St Martin's, Brasted

Some history and a brief tour of the church

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Early history of St Martin's

A manor in "Bradstede" is recorded in a supplement to the Domesday Book of 1086, and some remnants of a Saxon church were discovered during alterations carried out to St Martin's in the nineteenth century. In the tower vestibule you will see a Saxon coffin lid found on the site. We can be sure, therefore, that there was a church on this site at least a thousand years ago.

It is thought that the village of Brasted may once have been situated between the church and the main east-west route (the present day Pilgrims' Way) running along the side of the chalk ridge to the north, rather than to the south of the church as it is today. The area where the present High Street is was probably a marshy swamp until the Darent Valley was drained during the sixteenth century.

The Archbishops of Canterbury have held the patronage of the living of Brasted, together with those of the neighbouring parishes of Sundridge and Chevening, since about 800 AD, the three parishes together forming what is known as the Archbishop's Garden.

The present church building dates from the early years of the thirteenth century, but a series of dramatic events over the last one hundred and thirty years have resulted in major changes to the structure. Only the tower, which was built in three stages, being started in the late twelfth century and completed some two hundred years later, has remained basically unchanged, although it originally had pinnacles adorning the battlemented parapet. If you travel eastwards along the Pilgrims' Way from Westerham you will see the tower of St Martin's on your right, much as the pilgrims journeying to Canterbury saw it six hundred years ago.

The fourteenth century church

The body of the church as you now see it is the work of many hands. As completed in the fourteenth century, the nave and chancel, the North transept and the South aisle occupied the same floor area as they do today. The South transept was smaller than it is now and the North aisle did not exist at that time; nor did the large room at the corner between the South transept and the chancel. At some later stage an entrance porch was built at the west end of the South aisle which had also been made narrower. Drawings of this church show a beautiful building with a variety of graceful small windows set into the side walls.

The church in the nineteenth century

By the middle years of the nineteenth century the mediaeval church had fallen into a serious state of disrepair. The Rev Charles Astley, writing in 1868, noted that "I think I can truly say I had not been inside so cheerless a place of worship for twenty years. It was damp, and dismal, and wofully [sic] dilapidated." His predecessor, the Rev William Holland, had planned a restoration of the crumbling fabric for some £1600, but died before the work was undertaken. Astley decided that a more grandiose scheme was called for, including increasing the seating capacity of the church, and in 1865 the celebrated architect Alfred Waterhouse was engaged to rebuild St Martin's. His plans involved considerable enlargement of the building, as required by Astley, and so the church took the shape we see today. The final sum collected by subscription amounted to £3800 5s 6½d, of which £3791 19s 11d was spent on the rebuilding and the balance was put towards work on the tower.

Although much of the old material was utilised (it is possible, for instance, to identify the original grey-coloured stone in some of the internal pillars and arches), the walls of the church were entirely rebuilt and new windows were incorporated, the stonework of the East window being a replica of the fourteenth century window it replaced. The two columns which can be seen at the sides of this window today are amongst the oldest elements of the church, being part of the simple lancet windows in use when the church was first built.

We cannot tell whether the drastic remodelling of the church which Waterhouse undertook was really essential but it is fair to say that his touch was discreet enough for the building still to retain a strongly mediaeval atmosphere.

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Stocket Chapel

An interesting feature is to be found in the North transept. Until 1912 this was the private and privately owned Stocket Chapel, the family chapel of the owner of Brasted Place, the owner in 1320 when the chapel was built being one Simon de Stocket. This chapel was finally purchased by a local donor in 1919 and given to the church as a war memorial. You will see the names of the fallen in the two World Wars inscribed on the panelling round the walls.

The Heath memorial

Also in this chapel beneath the North window stands the tomb of Sir Robert Heath, another owner of Brasted Place. Heath (b 1575) was educated at [probably] Tonbridge School, St John's College, Cambridge, and Clifford's Inn. He became a barrister of the Inner Temple in 1603. In 1621 he was elected MP for the City of London, and he became Solicitor General for England and Wales in 1621, when he was knighted. In 1624 he was elected MP for East Grinstead.

He married Margaret Miller on 10 December 1600, and they had six sons and three daughters, of whom five sons and one daughter survived their parents. Sir Robert held several senior positions in the judiciary, becoming Attorney General, and then Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench in 1641. During the Cromwellian parliament Sir Robert and his family fled to the continent, where he died in Calais in 1649. Eventually his remains, together with those of his wife, were brought back for burial in Brasted.

