Notes on the churches in the counties of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey/Kent/Introduction

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From the defective notice in Domesday Book of various parishes (some of which are populous places at the present day) in the Weald, compared with the fuller description of lands lying on the northern side of the county, it is manifest that the former district stood far lower than the latter in general estimation at the period of the Domesday Survey: the necessary result, in fact, of its situation within the great forest of Anderida (farther spoken of in the Note on Limpne, and under the county of Sussex), with a wet, tenacious soil, that portion too immediately below the central range of hills being too flat to possess much natural drainage, so that the roads were rendered practicable during the winter for the horses, upon whose backs alone all heavy goods could be conveyed, only by paved tracks at the sides. In the miry parts of the Weald of Kent, and the same statement doubtless would apply to similar portions of Sussex, wheel carriages were not generally, because they could not be, used, except on the principal lines of road, until a very recent period. Long within my own recollection the cross roads in some districts of Kent were utterly impassable during the winter; and, as I have witnessed, if a miller, for example, wished to deliver goods down one of these lanes, he would exchange his horse's harness for a packsaddle, and, leaving his cart by the side of the turnpike road, he would load the saddle with his flour-sacks and himself, thus resorting to the same mode of conveyance used for ages previously. The tracks, for such alone were many of those bye lanes, which occasionally were wide and overgrown with grass, were provided with a narrow sort of causeway, sometimes perhaps with two paths, one being paved with irregular-sized slabs of stone, the other covered with small stones; the first for foot passengers, the second for horses. Upon such as the latter I myself have ridden formerly, though few, if any, it is probable, now remain. Of the paved causeways numerous examples may still be seen on the borders of the roads in some parts of Kent. And, beside other examples in the same county, one such may yet (1849) be observed under the northern boundary of Kidbrook Park, near East Grinsted, Sussex, for some distance forming the footpath by the side of a public road. Some part of this, as in other instances, is entire throughout, while elsewhere the centre is worn, as it might be by the feet of horses, the edges remaining in good condition.

But, in addition to the difficulty of communication in early days, the relative importance of places in the eleventh century must, as will be acknowledged to be probable, have been different from what it is at present. Thus Newenden, now an insignificant village, is named in Domesday Book as the site of a market, while Tenterden, a town at the distance of only five miles, is altogether omitted. From the large number of desecrated churches appearing in the subjoined List and Notes, it will also be perceived, that the stationary inhabitants of the county must be otherwise located now, from what they were in earlier times. For instance, judging from the ruined churches, Romney Marsh must have been more populous formerly, than it is at this day; which must have been the case likewise at Merston and Rokesley, omitting other examples.

Rich as the county of Kent is in historical works, of greater or less value, I have not derived from them all the assistance I could have desired. I must acknowledge large obligations to Hasted's History, in enabling me to identify several places described in Domesday Book; but in some few of the Kentish manors two, and even more, churches are specified; and in general it has been possible to do no more than to propose a surmise as to the situation, in each case, of only one of those churches.

Another remark may be offered, the result of my own acquaintance with, and my inquiries respecting, the churches, in present use, of this county; that one alone, Swanscombe (on which see the Note), has been reported, on any sufficient authority, to contain vestiges of Anglo-Saxon architecture. (St. Martin's, near Canterbury, is considered more than doubtful; and the desecrated church in Dover Castle is excluded from this observation.) This may easily be accounted for. There is satisfactory evidence, that Kent was thickly peopled, and possessed numerous churches, before the Normans entered England; and the importance of this angle of the kingdom, both from its population, and from its contiguity to the continent of Europe, could not fail to render it valuable in the estimation of the sovereigns and their great nobility ; accordingly, we know that many parties of high political reputation, in different reigns, held estates of greater or less extent in Kent. Nor can it surprise us to discover, that, in the course of nearly seven hundred years, all the ecclesiastical buildings, with few, if any, exceptions, which the Normans found standing when they obtained dominion over the district, should have been taken down, in order to be replaced by more spacious and more elaborate structures in the styles of later ages. It is certain, not only that numerous persons during those periods enjoyed ample means for undertaking such costly works, but likewise that, for many generations, it was a common practice of the noble and the rich to expend magnificent sums in erecting a splendid, or in decorating a more simple, house of devotion. We have therefore reason to expect, that the Saxon churches should have disappeared throughout this county, which is the fact ; and that those now existing should be, generally, conformable to the tastes which prevailed in times long subsequent. Reference to the Note upon Swanscombe will show, that inspection has not quite convinced me of the Saxon character of any part of that church, though possibly some small remains of that date may exist. There is another church in the county, that of Apledore, a portion of which I would point out as meriting attentive examination.

The condition of Kent with regard to civilization, anterior to the Norman invasion, seems to have been superior to that of the remainder of England; as might be anticipated from its proximity to the continent of Europe. Up to A. D. 669, when it began to spread throughout England, the method of chanting in the services of religion, "sonos cantandi in ecclesiâ," was known only in Kent; but Bishop Wilfrid then carried back with him into Northumberland both teachers of singing, masons, and other craftsmen. (Bed. Hist. Eccl. 1. 4, c. 2, and note to 182, Oxford, 1845.) Whence, corroborated by what is said above (Preface), we may infer, that for a considerable period Kent was the guide and instructor of other English dioceses in ecclesiastical matters.

The Domesday description affords evidence, that Penenden Heath was, as it remains to this day, by custom of common law, the place of important meetings for affairs of general concern in Kent, as early as the time when the Survey was taken ; for at the commencement of the description it is said, " If they " (the landed proprietors) " should be warned to convene at a Shiremote, they shall go to Penenden, not farther. Si fuerint premoniti ut conveniant ad sciram, ibunt usque ad pinnedennan, non longius." (D. B.) Wherefore we may safely regard this as one of the then ancient customs of Kent, the enjoyment of which was confirmed to the inhabitants by K. William I, at Swanscombe, as the price of their submission to him. It appears also from Domesday Book, that the celibacy of the inferior dignified clergy was not yet enforced some time before A. D. 1086, because in the early part of the account of Kent three persons are mentioned, whose fathers are declared to have held the property spoken of as prebends : " Pater ejusdem pater hujus" and " pater ipsius tenuit in prebendâ." (D. B.) And indeed some years after the period of the Survey, namely, A. D. 1129, William, Archbishop of Canterbury, summoned a council at London, when it was determined, that all archdeacons and priests, who failed to dismiss their wives by a given day, should be deprived of their churches, as well as houses, and never afterwards be permitted to officiate there. Which rule however, we are assured, proved a mere brutum fulmen, though sanctioned by the archbishop and all the other English prelates, since, by permission of K. Henry I, all the parties concerned continued to retain their wives precisely as before. (Gibs. Chron. Sax. 233, 234.)