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St Catherine, Preston

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St Catherine


Preston now forms a suburb of the town of Faversham, but is a settlement of Anglo-Saxon origin. Preston itself means Priest's farmstead or manor and from Anglo-Saxon times to the Reformation was owned by the Monks of Christ Church, Canterbury. It is referred to in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Prestetone.

In 1716, there were 16 families in the parish. The population was 220 at the time of the first national census in 1801. In 1831 the population was 673. There was an increase in population after the coming of the railway to Faversham in 1858. At the time of the 1871 census, the population stood at 2,007. At the present time the population is around 3,500.

St Catherine

Preston Church is dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria, a virgin martyred at the city in the early 4th century AD.

Concerning the facts of Catherine's life very little is known. Legend, however, relates that Catherine rebuked the Emperor Maxentius for his tyranny and worsted in debate 50 of that ruler's philosophers. Her eloquence won over to the cause of Christ the emperor's wife as well as 200 soldiers. The emperor sentenced Catherine to he killed on a spiked wheel. The ropes by which she was bound to the wheel were broken as was the wheel itself, the spikes flying off and killing many onlookers. This method of execution having manifestly failed, Maxentius had Catherine beheaded.

St Catherine was a focus of intense devotion in the Middle Ages. She was regarded as the patroness of young women, lawyers, philosophers, preachers, millers and wheelwrights.


Sir John Betjeman in the Collins Pocket Guide to English Parish Churches has described St Catherine's as, "high and distinguished among the railways and breweries". The church has served the needs of both Preston and the wider community of Faversham since Anglo-Saxon times. All traces of the Saxon church have, however, vanished.

The Norman building between 1100 and 1200 consisted of a nave and chancel with no aisle. There was probably a bell turret at the western end of the nave. In the 13th century additions were made to the simple plan of the church. Lancet windows were placed in the north and south walls and a tower was built on the south of the nave. The south wall was pierced with two arches and the south aisle, which now contains the Lady Chapel, was added. The northern wall of the church stood until it was pulled down in the restoration of the 1860s. The southern wall of the Norman church disappeared earlier in 1855 when the south arcade was inserted.

The present chancel, which was lengthened, is thought to be the work of John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1279 to 1292. Windows were put into the north wall at this time.

The first recorded incumbent dates from this time. He was Walter de Plesiaco, rector, who appointed Richard de Trenge as vicar in 1284.

Until the 19th century no great architectural changes were carried out to the church.

A notable benefactor was George Sykes, vicar from 1715 to 1766. His memorial tablet is in the nave and not the chancel because the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral are lay rectors of the parish and the chancel belongs to them.

James Peto, Vicar of Preston from 1837 to 1878, presided over extensive restoration works carried out to the church; the construction of the south arcade in place of the thick Norman arches was carried out thus opening up the south aisle. The architect responsible for the works, carried out in 1853-5, was R C Hussey. Also around this time, Mr Austin, architect of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury, designed the present east window and restored the sedilia. The east window was originally meant for Canterbury Cathedral.

In 1867 the church was enlarged by the building of the north aisle and porch, and an arcade to match the one in the south was constructed. The spire also dates from this time.

Since these important works were carried out, much money has been spent on repairs to the building, some £90,000 between 1981-91 alone.

Guide to features of interest

Before entering the chancel, considered by Pevsner to be the most worthwhile part of the church, you will observe affixed to the chancel arch the figure of Our Lord on the Cross, with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John beside Him. This was erected in 1947 in memory of John Hankins Martin, incumbent from 1912 to 1938. On either side of the arch the beam ends can be seen that once supported the rood loft. Access was by way of a doorway, the portico of which can be identified in the south wall.

The 15th century choir stalls with their poppyhead carvings are of some interest. A close observation of those on the north side of the chancel will convince the visitor that inscribing graffiti on surfaces is not a 20th century phenomenon!

In the northern wall of the chancel, just beyond the choir stalls is a canopied tomb in the Decorated style, which may have been used as an Easter sepulchre. In the southern wall of the chancel is a memorial tablet of some poignancy. The tablet refers to Mrs Silvester Borough, the eldest daughter of Robert Derre of Derrehill who, journeying from London to her own house in Thanet, fell into "untimely travail" in Ospringe and there being delivered of two children, together with them died on 18 May 1609 aged 27.      

Also on this wall is the first of a sequence of 15 stations of the cross. These portray the Passion of Our Lord. The 15th station, on the wall opposite, represents Christ in Glory. The stations were given in memory of John Mount Elliott, who died on 27 October 1981.

There are two memorial brasses on the chancel floor, just short of the sanctuary. They are kept covered by a carpet to preserve them from wear.

The brass on the north side is of Valentine and Cecilia Baret of Perry Court. He died on 20 November 1440 and she on 11 March 1442. She was a daughter of Marcellus at Lese of Sheldwich. They had no sons. Perry Court, which had belonged to the Barets for about a hundred years, passed into the hands of the Darell family of Colehill. The Barets' only daughter, Joanne, married John Barrel.

The brass on the south side is of William Mareys, courtier and squire of Henry V, the victor of Agincourt. His "fantastic armour work" as Arthur Mee described it, incorporates the latest technology of the day, including elbow buckles. William, who later married Joan, the widow of Thomas Brimstone, owner of Macknade Manor, was later a member of the household of Cardinal Beaufort, son of John of Gaunt, "time honoured Lancaster", several times Lord Chancellor of England. William died on 31 August 1459.

