Almost déjà vu – to this time last year! Fascinating churches (one very rural) and another driving “opportunity” between them. Nonetheless, Friends are able to see parts of Kent that for most remain undiscovered. Many thanks to Sarah Bracher for organising the visits ending in a superb afternoon tea next to the recently modernised St John at Meopham.
St John the Baptist, Halling – a very informative talk from the minster on the church and the area with linkages back to Pope Gregory’s request to St Augustine to bring Christianity to England. The adjacent Bishop’s palace was accessible by ferry across to Rochester and was visited by Erasmus and Bishop John Fisher. The area was renowned for cement works – at one time referred to as “cementopolis” – and one business owner, the Formby family, contributed to funding the Victorian extension of the church aisles. A 16th century brass shows the wife of William Lambarde – the writer of Perambulation of Kent (the first English county history) – having died in childbirth. Her four older children are on either side of a four poster bed with her new born twins in a cradle beside her. The 12th century wall painting depicts aspects of Holy week. Architecturally the angled porch is most unusual.
St Peter & St Paul, Luddesdowne – seemingly a wooden Saxon church was knocked down by the Normans and the stone structure was rebuilt in the 14th century. In 1865 the roof collapsed, the church being reopened in 1867. It is renowned for its rare complete set of Victorian wall paintings by Heaton, Butler & Bayne who also produced the stained glass. Inside the bell tower is a 14th century wooden ladder.
Of architectural interest is the use of Tufa (see above), with its very noticeable porous appearance, for quoins of the tower – a rare use of the material in post-Norman work. Luddesdowne Court next to the church is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited house in England, from at least Saxon times.
St John the Baptist, Meopham – this church has certainly changed in the last few years with the 2011 removal of the pews, new floor and dimmable chandelier style lights. Ten or so years ago a digital organ was installed with main loudspeakers high up in the nave; we were treated to an impromptu recital – the acoustics were so good it was difficult to place the source of the music! Change was not new for this church – originating from the 13th century it was rebuilt in 1386 after an earthquake. Following the Reformation of 1551 when, our guide told us, people became more important than the building, the pulpit was located closer to the congregation. The current pulpit, dated 1682, was made for Westminster Cathedral. Our guide commented on the post-Reformation community use of the church and this community use revival of the 21st century with music and festivals. A new altar is even closer to the congregation and communion is now held every Sunday.
Altogether a very enjoyable afternoon adding to our knowledge of different types of churches in a rural location and in towns.