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HLHG ROMNEY MARSH CHURCH TOUR ONE 4TH JULY 2023

Updated: Apr 11

Several suggestions had been made for a Group outing and the most popular one was ‘The Romney Marsh Church Tour.’ The result was that Graham and I spent many a happy day meandering around our beautiful Romney Marsh, visiting churches, planning the route and calling in the odd hostelry to choose a great place for lunch! We wanted to organize an interesting, unusual day out for everyone but we kept the itinerary under wraps.


On 4th July, 2023, 26 members of HLHG gathered in their cars at the Sainsbury’s, Hythe car park at 9.30 am on a very sunny morning. We handed round the itinerary packs and set of in convoy click here for route


On arrival All Saints Church, Burmarsh we were delighted to find that the church was open (having understood that it might be closed).

All Saints is a sturdy, squat church, nestled amongst chestnut, sycamore and yew, where it has stood for 800 years. We were enthralled by the history and atmosphere of this delightful church and we spent a very happy time wandering around the interior and the churchyard. Should you be tempted to take the tour, look for the scratch dials at All Saints on the south wall between the porch and the tower.  Scratch dials pre-date sundials. The priest would have left a twig or a small piece of wood to indicate the time of the next service.

All Saints is quite small, but probably a perfect example of how most churches on the Marsh were to begin with. Reluctantly, we said farewell to All Saints and went on our way.


All Saints Church, Burmarsh
All Saints Church, Burmarsh

We then headed off in the direction of Newchurch and the impressive church of St Peter and St Paul.


As we walked towards the porch we took in the magnificence of this village church, wondering why it was so large.


Newchurch was a settlement mentioned in the Domesday Book.


The original church would have been quite small, built in the early 13th century and consecrated in 1238 by Archbishop Edmund Rich. It is possible that there may have been an earlier Saxon church here, but no evidence remains. The church was enlarged in the 14th century.


The Kentish rag-stone tower was started in 1410. In the second stage of the build, it leaned and was buttressed and left to settle for many years. The third stage was carried out in 1480 when the perpendicular belfry was built.

Also, in the 14th century the aisles were widened creating a north porch and a grand lady chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Long, wide aisles were needed to provide space for chantry alters and also to allow processions to take place.


The south chapel is dedicated to St Michael and St Thomas of Canterbury. The chapel is entered through a 15th century oak screen, probably made from a rood screen which would have divided the nave from the chancel. There is a beautiful 14th century tracery window here which contains fragments of medieval stained glass.


The 14th century porch contains a holy water stoop. The font is 15th century.

A few of us were browsing around the church organ and Janet Hughes was persuaded to play for us. We volunteered Chris Bray to operate the bellows and the result was wonderful. To experience such a wonderful sound in that beautiful old church was magical and very moving. Thank you, Janet.


We all agreed that St Peter and St Paul is a magnificent church and well worth another visit to absorb more of its long, fascinating history, but before leaving we strolled along to say goodbye to the friendly donkeys in the adjacent field.

Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

We then took the road leading to Old Romney.


Driving to our next church of St Clements, Old Romney, we passed the church of St Mary in the Marsh. This particular church will be included in a future tour and as a point of interest, Edith M Nesbitt, the author of the Railway Children, is buried in St Mary’s churchyard.


The approach to St Clements is idyllic and we found the church basking in the sunshine, surrounded by fields of grazing sheep. Possibly the most beautiful setting of all the churches on the Marsh.


Exclamations of delight were heard as we entered this ancient, picturesque church. Make a visit yourself and discover why the interior is a delicate pink.


The present church is a Norman foundation dating from around 1150. In about 1200 the church was extended and a tower was later added in the south west corner. The thickness of the original Norman walls is very impressive.


The nave is covered by a 15th century beam roof with impressive king posts rising to the roof. At the west end of the church is one of two remaining choir galleries on the Marsh. In the 18th century the choir galleries would also house the church band comprising of fiddles, viols, clarinets, bassoons, oboes and a serpent. When harmoniums arrived around 1850 they gradually replaced the bands.


The 17th century box pews would have been for the rich. The poor would have been seated on the parish plank at the back.


There is a wealth of history to be found in this wonderful church and should you contemplate making a visit, please try and source a book called St Clements, Old Romney by John Hendy, M.Phil. The book is sometimes available for sale at St Clements.


Sadly it was time to move on but before doing so, many of the group walked over to the rear, west of the graveyard to visit the grave of the actor Derek Jarman.


Church of St. Clements, Old Romney
Church of St. Clements

We then took the road leading us to Ivychurch.


On arrival at St George’s Church, Ivychurch it was obvious that something exciting was about to take place. We watched as the top of a grand piano was carefully unloaded from a large lorry and carried into the church. As we followed on and into St George’s we all marveled at yet another huge church.


St George’s is possibly one of the largest churches in Kent. The church booklet tells us that St George’s is and I quote, ‘135 feet long and its tower is 100 feet high. It is also one of the most complete examples of 14th century craftsmanship. Its plan is uncommon in that three parallel aisles of equal length run uniformly from the western tower to the east end wall without any structural division. The impression is immediately given of loftiness, spaciousness and grandeur.’


There are box pews which were installed in the 18th century as were the pulpit, the royal court of arms of George III and the curious sentry box.


A perfect setting for the concert which was to take place as part of the ‘Jam on the Marsh’ Festival, during July. The seating had been laid out for the coming event and the acoustics were being tested. Imagine our delight when the two guest pianists played for us. Magical and very special.


The low seats of the south porch remind us that here the earliest school was held and in medieval times the first part of the wedding ceremony was held here.


Also, like all Marsh churches, St George’s was used by the smugglers to hide contraband, particularly in a vault in the north aisle.


St George’s has a rich history and perhaps its largest congregation of 400 gathered here when George Carey, on his first visitation to the Marsh after his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury officiated over Choral Evensong.


The church holds regular concerts and art exhibitions and is obviously well used by the local community. Children are welcome at any time to draw, read and play. There is a display of agricultural machinery, donated from a nearby farm.


We felt elated and privileged as we left with the memory of such beautiful music still ringing in our ears. There is much to absorb and admire in St George’s and we will all be sure to return some day.


St. Georges Church, Ivychurch
St. Georges Church, Ivychurch

Looking forward to lunch we took the road and headed for Bilsington.


We arrived at The White Horse Inn, right on time – 1.00pm


We were warmly welcomed by the staff and were shown to our table in the comfortable dining room. Prior to the tour I had circulated a menu and delivered members’ choices to the Inn. When everyone was settled with a drink, the lunches arrived and were all served promptly. Well done and many thanks to the chef and staff at the White Horse Inn.

The food was delicious and very welcome.


Much reminiscing and discussion took place over lunch and we all agreed that we had enjoyed a splendid day out.


Here’s to The Romney Marsh Church Tour 2 (there are 14 churches in the Romney Marsh Benefice). I would like to add my thanks to the Reverend Christopher Hodgkins, Team Rector of the Romney Marsh Benefice Ministry


Alethea Lester

Secretary

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