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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St George Church, Wrotham         TQ 612 592

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 aisles.
   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 century.)
   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 century Rood-screen.
   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 south-east part.

Ecological potential: ? Yes, several fastigiated yews, etc, in churchyard.

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 Shoreham).

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.

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, etc.

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 north-east vestry.

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 (The City).

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 1995                                   REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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