The people of this parish
have been coming here to worship for over 900 years. A charter
book compiled in 1115 names the church at Speldhurst and suggests
that it was founded before the Conquest.
This early Church stood until the 14th century,
when the Tower, at any rate, must have required rebuilding.
The label of the West Door, as well as the mouldings of the
base of the Tower, are of this date (circa 1320). But by 1415
the church had fallen into a bad state of repair. When Sir
Richard Waller of Groombridge (in the parish) returned home
from the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, he brought with him
a royal prisoner, Charles, Duke of Orleans, and tradition
has long declared that, from his share of the prisoner's ransom
and the monies he received for his maintenance, Sir Waller
rebuilt the Church of Speldhurst, placing the Orlean's Arms
which had been granted to him by his prisoner to quarter with
his own upon a stone over the South Porch.
||The 15th century
Church lasted 370 years, only to meet with a tragic end.
On October 20th 1791 the entire church, with the exception
of the lower portion of the Tower, was destroyed by fire.
This was caused by a lightning strike, or perhaps a thunderbolt.
An eyewitness account talks of a ball entering the shingled
part of the roof after 'the most awful clap of thunder',
whilst other accounts suggest that the vane on the wooden
spire was first struck, which then began the fire. However
it began, it took only four hours to reduce the church
to ruins. The heat was so intense that the six bells melted
and the molten metal ran down the hill.
loss of the church was a serious blow. for Speldhurst
was a very large parish, taking in part of Tunbridge Wells.
However, there was a lack of both funds and design sense
and this led to a new and apparently 'wretched' church
being opened in 1805. It was too small and much less elegant
than the previous building, and it fell into disuse very
quickly. After 65 years, with dry rot showing and in a
state of some disrepair, this church was pulled down and
the present Church, following the same design and dimensions
as the medieval church, was erected.
The first stone of the present Church was laid in June
1870 and the Church was dedicated on May 6th 1871. The
architect was Mr John Oldrid Scott and the Church was
built by Hope Constable of Penshurst.
|The 'meanness of design' of the old building
was counteracted by having a famous architect to recreate the
medieval church, and by having nine windows installed based
on the designs of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Remarkably, a few
relics of the old church survive, including the coat of arms
of the Duke of Orleans over the South door, a sundial and the
very weather vane which was struck in 1791. Various additions
have been made to the church over the years, including the vestry
in 1897, and the Priests' Vestry and the Sussex spire in 1923.
consists of Nave, North Aisle, Chancel and Tower, all
in Early English style. The pillars are of great elegance,
with fine mouldings. The lower portion of the Tower
escaped the fire and, together with the West Door, is
14th century work, with portions, probably, of an even
earlier date. Within the Tower have been collected the
monuments rescued from the previous Church, among them
a brass plate to the memory of the Waller family, including
the captor of the Duke of Orleans and the builder of
Speldhurst's 15th century Church.
The reredos of carved oak, presented
to the Church in 1925, is unusual in design. Dedicated
in memory of one whose name was John, the central Annunciation
is flanked by four Saints of that name - St John the
Baptist, St John the Evangelist, St John whose surname
was Mark, and St John of Beverley. It was designed by
Mr Charles Oldrid Scott and is the work of Robinson
of Westminster. The same designer and artist executed
the altar rails, the sedilia and the episcopal chair
in the Sanctuary, the chancel screen and the priests'
chairs, and in 1929 and 1930 the Chancel Wall and the
Arches of the Organ were panelled.
is most famous for its stained glass by Burne-Jones and
William Morris. For a guided tour of the windows click
here to link to the KENT ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY visual
record archive for St Mary's Speldhurst