The History of Kent
Copyright Kent Past 2010
Cliffe and St Helens Church
By Henry Smeetham
Transcribed by www.cliffe-
He extracted secrets from oblivion to endow what is with the mystery of what has been; and so puts us in case to expect the future. He strikes a full chord upon the keys of time. It is only the greatest musicians who thus exalt the present by fealty to the past. And make it a herald of eternal harmonies”. By Geo. Wyndham on Sir Walter Scott
“At the great and general review of us all Corporal, at the day of judgement –and not till then –it will be seen who have done their duty in this world, and who have not; and we shall be advanced trim, accordingly. I hope we shall said Trim; “It is in the Scripture” said my Uncle Toby; and I will show it thee to-
The Parish of Cliffe is not only ancient but it is also very large. Its area is given as 5,622 acres of land, and 2,139 acres of tidal water and foreshore.
It stretches south to the chalk hole cottages abutting on the junction of Bill Street Road and Stonehorse Road and it extends north into the River Thames. Its western boundary runs from the road to Lilliechurch-
Turning back from the finger post to go to Mockbeggar, are two brick cottages standing in their own grounds to the east side of the road. This piece of land with the tenement then thereon, together with the long narrow meadow leading from the crest of Leagreen Hill to the Lilliechurch Road form the charity lands left in 1679 for educational purposes by John Browne, yeoman of Cliffe particulars of which will be found in his bequests. Further north, and at the foot of the hill leading to Cliffe Station the Farm premises known locally as “Bluegates”, but historically as “Mortimers”-
Ancient records render the spelling of Cliffe in varying forms. Bede-
It lies in the Bailiwick2 of Hoo and the Hundred of Shamwell in the Lathe of Aylesford. It is in the Diocese and Archdeaconry of Rochester, but was, as a peculiar of the Archbishop, in the deanery of Shoreham until 1846; when it was added to the Deanery of Gravesend.
Later it was passed to the newly created Deanery of Cliffe. Dr Harris also states that a fair was held here on October 8th. It was a privilege obtained for the town by Hugh de Mortimer from Henry 1, in 1109. Apparently, the Mortimer Estate extended to Cooling Church. The Mortimer above noted was one of the younger branches of that great family and Mr Hasted’s date of the grant of the fair dates widely from that of Dr Harris and, of the two Mr Hasted is the more liable authority. The latter gives the date of this fair as being granted by King Edward 111, in the first year of his reign but the translation below is dated Litchfield 30 July 1247.
Know ye that we have granted and by this Our Charter have confirmed to Sir Hugo of the Dead Sea(!) the parson of the Church at Clive that which he and his successors in the same church request that they may hold a Fair at Clive in the County of Kent every year lasting three days, that is to say on the Vigil, the feast, and the day after the feast of St Aigidius unless that Fair fall on night next another Fair. Wherefore we are willing to grant with all the liberties and free customs pertaining to this style of Fair.
Anyway, the above is a very interesting document “Hugo of the Dead Sea”? Whether this means Hugh de Mortimer, the writer does not know. It places him-
Lord Darnley and the Rector were jointly “Lords of the Buttway”. Both voluntarily surrendered these rights to the Parish Council in order that it should serve a public good. But fairs then and now have vastly altered in their values.In those days’ fairs brought into a given place goods for sale, barter or such as were not to be found at any other time in the whole year. In the reign of Edward 111, John Mortimer and Guncelin de Clyve were in possession of this manor. In the 20th year of that reign John son of John Mortimer and Robert Le Ram (see monuments) paid respectively for it half a Knight’s Fee which they held at Shabrok in Clyve. One hundred and two aces of marsh called Pykeworth , in Cliffe, late the property of Robert Le Ram were passed by John Lord Cobham to the foundation of Cobham College on the 8th February 1581.
In 1283 John Mortimer was called to provide “an hobleer”-
Mr Hasted writes of Cliffe that “the situation is pleasant but exceedingly unhealthy, owing to the nearness and exposure to so great a quantity of Marshland” . No doubt, as was terribly prevalent in all these low lying lands, it was the ague that gave it such a bad reputation. Happily, this old evil has now fled, but we have others we would be glad to see the back of. The arable land is very fertile, being a loamy mould especially in the common unenclosed field, which comprehends the middle part of this Parish and contains upwards of two thousand acres of land, yet adjoining it near to the Cooling Boundary the soil becomes clayey, wet, and very poor. Rising southward towards the hill near Mortimer’s the land partakes of a like cold character, and it continues so to the foot of Leagreen Hill. The town of Cliffe, called Church Street, is situated on the uplands at its northend, where the chalk takes a sharp rise from the marsh in a long extended Cliffe, from which its name is derived. There are a large number of places in England called Cliffe, with various aliases and prefixes which may be accepted as to their name derivation from a like source.
