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History and structure of Edenbridge Parish Church
The Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul has a history that goes back almost 1,000 years. The church was known to exist in 1120AD because surviving documents [Textus Roffensis] record that the inhabitants of Edenbridge paid a tax on it.
The present building dates from early Norman times and it is assumed that it replaced a Saxon church on the same site. Although no trace of that church remains it is recorded that a 9 pence chrism was paid by the people of Edenbridge in pre-Norman times on a Chapel of Westerham [Edenbridge was at the time part of Westerham Parish].
The growth of the church is related to the history of the town throughout the ages. Building occurred between the 12th and 15th centuries when Edenbridge prospered through local industry that included leather making, Tudor iron smelting, sheep rearing and cattle marketing. When Edenbridge declined in the 18th and 19th centuries the church also suffered through neglect. The 20th century improved its fortunes and the church is now well maintained. The early history of Edenbridge is well described in a book of that title by H. L. Somers-Cocks and V. F. Boyson.
In common with almost all other medieval churches St Peter & St Paul was built on an east-west axis with the altars at the east end. The east and the rising sun, symbolise the resurrection, Christ the Light of the World rising from the dead.
Notable external features include the clock, which is one of the oldest in the diocese of Rochester and was until 2012 in regular use. It has an hour hand only and was brought from the Church of St. George the Martyr in Southwark in 1795.
The building is entered through the 18th-century porch (rebuilt in 1909) and the 14th century south doorway. Until the Local Government Act of 1894 the churchwardens and vestry were responsible for civil affairs and rates etc. were collected in the porch.
The west end of the building contains the baptistery, the renovated choir vestry and the tower which is home to a fine ring of bells.
Originally there was just one bell. In 1608 the Bridgewardens gave 10 guineas to “the bells” and a full ring of eight bells was provided in 1896. The eight bells were recast and rehung in a new frame in 1911.
In the centre of the west end of the building is late Norman font which was discovered during repairs to an old box pew in 1859. The oak cover dates from the 15th century and forms a fitting complement to the older stone font.
The oldest part of the church is the north aisle or nave. The original Norman church on this site would probably have been a narrow, low roofed building, lit only by slit windows. One of these windows can be seen from outside, bricked up, close to a lancet window.
The present roof structure dates from the thorough rebuilding in the 15th century that included the upper walls. The roof of the nave and south aisle is supported by crown posts and there are a series of carved corbels supporting the roof beams at their juncture with the walls.
The pulpit is a fine specimen of Jacobean work, dating from about 1630 mounted on a more recent base. The stone stairway dates from the 15th century and gave access to the rood-loft which at one time ran across the front of the chancel.
The main organ is above the choir vestry and was acquired in 1990 from a church in Trowbridge. It is sympathetically tuned with the choir organ [the organ in the Chancel used prior to 1990] and both are played from one mobile console.
At the east end of the church are the adjacent Chancel and Martyn Chapel, each with their own altar. The modern Central Altar is in the centre of the main building on its platform. Behind the altar is an opening in the stonework made in 1912.
The Chancel is a fine example of 13th century work and is entered through a 14th century arch. The choir organ is partly Willis in origin, much of it being built into a Victorian vestry.
An opening in the wood panelling behind the high altar, marked by a light above, provides access to the aumbry where the Blessed Sacrament [the consecrated bread] is reserved for the communion of the sick.
The East Window has a curious history. Somers-Cocks tells how Sir Gilbert Scott visited the church in 1848 and much admired the tracery. On his return he found the tracery replaced by a new erection – “a miserable thing” as he called it. The original tracery was restored. The stained glass dates from 1908.
An oak-panelled screen added in 1912 separates the Chancel from the Martyn Chapel, which has been significantly changed over the years.
The 13th century chapel was originally divided into two under the patronage of the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. The wealthy endowed Chantry priests used to say mass for the repose of their souls here. In 1499 the two chapels became one in order to contain the remains of Sir Richard Martyn and his wife, whose tomb was placed in the centre of the chapel. In 1895 the tomb was removed and a fragment was built into the east wall.
In addition, windows and doors were repositioned when the external buttress was moved in 1908. Signs of the original door and windows can be traced in the brickwork of the south wall.
The five-light window in the east wall above the altar is by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Originally designed for the church of Holy Trinity, Crockham Hill, it was installed in Edenbridge early in the 20th century, the outer two lights then being added.
To the right of the altar is a two-light 13th century window [rebuilt] and below is a pillar piscina believed to have been removed from the chancel.
There are various memorials in the chapel, the most notable being to the Elizabethan, William Seyliard and his wife and children. There is also a brass on the east wall dedicated to John Seyliard of the same generation. At one time the Seyliards took a leading part in local affairs and lived in Gabriels, a formerly moated manor south of Edenbridge.
Most easterly of the windows on the south wall commemorates ‘Richard Mason’ the former vicar and Archdeacon of Tonbridge.
The stained glass in the large West Window was installed in September 2001 to commemorate the Millennium. It consists of four lights and tracery. The design incorporates four ecclesiastical figures, each representing a different period in the last two millennia, four shields and various symbols illustrating the secular life of Edenbridge over the years.
A more comprehensive guide book for Edenbridge Parish Church is available from the Church.
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