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The windows

There are two modern windows in the Stocket Chapel, both being replacements for originals destroyed in the 1944 bombing. These illustrate the Magnificat (bottom left, North) and the Nunc Dimittis (bottom right, East) respectively. Mrs Urquhart, the widow of a former owner of Brasted Place, generously donated the Magnificat window in memory of her husband John Leslie (1874-1933) and her son Ronald Neil, RAF, "killed in battle 21 June 1942 aged 30". The plaque below the Nunc Dimittis window says, "The above window erected in 1919 as part of the War Memorial in memory of Leonard Wall having been destroyed by a flying bomb in 1944 is now restored in loving memory of Edward Venn Eustace Bryan, rector of the parish 1912-1936 by members of his family." The windows were completed by Carl Edwards, a pupil of James Hogan, after his death, and were lucky enough to escape the 1989 fire.

The tower

The tower from the west

Worthy of note is the heavy buttressing of the tower to counter subsidence, three of the buttresses having been built soon after the original construction, the others added later. Most unusual is the broad, deep buttress on the west face which was widened and arched in the middle to give an entrance into the tower by the original thirteenth century doorway.

The tower also houses a massive timber frame dating from Elizabethan times in which some the church's peal of eight bells are hung. The heaviest six of these bells were cast in 1881 by Gillett Bland & Co of Croydon in 1881, and replaced an earlier six cast by Richard Phelps (precursor to the present Whitechapel Bell Foundry) in 1730. In 2005 the Gillett bells were retuned, hung in new fittings, and augmented to eight by Whitechapel. The tenor bell weighs 9 cwt 2 qtr 2 lb and is tuned to G flat. For more information on the bells and more pictures of the tower visit the St Martin's bellringers' website.

The weather vane was added in 1881, the initials R T W being those of the Rector at the time (J W Rynde) and the churchwardens, W Fearon Tipping and T Wells (the same names appear on the tenor bell, which was recast in the same year). The vane was restored by Lady Kilmaine in 1986 in memory of her husband, the sixth Lord Kilmaine. The clock was added in 1913 in memory of R T Durtnell.

The Crawshay monument

Crawshay monument While we're at the foot of the tower the Crawshay monument, to the north west of the tower, just to the left of the photo above, is well worth a look. Passers-by tend to think that the monument signifies a naval man, but the facts are rather different.

Francis Crawshay (1811-1878) was a coal mine owner and ironmaster of Cyfarthfa in south Wales, who bought and retired to live in Bradbourne House in 1867. He was a tad eccentric, with interests in Druids, and he erected a number of monoliths on his estate, several of which are still standing in gardens of houses on land which formed part of the estate. For a much more detailed background to Francis, visit this site.

Saxon coffin lid

Inside the tower, the Saxon coffin lid already mentioned stands to the left of the West door. When first discovered in the nineteenth century this was built into the North wall of the chancel. The table tomb with black marble top surrounded by a band of Tudor/Jacobean strapwork is that of Dorothie, daughter of William Crowmer of Tunstall. She first married William Seyliard of Brasted, with whom she bore nine children, three of whom predeceased her. She secondly married Michael Berrisford of Westerham, with whom she bore a further three children. Interestingly her first marriage produced a William, who predeceased her, and another William who survived her. Her second marriage produced a further three children, of whom one was also named William. She "dyed" on 29 July 1613, in the "50th yeare of her age". Above this tomb is a wall tablet to Margaret Rogers, another member of the Seyliard family, and alongside a tablet in memory of William Walton, sometime Attorney General of the Duchy of Lancaster, who died in 1833.

The Second World War

The church in 1943, just over a year before the bomb. Click on the thumbnails above to display a larger version.

The church suffered serious damage in July 1944, when a flying bomb fell in the glebe field near the East end blowing out all the windows and damaging the roof, the organ and the foundations of the North-east corner of the building. The War Damage Commission paid for much of the repair work, including a fine East window designed by James Hogan on the theme of the Te Deum and the Benedicite.

The fire in November 1989

On 4 November 1989 the church suffered its most grievous blow when a fire which started in the south-east corner totally gutted that area of the church, completely destroying the organ, the chancel furnishings, the historic pulpit, the East window and the South transept window and most of the roof. The nave suffered serious smoke and water damage but the Stocket Chapel was less severely affected. Prompt action by the firefighters fortunately prevented the conflagration from entering the tower, which was undamaged.

