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extension of
All Saints' Church

 

 

 
 
St Marys Church
Fawkham Valley Road, Fawkham
St Marys, Fawkham

 

A BRIEF HISTORY

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.

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 steeples.

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 sconce.

Above the north door, which now gives access to the vestry, is the recovered Norman arch of the north processional door.

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

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 church.

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 has survived.

© Fawkham & Hartley PCC 2001
LOCATION
St Marys Church 1876                                     St Mary's Church 2001

   
 

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Fax: 01474 704972
Email: info@fawkhamandhartley.org.uk
The Rectory
3 St John's Lane
Hartley
Kent DA3 8ET

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