St Martin's Church The Later Years

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St Martin's Church The Later Years
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This is the first article of a new section of the website detailing buildings in Great Mongeham. Although most of the articles in this section will feature houses there will be one or two featuring other buildings, including this first article which covers St Martin's Church.

Chapter 3 of the History of Great Mongeham covers the history of the church up to the eighteenth century. Throughout its history the church would have periods when it fell into disrepair. At some time before 1800 the south aisle either collapsed or was demolished. This article covers later developments in the story of Saint Martin's Church, Great Mongeham.

By the time the Reverend Edward Penny became incumbent in March, 1849 the church was described as being in a ‘deplorable condition’. Penny was a respected preacher, one of the six preachers in Canterbury Cathedral. Using his own wealth he set about restoration of the church. For this he enlisted the help of William Butterworth, a member of the Cambridge Camden Society (a society founded in 1839 by undergraduates of Cambridge University to promote ‘the study of Gothic architecture and of Ecclesiastical Antiques’) and a renowned church architect. The restoration has been quite controversial. Igglesden in Saunters through Kent thought it lucky that “he at once determined to restore the church”, so that “to-day St. Martin’s is one of the best-groomed churches in this part of Kent”. On the other hand Newman in The buildings of England, North East and East Kent maintained that St. Martin’s “complicated history [was] interfered with by Butterfield in his cruel restoration of 1851”.

Butterfield’s restoration of the church was done in accordance with the prevailing mood of the day. It was the period when the ideas of the Arts and Crafts movement were just developing. Gothic architecture was very much in vogue. Butterfield attempted to return the church to what he believed to be its true mediaeval condition. In a letter to The Ecclesiologist (Volume published February, 1855) the Reverend Penny takes to task the way the restoration was described in the December issue. The letter demonstrates true concern for the historical accuracy of the restoration. The correspondence has been appended at the end of this article.

Penny has recorded in the front of the parish register the timetable for the restoration. The chancel of the church was re-roofed and entirely restored in 1851-52. In 1853 the nave was re-roofed and the seventeenth century porch was demolished to make way for South aisle. The present porch was built to replace it. The East and west windows together with the North and South windows of the chancel fitted with stained glass in June and September 1861. A website for St. George’s Episcopal Church, Dakota shows a window claiming to be made from glass from the old windows dating from 1685, but when I contacted the church, they were unable give a confirmation. The lychgate alt was also built under the direction of Rev. Penny. Inside it bears the date of construction (1864) (photos right and below).alt

Detailing the many alterations to the church is beyond the scope of this short history. However one more change should be mentioned. The wooden screen was moved from its original position under the chancel arch to its present position dividing the nave from the tower.

In 1860 Great Mongeham farm was owned by the Comtesse di Morella. She was born Marianne Catherine Richards and married Ramon Cabrera in the 1850s. Because upkeep of the Lady Chapel was the obligation of the owner of the farm she paid for its restoration.

Upkeep of the church was a perennial problem. The exact quote from Archbishop Wareham’s visitation of 1511 is “John Craford fermor of the rectory appeared, and was enjoined to repair the Chancel sufficiently before the Feast of the Assumption under pain of sequestration”. A fermor was a collector of Church taxes. Penny’s restoration was timely but not to modern taste. Plastering up of masons’ marks, the replacement of seventeenth century glass, the dark tiles and the heavy appearance of the chancel have all been criticised.

So what are we to make of The restoration commissioned by Penny and carried out by Butterworth? Newman maintains “its complicated history [was] interfered with by Butterfield in his cruel restoration of 1851”. Iggleswoth tells us that “massive masonry was erected to cut off the two chapels, and the lower part of one fine arch was filled in. The wooden screen gave place to a low stone one with quatrefoil apertures pierced through it. The whole effect is to make the chancel heavy in appearance. ”

However Igglesworth thought it lucky that Penny carried out the restoration when he did. He reports “The little porch was almost falling to pieces, the mullions of most of the windows were crumbling, the west door was in ruins and the roof of the chancel was so bad that rain poured through and birds made their nests inside”. Butterfield was the leading ecclesiastical architect of his day.

Penny’s letter to The Ecclesiologist indicated that most of the stonework was left intact although the interior was much changed.. Some changes, such as the removal of the ceiling of the North aisle to expose the clerestory windows, were a great improvement. Others, such as moving the wooden rood screen, may not have been so. These were Penny Graveearly days of restoration of historic buildings. Nowadays we believe buildings should show continuity, so the removal of sixteenth century features such as the porch and stained glass windows would not be considered the right thing to do. But at the time Penny thought he was making a faithful restoration. Let us leave the last words to the editor’s reponse to Penny’s letter. “We assure Mr. Penny that there was no intention to assume ‘a tone of depreciation,’in speaking of a work which, we sincerely hope and trust, will act as an example of care and reverence for the Church." The photo (left) shows the grave of the Reverend Edward Penny who is buried close to the back gate of the churchyard.

The last of the Penny restorations took place nearly 150 years ago, but work did not stop there. As any home owner knows, buildings do not remain in a good state of repair indefinitely, so maintenance is an ongoing process. A list of all changes over the last century and a half would be tedious, so I will restrict myself to just a couple.

In 1935 , to celebrate King George the Fifth’s Silver Jubilee a pair of oak gates were placed at the lych gate. There was a tablet on the perpendicular post of the lych which had the inscription “To the glory of God. These gates were set up by the people and friends of Great Mongeham to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of his Majesty King George V., 1935. God Save the King. Rector, Rev. W. St. C. Drennan, M. Sc.” That tablet is no longer there.

In recent times the stained glass windows have been impressively restored and new gates placed at the back entrance. The massive oak doors into the tower have also been skilfully repaired. There are now impressive plans for a complete refurbishment of the interior to create a community space.

One item , however is in desperate need of attention. The Crayford monument is in immediate danger of falling off the wall, so if anyone, for instance Crayford descendents, share my concern, perhaps they could set up a fund for its restoration.

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