Just over two miles from Canterbury lies the smallest town in England, Fordwich. This picturesque town is at the highest navigable point of the Stour river, and is comprised almost entirely of listed buildings, including its beautiful little church. The church of St Mary the Virgin, near to the southern bank of the Stour, no longer holds regular worship, but still conducts significant events such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. The building has been extended and altered many times during its long life. No one knows exactly when the church was built, but it is assumed that the main church, now the nave, was built in the mid-to-late eleventh century, although some believe that there is evidence of Anglo-Saxon workmanship in the nave’s fabric. Over the next three centuries, the north aisle would be added, the chancel extended, and the tower built onto the west end of the nave.
Upon entering, is difficult to miss the significant lean of the arcade between the nave and the north aisle, or the skew of the walls of the north aisle and the chancel. Many of the church’s arches don’t seem to align properly, and this is due to a great flood that Fordwich experienced in the fifteenth century. Of course this only adds to the rustic charm and ethereality of this church. Another interesting feature are the windows in the north and south walls. Five square-headed windows, three in the south wall and two in the north, which all probably date from the early thirteenth century. They all feature two lights, each topped with large quatrefoils. This design is very unusual, although there are identical windows at St Mildred’s church in Canterbury (most likely made by the same craftsmen).
The church itself contains more fascinating relics from all across its history, including a list of rectors beginning in 1282, a huge plaster tympanum painted with the royal coat of arms and the Ten Commandments, and rare ‘bread-shelves’ in the tower screen where loaves would have been placed for the poor of the town. In spite of these treasures, the most precious and celebrated item in the church must be the Fordwich Stone, also known locally as St. Augustine’s Tomb. An exquisite example of Norman stone-working, it is believed to have first been made as a dummy tomb to mark the place where the remains of St Augustine were buried in Canterbury Cathedral, and then later transported to Fordwich in the mid-sixteenth century, then back to Canterbury in 1760, and back to Fordwich in 1877 where it resides in the north aisle to this day.
If you find yourself in the city of Canterbury, take the hour’s walk north-east to Fordwich to admire the beautiful little town and its church. Its history reaches back far beyond the arrival of Christianity in England, including: a Roman ford, a limb of the cinque port at Sandwich, the dock for the Caen stone that built Canterbury Cathedral, and the site where one of St Augustine’s tombs may now stand.
- Tricker, Roy. St Mary’s Church, Fordwich, Kent. London: The Churches Conservation Trust, 1998. Print.