St. Werburgh Church - Cliffe History

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St. Werburgh Church, Hoo

The parish and ancient village of Hoo dates at ieast from the time of King Edward the Confessor and a church was mentioned in the Domesday Book.
St, Werburgh was the daughter of Wulfere, King of Mercia and granddaughter of Ercombert, King of Kent whose wife Sexburga was Abbess of Minster in Sheppey.

In the Sanctuary of the church is a small figure of the Saint with a goose at her feet. Her Festival Day is 3rd February, the reputed day of her death.
Most records agree that the building of the present church was commenced in the 12th century. The spire is covered with shingles and is in the region of 60ft. in height with a further 7ft. from its summit to the ball, it is set on a battlemented tower of 55ft. in height, making a total of 127ft. The top of the tower can be reached by a staircase turret set in its north-west comer. The oid stone walls of the church are built of Kentish rag stone.

The southern parapet of the church is battlemented along its whole length, but the only portion of the north side which remains so is the parapet over the porch. As there are battlements on the south side facing the river and none on the north they may well have been used as a defence against marauders sailing up the Medway.

The entrance to the church is now from the north side. There was at one time another entrance from the south but that has been bricked up. The population of
 Hoo today live mainly to the north and east, but in times past the south porch may have been the main entrance and used in ancient days as a court for the visiting Bishop or Magistrate. The south porch is now a vestry but tie old oak door into the church remains as does the old door in the north porch. The south side door has a very curious bolt and chain that can be undone from either side. Both doors are of solid ancient oak, massive and stoutly framed. The tiling on the floor is said to be the original.

Inside the north porch is a Holy water stoop set in the wall, the windows have recently been glazed and an oaken outer door fitted. In the past bargemen used to gather in the porch before tide-time to discuss the weather and their prospects of making a passage.

The church consists of nave, chancel and north and south aisles. The length of the nave is about 70ft. and the chancel about 26ft. The clerestories on the south side of the nave were completely restored in 1962. The south aisle was re-roofed at about the same time in oak with sheet copper outer cover, but the north aisle was replaced in concrete. In the nave the roof is supported by timber pilasters ornamented with grotesque heads. Records state that this re-roofing took place in 1786.

There is a considerable amount of ancient glass in the church, some of it coloured. Some small figures can be seen in tie glass of the upper lights of the chancel and in the west wall of the south aisle. The design and colouring is very soft and quite different from the stained glass of the Victorian period. There are a number of memorial windows of the 19th Century.

The East window is of three lights to the memory of Thomas Hermitage Day and it shows the presentation of the infant Christ at the Temple. The middle window in the south aisle is a memorial to William Nicholson who died in 1880, typical of the period. There is a superior stained glass window in the North Alsie to the memory of Thomas Aveling, who was proprietor of an engineering works in Rochester from whence came the first steam rollers. In the North wall is another window to the memory of his widow, Sarah. This shows St. Cordelia, St. Werburgh and Queen Bertha of Kent. Alongside the organ in the south wall is a window depicting the Transfiguration with quite well- drawn figures of Christ in the centre with Elias and Moses on either side. Ann Durban, wife of John Durban who was curate-in-charge o1 this church for 20 years has a stained glass window to her memory in the west wall. She was Thomas Aveling’s mother.
The font is situated at the rear of the central aisle. It is a plain octangular basin resting on a base of the same form. The base is said to be Norman.

In the chancel and south of the altar are three cedilla [seats] each having a canopy of finely carved cinquefoil tracery. Each seat is divided by two light columns of Purbeck or Bethensden marble. These seats were at one time used by the monks and clergy when Hoo church was under the patronage of the Priory of Rochester. The work belongs to the early 15th Century. The reredos is of stone and of comparatively modern design. There is evidence of fresco painting in the chancel, but successive coatings of cream wash have all but obliterated it.

In the north wall are a short series of stone steps in a good state 01 preservation. These steps led originally into the rood loft which went across the whole width of the church. The corbels which supported the loft can still be seen.

Set in the east wail of the north aisle is tie tomb of Edward Lake ot Abbots Court. This tomb appears to be cut into a recess or side chapel of an earlier age. At one time a singing gallery existed along the west wall.
Two recently restored Coats of Arms, one Elizabethan and one James i can be seen directly over the main door. A panel was affixed to one of the pillars of the interior arch of the bell tower bearing the date 16 JR 07 referring to King James I.

There are several old memorial brasses In the church, most of them in a fair state of preservation. The oldest of these is of John Browne, a priest who was Vicar of Hoo from 1391 to 1406. This lies before the altar rail. There is also a nice effigy of a layman I8in. In length datable circa 1430. In the nave are two identical laymen each I8in. Long. Also before the altar rail are the settings of a man between two women, the plates having been removed. There is besides a fine figure of a priest, Richard Bayly [although his head is now gone!] This is dated about 1412. There are figures of James Plumley who died on 26th August 1640 and his wife Anna with their three sons and four daughters. Within the altar rails is a brass plate of a full length figure of Dorothy, wife of John Plumiey who died in 1615.

At the entrance to the chancel is a small figure of a man with a dog but the inscription is now gone. In the nave is a brass slip to the memory of John Beddyll who died on 7th June 1500. Over in the south aisle are the important brasses of Thomas Cobham, who died on the 8th June 1465 and his wife Matilda. He is represented in elaborate plate armour with a sword suspended from a belt in front. There is a little dog at their feet. He was the Lord of the Manor of Beluncle.

Some of the stained glass windows of St. Werburgh's

There are other and more recent stone and brass plates. In the North aisle is a stone tablet with the names of the dead of World War I. Underneath is a further tablet to those who fell in World War II. There is a large granite column in the churchyard also to the memory of the dead of both wars.
The church contains a very fine ring of bells, the oldest dated 1588. In 1995 the old six bells were augmented to eight and rehung in a new steel frame situated lower in the tower. The original oak frame is retained in the belfry.

Details of the bells:
173815 cwtsMade by Thomas Gardiner
No 7178114 cwtsMade by William Chapman 
No 6164111 cwtsMade by William Hatch
No 515887 cwtsMade by Gyles Reeve
No 416627.5 cwtsMade by John Hodson
No 318255.2 cwtsMade by Thomas Mears
No 219956 cwtsMade by Whitechapel Foundry
Treble19955 cwtsMade by Whitechapel Foundry

The short guide of the church with kind permission of St. Werburgh Church of Hoo.
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