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St Catherine's Church in Kingsdown: History

The Medieaval Church

Kingsdown Medieaval Church

This ancient building (left) was demolished and replaced by the Kingsdown Church we see today.

This is the only remaining Anglican church by Edward Welby Pugin (1834-75), a Roman Catholic. By all accounts he was particularly happy with the west window and roof.

The current church at Kingsdown was started in 1864, although it is stated in Harris's history of Kent a church was established in Kingsdown at the same site in 1252. The first vicar or rector of Kingsdown on record is Peter de Luddenham in 1313.

 

Kingsdown Church designed by Edward Welby Pugin's A small booklet from the Redundant Churches Fund (see below) tells us that the population in 1865 was only 96 so a benefactor was essential. The first and only Baron Kingsdown (Thomas Pemberton Leigh, 1793-1867) supported the building of a new church on the site of the tumbledown mediaeval church that stood where today’s nave stands. Lord Kingsdown led a successful career at the bar. He was MP for Rye and later Ripon, but retired from public life in 1843 after inheriting a fortune from a distant relative of his mother’s. He was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall and to the Privy Council’s judicial committee with positive results in both. The Rector at that time was Houstone James Hordern.

The booklet tells us, “the Chancel went close to the edge of a disused chalk quarry, now filled with spoil from the M2. This led to large cracks appearing in 1922 and the rebuilding of the west and south west walls.

The first recorded rector for this site was in 1313 but the full list is incomplete.

“Pugin's church consists of nave and chancel (with vestry) and a tower and spire over the porch at the south-west. It is built of Kentish ragstone with Bath stone dressings. The roofs are of patterned tiles. The circumstances of the building's construction give it an unusual unity, in the late Decorated style.

Above the doorway is a niche with a statue of St. Catherine. Inside, the carving is richer on the roof timbers, the corbels and the hood stops — the end of the mouldings around windows. Above the vestry door is a large sculpture of the Conversion of St. Paul. The furnishings, pulpit, font and ornate sanctuary are all to Pugin's designs, as are the windows made by Hardman of Birmingham. A small brass inscription plate (1555) survives from the previous church. There is also a 14th century bell. The other bell is by J. Warner of London, 1868, probably a recasting of an earlier bell. Under the floor are the ledger stones from various 17th and 18th century burials, all carefully recorded by Hordern, together with traces of the mediaeval building discovered during the 1990 repairs. A few mediaeval floor tiles, found during this work, have been displayed in the vestry.

The elegant estate churches of the 18th century are well known. This Victorian equivalent is, in the eyes of many, as fine a building. Much love went into the construction of Kingsdown church — and that is still apparent 130 years later.”


David Bage Comments

David Bage told us: "Until the hurricane of 1987 its congregation had kept this church in good repair. Kingsdown parish was amalgamated with Lynsted (ecclesiastically) in 1956 into the parish of Lynsted-with-Kingsdown. None of the expenses fell to the congregation of Lynsted. It always managed to raise monies to do whatever it had to do; it also managed to contribute a fair share of the expenses, which fell on the whole combined parish. In 1987 the church was severely damaged in the hurricane but had not been insured against storm damage. This occurred during the interregnum when our parish was to go into a larger group of parishes under one priest and it was unlikely that services at Kingsdown would be retained and the church would become redundant and in no way would the parish be able to pay for its repair. Fortunately, because of its historical importance it was taken over by what was then called the Historical Churches Fund (it now has a more upmarket name! - The Redundant Churches Fund) and was restored to, and is maintained at its former glory without any cost falling on the parish. The church wardens remain responsible for the churchyard however."


REDUNDANT CHURCHES FUND: ST. CATHERINE, KINGSDOWN, KENT

"This is, so far as is known, the only remaining Anglican church by Edward Welby Pugin (1834-75) who was, like his celebrated father, a Roman Catholic. Pugin was given a relatively free hand with the design and is reported to have been pleased with the outcome, particularly the west window and the roof.

Kingsdown Church InteriorChurch and parsonage house (designed by William Burn) together with the garden landscaped by W. A. Nesfield cost £7,000. For a place with, in 1865, only 96 inhabitants - and many fewer now - this needed a benefactor. Thomas Pemberton Leigh, the first and only Baron Kingsdown, readily fell in with the rector’s suggestion that, rather than repair the old church, a new one should be built. Lord Kingsdown (1793-1867) just lived to see the church completed.

After a grim start in life, due to his father’s early death, Lord Kingsdown had a very successful career at the bar. He was MP for Rye and later Ripon, but retired from visible public life in 1843, having inherited a fortune from a distant relative of his mother. He was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall and to the Privy Council’s judicial committee. He improved the administration of both (is it fanciful to hear the sound of a reformer tackling Dickens’ Circumlocution Office?) and was highly regarded for his judicial opinions. The rector of the time, Houstone James Hordern, makes clear the enthusiasm for the building of its distinguished benefactor.

The site was old, the nave standing on the previous church’s foundation. The chancel went close to the edge of a disused chalk quarry, now filled with spoil from the M2. This led to large cracks appearing in 1922 and the rebuilding of the west and south walls.

The Ancient Kingsdown ChurchThe first rector was recorded in 1313, but the list of his successors is incomplete. Mr. Hordern was there for 55 years.

The isolated situation - made worse by the motorway - and damage done by the October 1987 gale led to a decision to make St. Catherine’s redundant. It was vested in the Redundant Churches Fund in 1989. Repairs have been carried out under the supervision of Mr. Jonathan Carey of Faversham.

Pugin’s church consists of nave and chancel (with vestry) and a tower and spire over the porch at the south-west. It is built of Kentish ragstone with Bath stone dressings. The roofs are of patterned tiles. The circumstances of the building’s construction give it an unusual unity, in the late Decorated style.

Kingsdown Church FontAbove the doorway is a niche with a statue of St. Catherine. Inside, the carving is richer on the roof timbers, the corbels and the hood stops - the end of the mouldings around windows. Above the vestry door is a large sculpture of the Conversion of St. Paul. The furnishings, pulpit, font and ornate sanctuary are all to Pugin’s designs, as are the windows made by Hardman of Birmingham. A small brass inscription plate (1555) survives from the previous church. There is also a 14th century bell. The other bell is by J. Warner of London, 1868, probably a re-casting of an earlier bell. Under the floor are the ledger stones from various 17th and 18th century burials, all carefully recorded by Hordern, together with traces of the mediaeval building discovered during the 1990 repairs. A few mediaeval floor tiles, found during this work, have been displayed in the vestry.

The elegant estate churches of the 18th century are well known. This Victorian equivalent is, in the eyes of many, as fine a building. Much love went into the construction of Kingsdown church - and that is still apparent 130 years later.

 

THE REDUNDANT CHURCHES FUND

[Now the Churches Conservation Trust - www.visitchurches.org.uk - or go straight to their dedicated page with this link: you will find a series of colourful images there]

This church is now in the care of the Fund. This body was set up in 1969 to preserve churches of the Church of England no longer needed for regular worship but which are of historic, architectural or archaeological interest. The Fund’s main income is provided by Church and State but the constantly increasing number of churches entrusted to it (270 in May 1991) means that its resources are severely stretched. Contributions from members of the public are therefore gratefully received. If there is no money box in the church or the keyholder is not available please send any contributions you would like to make to the Fund at the address shown.

Published by:
The Redundant Churches Fund,
St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe,
Queen Victoria Street,
London EC4V 5DE.
Reg. Charity No. 258612
May 1991
Illustrations provided by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England.
F. W. Cupit (Printers) Ltd., 36 North Street, Horncastle. Lincs."