Click on the thumbnails on the right to display a larger version.

Rebuilding in 1991-92

The church's insurance cover allowed for rebuilding without significant cost to the parish. However, it was decided that the destruction of the interior provided an opportunity to re-order it, and make some improvements to the heating and lighting. An appeal was launched in order to fund these enhancements.

Soon after the fire the Parochial Church Council appointed a Rebuilding Subcommittee, chaired by the Rector, which met on over forty separate occasions during the 2½ year period of planning and reconstruction. The subcommittee comprised Tony Curry (Rector, Chairman), Bob Day, Mark Lowth (Treasurer), Richard Newman, Colin Seaward and Keith Smith. The subcommittee worked closely with the Diocesan Advisory Committee, English Heritage and the Victorian Society, as well as with local authority planners, in order to ensure that the restoration was in sympathy with the views of these organisations as well as meeting the needs of the parish. Parishioners' opinions were sought, first at a well-attended public meeting, and then at a display showing the architect's proposals.

The rebuilding, for which the architects were Peake Short and Partners, and the main contractors R Durtnell and Sons Ltd (the Brasted firm already mentioned), was started in February 1991 and completed in April 1992, with the first service being held in the restored building on Maundy Thursday, 16 April. The new East window and the organ were installed in succeeding months, the completely refurbished building being rededicated by the Bishop of Rochester on 15 November 1992.

Click on the thumbnails on the right to display a larger version.

The principal changes after the fire

The changes made to the church in its rebuilding include, most visibly, the insertion of a clerestory of circular windows in the nave roof, the effect of these being to bring more light into the interior, as well as to introduce a significant new feature into the external appearance of the structure. Internally the nave roof is now supported by a number of laminated timber trusses, with pine boarding between them, forming a faceted barrel-vaulted ceiling. The ceilings of the aisles are also timber boarded. This appearance contrasts with the dark mass of exposed scissor trusses which supported Waterhouse's roof.

Other changes include the conversion of the large area at the south-east corner of the building, which had previously held the organ and the choir vestry, into a parish room (named St Martin's Room) separated from the body of the church by timber and glass screens, and with direct access from a lobby formed from part of the South transept. A kitchen and cloakroom have also been incorporated into this space. The South door into the lobby provides access for wheelchairs, and the installation of an audio loop in the nave and chancel assists the hard of hearing.

In the body of the church the nave pews have been extended into the North and South aisles, so as to provide a single unified block of seating. This has also had the effect of leaving wide, open side aisles, furnished with longitudinal pews along the walls, such as probably existed in the mediaeval church. The number of rows of pews has been reduced, allowing the choir stalls to be placed in the crossing of the nave instead of in the chancel as previously; this brings choir, clergy and congregation closer together, reducing the distancing effect of a large floor space. The choir seating is movable, allowing flexibility for concerts and other events.

At the west end of the nave, above the West arch, is a replica of the royal coat of arms. The original, damaged in the 1989 fire, was the gift of Sir Charles Pym in 1957. This replacement has been carved from English oak by Dr Ian Mackenzie Ross, for many years general practitioner in Brasted. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

The chancel

The chancel has been left relatively empty, allowing an impressive vista from the West door to the altar and the East window.

Stanhope coat of arms

An attractive feature of the chancel ceiling is provided by the coats of arms painted on the corbels supporting the roof trusses, which are a reinstatement of the decoration which existed before the fire. On the south side we see, east to west: the See of Canterbury; Oxford University; Magdalen College, Oxford; the late Lord Stanhope, Lord of the Manor (see picture right). On the north side: the See of Rochester; Cambridge University; Peterhouse, Cambridge; Sir Charles Pym.

The altar was a gift from the parish church of St John the Baptist, Eltham, where it had become redundant to their needs but fitted into St Martin's as though expressly designed for it.

On the floor beneath the altar is a memorial stone to Brasted's first recorded Rector, Edmund de Mepham, dated approximately 1350. The impress of the foliated cross remains but the decorative brass has long since disappeared.

Click on the thumbnails above to display a larger version.

The marble tombstone in the centre of the chancel floor is that of Anna Maria Albertina Croasdale who died in 1772, aged nine. The stone bears a moving inscription by her mother, Mary Croasdale. The slate tombstone adjacent is that of William Newman, who died in 1736, and his wife Ann. These monuments are not usually visible since they are hidden beneath a protective carpet.

