All Saints Church, Mill Street
Snodland, Kent ME6 5AT United Kingdom + Google Map
(NB All Saints Church is temporarily closed. Repairs will hopefully be carried out next Summer (2017) as part of the Delivery Stage of an ongoing Heritage Lottery Fund Urgent Repair Project. All services are in the meantime taking place at Christ Church, Malling Road)
All Saints Church Snodland is just a few yards distant from Snodland railway station. It is a large, ancient building (mentioned in the Domesday Book) located at the point where the Pilgrims Way crosses the River Medway. It is normally open to visitors in the Summer (April to September) every Saturday between 2pm and 4pm.
HISTORY OF ALL SAINTS CHURCH
Exactly when the first church was built in Snodland we cannot say. St. Augustine landed in Kent in 597 A.D. and the church at Rochester was built in 604. Before long it is likely that other churches sprang up in the valley near-by, perhaps including one at Snodland. Any such building would have been flimsy and just as likely as the rest of the village to have been razed to the ground more than once as early invaders sailed up the Medway. Surviving Anglo-Saxon churches show that the tradition of entering the building from the south side, as at All Saints, dates from before the Norman Conquest. Certainly there is documentary evidence of a church here by 1000 A.D.
When All Saints was first built in stone, the workmen had some useful materials close at hand from the abandoned Roman Villa a few yards to the north. Some Roman tiles and ‘tufa’ can still be seen in the older walls of the present building. We can suppose that around 1100 All Saints looked very like the other two early Norman churches of the parish, Paddlesworth and Dode, although with thatch on the roof rather than the present tiles. Perhaps it was the murder of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury which prompted the substantial enlarging of the church during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. However, this may have been part of the great flowering of church building then in progress throughout the country; we have already seen that parishioners were only too willing to bequeath money and materials to maintain and beautify their church.
It seems likely that the original church building would have been sited where is the present nave. The central part of the west wall is perhaps the only part of that earliest stone building to survive, but maybe the chancel also dates from this time. Significantly these are the only parts of the walls which include the Roman material. Above the west window, itself dating from around 1300 or soon after, an earlier Norman-style arch can still be seen. Perhaps the chancel also had Norman windows once, but again these were replaced early on by ‘Decorated’ windows of c.1300. Two only survive – on the north side nearest the east end – and one can see where a third has been bricked in to allow room for the present much larger 14th century one to be inserted. Although the lancet windows on the south side of the chancel are similar, these are nineteenth-century copies added in 1870.
Expert opinion gives the arcades and pillars of the nave as 14th century work, which suggests that the north and south aisles were added then. The walls of the nave would have been pierced and the arches formed once the aisles had been added alongside. Charles Winston noted that the north aisle ‘has windows of a rather later character than those in the south side’. Outside from the east and west we can see where the roof has been splayed wider to cover the aisles. The tower would have been added at about the same time. It incorporates a priest’s room on the first floor (the clergy were not allowed to marry before 1561) which probably served as the rectory. There is a fire-place and probably the ceiling was lower than it is today. The remains of a substantial lock on the door suggest that the room may have been used as the village lock-up from the seventeenth century onwards, once a rectory had been built. The original tower door is now at the back of the nave. It has a ‘sanctuary knob’ – offering the church’s sanctuary to any miscreant who could seize it before capture. Two ancient benches, apparently made from another old door, once formed part of the furniture of the room and again have been moved to the west end of the church.
