Aldington, Kent: St Martin’s church and the Archbishop’s manor house: a brief summary

Aldington, Kent: St Martin’s church and the Archbishop’s manor house: a brief summary


© Daniel Secker 2011

     St Martin’s church (TR 0550 3618)   is in a secluded location 1km east of the village and adjacent to a working farm which incorporates the early fourteenth century hall of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s manor house and associated earthworks (Fig 1).


Historical background

In an apparently reliable charter of AD 805 X 815, the manor of Stanhamstede, later Aldington, together with food render from the monasterium at Liminium (Lympne) was granted to Christ Church, Canterbury (Sawyer 1968, No. 1188).  In the Domesday Survey of 1086, Aldington, still in Canterbury’s possession, emerges as an extremely large and wealthy manor with a population of no less than 253 households and with a pre-Conquest value of £63.  The church is mentioned.  Attached to Aldington were seven priests at Lympne and 85 burgesses in New Romney (VCH 1932, 213).  Though the extant remains of the archbishop’s manor house are fourteenth century, Domesday indicated an important archiepiscopal centre here at least since the eleventh.  The archbishops continued to hold Aldington until 1540, when it was seized by Henry VIII (Hasted 1799, 314)

Photo 1

Photo 2













St Martin’s Church

The church was locked when I visited it, so only an external block-plan was possible (Fig 2).  The earliest feature is the eleventh century north doorway (Photo 1).  This is of typically tall, narrow Anglo-Saxon proportions, yet the Taylors’ survey (Taylor and Taylor 1965, 24) shows it was rebated, a feature usually regarded as ‘Norman’, while the voussoirs of the doorway are of Caen stone.  Could it therefore, be an early post-Conquest construction?  Normally, this would be the logical interpretation, but after 1070, this was a personal manor of Lanfranc.  If he had commissioned the church, we might expect a more unambiguously Romanesque doorway.  Caen stone sometimes occurs in pre-Conquest contexts either as re-used Roman material or imported de novo (Masters 2001, 54).  Another feature of the doorway at Aldington is that the jambs are largely constructed of purple-black ironstone rubble, the same material being used for the quoins of the eleventh century nave at St Bartholomew, Otford, also a demesne possession of the Archbishops of Canterbury (Hasted 1797, 20).  On architectural grounds, it is probably most likely that both Aldington and Otford were commissioned by Stigand, the last Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury (1052-70).  To the east of the early doorway at Aldington, bulging stonework marks the position of an original window (Photo 2).


The second phase of the church consisted of the early thirteenth century chancel, though the latter was entirely refenestrated in the fifteenth century, the tracery of these windows being largely nineteenth century restorations.  The contemporary south chapel has, however, survived relatively unaltered and preserves its original lancet windows.  The east end of the chapel retains some unusual and unexplained features, namely a blocked opening at a lower level than the lancets and two plain corbels below the northern lancet (Photo 3).  At a later date in the thirteenth century, a lateral tower was added to the south-west of the nave, though this was truncated probably when the present west tower was built.  The small windows of the basement of this tower do, however, preserve their iron stanchions (Photo 4).  The south chapel and tower were joined by an aisle in the early fourteenth century, and the present west tower is of early sixteenth century date, commissioned by Archbishop Warham (1508-32).  Nave and chancel were heavily restored in the Victorian period, and most of the window tracery is from this time.


Photo 3

The archbishop’s manor house and earthworks

Extant medieval buildings are limited to the hall, which is listed grade II*.  This retains one blocked window with curvilinear tracery of the second quarter of the fourteenth century, and there is a further blocked window to the east of this (Photo 5).  On architectural grounds the hall may be the work either of Archbishop Simon Mepeham (1328-33) or John de Stratford (1333-48).  The range to the south of the hall incorporates medieval fabric and may have been a kitchen (www.britishlisted

Fairly extensive earthworks were noted in the field to the south-east of the church and in the churchyard (Fig 1).  The church and manor appear to have stood within a rectilinear ditched enclosure originally about 120m x 90m.  There was certainly an outer enclosure to the north-east and south-east.  The latter possibly extended as far as Church Lane to enclose the barn.  Though the present barn is nineteenth century, it may occupy the site of a medieval structure.


Interpretation of the site and its archaeological potential

The Domesday evidence suggests an important archiepiscopal manorial centre on the site in the eleventh century, of which the only extant remains are the earliest phase of St Martin’s church.  The proximity of the fourteenth century hall to the church is notable, as is the fact both are aligned on approximately the same axis.  Given that the present churchyard wall to the north is recent (Fig 1), there may have originally been no division here, the church originating as a manorial chapel.  It is also plausible that the present hall is on the site of a predecessor, and that the ditches of uncertain date define an early boundary (Fig 3).


Photo 4

Photo 5











The site is clearly one of considerable archaeological potential, though 18th and 19th century farm buildings probably overlie most of the complex.  The enclosure earthworks do not appear to have been recognised, being neither scheduled nor marked on the Ordnance Survey map.  Survey of both the standing fabric of Court Lodge and the earthworks would be beneficial.


Fig 3




Hasted, E. 1797, The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Volume 3


Hasted, E, 1799, The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Volume 8


Masters, P. J. 2001, Church, Land and Lordship in West Sussex, 680-1200 (PHD Thesis) 2001masterspjphd-2.pdf


Sawyer, P. 1968, Anglo-Saxon Charters: An Annotated List and Bibliography.  London: UCL Press

Taylor, H. M. and Taylor, J. 1965, Anglo Saxon Architecture, Volume 1.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


Victoria County History, 1932, Kent, Volume 3



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