Adjoining the churchyard, on the north side, lies what Hasted describes as a “capital messuage and estate, called Courtsole for many generations the property of the Roper’s, some of whom appeared , occasionally to have resided here; and it continued in that name until Christopher Roper, Lord Teyham in 1645 alienated it to Sir Edward Monins Bart of Waldershere whose brother Sir Thomas gave it by his will in 1676 gave it in like manner to Dame Elizabeth his wife. As she did in like manner in 1705 Mr Thomas Short who had married Elizabeth her niece, and he in 1721 conveyed it by sale to John Hasted of Canterbury, whose grandson Edward Hasted inherited it.
The Edward Hasted of Canterbury referred to above was a relative of our Kentish historian, which confers a distinction upon the estate of Courtsole. Hasted’s family had connections in Chatham-
The town of Cliffe is held to have been formerly much larger in medieval times than it was when the History of Kent was written. In 1520 a great fire broke out at Cliffe and was so destructive that it proved a disaster too great to be overcome, its decline went deeper and deeper and the inhabitants had to seek a home and a living elsewhere. It has to be remembered that no appliances as we know them today existed for the extinction of any outbreak of fire and if only a great wind was going any outbreak of fire was a most serious calamity. It was rather a curious instance that this Cliffe fire occurred during the visit of Emperor Charles which he paid to Henry V111.
Naturally, in a parish so extensive in its area as that of Cliffe, the inhabitants stood in several divided hamlets. One such existed and still exists in what is known as West Cliffe. Here lies West Court the residence of Mr F Wright, JP many Roman and other objects of antiquity have been discovered on this estate.West Court hamlet stands about a half mile from the Old Rectory.
Manor Court also lying west is a truly interesting house of Jacobean date. There are two very finely carved oak chimney pieces which, happily, escaped destruction or serious damage, during a fire which occurred at this house some years back. The old bay windows were severely; damaged and some of the fine exterior timbers and nobly carved trusses scorched. However, the Earl of Darnley –to which the estate these premises then belonged had engaged a capable architect touched with feeling for ancient specimens of his art, by whose skilled direction of all these fine examples were retained and where necessary accurately renewed. The beautiful old brick chimneys were fortunately left standing a sight which gladdened the eye. When the writer cycled out to see the damage the fire had wrought. (-
Nearby is an old brick building now used as two cottages, known formerly as Booth Hall (-
The land lying below this level in the marshes is Cliffe Level. There is common mead open to the growing of stock of the owners of estates here, according to the property they hold. The sea defences and dykes are under the Commissioners of Sewers who levy a rate for the upkeep of the sea walls, known as “Wall Scot”.
The Rectory as noted above stands about half a mile from the church, and is an extensive building facing south and is very ancient. The casual passer-
The restoration of the Rectory was carried out by the Rev. Henry Robert Lloyd who was the incumbent from 1869 to 1880 when he was succeeded by the Rev. Stanley Leathes a very learned man and one of the translators of the Revised version. In digging over the grounds a great quality of carved stone work of the old building, relating to cloisters, doorways, windows, of some age was uncovered. Mr Lloyd had these ancient fragments when not available for use in the building made up into a wall with a protective coping; here they were fitted together as far as possible, and are standing today. As Mr Lloyd was the last of the Cliffe pluralists, we can but fairly admit that he spent a considerable sum in these repairs, and in the happy preservation of this ancient work. Mr Lloyd also most scrupulously maintained every ancient feature of this intensely interesting old house that could possibly be preserved. It is thus happily handed down to posterity. By readjustments to the needs of other benefices etc., the income is now less than half its former value, although one’s living expenses are double what they were then. It was originally a “Community House” where the monks dwelt and studied, and were sent thence to other appointed duties by the Archbishop. The above note explains the reason the former cloisters existed. Canon Alfred T Wallis M.A, R.D, formerly Vicar of Strood is Cliffe’s present genial and esteemed Rector. There was anciently a chapel or oratory in the Rectory the altar being dedicated to St Lawrence.