The new windows

in the course of the rebuilding the church acquired three fine new windows, the themes and contents of which are described below. Items underlined below are links to larger views of the features mentioned.

The East window

East window - full view

The East window in the chancel was designed and made by Lawrence Lee ARCA, assisted by Nicola Kantorowicz. The composition of this window, loosely based on the Te Deum, takes us visually upwards from the lower section, with its portrayal of the evolution of the human race, through the central section showing the Incarnation, to the upper section with the Ascended Christ and, right at the top, the Hand of God in blessing.

In the lower section we see somewhat shady human figures, in muted browns and greys, their legs depicted as tree roots growing from the green of nature into human form — the zenith of evolution in the natural world. Head and shoulders above all humanity is the crucified Saviour, His cross shown symbolically growing directly from the stone cill, perhaps indicating the inevitability of His crucifixion. The inscription above the crucified Christ is the initial letters, in Latin, of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The earth is shown as it appeared from the moon at the time of the moon landing, a beautiful sphere with the surface seen indistinctly through swirls of cloud, symbolising the confusion and imperfection of human existence.

In the central section, above the earth is a faintly sketched rood, with the figures of the Angel Gabriel (on the left) and the Blessed Virgin (on the right) representing the Incarnation. Centrally in the rood is the Blessed Sacrament, through which the Risen Saviour Christ ministers to us on earth. The inscription IC XC NIKA means Jesus Christ, Conquer!

Continuing upwards, in the upper half of the central lancet, the Risen Christ, dressed in priestly robes, ministers directly through outstretched hands to those standing to his right and left. These figures in ranks on either side of Christ, vaguely drawn to suggest a multitude, represent the Hosts of Heaven. They now worship in the heavenly church triumphant, and stretch back in perspective under the arches which grow from within them. Behind, and above the tracery of the stone mullions of the window, can be seen the arches of the celestial building, surmounted by cherubim and seraphim, and surrounded by moon, sun, stars, the Greek letters Alpha and Omega and, at the very top, the Hand of God in blessing.

The St Martin's Room window

St Martin's Room window - full view

Designed by John Hayward, who also cut, stained and painted the glass. Colin Waghorn as his glazier then leaded the glass and installed it. This window incorporates two main themes: first, that of St Martin, to whom our church is dedicated, and second, historical and topographical features of the parish which link the church with the local community.

The upper cusped roundel shows St Martin as a Roman soldier, mounted on horseback, in the act of halving his cloak with his sword in order to share it with a beggar.

The halo round the beggar's head implies Jesus' words 'Forasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me' (Matthew, XXV, v.40).

The centre lancet depicts St Martin seated, and robed as the Bishop of Tours in France, as he later became. He is holding our church in his lap, his Bishop's cope spreading into the side lancets to embrace them symbolically, as well as to unite them artistically.

Brasted has been under the patronage of the Archbishops of Canterbury since the Norman conquest and, together with the neighbouring parishes of Sundridge and Chevening, is known as the Archbishop's Garden. A "map" of these three parishes appears as a backdrop in the three lancet lights, with each parish church marked by a cross. The arms with a red diagonal cross at the top of the central lancet are those of the Diocese of Rochester, in which these three parishes are now situated.

Running diagonally across the window are four important parallel routes which run through our parish along the bottom of the Holmesdale Valley. Three roads are shown — the Pilgrims' Way, linking Winchester and Canterbury (coloured gold), the main road through the village — the A25 — (red) and, most recent of all, the M25 motorway (white). The River Darent (blue) follows the same parallel course.

Returning to the upper part of the window, the left hand roundel depicts the coat of arms of the city of Tours. The right hand roundel shows three crossed swords, portraying the shrine of St Thomas a Becket at Canterbury, the destination of those who travelled from west to east along the Pilgrims' Way from Winchester, whose coat of arms (two keys lying across a sword) is shown at the top of the left hand lancet.

Below this, still in the left hand lancet, we can see the primary school building which was used as our temporary church for two and a half years after the 1989 fire, the flames of which are indicated below the school. The motto "Hic paulisper, mox domi resurgam" translated as "Here for a little while, soon I will rise again where I belong", was displayed outside our temporary church until St Martin's was rebuilt. The large house, in the style of a Palladian villa, is Brasted Place with the arms and portraits of some of its historic owners and users, including Sir Robert Heath and Dr John Turton. The lowest panel portrays the house as it may have looked when first built by Simon de Stocket in 1320, and known then as Stockets.

