St Mary The Virgin Church · Nettlestead · Maidstone · Kent

The history of St Mary the Virgin Church, Nettlestead

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Watercolour of the church, neighbouring oast houses and local farmyard animals (c.1800) ~ artist unknown

In the beginning...

Construction of the church began in the 13th century, the square tower at the west end being the only part surviving from this period. The tower is built of roughly-coursed local ragstone and is topped with a pyramidal shingle-covered roof. It features lancet windows in the three outward-facing sides and a medieval doorway installed in 1858 that came from a demolished church at Teston. The parish church of St Mary the Virgin has links with William the Conqueror's half brother, Odo.
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Watercolour of the church painted in the early 19th Century
~ artist unknown

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Painting by William F. Saunders (1865)

From the Medieval era...

The nave was built about 1438. The north and south elevations are similar; each divided by tall buttresses into three bays containing large stone-framed windows with curved tops divided into three vertical divisions. The western bay of the south side also contains a porch dated to about 1496. The north side is extended against the tower to enclose a stair turret built in the 19th century. a moulded plinth runs along the base of both façades.

The chancel was built about 1460. It is narrower and set inward from each side of the nave and has lower eaves. The plinth continues and the eastern corners are diagonally buttressed. A single small pointed window with two lights is located at the west end of the north and south sides of the chancel and a pointed three light window in the east end.

Internally, the roof of the chancel has a boarded ceiling with rafters decorated with bosses. The roof of the nave is plastered. A 15th-century tracery screen from Teston church is located at the base of the tower. The church contains wall monuments to Elizabeth Scott (died 1598) and Katharine Scott (died 1616), both featuring kneeling female figures.

The stained glass in the church windows includes panels in the central window on the north side of the nave which were paid for by John Pympe of the neighbouring Nettlestead Place in 1438. The north chancel window possibly dates from the 1460s and angels holding heraldic shields in the top lights of many of the windows are also 15th century. Other windows are Victorian or Edwardian in 15th century style.

The church lychgate contains a memorial to casualties of both World Wars and the churchyard contains three chest tomb memorials which are Grade II listed. The church is used by both Church of England and Roman Catholic congregations, with the Catholic Mass held before the Anglican service on Sundays.
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Exterior of the church heavily clad in ivy (c. 1920)

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Interior of the church, note the wall decorations (c.1920)

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Drawing by London architect Joseph Clarke (1819 - 1888)
showing the proposed new church layout after the removal of the box pews

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Stained Glass Windows

Nettlestead Church is widely known for its exquisite stained glass, considered to be some of the finest windows in the local area. It owes its enormous stained glass windows to a 15th-century Agincourt veteran by the name of Reynold Pympe (often known as Reginald de Pympe) who came back from France very impressed with what had already been done with stained glass decoration for churches there. Many people make a pilgrimage just to come and see their beauty. All 41 windows are mentioned in the archives of Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi (Medieval Stained Glass in Great Britain) and on their website with full descriptions of each pane. Reynold’s son, John, added more stained glass later in the same century and the Pympes made quite an impression upon Nettlestead in their day. Reynold moved into Nettlestead Place, which he rebuilt at about the same time as he had the church rebuilt and embellished with the new glass.

Reynold Pympe

Reynold Pympe (c.1371-1426), of Nettlestead and Pympe's Court in East Farleigh, Kent, was an English politician. He was the son an heir of Sir William Pympe, MP, who died in 1375, when Reynold was around four years old. Pympe was also the High Sheriff of Kent from 1409 – 1410 and was elected Member of Parliament for Kent in 1411 and 1422. His wife, whose first name was unrecorded, was the daughter of Sir Ralph Freningham of Farningham and West Barming, Kent. She was the sister of the MP, John Freningham. They had two sons, the eldest of whom predeceased him but left a child and Pympe was succeeded by this young grandchild, who died young in 1435. Pympe's Court and Nettlestead estates therefore passed to Pympe's younger brother John.
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The Scott Memorials

The memorials either side of the chancel arch commemorate the two wives of Sir John Scott whose family were the successors to the de Pympe family that lived at Nettlestead Place. The memorial on the north side is to Lady Elizabeth who was Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth. Her first husband was Sir William Drury of Halstead in Suffolk and they had two sons and four daughters and after his death, Lady Elizabeth married Sir John. She died on 6th February 1598 aged 49 years.

The memorial on the south side, completely restored by the conservator Martin Holden in 2012, is to Lady Katherine who married Sir John in 1599. Her first husband, Sir Rowland Hayward MP had died in 1593. He had had the distinguished honour of being twice Lord Mayor of London in 1570 and 1591. They had one son and two daughters.

Sir John died on 25th September 1616 and Lady Katherine followed him in December 1616 aged 56 years. Sir John had no children by either Lady Elizabeth or Lady Katherine.
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Nettlestead Green

The village of Nettlestead Green is actually a separate village from Nettlestead lying two miles further south. Both villages are close to the River Medway lying in the Medway valley south-west of Maidstone in Kent. The village is full of character with The Hop Pole Inn, a 17th century pub, and Wood Cottage Plant Nursery. The long-standing Post Office closed in the 1980s. The railway station for Yalding is actually closer to Nettlestead Green than to its own village, which lies on the opposite side of the River Medway.

Nettlestead Place

The construction of Nettlestead Place began circa 1250–60 with additions added circa 1438 and circa 1589 and in the 1920s. The two-storey house is built of local ragstone, galletted on the ground floor of the main section and more randomly coursed on the first floor. The 15th and 20th century extensions are without galletting. Having been used for two centuries as an oast house, it was restored and extended for use as a house in the 1920s.

The main wing of the house, aligned east-west, is the oldest part and contains the original 13th century construction with the 15th century extension on its eastern end. The south elevation, facing a square pond, is divided into four unequal sections by projecting bays probably constructed as garderobes with small windows at the first floor. the sections between the projections feature a series of five 15th century paired windows at first floor with moulded stone architraves and mullions. Smaller windows occur in the ground floor, and at the east (right) end of the wing is a doorway over which stone carvings of shields carry the date "AD 1589". The west and east ends of the wing are gabled, with the west end rebuilt as part of the 1920s works which included chimney stacks added at both ends of the wing. On the east end, the 1920s extension is two-storeys with an attic floor, but with lower eaves and ridge heights and dormer windows. It is slightly set back from the earlier wing.

The 1920s construction extends north as a two-storey east wing with the attic floor and dormer windows continuing. It terminates with a short north wing set at a right angle, each end of which is gabled. On the north side of the original wing, at its junction with the east wing is a gabled 1920s stair turret probably occupying the location of an earlier stair turret. The north side of the original wing features a pair of two-storey gabled bays set in from the ends, between which the roof continues down to eaves above the ground floor. Internally, the older part of the house contains a number of original structural features including moulded details to window surrounds and 13th and 15th century doorways.

The early 14th century gatehouse stands to the west of the house at the start of the private drive. It is a two-storey structure with a roughly coursed ragstone ground floor and a half-timbered first floor jettied to the west and spanning the roadway on timber Bressumer beams. The roof is of clay tiles and is gabletted and features crown post construction.
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Local History

On 26 June 1944 Warrant Officer Richmond Anthony ("Red") Blumer RAAF died when his Spitfire crashed in a woodland close the church. A memorial has been erected to his memory and on the Saturday closest to 26 June every other year a service is held in his memory. Blumer's portrait, and details about his life hang in the Hop Pole Inn.