St Margaret's Darenth

St Margaret’s is a grade 1 listed building thought to have been built around 940AD. It is said to be the 6th oldest church in England and the 3rd oldest church in Kent and is mentioned in the Doomesday Book.

It is lucky to have an exceptional Norman font which is still in use for baptisms today and some interesting medieval wall paintings. The bells date back to the 15th century and are still in use athough they are no longer able to ring changes.

The building itself has a wide cross section of archtectural features which reflect the great age of the building. With a little perseverance reused carvings can be found built into the wall together with what are believed to be reused Roman roof tiles from the nearby Roman villa.

The churchyard contains some interesting graves including several war graves, a large number of Polish army graves and an uncommon grade 2 listed grave board.
The churchyard is available at all times however if you wish to visit the church itself outside of service times please contact the vicar to enquire about the church being opened for you. There is also guidebook to the church available. 

Monuments

The church has numerous monuments that bear witness to 1000 years of village life. There are several small brasses including one to John Crepehege and his wife, who leased the Manor of Darenth from the Prior and Monks of Rochester in the 15thcentury.

Among the plain tablets is one to Algernon Fleet, who was churchwarden for 37 years and one to Thomas Tristram, churchwarden for 25 years. A modern addition in the choir, where he sat for many years, is tablet to the memory of Percy Widdows. A plaque on the book-case also commemorates Elsie Pankhurst.

These people may not have been famous in the modern sense but they devoted their lives to this ancient church and to the glory of God. So many times they must have sat in his house of God and admired that beautiful view towards the altar. We hope you also will be able to join in the peaceful beauty of this place of worship.

Edmond Davenport was a generous donor to the Church in the 1680s, the coat of arms of Charles II displayed in the Church was his gift, he also gave a chalice and paten to the church in 1682 but unfortunately both were stolen in the late 1970s. His monument is built into the chancel steps.

It is believed that the pulpit was given to the church by William Lee, Surveyor of the Navy in the reign of Queen Anne, who lived in Gore House in the parish. Originally the pulpit was part of a three decker pulpit, the lowest level for the clerk, who led the responses; the next where the priest would sit; and the highest the preaching level. It has been moved several times since it was first given to the church which has resulted in its door currently being next to the wall!

The three windows at the east end of the sanctuary, one of which is pictured below, have stained glass in memory of Catherine Seager who died in 1848. They were installed by the well known Victorian church restorer William Burgess and are thought to be the work of his designer Albert Saunders

The glass in the large window at the east end of the south aisle is to the memory of Alexander Hassell and his wife, placed there in 1889. The stonework of this window was replaced and the glass re-leaded exactly 100 years later.

The Bell Tower

The bell tower, erected in the 13th century, has no structural staircase to reach the lower stages. There are three bells, one of which has no inscription but it is thought by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry to date from Circa 1400. The second one is inscribed ‘Stephanus Swan’ and dated 1609. The third was made by C&G Mears in Whitechapel in 1856.

The mounting for the bells, which had become unsafe, has since been repaired and strengthened. The bell ringers may thus again summon the faithful to prayer without fear for their own safety!

The room in the base of the bell tower was for many years used for storage, however it has been recently converted into a 'Lady Chapel'  dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John the Divine. This dedication is in part due to the fact that much of the materal used to furnish the chapel came, came by kind permission of the Bishop of Rochester, from the now disused church of St John the Divine in Chatham. The room is small and peaceful and a perfect place just to sit and be silent, to pray and of course to light a candle. 

The chapel was formally blessed and dedicated by James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester at a service on Sunday 26th August 2012. The view below is taken through the door of the chapel and also displays the way in which the excess Laudian altar rails were used in the past to make a screen door for the tower space.
 
 

The Font

For a video tour of the font courtesy of Hannah at the Friends of Kent Churches click here

At the rear of the church, the most interesting feature is undoubtedly the font. In fact it is one of the most interesting fonts in Kent. It is Norman and made of Caen stone in the second half of the 12th century. It is 2’ 3” height and its outside diameter at the top is 2’9”.


It is decorated on its sides by eight semi-circular arcades and there has been considerable variants in the identification of the subjects.

A tale is told of an Archbishop in the reign of King Stephen being asked to consecrete the new font. He naturally asked for details and was told that the villagers had an excellent carver of stone who had created scenes both spiritual and pagan. This obviously alarmed the Archbishop although on hearing that one scene depicted a baptism he became less alarmed.

He was however less pleased with a scene that depicted a dragon until he was told that it was a scene from the legend of St. Margaret of Antioch who encountered the devil in the form of a dragon, whether it actually does or not remains open to interpretation.

A third panel depicted an archer which, it was pointed out, was the badge of King Stephen. Other panels depicted a lion, a griffin, a king with a harp (possibly King David), a figure with long hair and a crown and creature in mythology.

All in all the Archbishop was pleased with the font and promised to consecrate it. It is now a most important piece of Romanesque art.