The Church of St Mary, Fawkham, set in a valley
of the North Downs of Kent, almost certainly occupies the site of its
Saxon predecessor; that church, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book,
was probably of wood and no trace of it remains. The present church dates
from the early 12th century and was doubtless built by one of a Norman
family that had settled in Fawkham, taking their name - de Faukeham -
from this place. Their manor house stood a stone's throw from the east
end of the church; its foundations still lie beneath the pleasant meadow
that encircles the churchyard on three sides.
This Norman church was a simple building of
nave and chancel, made largely from chalk and flint and timber, all materials
that lay close at hand, and so to a remarkable degree it has remained.
The few additions are the south porch andthe bell-turret, both medieval,
and a tiny vestry and store. The walls continue plastered in the medieval
manner; only in their larger windows, mostly inserted in the early 14th
century, is major change to be seen.
At the Reformation the wall paintings that
had long beautified the interior of the church were whitewashed over and
in the 17th century were replaced by painted texts. Much, maybe all, of
the ancient glass survived those times. When in the late 18th century
John Thorpe described this 'building of deep antiquity' he referred to
the glass in the west window, though it was not wholly complete, as 'the
most antient and perfect' of any that he had seen in the diocese. Sadly,
much of the glass has since been lost.
In Victorian times restoration, usually drastic,
was the order of the day and at Fawkham, as often elsewhere, some restoration
was essential, for the church had fallen victim to damp and decay. Some
changes were then made, but not all remain. In the nineteen-twenties,
major refurnishing of the chancel initiated a series of further improvements.
These included, after serious flooding of the church in 1958, a complete
restoration of the nave. Re-arrangement of the sanctuary followed a few
years later. These times also saw much reparation of the ancient fabric,
as well as such diverse works as the resolution of the problem of church
heating and the recovery of some of the long-lost treasures from the past.
An early discovery, and the most remarkable, was of the wall painting
on the north wall of the nave.
Entry to the nave is through the charming
south porch, which is 14th century but much renewed. The ancient south
door has at some time been adjusted to the present floor level; an earlier
level, with some old tiling, may be seen in a small area between the organ
and the south wall.
The font nearby seemingly consists of a Norman
bowl on an octagonal stem of the Perpendicular period. On the evidence
of the church's old register book, there were between six and seven hundred
christenings at this font from 1568 to 1812; there would, too, have been
many before 1568 and there have been many since 1812.
Also at the west end of the nave are the great
oak posts that carry the bell-turret. One authority has suggested a very
early date for these posts, but the structure that they now support has
been attributed to the late 15th century. In 1552 there were two bells
'suted in the Steple', but Fawkham has long made do with one. This bell
still figures in the records of the Whitechapel foundry, where it was
made in 1604 by Robert Mot. It is the latest of his bells hanging in Kentish
At ground level beneath the belfry are a number
of tombstones moved thither in Victorian times, mostly from the chancel.
All save one are 17th century and these carry a series of brasses associated
with the family of Walter, who lived at Pennis in this parish. The brasses
include one to Dorcas Walter, whose father was Surveyor of Windsor Castle
in the reign of Elizabeth I, and another to her brother-in-law, Richard
Meredith, who was 'clarke of the catrye unto Queene Elizabeth and unto
Kinge James' and so responsible for provisioning the royal household.
A separate brass displays Meredith's arms.
The elegant 18th century heraldic ledger stone,
formerly in the nave aisle, commemorates three generations of the family
of Scudder, whose farmhouse, 'Scudders', yet remains.
The 13th century west door was blocked in
1893 in an attempt to prevent future flooding of the church. Above it
is the window that once housed the ancient glass so much admired by Thorpe
and which appears from its known heraldry to have been a memorial to one
of the de Faukehams, who was depicted therein dressed as a pilgrim.
