Newnham Church History

Newnham History
No. 1. St. Peter & St. Paul Church Newnham

This building is mentioned by Miss Norrington (Miss Norrington died at the age of 92 in February 1970) in her memories of Newnham

During the reign of Henry I (1100-1135) Hugh de Newenham was Lord of the Manor. He was first of a family which assumed it’s name from the village (Newenham as it was then spelt). He is believed to have built the original Manor House which was later to be known as Champion Court. He probably built or commenced the building of the village Church for his son Faulk.

Faulk de Newenham founded the nunnery at Davington in 1153, for a prioress and 26 nuns of the Benedictine order. As part of his endowment to that nunnery he gave lands in Newnham and also the right of patronage of the church. The Abbot of Faversham made claim to it, but in 1193 AD the Archbishop of Canterbury granted to Davington on account of the poverty of the Nunnery. However he did order tham to pay the Abbot 2 marcs for the Abbey (approx £1.67 in todays currency)

For many years the church appears to have flourished: but owing to the disturbed condition of religious houses in the early 16th Century there was little incentive for women to take the veil. A few years before the general dissolution of the smaller monasteries in 1536 only the prioress, one nun and one novice remained – the nunnery ceased to exist. The church and it’s glebe lands then passed to the crown and in 1544 Henry VIII granted the lands and the advowson of the church to Sir Thomas Cheney with the rest of the nunnery’s possessions.

So for nearly 400 years Newnham church was in the hands of a sorority of poor nuns who provided a priest to take the services.

Flowers in windowThe reformation of the 16th Century was disastrous to most churches . The incentive to spend money freely on the extension, enrichment and repair of churches was killed by the destruction of the monasteries and the muddled laws of the church.

From that time money was spent by the rich on their residential properties and in the towns on market places, town halls etc. Whilst churches, particularly in the smaller villages, were allowed to decay.

Newnham was certainly one of these and except for occasional patching to keep out the weather and birds seeking nesting places, little appears to have been done. During the 16th & 17th Centuries the churchwardens in their statements at visitations by Archbishop Parker and various Archdeacons complained that the church was “in pitiful ruin and decay, and is untiled and West Windowsunglazed so that communion cannot be administered for rain and cold and the fowles and pigeons defile the same“.

In the chancel is a large slab to the memory of the Rev. John Baker MA who was vicar from 1609 to 1615 . The practice of burying in the floor of the chancel or even in the nave, must at times have been a great embarrassment to the church officials and their congregations. Some weeks after the burial of the Rev. Baker a churchwarden reported “as touching chancel part thereof is paved and part is plan earth floor and the earth broken up with two graves, one Widow Ayers and the other John Baker, our late minister. Which are not yet covered up again“.

There were also complaints about the vicarage-house (or parsonage as it was usually called) which in 1569 was “vacant because of ruin“ . This residence for the clergy was probably as old as the church and stood next to it where Parsonage Farm stands today. The lands of this farm which included Wyneycock and all the lands on that side of the village up to Cuckoo Wood are believed to have been the glebe lands of the benefice.

Also in the centre aisle and in the chancel are memorials to the Hulks (later spelt Hulse) family . From the reign of Elizabeth I they were resident in Newnham and for over a hundred years they seem to have had considerable influence on the village affairs as churchwardens, employers and publicans. The Newnham estate included the right of the presentation to the church benefice for the Vicars, the Rev. Richard Ames (1623-27) and the Rev. Nathaniel Chambers (1627-??) were both presented by John Hulks. The estate also included the George Inn.

In 1660 the population was 356 and the communicants 86. In 1992 the Register of Electors of Newnham contained 285 names and the number on the Church Electoral Roll was 27.

Newnham church is given scant attention by writers on Kent, chiefly because it exhibits no outstanding architectural features – no painted glass, fine carvings or other ‘remains’ which writers search for. It probably enjoyed very few munificent benefactors and by the middle of the 19th Century it was again crumbling, leaking and ripe for the restoration from which so many churches suffered.

East WindowThe Rev. James Bower MA of Exeter College Oxford inducted in 1841 was responsible for these restorations. He was a young man of some wealth and he bore the cost of much of the work that was done. He appears to have had little interest in the original design of the church and introduced fanciful features such as a taller tower and steeple in place of the pleasing 15th Century example.

On entering the church today which is much as Mr Bower left it, one is immediately struck by its unusual bareness. By the plastered ceilings which hide the timbers of the roof and particularly by the large east window which replaced a round headed one.
Nevertheless the church is lighter than most village churches, it’s acoustics are excellent and there is an uninterrupted view of the chancel and the preacher for some two hundred worshippers.

Although repairs and replastering hide much of the past, a few features remain which help to date the development of the structure. The early English chancel arch and the others which open up the Champion Court chapel on the South and the East end of the North aisle suggest alterations about 1250. Also at this period an aisle was added by piercing the north wall of the nave. The massive pier behind the present pulpit is probably part of the original outside wall and this and another square pier devoid of any decoration support two widely spanned arches which once held up a separate roof over this north aisle. To the 13th Century also belongs a piscina on the south side of the chancel wall under a trefoiled arch and having two bowls one for the cleansing of the sacred vessels, the other for the priest’s hands.

