The Story of St. Martin's Church

After defeating Harold at Hastings, William the Conqueror sent out his commissioners to survey the whole of his new kingdom so he could raise taxes more efficiently. Thus was written the ‘Domesday Book’, which was completed in 1087.

In it is the first record of a church in Mongeham,

“There is a church. It was worth £22 TRE; and afterwards £10”.

This short sentence tells us that there was a church in Mongeham in the reign of Edward the Confessor, but it is most likely the one at Little Mongeham. Evidence for a church in Great Mongeham was supplied by the Reveend Tonks in his short history of the village and church

“That there was a church here in Saxon times is shewn by its inclusion in a list of some 200 churches in Kent which paid fees to the Archbishop in the days of Lanfranc (A.D. L070-1089),”

However there is no clear evidence for when the first Saxon church was built.The first church dedicated to Saint Martin was a basilica built over his tomb in Tours in about 470 AD. St. Augustine brought Christianity to Britain in 597. Parish churches were not built until the eighth century. Since dedication to St. Martin tends to indicate an early date for a parish church, it is likely that the first church in Great Mongeham was built in the early eighth century. No trace of this first church is visible today. It was pulled down and rebuilt by the Normans. However not much remains of that church. As a result of extensive rebuilding in the thirteenth century all that is left of the Norman church is a window in the North wall. The Church walls bear testimony to a much older building in the vicinity. While foraging in surrounding fields for flints to knap eleventh century craftsmen also collected pieces of Roman brick and tile. We can only wonder why mediaeval builders did this, but it is a practice seen in many other churches.

Similar pieces of Roman building debris can be found in the fields around St. Martin’s to this day. Surely this is evidence that a fine Roman building, perhaps a villa, stood in the vicinity of the church. But no signs of foundations have been found. If they exist could they be under the church? Perhaps we will never know. Whether or not the church covers evidence of Romano British occupation it almost certainly conceals the foundations of the Saxon church torn down to make way for the Norman one. Not much more than a century later the Norman church was partly demolished and enlarged. A subtle change in the colour of the flints shows the boundary between twelfth and eleventh century flint (see photograph).

Norman wall

In the Middle Ages noblemen saw church building or improvement as an act of piety which they believed would atone for the taking of Christian life. In an age when England was almost constantly at war with either France, Wales or Scotland there was much to atone for. Besides, church building was a public expression of wealth as well as piety. As a result St. Martin’s church underwent many changes in those years. Indeed very little of the Norman structure remains.

Twelfth and Thirteenth Century Extensions

The major rebuilding of the church was done in the Early English style of the thirteenth century. However it has been suggested that if the chancel arch is a faithful copy(it was replaced in the mid nineteenth century), it would put the date back to the last years of the twelfth century. At the same time the roof was heightened and the clerestories (upper windows) added. The original South Aisle was probably also built at this time, although by the time of the nineteenth century restoration it had collapsed.

There are several thirteenth century features to be seen in the chancel. The double aumbry, a cupboard for keeping the chalice and other vessels, and also for keeping the reserved sacrament, is on the northern side.. It would have originally have had wooden doors. To the south are the piscina, a basin used to wash the vessels used in communion and the seats or sedilia where the clergy would sit.

The tower, built in the perpendicular style was added later, in the fifteenth century. However it too was built in flint, with stone quoins (corners).

In the middle ages there would be much that would be familiar to us today. There would be church services each Sunday morning and evening, and there would be the usual round of christenings, marriages and funerals. The photo below is of the oldest gravestone in the churchyard, dating from the thirteenth century.

However there would be quite significant differences. Apart from the services being conducted in Latin, the walls would have been plastered and painted brightly with religious scenes, there would be much more that was unfamiliar. Church-going was not an option. As late as the seventeenth century Henry Gardener, tailor and Samuel Brimstone, cordwainer, of Great Mongeham, were indicted for recusancy (failure to attend church) ‘on 9 Mar. 1684 and on one Sunday following’

There would also have been several statues of saints and many candles. Those who could afford it would leave instructions in their wills to have candles lit or even prayers said by the priest. Stephen Browne of Ripple, who died in 1518, and by his Will left ‘to his wife Joan during her life, and to his son John after her death, his heirs and assigns for ever, to find a yearly Obit to be done in the church of Great Mongeham for ever to endure’, to the parson or parish-priest there saying dirige and mass 10d., to the clerk for ringing two “pellys ” [peals] to dirige, “making of the herse “, and ringing to mass 8d., to the parson of Ripple or parish priest of the same to be at the dirige and sing mass 6d., to three other priests saying mass 4d. each, and to poor people 6d. He ordained also that a taper of 2 lbs. of wax yearly should be maintained and should burn before Our Lady of Pity in Mongeham church, and against the Obit to be new “striken ” [made] and burn upon the herse during the mass, and afterwards to be set before Our Lady.

Another way for the deceased to speed his or her journey to heaven was to leave alms to the poor. In 1379 Nicholas Crioll bequeathed forty shillings to each of six parishes in his manors, including Mongeham and Walmer.

