St Mary the VirginTunbridge Wells
The Green
Kent TN16 1AS
 

 

The ancient little market town of Westerham in Kent has a large parish church which dates back to the 14th century. St Mary’s stands on top of the hill nestling behind the north-east corner of the Village Green.

The history of Westerham and its prominent families is embedded in the church. Amongst the notable people born in the parish are the 16th century Protestant reformer and martyr, John Fryth and General James Wolfe.

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14th Century Font
In the west end of the church is a fine 14th century font. This ancient font has been used in the baptism of many thousands of local babies as well as John Fryth (1503), James Wolfe (1727) and three of Sir Winston Churchill’s grandchildren.
 
The Church Registers make interesting reading. The entry in the register recording the baptism of General James Wolfe reads "Wolfe, James Son of Collonel Edward Wolfe Bapt. January 11th 1726" A later hand has added to the comment above - "The General".
 
Over its 800 year history St Mary’s has been modified and enlarged many times. The major restoration in the mid 19th century involved the loss of the music gallery and three-tiered pulpit but gained an unrestricted view of a fine roof, an east window, a reredos and a Lewis organ. The reredos and organ are memorials to the Warde family of Squerryes Court.
 
The church is full of rare and historical objects. The oldest, apart from the font, can be found in the base of the tower. In the corner is an unusual 14th century wooden, spiral staircase which twists to the left. It is one of only two left-spiral staircases of this age in England.
 
A Peal of 8 Bells
Ropes to a fine peal of 8 bells are hooked up, and on the walls of the tower hang three Royal Coats of Arms - those of Edward VI (the oldest known of this reign), George III and Queen Elizabeth II (added during the Jubilee Year).
 
In St Katherine’s Chapel are fine memorials to General Wolfe- - a beautiful stained glass window by Edward Byrne-Jones, and a stone tablet. Also hanging in the chapel is a brass sanctuary light donated by Sir Winston and Lady Churchill.
 
Other interesting objects include a number of memorial brasses which have been moved into the chapel. The brass of Revd Thomas Dye is one of only two in the country to show a Post-Reformation priest in his full robes.
 
John Fryth the Martyr
To the north of the tower is the John Fryth meeting room added in the 1960s. It is a tribute to this local resident who became a biblical scholar and was martyred for his Post Reformation views. He was a friend of William Tyndale and helped him translate the New Testament into English. Fryth was burnt at the stake as a heretic in 1533, aged 30 years.
 
More recently to celebrate the Millenium the Resurrection Chapel was re-ordered to include a glass screen etched with images from around the church and Westerham throughout the ages.
 
Visitors can follow the evolution of the church by studying the interesting plan displayed opposite the main door. The plan shows the dates at which the various parts were added.
 
The church is surrounded with tombstones from many centuries. Old family graves bear names often repeated in the street and place names of this ancient town. Noel Streatfield, author of the popular children’s book Ballet Shoes and Peter Nissen of Nissen hut fame, are buried here.
 
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Genealogical Enquiries
The Diocesan Record Office holds old records. Address:
Centre for Kentish Studies, County Hall. Maidstone, Kent ME14 1XQ.
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 694363.
 
Opening Times
The church is open during daylight hours. Visitors are more than welcome to join parishioners for services.
 
Contact & Further Information
Telephone  +44 (0)1959 561330
Mail   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Website   Westerham Church    External Link
 
Google Maps - St Mary the Virgin