The manor of Cliffe was given to the priory of Christchurch with large areas of local lands in Cliffe and Cooling etc., and remained in this name until recent times.
The manor of Mallingdene, now known as Molland and Dean Fee came into the hands of Henry V111 at the dissolution, where it remained until Queen Elizabeth gave it to William Ewens ; who soon passed it to Sompner, who sold it to Hills, from whom after some interval it was sold to a Mr Blackford of Holincote in Somerset. A descendant a young girl named Henrietta died at Holincote and her share of lands in Cliffe and Higham came to her co-
Priors Hall remained a possession of the Archbishop but in 1195, he exchanged it with the See of Rochester to the advantage of both parties, for the manor of Lambeth. The priory of St Andrew’s Rochester held this manor until the dissolution when they were surrendered to the king, who the next year settled it upon his newly created Dean and Chapter. William Gates died possessed of the lease of Priors Hall in 1768. In Hasted’s day it was a possession of James Roper Head Esq. The other part of the parish was given by the Conqueror to his half-
In the 20th year of Edward 111 John Cardon and others held it of the manor of Horton Kirby as the forth part of one knights fee., for which they paid respective aid, when the Black Price was knighted. Robert Le Ram died 1357.Joanne the wife of one of his descendants, lies buried in Cliffe Church.
In the sixteenth year of Edward 1V, it was in the hands of the crown, granted to the Carthusian Monastery known as Charthouse London. On the suppression it came to the crown and two years later Henry granted it to Thomas Gibbons citizen and vintner of London, the manor of Cardons a tenement known as Ballard’s, Mortimers, and other lands in Cliffe and Higham, late of belonging to the monastery to hold direct from the crown by knights service. Before the end of that year Gibbons obtained the kings license to alienate these lands to Oliver Leder . About 1725 it was sold to the Dean and Chapter of Rochester the lessee in Hasted time was John Knight.
Canon Boyd (in reply to queries) states; “the top of the 14th century Chancel screen and gates, I paid for this with tuition fees they paid me.” All the furniture of the Lady Chapel was given in connection with my father and mothers memory. The two lancet windows I gave in memory of my rectorship, but purposely did not put up any inscription.
The object for these windows etc. were erected which the writer feels of a nature that needs to be recorded. Canon Boyd adds that “far the most interesting thing was the formation of a cleaning guild-
When the transept was undergoing restoration, some foundations of an earlier building were discovered which were thought to be the old Norman Church. A local painting was also found depicting in progressive scenes the martyrdom of Saint Edmund King and Martyr.
A number of the pillars of the church retain these old paintings-
The work is fine that many persons have ascribed this work to be by Grinling Gibbons. As Gibbons was not born until 1648 it would indeed be a specimen of his early brilliance had he executed it fourteen years before his birth! The pulpit carries what is now an extreme rarity, though very common in the puritan days-
During 1874 and part of the year following great alterations and improvements were made during the incumbency of the Rev H R Lloyd. All that could be preserved and used of the 13th Century work fresco’s etc. were most carefully preserved. For Mr Lloyd, who had used the like care at the Old Rectory, was equally studious in his dealings with the church. The pulpit formerly stood in the middle of the chancel; it was removed to stand under the north east wall of the chancel; where the preacher can command an entire view of the congregation. There it still remains.
Mention has been made of the “Bone Hole”. It was situated and fenced in the west and south corner of the north aisle and was chiefly used for rubbish and to keep tools of the sexton-
The writers’ teacher the late Charles Roach FSA once said to him “If a man is sensible of a degradation that he has bought upon himself, and is sorry for it, there is a home for that man. But if he boasts of it the man is hopeless” As the Rev Greene sets down his misdeed at the Church in Cliffe in the register book of that church in complacent terms we may leave him to the latter condition. The old floor of broken brick and varied rubbish was replaced by Rector H R Lloyd with a pavement of good Worcester tiling. The fragments broken off the pinnacles of the Sedilia were also repaired and restored. There runs a strong course cornice round the chancel; its terminals being at the south end a monks head, its opposite at the north of a devil. The latter gentlemen who was anciently thought to hail from the North, was removed to mix with various other items lying to the north west window sill, where it still reposes, its place being far more suitably occupied by the head of an Archbishop and certainly a more comfortable comparison for the monk.