Looking to the other side of the seated St Martin, in the right hand lancet, we see the arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury (our Patron), those of Archbishop Warham (who lived in Otford Palace and was responsible for instituting the Archbishop's Garden arrangement), and the manorial arms of the Clare, Stafford, Islay, Lennard and Stanhope families, all families of importance in the locality.

The South transept window

The window in the South transept, visible above the curved roof of the lobby, was also designed by John Hayward, who also cut, stained and painted the fragments of glass. Colin Waghorn as his glazier then leaded the glass and installed it. The artist describes the design as an escarbuncle, with eight ornamental spokes radiating from a central boss, a design used on early shields. The glass used in this window includes some pieces recovered from the bomb-damaged pre-World War II window.

South aisle windows

The three windows in the South aisle are the work of Carl Edwards, a pupil of James Hogan who designed the windows for the East end and for the North and South transepts after the damage of the Second World War. Among the works of Carl Edwards are the windows of the restored Temple Church and much of the post-World War II glass of the House of Lords.

The window nearest the west end of the church was given by the Durtnell family in memory of Mr and Mrs Richard Durtnell, the grandparents of the present directors of the 400-year old Brasted building firm. The company and the Durtnell family have a long association with the church. The top of the window depicts St Martin halving his cloak to share it with a beggar. The lower part shows characters from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, reflecting the fact that Mrs Durtnell grew up in a house called Pilgrims on the Pilgrims' Way.
  Click on the thumbnails above to display a larger version.

The centre window in the South aisle depicts the arms of some of the Archbishops of Canterbury, as shown below:

Click on image for larger view
Matthew Parker

William Warham
  Thomas Secker

Geoffrey Fisher

The window nearest to the east end is an armorial design, containing the arms of the Lords of the Manor of Brasted. The diagram below shows the arrangement of the coats of arms:

Emblems of the House of Lancaster

Roger de Clare of Tonbridge
Earl of Gloucester
  Henry VIII and
Anne Boleyn
Hugh de Audley
Earl of Gloucester
wife Margaret
  Sir Thomas Boleyn Sir Thomas Cheyney
Ralph de Stafford
one of the original Knights of the Garter;
Earl of Stafford
  Sir Henry Isley Samuel Lennard
Edward de Stafford wife Anne
(heiress to Duke of Gloucester, 6th son of Edward III)
  Lord Stanhope

The organ

The fine new organ, by J W Walker & Sons Ltd, has been placed in the arch of the Stocket Chapel, near to the choir and congregation. This placement has the effect of enclosing the chapel and isolating it from the main body of the church, making it once again in a sense a private chapel.

The sound of the organ benefits greatly both from its new position, speaking quite directly into the main body of the church, and also from the excellent acoustic of the building, which has been a welcome by-product of the alterations made in the rebuilding of the church. The fretted decorations over the front pipes incorporate motifs connected with the church: the house martin, the flames of the fire and the escarbuncle, seen also in the South transept window.


The organ comprises two manual departments and a pedal section, and has mechanical key and stop action. It also has six mechanical pedals, three for the Swell and three for the Great and Pedal combined. There are 25 speaking stops, three of the Pedal stops being borrowings from the Great organ.

The specification of the organ is as follows:

Great Organ Swell Organ Pedal Organ
Open diapason Chimney flute Violone
Stopped diapason Salicional Bourdon
Principal Celeste Principal
Harmonic flute Principal Bass flute
Twelfth Open flute Choral bass
Fifteenth Flageolet Bassoon
Tierce Larigot Trumpet
Furniture Mixture  
Trumpet Hautboy  
Tremulant Tremulant  
Swell to Great   Swell to Pedal
    Great to Pedal
Three composition pedals (Gt/Ped) Three composition pedals  
  Balanced Swell pedal  
Pedal Principal, Bass Flute and Trumpet borrowed from Great

The future of St Martin's

In rebuilding the church, and planning the changes and additions, those responsible had in mind the possible needs of future generations of worshippers at St Martin's, while retaining that sense of antiquity which Waterhouse's design so successfully preserved. We hope that visitors will feel that that sense is still alive in this place which, though much changed, has been the focus of so many people's devotions for a thousand years.