Four Mediaeval Churches of Romney Marsh (26th July, 2012)
Romney Marsh is flat and low lying, with parts below sea level. Reclamation of the land had started by the 11th century and has been built up over the centuries. Rhee (river) walls were built and the water drained away by the use of sluices. The Romney Marsh churches are numerous and large when considering the size of the population. The reason is that the Marsh became the property of the Priory of Canterbury in the 9th century.
Our first stop was as Brookland, where we had coffee and biscuits at the Royal Oak pub, before starting off on our tour of four of the impressive churches with our very knowledgeable guide, Mr Hendy. Our first stop was at Old Romney to visit St Clement.
The brochure published by The Romney Marsh Historic Churches Trust has the following to say: “Originally constructed in the mid 12th century with just nave and chancel, the aisles were added in the 13th century. The interior takes the visitor by surprise with its 18th century minstrels’ gallery and box pews, all painted pink! The latter transformation was carried out by Walt Disney Productions when making a film in 1963 based on the smuggling adventures of Dr Syn, written by Russell Thorndike and set on Romney Marsh. Film Director Derek Jarman is buried in the churchyard.”
“Built under the patronage of the Archbishops of Canterbury, St George is a substantial church measuring 133ft (40.5m) in length, reflecting not the size of the population of the parish but the prestige of the archbishops. Inside some beautiful carved 15th century choir stalls remain, and a grand Kentish rag stone font of the same period. Smugglers’ tunnels are said to connect the church with the local pub, and legend has it that at times services could not be held because of contraband stored in the aisles and pulpit.”
St George’s Church is known as the ‘Cathedral of Romney Marsh’ because of its size.
“The church presents a very different image from others on the Marsh because it has a detached wooden bell tower. The tower was built in the late 11th century as an open structure and was doubled in height to its present 60ft (18.3m) and clad with shingle in the 15th century. The fine interior of the 13th century church has the highest box pews on the Marsh and a double-decker pulpit complete with sounding board. A mediaeval wall painting of the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket survives in the southeast chapel and a Norman lead font is still in use in the nave.”
Fairfield – St Thomas à Becket
“The definitive image of a Marsh church, this church sits alone next to a water filled dyke and is visible from a great distance across fields and grassland. Until the 1960s it was often cut off by winter flooding, when it could only be reached by boat. Inside, the church presents a perfect 18th century interior with white-painted triple-decker pulpit and box pews, complete with oval text boards.”