George Church, Wrotham
TQ 612 592
ROCHESTER DIOCESE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1995
LOCATION: On the north side of a small `square' in
Wrotham village with slope to south, and steep slope to road on the
west at about 430ft above OD. This is the main medieval road from
London to Maidstone. The church is on lower chalk, and the site of the
Archbishop's Manor house/palace is to the south-east, and the
Parsonage house was north-west of the church.
DESCRIPTION: From the early Norman period (and probably the late
Anglo-Saxon period), this was an important church belonging to the
Archbishop. It has a large nave and chancel and two large gabled
As is usual, the nave is the earliest surviving part of
the church, and it probably dates from the late 11th or early
12th century, though the only visible evidence for this is the
(reset) tufa quoins at the south-west corner and the tufa quoins on
the north-east side of the nave.
The chancel was completely rebuilt in the later 13th
century, though all its windows have subsequently been replaced.
Inside it, there is a roll-moulding going all the way around, below
the windows, and on the south-east side is an ogee-headed piscina
(with unusual ball-flower stops) of c. 1300. There is also an
aumbry to the north-east. The chancel arch and the nave arcades are
also later 13th century with round piers, though there is
evidence that the nave arcades, with double chamfered arches, were
rebuilt later. (There are only 3 wide bays on the south, but four on
the north, and the western responds to the arcades are semi-octagonal
with hollow chamfers, suggesting a rebuilding in the late 15th
There is also a fire Purbeck marble octagonal font bowl
of the 13th century on eight columns. It was reset on a new
base in the 19th century.
The nave clearly had received aisles by the 13th
century, if not earlier, but the final enlargement of the church was
in the early 14th century when the two aisles were completely
rebuilt. The north aisle, which was terraced into the hill side,
originally had a doorway (now blocked) at the west end of the north
wall. It also contains an early 14th century tomb recess
(restored) in the north wall towards the east, and a piscina in the
south-east corner. The 14th century roof (a simple trussed
rafter one) probably survives over this aisle, as do contemporary
roofs over the nave and south aisle. The latter has moulded
wall-plates and is still ceiled in. The three two-light square-headed
windows on the north side of the north aisle are also all early 14th
century, though restored externally.
The south aisle has had half its windows replaced later,
but the fine `Decorated' east window is still there as well as a fine
early 14th century south doorway (with a stoup, with pyramid
stops, just inside the doorway on the east). Of unique interested is
the spiral stair-turret in the north-east corner of the south aisle
which leads up to a narrow gallery high above the chancel arch. Small
rectangular slit windows look out into the nave and chancel, as well
as onto the outside area on the east. The doorway into the south aisle
at the bottom of the stair has a wide lancet above it with original
glazing bars. This doorway is close to the altar, which was set in the
cut-down window embrasure (there is an ogee-headed piscina in the
south jamb opposite. (This was probably the altar to Our Lady). Two
pairs of three-light `Decorated' windows were also inserted into the
chancel at this time, as well as a three-light east window (destroyed
in 1856). External buttresses seem also to have been added at this
time, as well as a new chancel roof.
In the later 14th century two-light windows were
inserted into the west walls of the aisles, and a south porch was
added. This has a quadripartite rib vault in it (with an angel holding
a shield as the boss). In the extreme south-west corner of the south
aisle a doorway was made which leads to a spiral stair up to the first
floor chamber over the porch (the stair turret was rebuilt in 1965).
The upper parapet of the porch is crenellated. A new five-light east
window was put into the north aisle in the 15th century
(restored externally in Portland stone).
Later in the 15th century, a new west tower was
added to the nave, which was entered by a tall perpendicular arch. A
spiral stair was built on its north-east side to lead to the upper
levels. Most unusual, however, is the vaulted passage under the
western half of the tower. This was made because the ground drops away
steeply to the main High road on the west, and it allowed processions
to pass directly under the tower from the north-west to south-west
part of the churchyard. The vaulted passage has three bays of
quadripartite rib-vaults (in Reigate stone). The west window in the
tower is a restored three-light window in the early 14th
century (Decorated) style, and it may just possibly have come
originally from the west wall of the nave. The upper part of the tower
has a two-light round-headed window with a square hood-mould (on the
south), and a crenellated parapet. There are also round-headed
brick-linked windows here (restored by R Wheeler in 1876). Two extra
bells were added to the peel of six in 1754 (all recast in 1911).