The words issuing from William's lips are: "I will sing the mercies of the Lord for ever". On the stone slab the words "Mercy Jesu" are twice repeated.

In the sanctuary is the impressive marble tomb erected in 1629 by Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork 1566-1643) in memory of his parents, Roger and Joan (nee Naylor). They are the recumbent figures on the tomb; they lived in Preston parish until their respective deaths in 1576 and 1586.

John, the eldest son, is depicted kneeling at the feet of his parents: John became Bishop of Cork in 1618, dying in 1620. Richard himself is depicted kneeling at his parents' head, facing eastwards. Kneeling at the side of tomb are depicted the three remaining children of Roger and Joan. Hugh, their third son, killed in wars abroad, is joined by Elizabeth, the eldest daughter, wife of Piers Power, and Mary, wife of Sir Richard Smyth.

Richard made his money mainly by buying Sir Walter Raleigh's confiscated estates and developing them. He had 12 children; the eldest inherited his title as Earl of Cork (to which was added that of Burlington, so Preston can claim a link with the fashionable Burlington Arcade of Piccadilly). After two more generations that family became extinct since the fourth earl had only two daughters, one of whom married Lord Hartington, later Duke of Devonshire (so the Boyle estates in Ireland went to that family). The other married Lord Euston, son of the Duke of Grafton, who is reputed to have murdered her.

The fifth son of Richard, who erected this monument, was Robert Boyle (1627-1691), philosopher and scientist. Robert formulated the scientific law known as Boyle's Law, that the volume of a given mass of gas varies inversely as the pressure if the temperature remains constant. He was a founder of the Royal Society and founded a lectureship in defence of Christianity.

The monument, having fallen into decay, was restored during the ministry of Noel Brownsell (1938-1951). More recently, further work on the tomb has been carried out, funded by the late 11th Duke of Devonshire.

On the south side of the sanctuary, on the epistle side of the altar, are the sedilia (three seats for ministers at the Eucharist, still used today) and a piscina (a small basin, set in the wall, for the priest to wash his fingers during the offertory) beside them. Both sedilia and piscina are in the Decorated style and date from about 1315. When the sedilia were restored in 1877 the three pinnacles were added and not copied. The faces on the bar parallel with the piscina are original; the features have power and character. There is similarity between these and 13th century works in Westminster Abbey.

Cleaning and conservation work was carried out in 1990 with the help of a Pilgrim Trust grant.

The high altar and reredos were dedicated in 1947 as a memorial to a former vicar John Hankins Martin. The hanging pyx (in which the blessed sacrament is reserved) adapted from an Edwardian sanctuary lamp, was designed by Leslie Durbin, who also designed the Scottish and Welsh £l coins. The pyx was given in memory of Peter Head who died in December 1978.

Of the chancel windows, the great east window by George Austin, has received favourable comment by Pevsner. The stained glass in the south chancel windows was installed in 1879 and is the work of Messrs Clayton and Bell. The only ancient glass is to be found in the north east windows behind the Boyle monument, which includes a fine 13th century grisaille (monochromatic stained glass in shades of grey) roundel.

The nave with both sets of arcades dates from James Peto's incumbency in the 19th century. The west door and the three light windows over it are in Perpendicular style. The present nave altar was established in 1985 as a memorial to Kenneth Harman Warner, former Bishop of Edinburgh, Tom Harris, former churchwarden and Vernon Alien, priest, who had all been regular worshippers at the church.

The fine lectern was dedicated in memory of William Carus-Wilson (vicar 1894-1912) by parishioners and friends.

Look up to the barrel vaulting of the nave roof and notice the embosses of a nun and a monk on the arches of the south aisle.

One of the tombstones in the nave floor is inscribed in Latin and bears the coat of arms of Charles Hulse, Gentlemen who died on 17 October 1678 aged 54 years.

The south aisle is in the early Decorated style. In 1947 it was dedicated to Our Lady and a figure of the Virgin and Child, a copy of an Italian statue, the work of Martin Travers, was erected above the lady altar. The altar itself is in memory of Fr Carus-Wilson. The aumbry (now used for keeping holy oils) given in memory of Douglas Reynolds, ex-chorister, and the candlesticks engraved with ears of wheat and hops, given in memory of Charles Carey, ex-chorister, were installed in about 1968.

The stained glass window depicting St Michael and St George was installed in 1922 in memory of the men from the parish who gave their lives in the First World War. The face of the devil, who is being trampled underfoot by the Archangel, is said to bear a resemblance to Kaiser Wilhelm II.

North aisle
The statue of St Catherine, which stands at the eastern end of the north aisle above the stalls where the choir now sings, stands on a plinth, all that remained of the medieval figure of the saint. The original figure would have probably been over the original south door. The modern statue was made by Mr W Day and dedicated in 1971 in memory of Miss Mollie Livermore.

To the right of the statue is a mural brass of Bennet, the wife of Thomas Finch; she died in 1612, he in 1615. Above the brass is a mural tablet in bas-relief depicting them both.

The tomb behind the choir stalls was moved in 1866 from the original north wall. There is a mural tablet on the wall commemorating those who died in the 1939-45 war.