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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St Mary the Virgin Church, Wingham          TR 2423 5745

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1993

LOCATION: The church lies on the west side of the village at only c. 25ft above O.D. Wingham Court is to the south, and the provost's house (for Wingham College) lay immediately S.E. of the church until demolished in the early 19th century. The major north-south market street lies a little further north-east.

DESCRIPTION: In the late Anglo-Saxon period, as Domesday Monachorum tells us, Wingham was a major 'minster' church with various chapels pertaining to it. After the Norman Conquest, it was perhaps rebuilt as a cruciform church, but the earliest visible above-ground remains are the west walls of the north and south transepts, which contain arches of the very late 12th century that once ran into the nave aisles. Reused materials at the N. end of the church, however, suggest some early 12th cent. work eg. The chip-carved block at the S.W. quoin. The form of the later transepts, east of these walls, does however suggest an earlier cruciform building with an aisled nave before c. 1200.
   In 1282 a new college was founded at Wingham by Archbishop Peckham, and the first provost of the new foundation was appointed in 1287. As a result of this the whole of the eastern arm of the church was rebuilt with a large chancel and a flanking transept chapel on either side. This new work of the late 13th century is characterised by a continuous external roll moulded string-course, which can also be seen in the north wall of the north transept. There is also an internal Purbeck marble string course at a similar height (under the windows) all around the inside of the chancel. The window tracery in the chancel and east side of the south transept also suggest a late 13th century date. The small projecting altar bay in the south transept is similar to those in the nearby contemporary churches of Adisham and Ickham. The asymmetric arrangement of windows in the chancel may also suggest that there was already a north-east chapel. All other evidence for this, however, was removed when the two-story 15th century (? Vestry) addition was made here. The chancel also contains a fine sedilia on the south side, as well as a contemporary piscina and aumbry in the east wall.
   The five easternmost stall seats on either side (with carved miserecords) must also date from soon after the completion of the new chancel for the canons.
   The fine west tower to the church was also probably built in the later 13th century, though the tower arch into the nave may be a little later. In the first stage of the tower (where the clock mechanism is now situated), are the remains of the 13th century lancets and the rubble masonry contains quite a lot of reused (c. 12th century) material. There is a Hythe stone plinth and large Hythe stone side alternate quoins in the buttresses. The top stage of the tower (belfry) contains pairs of windows with trefoiled heads of a late 13th century date. Internally these windows have had their heads rebuilt fairly recently in buff stock-bricks.
   The fine spire on top is fully described in Arch. Cant. 108 (1990), 277-80. It perhaps dates from the 14th century and was similar to the (now-destroyed) spire at Minster-in-Thanet. Until 1793 it was covered in lead. This was then replaced with copper, which has recently (1990) been renewed again.
   The south door and porch may also be late 13th or early 14th century in date. It was originally a two-storied structure, but the tie-beams of the first floor have been removed (perhaps in the 16th century).
   As already mentioned the structure on the east side of the north transept was originally a two-storied building (? Vestry) of the 15th century. It has one diagonal buttress, and parts of the original windows can be seen in the north and east walls where they are bricked up. At ground floor level they were simple pairs of rectangular windows, while at first floor level they had pairs of Perpendicular windows. The earlier N. windows can be seen below and east of the 18th century 'Venetian' window. There was also a small rectangular window on the south side (with wide internal splays) looking into the chancel.
   From the evidence of wills, a major rebuilding of the nave, without a north aisle, was going on from at least 1493. This was being done with reused materials and high quality knapped flintwork and clearly took a long time. At the west end of the north wall, there are two square-headed 3-light windows which were perhaps the last to be put in (There is a diagonal bonding break just below the eastern window here). The work was almost certainly unfinished at the Reformation, when we have the now well-known documentary evidence for the building funds being embezzled. As a result, a timber arcade seems to have been built (the upper north and south walls contain reused drums from a stone arcade - perhaps prepared, but not used) in the 1550s. The two roofs over the nave and south aisle are of late crown-post type, and the west gable to the south aisle is made of 16th century brickwork (with a tumbled-in-slope). The timber posts were plastered and given early renaissance arches and capitals but these were destroyed in 1873.
   From the early 17th century, the disused north and south transept chapels were taken over by the Palmer and Oxenden families as burial places ( and family pews). They still contain may fine monuments. The north transept acquired a new roof with hipped ends in the 17th century, and new red brick work was put into the late 12th cent. arch on the west (with an external buttress) when Thomas Palmer's monument was put in 1718. This transept later became a schoolroom, and is now a vestry with the organ at the west end. The new reredos and round window in the east wall of the chancel was also constructed in the early 18th century.
   In 1873-5 a major restoration was carried out under Benjamin Ferrey mainly in the chancel. He rebuilt the chancel arch and east window (with Bath stone and Purbeck marble) and also replaced much of the external tracery and quoining. He also removed the late 16th century wood and plaster arches in the nave, leaving plain wooden posts. The upper part of the contemporary chancel screen was also removed as well as the pulpit and sounding board and the box pews.
   In 1990, a new room was made under the tower, and the chancel was stripped of most of its c. 1875 fittings. The base of the Rood screen was removed and put against the chancel walls.

