History of St John the Baptist's Church
According to Domesday, there was one church in Harrietsham at the time of the survey in 1086 and it is believed the current church was built to replace that earlier church, although there is no hard evidence to confirm that. However, it would have been sensible to have built the Norman church that we see today on the footprint of the orininal, or close to it.
Construction of the current church began in the late 11th century, following the Norman Conquest and continued in stages up to the late 15th century, or even later.
The walls were constructed mostly in grey Kentish ragstone, which is a hard grey limestone quarried from various quarries along the cliffs of hythe and possibly also from the greensand ridge above the weald of Kent.
The building comprises:
- A West door and narthax (1) & (2)
- A West tower/bellfry (3) & (4)
- A nave with North and South aisles (5)
- A South door and porch (6)
- A chancel with a chapel on the South and one on the North side (7)
- A North tower adjoining the North chapel (8)
According to J. Newman in his book 'North East and East Kent' of 1969, the three stage battlemented West tower was added (or rebuilt) after 1479 and I see no reason to doubt that. It is built of Kentish ragstone with string courses separating each stage and is a typical example of perpendicular architecture of the period. To add strength to the tower it is diagonally buttressed externally on the west corners. There is an external octagonal stair turret attached in the south west corner of the tower which rises above the parapet and therefore higher than the tower itself.
The substantial West door (1) is deep set into a typical 'Transitional' style frame with simple pilaster embelishments. The top of the frame has a lancet arch which is typical of the Early English Gothic architecture that ran from 1189 to 1272 so I assume it was added during this period. The three light bar traceried window above the West Door is also of the early English Gothic style which began to be used in the 1240's in England. This bar tracery gave way to more complex and subtle tracery during the 'Decorated Period' which began in the late 13th century so I assume the West door and Window were constructed between 1189 and c1275.
The south door (6) is set into a porch with arched internal and external doorways and a crown post roof.
The side aisles are divided from the nave with arcades of three pointed arches with octagonal columns and moulded capitals and bases. These were 15th centuary additions and built in Kentish ragstone, flint and tufa. A perpendicular gothic style battlemented parapet runs externally along the top of the walls of the current Nave, a feature that didn't became popular on English churches until the late medieval period, so it is reasonable to assume this feature was added in the late 15th century, or even later. On the East end of the nave is a pointed chancel arch separating the nave from the chancel and at the top of the arch is a circular window.
The tile covered roof is framed with heavy timbers a tie-beam and king post.
The Font (9) is of Norman date of the late 12th century and made from Bethersden marble. Bethersden marble, also known by other names depending on from where it was quarried, is a freshwater limestone marble which is found in the Weald clay in parts of Kent and Sussex. Around Bethersden village it is still possible to see a number of old ponds which are the rements of ancient quarrying of this marble and it was a very popular material for gothic church structures and fittings in the area.
A list of Rectors and a list of Benefactions to the Parish are to be found in the Nave and over the South door hangs the Royal Arms of George III of 1795.
The Screen (10) is arranged in five bays on either side of the chancel opening and is a good example of perpendicular work, and probably of contemporary date with the West tower. It was considerably restored and added to in 1685.
The North Tower (8), is of an early date, possibly late Saxon and more probably early Norman. It is constructed from random flint with dressed quoins and filled with tufa. The Chapel of Christ the King (11), located at the ground level of the tower has small windows on the east and north side with a 19th-century arched door on the east side. It has a groined roof with massive ribs and the second storey is reached by a stone staircase contained within the North turret. This is obviously of later date and It has been suggested that this upper apartment may have been a "Priest's Room" and it once had a fire place.
The chancel (7) is of the 13th Century Early English period. The East window is comprised of three unequal lancets. Under the North chancel windows runs an original early English string course. The South wall is broken by two pointed arches which open into the South, or Stede Chapel (12). At the East end of the Chancel is a set of three early Elglish ambries. Forming part of the floor paving are a number of interesting medieval encaustic tiles.
In the Stade Chapel (12), two of the three windows which once lit the chapel have been closed by monuments. The one that is open is square headed and of perpendicular date, while the other two were 14th Century work and still show externally. The many monuments in this chapel are either of the Stede family or of the Baldwins. There is also an unnamed tomb, placed under a depressed arch, flanked by pinnacles and surrounded by an ogee canopy with trefoil between the canopy and the arch. It is now used as a vestry and houses the organ.
The Church possesses some valuable Silver Plate. One chalice and paten cover dates back to 1604, possibly presented by Sir William Stede. A Flagon of Silver has a London Hall Mark 1629 and was presented in 1637 by Dr William Stede. He also presented a paten of silver. However, because of their great value they are no longer kept in the church.
In 1742 a set of eight bells was installed in the Belfry. These were cast by Thomas Lester and the tenor bell is inscribed with 'Games Knight, Alexr. Bottle. Churchwardens 1742'. 'I to the Church ye Living call, to the Grave I summons all'. The bell frame is inscribed with the date 1742 and a list of notable changes achieved on the bells is preserved in the belfry.
The Registrars go back to 1538, the year in which the keeping of Registrars was first introduced. Only 650 parishes now possess Registrars dating back to 1538. The Registrars belonging to Harrietsham Church are complete to the present day in 15 books but are no longer kept in the church.
The Rev Arthur Hussey in his book 'Notes on the Churches in the Counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey' (published in 1852) states 'The church has recently been extensively repaired and refitted in very creditable taste'. Well, I would agree with that.