Many thanks to Paul Britton for organising this afternoon’s set of church visits and for the text and pictures below.
More than 50 members of the Friends spent a rewarding afternoon in fine weather visiting three churches in south-central Kent – Benenden, Biddenden and Frittenden. Biddenden had been visited several times in the past but, surprisingly, in more than 50 years of church tours, the Friends had not been to either of the other churches.
St George, Benenden is a large and striking building set beautifully above the village green.
It was burnt out internally following a lightning strike in 1672, when it also lost its remarkable timber belfry, much the tallest in Kent. But the Gothic-survival tower erected in its place is itself notable. The interior, rebuilt in classical style after the fire, was re-gothicised by David Brandon in 1861.
It contains a fine array of Victorian stained glass and a monument by Scheemakers to that great 18th century admiral, Sir John Norris, now largely forgotten.
All Saints, Biddenden, aligned with the village street, is also well-placed. It is again a large building, mainly of the 13th century but with later medieval additions. These include the imposing tower, probably of the late 15th century and an exceptionally fine and varied set of roofs, unusual in Kent.
There are good fittings, especially the Bethersden marble font, the remains of the rood screen and a 17th century pulpit.
There are also good monuments, including an array of brasses.
Amusingly the name of the sculptor – Francis Grigs – of the monument of 1645 to Herbert Randolph is much more prominent than that of the deceased!
Finally, St Mary, Frittenden was largely rebuilt by F C Hussey in 1846, re-using parts of the medieval building, notably the nave roof. It is a remarkably scholarly effort for the 1840s, with a fine tower and spire. Hussey also designed most of the fittings.
The east window, of 1891, is one of the earliest works of Sir Ninian Comper, here in partnership with Bucknall but later a prolific designer of churches and church fittings on his own account.
We were given a talk on the recent restoration of the church and conversion of the south chapel to provide a kitchen, lavatories and a meeting space upstairs. These new facilities, financed in part by the Heritage Lottery Fund, are very splendid.
We were warmly received at all three churches and provided with an outstandingly good tea by the congregation of Frittenden, to whom we are especially grateful.
For some further historical background and pictures from Chris Rigby – click here.