west end (west wall and two short return walls) survive above ground of the medieval church, and it is probable that this is the west end of the late 11th century nave, as a small single-splayed round-headed window opening (Reopened in 1881) survives in the south return wall. (There is no evidence for it being pre-conquest). The church could well have been rebuilt when it was given by bishop Gundulf to Rochester Priory. The west wall is unfortunately covered externally is pebble dash, but the two west buttresses have been uncovered and these reveal large Ragstone side-alternate quoins with a plinth. These buttresses probably date from the 14th century when the bell-cote for three bells ( and perhaps spire) were first put in. Between the buttresses in the original gable end is a keyhole-shaped window with wide internal splays (uncovered 1881). This window probably dates from the early 13th century and a few small Caen and Reigate stone blocks in the outer angles between the buttresses and the west wall may also be of a 13th century date. The other visible masonry is in flint rubble.

The fine barrel-vaulted nave roof (the ceiling was removed in 1879-80) with moulded wall-plates perhaps dates from the late 15th or 16th century. At about the same time a Rood-loft was put in, and Hasted (Vol. II, 1797, p.575) records 'in the north wall of the chancel, as may be seen in the churchyard, there was anciently a door which seems to have communicated with stairs leading to a Rood loft, of which a beam which now marks the separation between the nave and the chancel, was probably a part.' Hasted also records (Vol.II additions p.575) 'From the remains of arches in the south wall of the present aisle, it is plain that there was one southward of it, that extended the whole length of it, the east end is remaining and is made of as a vestry room.' This is all well shown in H. Petrie's very early 19th century view of the church from the south. The square font tub, with partly cut curving sides, like a cushion capital is made from a single block of Tufa, and perhaps dates from the 12th century.

In the post-medieval period, the usual galleries were added (a west one first in 1641, and a south gallery in the nave in 1712 with separate external access for the owners/occupiers of Wilmington House over the road - for more details, see the History (op. city. inf.) There is a pulpit, dated 1655 (compare early 17th century pulpits at Crayford and North Cray.

Very many changes took place in the 19th century during the great period of population expansion. These are fully documented in the History. In summary, the steeple was repaired and reslated and given a new weather vane in 1812-14. The chancel was rebuilt in c. 1835. Its east window is now in the south wall of the south (Lady) chapel. Then a new brick north aisle (and arcade) in 1840. The church was repewed and the south gallery, etc., removed in 1867-8. The nave roof was restored in 1879-80. Then a new south aisle in 1881, and in 1884 a new chancel, when the north clergy and choir vestries and south chapel were also built. The west gallery was removed. The tower was restored and a west porch was added in 1909, and in 1922 the north arcade was rebuilt in Bath stone (the 1840 arcade was of brick and cement, with iron supports which were rusting and breaking up).

BUILDING MATERIALS: The original materials were probably only of flint rubble, but as noted above there are some (? 13th cent.) blocks in the west wall of Caen and Reigate stone, and c. 14th century buttress quoins of Ragstone. The 19th century work is in brick and Bath stone, now covered externally by pebble and stone dash renders. The 1884 external facing of the eastern arm is in Ragstone laid like crazy-paving.

Size & Shape: See plans of churchyard, and extensions in 1801, 1867, 1905 and 1952 in the History (see infra). The cemetery is now a large mature 'Urban churchyard' to the west and south-west of the church, with some big specimen trees.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: There is a c. 18th century brick boundary to the road on the south-east.

Earthworks: within: None, terracing down the hill to the north.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: -

Exceptional monuments: Remains of fine mid-18th cent. tomb-monument to Sir Edward Halse, Bart. to S.W. of church. Also some fine later 17th and 18th century tombstones.

Ecological potential: Yes - many trees, etc.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Textus Roffensis, as 'Wilmentuna'.

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc.): Chapel attached to Sutton-at-Hone, paying 6d. for Chism, until 1253 (along with Kingsdown).

Late med. status: Vicarage - endowed by Bishop Laurence in 1253.

Patron: From late 11th century, the monks of St Andrew, Rochester (given with Sutton-at-Hone and Kingsdown, by Bishop Gundulf). Then after the Reformation, to the Dean and Chapter of Rochester.

Other documentary sources: Wills mention burial in the 'Cymetery of the Holy Archangel St Michael of Wilmington' (1495), and John Hasylwood 1528) asking to be buried in the churchyarde of Wylmynton a genste ye west dore there.'

Reused materials: A few reused Roman brick in W. wall.

Inside present church: Probably disturbed by 19th century enlargements, but much of the earlier church should remain below the floor as foundations, etc.

To graveyard: Small 'Garden of Rest' made to the west of the church.

The church and churchyard: Despite being almost completely demolished in the 19th century, the west end of the c. late 11th century chapel survives, and this is an important fragment. There is also a fine late Medieval nave roof.

The wider context: One of a group of early Norman churches and chapels in the Darent Valley.

REFERENCES: See Guide, and History (below).

Guide Book: Brief short guide with plan (photos of pulpit + font) by S J Stringer (Jan. 1989). Also fuller, very useful, History of Wilmington Parish Church (Aug.1988) by S J Stringer, showing particularly the 19th/20th cent. major changes.

Plans & drawings: In History (see supra), also H. Petrie's early 19th century view from S.W. (in K.A.S. Library).

DATE VISITED: 11/5/93                                              REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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