Some other features of the mediaeval church remain. In the chancel is a fine sedilia of the 13th century – a seat for the priests and deacons to use – and a piscina beside the altar, where the priest would wash his hands before handling the bread and wine for communion. There is another piscina beside the vestry door, showing that once there was also an altar here. The font too is of great antiquity. Dividing the nave from the chancel and dominating the interior of the church was a Perpendicular rood screen, erected before the mid-15th century. This spanned the chancel arch and standing on it were, in the centre, a crucifix, with figures of St. Anne on the north side and St. John on the south. The marks where the screen was fixed are clearly visible on the side pillars. On the south wall is a small doorway which once had a staircase behind and which led up to the opening above and on to the rood screen. At the Reformation the screen was dismantled and part of it now fills the entrance to the church from the tower. Another victim of the Reformation was a remarkable etched drawing of the Crucifixion incised upon the central pillar of the south group. This was re-discovered under plaster during the major restorations of 1869-70 and was then (re)painted. The west porch is mentioned in Thomas Benet’s will of 1461, when he gave money ‘to ye makyng of ye same porch’. A carved head with the hand over the mouth, denoting ‘silence on entering church’, appears above the inner doorway.
In the sixteenth century it was decreed that a box should be kept in church in which the parishioners could place donations for the poor of the parish. Snodland’s old chest dates from this time. High boxed pews probably filled the church in later years – there were none in the mediaeval period – including a special one for the ‘squire’ of Holborough. He also had his own fireplace (part of which remains under the plaster beneath the ‘Dedrick’ window at the east end of the north aisle and which was revealed during repairs around 1990.) Another pew for the farmer of Paddlesworth was added to the chancel in 1712, by special permission of the rector.
The nineteenth century saw much restoration of the fabric, first by Henry Dampier Phelps, rector between 1804 and 1865, who moved and added windows, pulled down and re-built the east wall and spent in all some £1644. 5s. of his own money on the church. A singing gallery was added at the rear of the nave in 1824, and Phelps bought a barrel-organ to play the hymns. The most extensive maintenance occurred in 1869-70 under the direction of Rev. Carey, Phelps’s successor. The old pews were gradually replaced and new flooring and roofing was installed. It is said that the Baker family, who ran the ferry, paid for the new vestry as a kind of family memorial; certainly it contains memorial stones and tablets to them. Another major renovation took place in 1905. As with all historic buildings. there is constant maintenance and refurbishment. But were Rev, Carey to see the building today, he would be gratified to see that his great labours of 1869-70 have stood the test of time and have helped preserve this marvellous building for those who have come after.
Brasses. 1441: John Brigge; 1486: John Perot; 1487: Edward and Margaret Bischoptre; c.1530: man and two ladies; 1541: William, Isabel and Joan Tylghman.
Memorials. Martha Manley, 1682: recent scholarly opinion is that this memorial came from the workshop of the famous London sculptor Grinling Gibbons and is probably the work of his partner Artus Quellin III; John Walwyn, 1713; Arthur Elton Bingley and Frederick Mildred Bingley, 1902; Thomas Fletcher Waghorn, 1850 and Harriet Waghorn, 1857; Samuel Lee, 1852: William Lee, 1881; Charles de Rocfort Wall, 1932; Frederick Rookhurst Roberts, 1959; War Memorial 1914-18.
Furnishings include brass lectern in memory of Ernest Dalby Finch-Smith, 1909; railings in memory of Harry and William Greenstreet, 1954.
Windows. Only fragments of the mediaeval windows survived the land mine which fell nearby in 1942. They have been re-instated in mosaic style (with other later fragments) in three windows. The former ‘Palmer’ window of 1407, but substantially altered in later times, is now in the west wall nearest the tower. Others include some windows given by Rev. Phelps (above the chancel arch and in the vestry); ‘An angel offering incense’ and ‘The Good Shepherd’, given by Mrs. Eustace Hook, 1870; a window of the ‘six acts of mercy’, in memory of Mrs. Ann Roberts, 1881; ‘Crucifixion and Resurrection’, in memory of Rev. Carey, 1885; figures of St. Peter and St. Paul (origin unknown; probably c.1900); The East window and another in the chancel showing ‘Emblems of the Saints’ (1953) by Hugh Easton; ‘The Annunciation’ (1957) and more emblems of the Saints (1962) by Hugh Easton; window in memory of Willie Emerson Dedrick by Moira Forsyth, 1963.