The living at St. Martin’s was in the gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury. However when a living fell vacant between the demise of one archbishop and the appointment of the next the king would fill the vacancy. The rolls record three instances of royal appointments to the parish of Great Mongeham. In 1294 Arnald de Mastarino was presented to the church of ‘Monyngeham’. Two years later it was deemed necessary to provide ‘simple protection, for five years, for Arnald de Mastarino, parson of the church of Monengeham, in the diocese of Canterbury’. Why such protection was deemed necessary is not recorded in the rolls. On June 28th 1349 William de Hundelowe was presented to the church of Monyngham. Just two days later William de Oulecotes was also presented to the church. There is nothing recorded to explain this curious event.

From Tudors to Stuarts

In the years that followed the Reformation (in the reign of Henry VIII) the pattern of worship changed considerably. The walls were painted white and lighting candles to the saints died out. Thomas Starkey, a political theorist and a supporter of the reformation was influential with Henry’s advisers. He was made rector of St Martin’s in 1530. There is no record of how much time (if any) he spent in Great Mongeham, but his influence must have been felt. John Boys, a ‘powerful preacher’ and vocal opponent of Popery held the the livings of Bettishanger and Tilmanstone. In 1618 he was also collated to the rectory of St. Martin’s and in 1619 became Dean of Canterbury. Again it is most likely that the day to day parish affairs would have been in the hands of a curate.In the Civil War Kent was predominantly Parliamentarian. A helmet dating from the Civil War hung In the church until it was stolen a few years ago. From the papers of Archbishop Sancroft (written in the late seventeenth century)we learn that St. Clement’s, Sandwich was full of ‘sectaries and grossly ignorant persons’; Great Mongeham was also much infected with sectaries and Northbourne full of Anabaptists and Quakers, ‘poor fellowes’. The Compton Census of 1676 gives the number of Non-conformists as 8 while there were 78 Conformists. The census did not record any Papists in the village.

Church porch

The only significant addition to the church in this time was a porch. The Flemish (sometime called Dutch) gable suggests that it was a late sixteenth or early seventeenth century construction. The engraving above was made in 1829 and is an illustration from a book on Kent. The porch was removed in 1851.

The church was sadly neglected and fell into disrepair.

Maintaining the fabric of the church was a perennial problem. As early as 1511 John Craford appeared before Archbishop Wareham’s visitation and was ‘enjoined to repair the Chancel sufficiently before the Feast of the Assumption under pain of sequestration’ and by 1665 the church was described as ‘much out of Repayre’ At some time before 1800 the south aisle either collapsed or was demolished.

The North or Lady Chapel was the exception. The responsibility for its upkeep went with the glebe estates. Glebe estates were those belonging to Lords of The Manor but after the Reformation most church estates had been leased or sold on. With them usually went responsibility for the upkeep of part or all of the Parish Church. By the mid seventeenth century the Manor was leased to the Crayford family, and with it went the responsibility for the Lady Chapel. That is why the memorial to Edward Crayford (below) is situated there. It was placed there in 1615 by his wife Anne. The inscription reads

“Here lyeth the body of Edward Crayford esq eldest sonne of Sr Will Crayford of Great Mongeham who by Anne his wife one of the daughters of Sr Rowland Hayward thrice Lord Maior of London who had yssue will George Richard Iohn + Anne, he dyed ye 28th of Sept 1615 of his age ye xxxixth vnto whose memorie Anne his wife hath dedicated this”

The Mongeham Crayford Memorial
The Crayford Memorial

The obligation for the upkeep of the chapel remained with Great Mongeham Farm until George Wellard was able to get it removed for a lump sum payment sometime before the last World War.

How old is the Church?

It is a popular misconception that the first church was built in Great Mongeham in 470 AD. Not only have I been told this but I have also seen it in print several times. The most prominent was in Kent Country Churches Concluded (1989) where Syms wrote “It is not altogether surprising that this church is dedicated to St. Martin for this village was placed under the patronage of the Bishop of Tours in the 5th century and a church was begun here in 470 AD – or so I read in the church.” He argues in a footnote that although Christianity was brought to England by St. Augustine in 597 Queen Bertha had brought her own Christian bishop with her [when she married Ethelbert in 560], and that there was a Celtic Church in the west in the second and third centuries. This all seems very plausible, after all Christianity came to Britain with the Romans in the second century. However Christian worship was never widespread until the Saxons came in the middle of the fifth century. They replaced it in Kent with their own pagan religion. Christianity flourished among the Celts of the west, probably as a reaction. Christian worship in Roman Britain was conducted in family homes where the faithful would gather. By Augustine’s time monasteries were established among both Celtic and Saxon Christians, but parish churches did not come until the incursion of the Vikings in the eighth and ninth centuries.

What Syms (and others) read was a leaflet produced by the vicar at that time outlining the history of our village. In an excellent and accurate synopsis of the village’s history he wrote “The Church and Parish were placed under the patronage of S. Martin, Bishop of Tours, who died on November 11th 401. About 70 years later a successor to the bishopric built a church to his honour.” The church in question was the Basilica of St. Martins which was built in 470 by the new bishop in Tours (naturally enough) and not in Great Mongeham! The leaflet, so well researched on other matters was accurate on this point too.