The Church of St. John the Baptist, Wateringbury “One of Kent’s most interesting churches”
There has been a church on this site since Saxon times. The original building was probably built of wood, but this was succeeded by one of stone by the time of the Domesday survey in 1086 AD. It was probably built of ragstone and tufa both of which occur locally, some of the stone being reused for the construction of the present building dating from the 13th & 14th centuries. Much work was carried out during the 19th century, the north aisle being added in 1824, the south aisle in 1856, and the east wall of the chancel being rebuilt in 1883/4. The porch dates from the 15th century, and was moved to its present position after the addition of the south aisle.
The Style Monument
Much of the north wall of the chancel beyond the choir seating is taken up by the Style monument, which was erected by Sir Thomas Style in 1626 in memory of his parents Oliver and Susan Style. Oliver Style was the son-in-law of John Bull. Oliver Style (1542 – 1622) purchased Wateringbury Place and lived there until his death at the age of 80 in 1622. He was the son of Humphrey Style, Charles Stuart’s cupbearer, whose memorial brass remains in Beckenham parish church. The figures on the monument have some of their old colour still left; that of Oliver Style is in a scarlet and ermine robe, Sir Thomas being dressed in armour. An extraordinary figure on this tomb is that of a partly cloaked skeleton with an angel, under an arch and among coloured flowers and cherubs, with the words: “death to me is an advantage; all men must die”, a good enough philosophy for skeletons! A ledger stone in memory of Sir Thomas Style has been moved from the chancel to the floor of the tower, and may be seen on request.
The vestry, which is entered from the north side of the chancel by a Tudor door, was built in 1838 at the expense of Alderman Matthias Prime Lucas of the City of London, who succeeded the Style family at Wateringbury Place, and whose portrait by Sir David Wilkie RA is in the Guildhall Art Gallery. The vestry is thought to be the largest of any in a Kent parish church.
Members of the Lucas family occupy the vault beneath the vestry, and theirs are the memorial hatchments displayed on the walls of the nave. The vestry also contains a memorial tablet to that well known and much loved priest Canon Livett. Fixed to the tablet is a piece of carved Norman stone, and the inscription reads: “This stone from the Norman east front of Rochester Cathedral is placed here in memory of Canon G.M. Livett BA, FSA, vicar of Wateringbury 1895 – 1922”. It was presented to him on completion of the restoration of the west front of Rochester Cathedral, during which he discovered the foundation of the east end of the Saxon Cathedral. Canon Livett was the first President of the Kent Archaeological Society.
A memorial board has now been affixed to the wall above the fire place in the vestry. It was once sited in the old school building on Red Hill before the school moved in 1976 to new premises in Bow Road, and was unable to house the memorial. It is unique in recording the names of all the former pupils of the school who served in the Great War of 1914 – 1918, as well as of those who were killed in the two Great Wars. It is included on the national list of war memorials which is held at the Imperial War Museum in London.
Chapel of St. George
The east end of the north aisle of the nave is occupied by the Chapel of St. George, and contains memorials to those from the village who served and died in the two world wars of 1914 – 1918 and 1939 – 1945.
The organ is placed on the gallery at the west end of the nave. It is considered to be one of the finest parish church organs in Kent. The organ (an Opus No 173) was built by the renowned firm of Norman & Beard of Norwich, and was originally pumped by hand (a job given to choir boys). It is a two-manual instrument, the great and swell organs, with a fine selection of stops ranging from trumpet to oboe. The largest pipe is 16 feet long. The organ was renovated in 2010.
The Parish Magazine of May 1893 tells us “A much needed want is about to be supplied by the kind liberality of the churchwardens, Messrs Fremlin and Jude. A sum of £50 now amounting to £68 12s (interest in PO Savings Bank) was left for this purpose by the late Rev H Stevens. Any cost over and above this sum will be defrayed by the above named gentlemen. The organ will be built by Messrs Norman, Beard & Co of Norwich, and will cost between £300 and £400.
The cost of the organ was in fact £342 less £25 for the old organ. (Norman Brothers subsequently restored the old organ, gave it some new stops and a new full-compass Swell and then within a few months sold it to the New Wesleyan Church in Aylesbury, Bucks).
The gallery replaces an earlier one, which was known as ‘the singing gallery’. It was much lower and extended further east than the present one which was constructed out of the older one. The old gallery had been used to house the church band, which accompanied on various instruments the singing in the church. Materials from earlier gallery were used to construct the present one.
The Nave and Millennium Banners
A feature of the nave is the millennium banners, which hang on and under the gallery. These were made to commemorate the millennium year by the many organisations in the village and exemplify the richness of village life. Descriptions of the various designs are given in an explanatory booklet which is kept in the church.
The light wood screen built at the west end of the north aisle of the nave conceals a kitchen and servery from which delicious refreshments are served after many services, social functions, and entertainments. Behind the kitchen, there is a choir vestry and lavatory. These were all built in the millenium year.
The Tower and the Bells
The lofty tower was built in the 13th century, and is therefore the oldest part of the present church. It contains a peal of six bells. These consist of five trebles tuned to G,F, Eb,D & C. The tenor bell is tuned to Bb. The bells were rehung with ball bearings in 1950. The present spire which is clad in cedar shingles, was restored in 1886, after having been struck by lightning and destroyed by fire on 28th February in that year.
