Church of St Mary Magdalene, Faversham
Description: Church of St Mary Magdalene
Date Listed: 29 July 1950
English Heritage Building ID: 176003
OS Grid Reference: TR0109861753
OS Grid Coordinates: 601098, 161753
Latitude/Longitude: 51.3193, 0.8845
Location: Davington Hill, Faversham, Kent ME13 7EJ
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659/7/149 PRIORY ROAD
CHURCH OF ST MARY MAGDALENE
Nave of former Benedictine priory church, now an Anglican church. Mostly C12 but repaired and fitted out by Thomas Willement, antiquarian, and stained glass artist, in 1845.
MATERIALS: Stone rubble and flint with evidence of external render; red tiled roof with patterned tiles to the tower roof.
PLAN: nave, north aisle and south-west tower (north-west tower missing); north-west porch by Willement, north-east vestry.
EXTERIOR: the north aisle has an almost flat roof with five lancet windows. The nave clerestory has larger round-headed windows and the remnant of the fallen north-west tower is covered by a tiled lean-to projection at the west end. The Willement porch is timber-framed and tile-hung with fancy pierced bargeboards and re-used C15 timber moulded jambs with blind quatrefoils above urn stops. The east wall of the church has a Willement triple lancet, a trefoil in the gable and buttresses. The west end of the church has a richly-decorated C12 west doorway with some restoration but the carved decoration is apparently untouched. The 3 round-headed windows above are possibly C18 restorations externally (they appear to pre-date the Willement restoration as they appear in a watercolour by H Petrie of 1807), as are the 2 round-headed windows in the gable. The 4-stage south-west tower has a C19 upper stage and pyramidal roof. The tower is plain with freestone bands marking the stages and round-headed windows. It is unclear when the north-west tower was demolished but there is a reference to it having a single tower in 1692.
The north wall of the house abuts the south side of the tower and church. INTERIOR: the north aisle has an arcade of plain round-headed arches on square section piers with moulded abaci, the arches into the base of the towers being larger. Pointed chamfered arches to north and south on the east wall, now blind, once gave access to the former eastern arm of the church through what was a stone rood screen. A C12 doorway on the south side formerly led into the north cloister walk. Canted plastered roof with two very crooked tie beams. At the west end on the south side, 3 moulded corbels support a wall plate. Medieval timbers are thought to survive above the plaster (information from the incumbent). One of the south side windows (now internal as a result of the development of the house) has two bays of C12 style arcading across the embrasure; this is likely to be a Willement introduction. Willement timber drum pulpit on an octagonal stem incorporates C17 panels of the Resurrection and 4 evangelists. Fine Caen stone font dated 1847 by John Thomas with a semi-circular bowl carved with figures on a short stem with waterleaf decoration at the base. Plain chairs to the nave. Willement stained glass, perhaps his best work, the triple lancet with figure scenes from the life of Christ in medallions, the aisle windows including the symbols of the evangelists. 1847 organ by Joseph Walker. Traces of Willement wallpaintings can be seen behind later layers of paint.
Engravings in the vestry show the church with Willement's decoration and a screen, which has since been removed.
HISTORY: the Church of St Mary Magdalene is sited on Davington Hill, above the town of Faversham, and is unusual in that it was originally the church of St Magdalene's Priory, founded as a Benedictine nunnery in 1153. The priory had 26 nuns at its foundation, but was never formally dissolved in the Henrician Dissolution as there were no nuns left by 1536. In 1546 the priory was sold by the Crown to Sir Thomas Cheyne, treasurer of Henry VIII's household. The nave of the church was not dismantled as it was used for parish worship, although the choir was demolished in 1580. In 1845 the antiquarian and stained glass artist, Thomas Willement, an important figure in the Gothic Revival, purchased the remains of the priory (where he developed the private house, Davington Priory, constructed out of the west range of the priory cloister, separately listed Grade II*) and undertook extensive restoration of the church. Administratively the church remained a private chapel until 1932 when it was acquired by the Church of England. It has the unusual distinction of not being a parochial church but rather the property of the Church of England as a body.
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: originally built as the church for the Benedictine Davington Priory, the Church of St Mary Magdalene is a fine, if austere, example of late-Norman ecclesiastical architecture. Much of its C12 fabric remains and it retains part of its cloister in the form of Davington Priory house. The Victorian restoration of the church (and the house) by Thomas Willement, an authority on heraldry, stained glass artist and associate of Pugin and Salvin, is of great interest in the history of the Gothic Revival, not least because Willement described it in his `Historical Sketch of the Parish of Davington, in the County of Kent and of the Priory there' (1862).
Pevsner, North East and East Kent, 1983, 279-280
'St Mary Magdalene and St Lawrence, Davington', Sheet of information in the church, n.d.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Stanley A Shepherd), Willement, Thomas (1786-1871), writer on heraldry and stained-glass artist, 2004-2005
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.