Near a Norman window in the west wall, reopened
in modern times, is a circle in the plaster that was the site of a consecration
cross, one of the crosses anointed by the bishop when the church was consecrated
and before which candles were kept burning. Beneath is the socket of the
Above the north door, which now gives access
to the vestry, is the recovered Norman arch of the north processional
The great glory of the nave is the 13th century
wall painting of our Lord in majesty. This occupies a central position
on the north wall and is the only survival of substance from the wealth
of painting that once adorned the church. Jesus is depicted beardless,
which is unusual, and with upraised hands displaying the marks of the
nails. The painting is of high quality and splendid in simple dignity.
If but one painting was to remain, it is remarkable that it should have
been this one.
On the south wall is a substantial fragment
from the 17th century texts, recovered about 1964. Nearby is a recessed
wall tomb of the early 14th century, with ogee cusping; it is probably
a de Faukeham tomb. Another feature of the south wall is a small piscine,
possibly Norman and, if so, of great rarity. The altar which it served
may have been that of the chantry of St. Katherine once in this church.
The chancel arch is gone and nave and chancel
are now separated by an oak memorial screen. This and the chancel furnishings
all belong to the present century. The focal point is, of course, the
altar and here the eye is drawn to the simple expressive cross, set above
the oaken table against a dossal of rich colour.
The Decorated east window, which replaced
three little Norman windows that can be traced on the exterior wall, is
flanked on its north side by a ceramic plaque of the Annunciation, brought
from Italy and here erected as a memorial to alady of the Hohler family.
The Hohlers came to the newly built Fawkham Manor in 1870 and remained
eighty years; many memorials to members of the family may be seen in the
Beside the east window on its south side is
the Walter Memorial, raised by Dorcas Walter to the memory of her husband,
John Walter, who died in 1626. As its inscription records, John Walter
founded a charity for the annual provision of coats and gowns for poor
men and women of the parishes of Fawkham, Ash and Hartley (which garments
were duly provided until the onset of clothes' rationing in the Second
World War). The memorial, an impressive example of the craftsmanship of
the time, is mainly of cream coloured alabaster with inlaid marble panels
of various colours and much rich ornamentation. Within a recess, John
and Dorcas Walter face each other in effigy, kneeling at a prie-dieu with
their hands clasped in prayer. Dorcas was evidently a little woman and
so kneels upon a larger cushion than her husband.
In the north sanctuary wall, reaching up to
the splay of a Norman window, is a fine recessed wall tomb of the 13th
century that occupies the traditional position of a 'Founder's Tomb' -
the tomb of a benefactor which could be used as an Easter Sepulchre. This
may be regarded with fair confidence as the burial place of Sir William
de Faukeham, sometime trusted servant and a marshal of the household of
King Henry III, and also the site of a chantry that he founded in this
church in 1274 and where masses were to be said for himself and his successors
and in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the tomb slab is now placed
a broken 13th century coffin cover that is ornamented with a cross set
on steps and so called a 'calvary'.
The piscine used to cleanse the sacred vessels
after mass at the high altar is here, as usually, found in the south sanctuary
wall. It is a double piscine, which is much less usual, and may be dated
to about the year 1300.
In 1930 the late Sir Thomas Hohler entrusted
to Mr. Webb of East Grinstead the task of re-arranging the remaining fragments
of the church's ancient glass; the result is the beautiful Webb window
in the south chancel wall. The glass mostly belongs to the 14th century,
but includes three little blue foliage sprigs from the 13th century and
some silvery white pieces of 15th century canopy work. Three shields of
arms are displayed, one with the leopards of England that was originally
in the east window, another which is a reconstituted de Faukeham coat
and the third, showing six gold stars on a blue field, that came from
the south nave window and has not been identified. The words 'Istam Fenestram',
tantalising in their anonymity, have long been the only part remaining
of the inscription in the west window. From that window also comes the
lovely picture, largely complete, of St. Anne teaching the child Mary
to read. It is to Mary that the church is dedicated and one marvels again
that, with so much lost, it should have been this particular picture that