Tuesday, 2 April 2013

St Mary's, Goudhurst, Kent

This Church of St Mary is a real treasure. The earliest record of a church on this dramatic hilltop site was in 1119, but quite obviously it was not new then and there is some evidence to suggest that the first church here was built some centuries earlier. No doubt this early structure was of wood, and it may have been one of the very first Christian sites in England.

To the practised eye the tower looks slightly squat and out of proportion. This is because when it was built in the 1320s it was at least 20 feet taller and was topped by an elegant spire. Then in 1637, on a hot and sultry summer day a bolt of lightning flashed down from the sky. The spire took the full force of the strike, bursting into flames. When the fire was eventually put out it was found that not only was the spire beyond repair, but that the upper parts of the tower were shattered beyond use. They were taken down and the tower acquired its present height. Despite this blow, the hilltop position ensures that anyone who climbs up the tower - and it is usually open during the day - is rewarded with stunning views across Kent. One enthusiastic local armed with a telescope has claimed to have counted 51 churches in view from the tower. Certainly on a clear day you can see quite clearly both Canary Wharf Tower in central London to the north and the tower of Lympne Church far to the south.

Inside the church is a fine collection of tombs and brasses commemorating members of the two local landowner families: The Bedgeburys and the Culpepers. The 1537 tomb of Sir Alexander Culpeper and his wife boasts two fine and very rare wooden effigies.

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