There is also an aumbry on the north side of the chancel which once had a wooden door behind which holy oils, used at baptisms and for anointment of the very sick, were stored. There is also a niche on the north side of the altar with a cinquefoiled head and feathing which once held a figure.

Newnham Church OrganAt the east end of the north aisle where an organ was installed in the 1860’s to replace a small orchestra which had previously led the singing, was at one time a sacristy, or vestry, where the treasures of the church were kept. This area has it’s own roof and was originally a separate room with a priest’s door leading to it from the chancel. This door opening is now hidden behind the plaster.

The south aisle dates from the 14th Century. Here another massive pier and two more elegantly proportioned octagonal pillars support three arches somewhat higher than the square ones on the north side. It has been suggested that a new roof covering both the nave and two aisles dates from this period. This would also have been the period when the church was first furnished with pews: but the present pews are part of the 19th Century restoration.

It was usual to build the main entrance and porch of an early church to face the Manor House and when an aisle was added on that side it was rebuilt. The portch of Newnham church therefore probably dates from the 13th Century, but there were certainly alterations to it when the tower was built two hundred years later and further modifications in the 19th Century. It can still boast a roof supported by old tie beams and a king post and an early holy water stoop remains in the west wall. Before the 19th Century restoration there was a door in the threshold of the porch in addition to the inner door.

Private chapels containing their own altars were common innovations to churches by wealthy parishioners . Here prayers were said, mainly for the well-being in life of that family and for the repose of their souls after death.

This little section of Newnham church at the east end of the south aisle was added to the main structure during the 15th Century by the Chaumpaine, or Champion family who had descended from the original lord of the manor Hugh de Newenham. Members of the Champion family were probably buried int his chapel although no records of this have been found.

The chapel still has its own piscina and a projecting sone on which a figure once stood. The original window openings remain but the old glass, as in all other windows of the church, has long since disappeared. Hasted in his “History of Kent” (1797-1801) refers to arms in two of the windows, which were probably in this chapel. It is always referred to in visitations from the 16th Century as the Chapel of Chempayne or Champion Court. The memorials on the walls are to the Elvy and Prentice families who resided at Champion Court and farmed the lands from the early 18th Century.

There is an interesting old tile in the floor of the chapel which is inscribed “Hear lyeth the body of Henery Cromp 16:92” It appears to have been engraved with a boring tool rather than with a mason’s chisel. About 7 feet to the east (a coffin’s length?) is a similar tile inscribed
“H C 1692″

The original 15th Century tower was lower than the present one built in the 1860’s and was crowned with a much simpler pyramidal spired.

Newnham can boast of a peal of four bells as follows:

Name Age Note Size Weight
Treble c.15th Century E 24″ 3.5 cwt
II c.15th Century D# 27.5″ 4.0 cwt
III 1770 C# 30.5″ 5.0 cwt
Tenor dated 1480 B 33.5 6.25 cwt


No.III bears the inscription “Thomas Wanstall and Thomas Elvy Churchwardens 1770 Cast by Peck & Chapman Whitechapel Bell Foundry London”. It has been stated by authorities that all the bells are 15th Century and that No. III was recast.

The tower was rebuild and the bells rehung in the 1860’s in a new oak frame with space for two more. They have not be regularly rung as a peal since 1945 up to which date there were organised teams of parish ringers.

The sharing of the appointment of the vicar for the parish by the owner of The George suggests that this inn was at one time part of the church’s property, originally the village brewhouse. Here ale was brewed and stored for the refreshment of the parishioners at church and parish meetings and sold at village fairs, annual celebrations at which alcoholic merriment was the common custom.

Such sales raised funds for local needs especially for the poor in much the same way as we in this more sober age sell cakes and tea at fetes to raise funds for parish and church purposes. It was a common practice in the old days for the churchwardens to buy or receive gifts of grain or malt which which to brew ale and other fermented i.e. alcoholic beverages . Stephen Hulkes who died in 1617 provided in his will a quarter of wheat (8 bushels) to be made into mead for the consumption of Newnham folk – presumably at his funeral. Such convivial practices gradually died out as village customs changed but beer of various kinds remained the staple refreshment. In time the village brewhouse, which was always close to the church became the village inn.

Relations between church and pub were not always harmonious; in 1617 the vicar Rev. Thomas Mills complained that “John Hulke the churchwarden was doing nothing to stop great disorders in the alehouses of the parish in time of Divine Service on Sundays and Holy Days” There were also complaints about parishioners visiting Mr Hulke’s alehouse during the time of Divine Service.

1617, Volume 8, Richard NICHOLLS, BA Clerk, 25 Apr 1617 , Newnham
1625, Volume 10, Nathaniel CHAMBERS, MA Clerk, 02 Jun 1625 , Newnham
1637, Volume14, Simon BROOME, Gent, 25 Sep, 1637 , Eastling & Newnham
This earlier entry is a puzzle

1572  Volume 1
County: Kent
26a, Newnham
John HALLSNOTHE, on a writ from the Queen, 15 Nov, George WADE of Newnham bound £30. All former sequestrations to be relaxed. Relaxed to John HOPTON vic, Nicholas JONES, notary. 27 Oct 1573 .

The information above comes from the church pamphlet ” A history of the church of St Peter & St Paul Newnham” which in turn credits much of the text as being drawn from W.T. Berry’s monograph on Newnham published as “Faversham Papers No11” by The Faversham Society.