The seventh Century altar rails still remain. The tiles in the Chancel are of three different patterns, the colour richest increasing as they approach nearer the east. The lower part of 14th Century rood screen is still in situ. It is of excellent workmanship. Mention has been made of the old east window. Such of its tracery –and that of other doorways-
The entire fabric is built of Kentish material, squared black flints alternating with Kentish rag stone. The flint layers alternate one being two deep the next three.
The square tower, with its battlemented top, is excellent. The half circle portion on left is beautifully rounded, but among the well balanced stone work here and there are inserted other larger and different pieces of stone blobs, that repel one’s admiration as an excrescence upon what else is a really beautiful work. The six north windows of the Chancel were replaced with plain glass of the Fourteenth Century pattern, those on the south side being fitted with the ancient glass recovered from the “bone hole” as noted above. The east window is a most beautifully drawn design.
In 1877, funds were asked to complete the restoration. To complete the chancel was estimated to cost from £1500 to £2000 and from £3000 to £4000to restore the nave. The later and the two aisles were restored in 1884 and in 1897; a further restoration was affected at a cost of £4000. The last two were carried out during the incumbency of Rev. William Henry Grove. In the east wall of the north transept are the remains of a holy water stoop. The church contains six of the later , all connected with images and saints before which lights burned in the pre reformation days.They are named in the various bequests for altar lights. The high altar of course took prominent place Stevyn Tudor in all probability a member of the old Stoke family by that name-
Judging the quality of the rood screen the rood would have been very fine work. But during what is called the “Reformation” terrible vandalism took place. Incumbents, under pain of imprisonment and sequestration were called upon to pull down and destroy the roods and other matters deeply sacred in their character and association to many truly of the truly best and pious minds of that time. There were those who elected to travel and suffer on that thorny road than to go against their conscience. Others like the Vicar of Bray went where the veering winds of doctrine shifted, as long as money bags went with them. Other lights are named such as St George, St Christopher, St John and St James.
Edward Lyndall, citizen and goldsmith left a sum to the parish church of St Ellyn in Cliffe for to bye surplices for the quier there. We now come to a regrettable item. On the floor of the north aisle is a slab with a carved inscription nearly obliterated. This is indeed a very great pity, though it has stood the wear of ages, for it is believed to be the oldest sepulchral inscription in our whole county. However, here again comes the proof in our opening words. In 1769, John Thorpe published the works of his father who had worked long hard, zealously and carefully in copying out all the old inscriptions on the monuments in every church in Rochester. It is to his thoughtfulness that this inscription will be found at the end of this paper. This tomb is supposed to be a member of the old Cobham family though named as “Elienmore De Clive, Gist lei De Sa Alme Eit Mesci, Amen Par Charite”.Nearby is another the design being much more of the type of the former, but much more elaborate. It is to a member of the Ram family Guncelin de Clyve and Robert le Ram were possessed of Mortimers 1272. The writer is unable to quote the dates of these monuments.
The later bears a Celtic cross, the colons dividing the words being two diamond carved points. The words are deeply cut and regular and were once filled in with brass, which was in its place down to 1807. How the brass became lost is unknown. In the vestry is the usual royal coat of arms; by its side another which is somewhat of a mystery. It is about a yard square, painted in gold is a large anchor standing upright, its top end (ring) being surmounted by a crown, the letter I is painted on one side and D on the other. From the ends of the stock are two ropes holding ribbons or ropes. It is not true heraldry and the painter was ignorant of this old craft in his work on this panel. It is believed to be in some way associated with the Admiralty (clearly, the old village name of the Admiralty for the Cordite works was not known).
The Communion plate with one very notable exception is not of great interest. It consists of flagon, two patterns and a chalice of massive silver.
Those were presented by the Rev. George Grove who was responsible for the vandalism mentioned above. Let us hope the gift may somewhat diminish his sad blunders in the former case. The excepted item is a paten of XIV Century byzantine work, made of silver with enamelled inlay. In the centre, is a representation of the Crucified Saviour held by the Father and surrounded by a glory. The edge is inscribed in old gothic lettering – each word separated by a flowered ornament. It has been thought to have been used as an arms dish with the unfortunate result of injuring the enamel. There have been periods in church history where reverence was sadly lacking. The tower contains a peal of eight bells.
On the day the late King Edward was married 10 March 1862 a seed of a tree the Wellington Gigantea was planted in Cliffe Churchyard.(-
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