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History of Speldhurst

Speldhurst comes from the Old English word ‘speld’ meaning a ‘chip, splinter’ and ‘hyrst’ as a ‘wooded hill’; therefore, a ‘wooded-hill where wood chips are found’. The Textus Roffensis records Speldhurst as Speldburst.

Speldhurst parish church is a Grade: II listed building, dedicated to Saint Mary the Virgin. It has been suggested, by a charter of 1115 that a church stood on the site before the conquest of 1066. However, by the 15th century it had fallen into disrepair and rebuilt by Sir Richard Waller upon his return from Agincourt in 1415. Unfortunately, lightning struck the Speldhurst church on 22 October 1791, with the subsequent fire, destroying all but the tower's base.

Edward Hasted, in his topographical survey written in 1797, just a few years after the fire, described how on ‘Thursday, October 22, 1791, a dreadful storm of thunder and lightning happened in these parts, which set fire to this church, a ball of fire being observed to enter the center of the shingled part of the spire, and instantly a thick smoke, followed by slames issued from it, and there being no help at hand, every thing contributed to its destruction. The high wind, the rain and hail having ceased, drove the flames from the steeple on the church, and in about four hours this beautiful structure was totally reduced to a heap of ruins, The bells were melted by the intense heat, the monuments in it, and every thing else which could become a prey to the fiery element were reduced to ashes; the stone walls only were left, but in so ruinous a condition as not to be fit for future use, and what is extraordinary, the font, though left entire, was turned upside down; the tombs and head stones near the church were considerably damaged.’

A new church built in 1805, suffered from a lack of funds, resulting in its poor design and quality. In 1812, Thomas Mears recast a single bell from the four destroyed in the fire of 1791. Charles and George Mears cast an additional five bells, making six, in 1849. Another church designed by John Oldrid, built by Hope Constable, of Penshurst, and closely following the model of the medieval building, received its dedication on 6 May 1871. Further alterations followed in 1897 and 1923, with the building of a spire and Priests Vestry. In 1887, Mears and Stainbank added two trebles, and in 1920 cast a Sanctus bell. A dedication of the bells took place on 7 April 1933.