Little Bits of History

January 12

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 12, 2017

1808: St. Mary’s Church, Reculver is doomed. The church was founded in the 7th century as either a monastery or a minster (an honorific title given to specific churches in England such as Westminster Abbey). It was built on the site of the Roman fort at Reculver in southeastern England. In 669, the land was given for this purpose by King Ecgberht of Kent to a priest named Bassa. The original building was erected using stone and tiles scavenged from the old Roman fort and was simply a nave and an apsidal chancel (seating area around the altar), and two small rooms with one on each side of the nave. During the Middle Ages, the church was upgraded several times with the last renovation done in the 15th century. This coincided with a time of prosperity in the area but it is also when the building began its slow descent into decay from coastal erosion.

Reculver may have remained a monastery into the 10th century despite the Viking attacks along coastal areas which targeted these rich and poorly defended edifices. It is also possible that clergy would escape to Canterbury if under attack. By 1066, the monastery had become a parish church and its territory had become part of the property owned by the archbishops of Canterbury. By the 13th century, Reculver parish was one of “exceptional wealth” and there were disputes between lay and church interests. As the church was renovated over the centuries, it managed to retain much of its early charm and Anglo-Saxon features. After the last building spree, the nave was 67 feet long and 24 feet wide with both sides sporting an 11 foot wide aisle. There were two towers which rose 106 feet into the air and were 12 feet square and connected internally by a gallery about 25 feet wide. The entire church was 120 feet by 64 feet.

In 1540, John Leland visited and was impressed by the building but noted that the coastline had been encroaching and now was just over a quarter of mile away. One generation later, the area was described as poor and simple with only 165 parishioners. The shore kept washing away and by 1630, the shore was 500 feet away and closing. The people were moving to better locations and by 1807, after a major storm, the shore was only about ten yards from the wall surrounding the church. Sea defenses had been placed in 1783 but were ineffective. Two new plans were proposed but would cost as much as £8,277 to build.

On this date, at a vestry meeting called by vicar Christopher Naylor, it was decided the church should be destroyed. There were 8 members and a tie vote which meant Naylor cast the deciding vote to demolish the ancient church. He applied to the Archbishop of Canterbury for permission and received it by March 1809. They were instructed to save materials with which to build another church. Demolition began in September 1809 and used gunpowder explosives. Today, only ruins of this historic building remain.

The young clergyman of the parish, urged on by his Philistine mother, rashly besought his parishioners to demolish this shrine of early Christendom. This they duly did and all save the western towers, which still act as a landmark for shipping, was razed to the ground. – Nigel & Mary Kerr

Yn the enteryng of the quyer ys one of the fayrest and the most auncyent crosse that ever I saw, a ix footes, as I ges, yn highte. It standeth lyke a fayr columne. – John Leland (1540)

Sarre [the name of the land granted from the King] was a highly strategic place, overlooking the confluence of the Wantsum and the Great Stour, [and] directly linked to Canterbury … In the early 760s it was the site of a toll-station, where the agents of the Kentish kings collected dues on trading ships using the Wantsum route. – Susan Kelly

[W]e do not know whether the Kentish monasteries had been founded as communities of monks and nuns dedicated to the service of God [and living in monasteries and nunneries], or whether the male communities were from the start bodies of secular clergy [operating from minsters] who, like the archiepiscopal familia at Canterbury, accepted a degree of communal (or monastic) discipline and who were responsible for the pastoral care of extensive rural areas. – Nicholas Brooks


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