The weather vane is dated 1832, and has the initials of the two Churchwardens of the time: JW & RH. These stand for James Woodbridge JP who lived at The Lodge (at that time Wateringbury Lodge), and Richard Harris.
The church possesses a fine light of Victorian stained glass installed behind the altar, in what is thought to be a 14th century stone window. It is a memorial to Henry Stevens who was Vicar of Wateringbury for 57 years, and who died in 1877. Unfortunately the inscription is carried across the three lights that make up the window, the right hand one of which reads: “this parish died on 22nd October 1877”, which is certainly not true! The oak eagle lectern was also given in memory of Henry Stevens, and by his widow.
The windows at the east and west ends of the south aisle, and at the west end of the north aisle of the nave were moved from the nave when the aisles were built and the church extended in the 19th century. Much of the ancient glass was destroyed in the great storm of 19th August 1763, and apart from those mentioned, the rest were destroyed or seriously damaged in the blast from a Doodle Bug (V1 rocket) which landed in the grounds of Wateringbury Place at 7.25 pm on 24th August 1944. Fortunately this did not damage irreparably the very beautiful window of St. Francis on the north side of the nave. This window is a memorial to Adele Violet Crofton, whose face at the age of 8 is that of the angel in the window. Behind the angel is the Adele Crofton Rose, grown by George Dickson of Ulster in 1928, and awarded a Gold Medal at the Royal Rose Society’s Show.
Mrs Crofton was known as Robin by her friends, and one sits on the hand of St. Francis. The window features seven robins, seven fishes, and seven rays of light coming down from the Holy Dove. There are seven birds about the Saint, six swallows and the Holy Dove. This is because Adele was the seventh child of a seventh child. Adele Crofton’s ashes are buried in the grave of her parents which is in the top left hand corner of the churchyard, adjacent to the gateway from Wateringbury Place.
The font at one time stood at the west end of the nave, in the centre beneath the gallery. Its removal to the present position necessitated the removal of a number of pews, and the careful tiling of the area to match the existing tiling by the south door. The font itself is of ancient stone cut to an intricate shape. At one time it was decoratively painted, traces of the paint being visible until recent times. It is thought that the colour was removed at the time of Cromwell.
On 1st June 1915 the font was used for the Christening of Godfrey William Style, son of Colonel Rodney Charles Style of Wierton Grange, Kent, and of the family with long connections with Wateringbury. Col. Style gave a cheque in gratitude to the Vicar, the Revd. CM Livett, who was able to commission the making of the font cover. This was beautifully made by Cecil French to the Vicar’s design described as ‘unpretentious but suitable’. The cover was refurbished in 1997 by Ron Buchanan.
The ornate four-branch chandelier over the font was the gift of the Rolfe family of Danns Lane. It was restored in December 2001 by Ted Vincent.
The porch is the only part of the church to be roofed with tiles, the church itself being roofed in slate. These are Kentish peg tiles. The porch was rebuilt in its present position after the construction of the south aisle to the nave in 1856, the old material being reused for the purpose. The old square headed windows of the porch date from the 15th century. A plaque records the receipt of a grant of £30 in 1883 by The Incorporated Society for Buildings & Churches, for “enlarging and restoring this church”; and adds that “all the seats are for the free use of the parishioners according to law”.
The church is set in a churchyard, which is bordered to the west, north and east, by the grounds of Wateringbury Place, and to the south by the A26 road to Tonbridge. The churchyard now incorporates the site of the village pound, in which at one time stray animals were impounded. The village war memorial now occupies the approximate site of the pound, and was moved there from the Wateringbury crossroads in 1978. Though the churchyard is full it has not been closed for burials, and is used for the burial of ashes.
The churchyard contains a number of interesting memorials, five of which are listed as being of historic interest. That of Sir Oliver Style which is placed just outside the south door of the church, is listed Grade IIa. It was restored in 2002 at the expense of the English Heritage and a number of other Conservation Charities. It is a memorial to the Sir Oliver Style who died on 12th February 1703, and who was the British Consul in Smyrna (present day Izmir) at the time of a great earthquake in which over 4,000 people died. He was at dinner at the time, and survived by throwing himself under the table.
Not far from this memorial stands a sundial which was made in Wateringbury in the 18th century by Thomas Crow, the inventor of the octant. The octant was the navigational instrument which preceded the sextant. The sundial originally had a brass face with four dials showing the local time for noon in many cities of the world, the month, hours, and Greenwich Mean Time. Unfortunately the face was stolen some years ago, but a new one, though with less information, has recently been made by Mike Allen of Larkfield. The Crow family tomb is sited near the east boundary of the churchyard.
The Yew Tree
It is known that the yew tree on the west side of the porch, was planted in 1597, and is therefore over 400 years old. Its age was the theme for many events held by the church in 1997, when members of the congregation wore sweatshirts embroidered with a yew tree motif. In that year the Wateringbury Local History Society gave and planted another yew tree in the churchyard, which it is hoped will still be flourishing 400 years from now.
As will be seen, the church building has been an emblem of the Christian faith in the village for over 1,000 years. It will, we hope, continue to be so for many years to come.
EFB: Wateringbury Local History Society