In the early 16th century, a new vestry was added
to the north-west side of the chancel. Its north-west doorway is a
restored 19th century one, but the square-headed windows on the
north and east are original. (The diagonal buttresses have restored
brick quoins). Under the chancel arch is a heavily restored early 16th
A major restoration of the church was carried out in
1860-1 under Newman and Billing, and tiled floors, pulpit, etc, put
in. In 1907 a Sir Ninian Comper reredos was put in behind the south
aisle altar, while the west window of St Alban Wood Street in London
was inserted into the east wall of the chancel in 1958 to replace the
1856 one (it is in Portland Stone and dates from 1633-4 or 1682-7, ie
Inigo Jones or Wren).
BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
Tufa used in the nave quoins, probably from the original church. A
little Reigate stone survived from 13th century dressings (eg
in the east wall) as well as ? Caenstone. In the rubble walls of the
chancel was local flint, ironstone and some tufa and Ragstone.
Ironstone blocks were used for many early 14th century buttress
quoins, as well as some Rag. Reigate stone was also used in some later
dressing, like the rib-vault under the tower.
Some repairs are in brick (eg vestry buttress quoins) but most of the
19th century restorations were done with Bath stone. The east
windows of the chancel and north aisle are in Portland Stone.
EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: Quite a large number of brasses (late
15th century-early 16th century) and wall monuments.
Monuments to H Moore (1840) and G Moore (1845) in window embrasures on
either side of the chancel.
CHURCHYARD AND ENVIRONS: Size & Shape: Large rectangular area
around church, with c. 19th century )extensions to north
(also later 19th century detached extension to north). It
terraces down steeply on the south, west, and east.
Condition: Quite good
Boundary walls: Brick and stone walls to west and south-west.
Exceptional monuments: Some good headstones and tombs in south and
Ecological potential: ? Yes, several fastigiated yews, etc, in
HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Doomsday Book (1086)
Evidence of pre-Norman status (DB, DM, TR etc): Possibly a Minster
church, with Stansted and ? other chapels attached to it.
Late med. status: Rectory and vicarage from the later 13th
century, with the vicarage endowed from the mid-14th century.
From 1715 the Rectory and vicarage were combined.
Patron: The Archbishop of Canterbury (within the exempt Deanery of
Other documentary sources: Hasted V (1798), 26-32. TS Frampton's
important list of all Rectors and vicars from 1239-41 (with full notes
and references (up to 1898) is on the west wall of the south aisle.
Some pre-Reformation wills in Test. Cant. (W Kent, 1906), 83,
including 4 marks given in 1404 for buying bells.
SURVIVAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DEPOSITS:
Inside present church: ? Good.
Outside present church: Good, but drainage ditch cut on north in 1961.
To structure: Plaster removed from lower wall in south aisle, chancel,
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT:
The church and churchyard: A fine large church with c. late 11th
century nave and late 13th century chancel. Fourteenth century
north and south aisles with unique stair-turret to bridge-passage over
the chancel arch. Later additions are the vaulted early perpendicular
south porch; the large west tower and the early 16th century
The wider context: One of a small group of large archiepiscopal
churches, near a major manor/palace on the main road across Kent.
REFERENCES: S R Glynne, Notes on the Churches of Kent (1877),
295-6. - He visited before the 1860-1 restoration. For the east window
of 1958 (from St Alban Wood St) see W F Grimes The Excavation of
Roman and Medieval London (1968), 203-9 + RCHM London IV
Guide book: Very inaccurate leaflet (undated or signed).
Photographs: The boss over the vaulted porch is illustrated in Kent
Churches 1954, 50.
Plans and drawings: Petrie view from SE (1799) in K A S Library,
showing 3-light ? Decorated E window.
DATE VISITED: 8th May
REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown