St John the Baptist Church, Harrietsham: Building History
Described by John. E. Vigar in his book "Kent Churches" as "a noble church", St John the Baptist's is Grade I Listed. It is unusual, if not unique, in having two towers. It comprises, from west to east: West Tower Nave North and South Aisles (off the Nave) South Porch (attached to the western end of the south wall of the South Aisle) North Tower (the lower part of which is a Chapel) Chancel South Chapel (off the Chancel)
The existing building's origins are probably Norman. As such, it is possible that the very earliest part of the fabric is, or forms part of, the church mentioned in the Domesday Book. Nevertheless, it is likely that the structure mentioned in Domesday was itself a replacement and that there has been a building use for sacred purposes on the site since Saxon times.
The oldest part of the existing building is the 11th or 12th century two stage North Tower. The original lower stage was converted to a chapel possibly as early as the 14th century (currently, the chapel of Christ the King).
The Chancel is 13th century or earlier, while both the South Chapel (known as the Stede Chapel) adjoining it and the Nave are 14th century. The Aisles to the south and (subsequently) north of the Nave are 15th century. The South Aisle has a Rood Stair Turret at its eastern end and a South Porch constructed of the same materials is attached near its western end.
The three stage West Tower was built late in the 15th century. It is in the Perpendicular style and has an attached south east Stair Turret, as is common for Kentish church towers. Like the north and south Aisles, it has battlemented parapets.
The walls are mainly of Kentish ragstone and to a lesser extent flint. There are also some good instances of tufa. The roofs are predominantly plain clay tile clad. However, the West Tower has a flat lead roof, while the lean to shallow pitched 19th century north and south Aisle roofs now have stainless steel sheeting.
The church has a variety of fenestration including a preponderance of flat headed mainly three light windows with hood mouldings over. The east elevation of the Chancel has three widely spaced stepped tall lancets (Early English). There is a reticulated (Decorated) window to the east elevation of the North Tower. Pride of place, however, goes to the large mullioned and traceried pointed arched window (Perpendicular) to the west elevation of the West Tower.
Two older (Decorated) windows to the South Chapel were blocked off internally in the 17th century when the insertion of monuments internally made them redundant.
The north elevation windows to the Chancel were restored in 1952, including a new composition in stained glass in the (eastern) single lancet depicting Our Lady and Child. Other stained glass is 19th century.
The Weather Vane on top of the West Tower dates from 1876. The Sundial over the South Porch entrance is also 19th century.
The North Tower Chapel has a stone quadripartite vault. Otherwise, the roofs visible internally are timber, with Crown Posts in the Nave (with Tie Beams) and South Porch. The moulded side purlin Aisle roofs were renewed in 1879 and the Chancel and South Chapel roofs are 19th century in origin.
The Chancel Arch is 14th century, as are the three bay pointed arch Arcades to the Nave. Other arches are also14th century with the exception of the tall West Tower arch which is late 15th century.
Also dated 15th century are the small doorways and doors in the north and south walls of the Aisles at their eastern end leading to the stairs for the one time Rood Loft as well as a blocked up Rood Loft upper door in the south wall.
The late 12th century Font in the Nave is of Bethersden 'marble'. It has a chevroned stem and cable motif around the bowl. It is an unusual design for Kent and has been described as, "one of the finest Norman fonts in the county" (J. Newman).
The Chancel Screen with its finely carved tracery is 15th century Perpendicular, but was much restored (and added to) in 1885. The moulded and turned timber Communion Rail is 17th century.
Above the south door hangs a painting of the Royal Coat of Arms of George III dated 1795 while a large Benefactors Board on the south wall of the South Aisle is dated 1805. Also historic is the Peal Board in the West Tower. The list of Rectors adjacent to the Chancel Arch is 19th century. It is now continued above the South Chapel arch in the South Aisle.
The West Tower contains a fine peal of eight bells the earliest of which date from 1742 and which are still hung in the oak frame of that date.
MEMORIALS AND MONUMENTS
There is a variety of memorials and monuments in the church, with a number of fine examples in the South Chapel. An unnamed tomb recess with ogee canopy and crocketted pinnacles set into the south wall is 14th century.
Otherwise, the earliest notable monument is a table tomb to William Stede (d. 1574). Susanna Partrierich (nee Stede) who died in 1603 has a brass set in moulded stone high on the south wall. The memorial to the one time Governor of Barbados, Sir Edwyn Stede (d. 1695), was erected in 1715. Another Stede memorial is to Constance (d.1714). The Baldwins are represented in particular by Charlotte (d. 1788) and William (d. 1839).
The churchyard is relatively large, partly at least as a result of it having been extended to the east. There are a number of Listed (including several at Grade II*) table tombs and headstones.