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Staplehurst

Dedication : All Saints  Simon Jenkins: Excluded                                             Principal Features : Original South door of AD1050; remnants of Anchorite Cell

Staplehurst is one of those contented little Kentish villages where time has not stood still, but where there is still a feeling of quintessential English-ness and middle class values. The church is just behind the rather busy main road and provides a pleasant oasis from its traffic.

There is one overwhelming reason for the Church Historian to visit the church: the extraordinary South door that is original and may date from date from AD1050, although others believe it to be Norman. Most of the rest of the church dates from c14 and c15. It is a pleasing building externally with lovely mellow local limestone but inside it is unexceptional.

The Church Guide claims the north wall “may be Saxon” because of its herringbone courses. I would have to say that this is surely definitely the case? Herringbone is rare if not unknown outside that period. The south door, as we will see, recounts a Norse legend and it seems to me to be unlikely indeed that this post-dates the Norman Conquest. Moreover, the other manifestations of the Ragnorok legend in British architecture on the stone cross of Gosforth, Cumbria and on the Isle of Man are believed to be tenth century. On the north east wall there is a squint from what would have been an anchorite cell. For more on the subject of anchorites see Iffley in Oxfordshire and (best of all) Ryhall in Rutland.

The handsome west tower dates from between 1400 and 1425. There is a nice Perpendicular doorway with lable stops that are believed to depict the heroic Henry V and his queen Catherine of Valois. There are also nice

carvings within the door’s spandrels. Most of the rest of the church, including chancel and south aisle date from between 1200-1250.

At first sight the door is just a curiosity - a jumble of unrelated ironwork - but we need to look closer....

I have struggled to find any definitive interpretation of the imagery on the door. So, on the whole, I am disinclined to attempt it myself! You can find websites that explain Ragnorok much more fully than my short precis so armed with that you may be able to make mappings of your own.

The view to the west end from the chancel. This is an airy church blessed with plenty of windows and its proportions are far from displeasing. There is a pronounced lean to the south arcade that the Church Website suggests (because the pier bases are straight) was in fact designed thus.

The south arcade looking towards the west.

To the left is the Anchorite’s “squint”. This is much larger than that at Ryhall in Rutland. The Church Guide, oddly, does not explain the second one to its left. I surmise it may be a leper’s squint.

Here are the two squints from the outside.

Staplehurst has two fonts. This one dates from 1100 and, like so many, was re-discovered serving as a feeding trough on a farm. I sometimes wonder if there was an anti-Norman Font movement in England at some time, such is the prevalence of such stories! Was this phenomenon another consequence of  Victorian “modernisation”?

A rather nice carving, certainly from an earlier era, nestles on a window sill in the south aisle.

Anglo-Saxon “herringbone” masonry in the north wall.

Staplehurst is one of those rare examples of a church where you can take an unobstructed picture, so this one is of the north side. Note the unusually large south chapel window (left) and the fine east end window. The north side windows are the usual motley collection of Gothic styles.

The perpendicular west door has fine carving within the spandrels.

The presumed head of King Henry V on the west doorway...

The tower. It is stated as dating from 1400-1425, but there are at least three distinct types of masonry here so there may have been more than one phase or else some later rebuilding.

The sun-drenched priest’s door on the south side of the chancel.

...and the very eroded Catherine of Valois.

A bit of a mystery here on the priest’s door. is this benchmark of some sort? Is “WD” the War Department? Is it a crude scratch dial? Or is the whole lot just random graffiti?

Footnote

This super old notice is found next to the footpath from the main street to the church.