BUILDING MATERIALS: In the earliest church (evidence from reused materials) Tufa and Caen was used. Then from the late 12th century Reigate stone, as well as Caen is brought in. From the later 13th century Hythe stone is used for plinths, quoins etc., with some internal Purbeck marble (shafts, abaci and string course). For the early 16th century work, much high quality knapped flintwork is used for facing, along with reused materials. The mid-16th century arcade posts are of chestnut (with repairs in ? oak). The west gable of the south aisle is in 16th century brickwork, while 17th and 18th century brickwork can be seen in the Palmer and Oxenden chapel outer walls. The 1873-5 restoration was done with Bath stone and heavily pointed flintwork. A recent repair of the south-east buttress of the south transept is in concrete block!

EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: Some fine brass indents in chancel floor.
Also Sir Thomas Palmer (ob. 1624) by N. Stone, and other Palmer monuments in the north chapel as well as the magnificent Oxenden monument (1682) and other monuments in the south chapel.

Boundary walls: Early brick boundary walls on south (? late 16th century), east and north. The wall east of the chancel has diaper work and to the south a door into the old provosts house, as well as yellow decorative brick.

Exceptional monuments: Some fine 18th century headstones in churchyard.

Ecological potential: ? Good

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Domesday Monachorum

Evidence of pre-Norman status (DM, DM, TR etc): Minster Church, with Ash, Nonington, Ratling, Womenswold, 'Wielmestun' and 'Eadredestun' attached to it. In 1282, Ash, Goodnestone, Nonington and Womenswold were given separate parochial status.

Late med. status: (rectory\vicarage\appropriation): The new parishes (above) of Ash, Goodnestone, Nonington, and Womenswold were appropriated to Wingham College till 1548.

Patron: Archbishop - Collegiate - from 1282- 1548, then from 1554 a perpetual curacy.

Other documentary sources: See Hasted IX (1800), 237-241 Testamenta Caniana (E. Kent, 1907), 366-8 mentions burial in churchyard from 1464. Also 'repairs to nave' 1493; 'towards the building of Wingham Church', 1526; 'to the building up of the church', if it be builded again' 1541; 'towards the covering of Wingham church', 1544. To the reparation of the church the 6s. 8d. which I lent unto the churchwardens to pay the mason', 1549. 'To the building of the church', 1555 'Towards the rehedifying of the be delivered at such time as the sowers shall begin to work', 1558. 'Towards the building of the', 1559. To make a window and two new piers', 1562.

Reused materials: Early 12th cent. chip-carved Caen block at S.W. quoin.

Inside present church: Good

Outside present church: ? Quite good - but large drainage ditch dug around church. Site of north aisle to north of nave with ? early floors and burials.

To structure: New screen and ringers floor into tower, 1990-91. Panels at base of Rood-screen removed and put against walls in 1991.

To floors: For new W.C. + sink under tower.

To graveyard: Sewer trench dug west from tower.

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): R. Jones

The church and churchyard: This fine church is now largely of two phases, a late 13th century chancel, west tower and porch, and a rebuilt nave and south aisle of the first half of the 16th century. There is a fine medieval timber spire and the remains of stalls (and miserecords) in the chancel, as well as brass indents.

The church also contains some quite exceptional post-medieval (particularly 17th century) monuments.

The wider context: This was one of the ancient minster churches of Kent, so the archaeological deposits beneath are of great importance.

REFERENCES: A Hussey + A H Taylor 'Wingham Church' (with Aymer Vallance), Arch. Cant. 40 (1928), 131-40. T. Tatton-Brown + R. Austin 'The spires on the parish churches of St Mary at Minster-in-Thanet and Wingham', Arch. Cant. 108 (1990), 277-280. A Hussey Chronicles of Wingham, S.R. Glynne Kent Churches (1877), 108-110.

Guide Book: by David Eaves + Maurice Crane (Undated, but c. 1987-9) with plan.

Photographs: Chancel + nave looking west in Kent Churches 1954 p.58. Also Decorated windows on S.E. side of chancel, p.89.

Plans & drawings: Lithograph by William Burgess (c. 1840-50) looking east + H. Petrie view from S.W. in very early 19th cent. with large Provosts (later Palmer family's) house to east. It was demolished soon after (c. 1825). Also print of church from the south in Gents. Mag. (July 1792), p.594.

DATE VISITED:5th March 1988, 24th September 1989, 3rd & 8th April 1993

REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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