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BY REV. J. CAVE-BROWNE, M.A.
THE first thought that rises in the mind of an archæologist, when he attempts to write the history of a parish church, is, "What says Domesday ?" Now as to Cranbrook, Domesday says nothing. The name does not occur. Its absence may be accounted for on two grounds. First, that unrivalled Record-the oldest of National Records in Europe-was not designed as a gazetteer, but as an authoritative Survey of lands held under the Crown, to shew for military and fiscal purposes who was in each case the responsible tenant or owner, and what was his military service, and the amount of rating and taxes his holding involved. Thus the existence of a manor, or of a church attached to a manor, would not necessarily be mentioned unless the manor or the advowson belonged to the Crown. The absence therefore of the name is no evidence either way of the existence of a church here. And, secondly, the state of the district would imply the improbability of a church being here at the time of the Conquest, when Domesday was written. Camden describes Cranbrook as "lying in the great wood." It lay in the heart of the "Andereds weald," or, as Isaac Taylor calls it, the "Great Forest Andredesleagh," now known as the "Weald," which stretched for about 120 miles, with a breadth of some 30 miles, through the central tracts of Kent and Sussex. This range of country, now famous for its fertility, was in the eleventh and twelfth centuries a vast forest, without township or even village, partitioned into
The writer desires to acknowledge his obligation to the Rev. T. A. Carr, formerly Vicar of the parish, and to the late Mr. W. Tarbutt of Cranbrookwhose indefatigable researches into the history of his native town appears in three pamphlets, on the Church, the Clergy, and the Monuments--for much of the information contained in the following pages.
denes or wooded valleys for swine pasture, or, as Harris describes it, "A desart and a waste, neither planted nor peopled, but filled only with herds of deer and droves of swine."* In such a district it were vain to look for a
Not until the reign of King John was this wild district brought under what was called "Hundred Law," that is, so partitioned off into hundreds as to be brought within any jurisdiction. It was then divided into "the Seven Hundreds," and of these Cranbrook was the largest and most important. It first appears in this character in Testa de Nevill, the Survey instituted by Henry III. and Edward I. about 1270-1280, as Crennbroc, a part of the fee of Margaret de Redeware. It had now assumed a recognized place in county administration, and had a more settled population than that which previously existed of scattered roving parties of swine-herds; and the next step was the obtaining a market of its own. The grant for this was made by Edward I. in 1289 through Archbishop Peckham. Its position at the crossingpoint of many of the roads from every quarter, which, though probably little better than bridle-paths, supplied the only means of intercourse with other parts of the county, rendered this a necessity.
The next mention we meet with of Cranbrook is in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of Pope Boniface in 1291, and then it is said to have a church. Twenty years later, in 1310, it had lost its probably first Rector, for in that year Archbishop Reynoldst collates William de Mepham to the then vacant rectory.
Hasted says that Edward III., in the sixth year of his reign (A.D. 1332), appropriated the Rectory of Cranbrook to the See of Canterbury; and Tarbutt§ adopts the same view, adducing it as evidence of the King's zeal for the
* Harris's History of Kent, p. 347.
+ The entry runs thus: "1310. Robertus Archiepiscopus," etc., etc. "Magistro Willielmo de Mepham, presbytero," etc., etc. "Ecclesiam Parochialem de Cranebroke nostre Diocesis vacantem, et ad nostram collationem pleno jure spectantem. . . . tibi conferimus intuitu caritatis et Rectorem instituimus," etc., etc. Vol. vii., p. 3.
S Annals of Cranbrook Church, p. 6.
Church; both no doubt following Bishop Tanner.* But the entry in Archbishop Reynolds's Register at Lambetht distinctly shews that this appointment of William de Mepham was a "Collatio," meaning that the patronage was already in the hands of the Archbishop.
Cranbrook must also have had its Vicars at this early date; for in the "Sede Vacante" Records at Canterbury it is said that in the year 1333 the custodia of the church was committed to the Vicar. This would probably have occurred on the death of William de Mepham, and during the interval between the primacies of Simon de Meopham and John de Stratford, when the spiritualities of the See would be in the hands of the Prior and Convent. In the same records mention is made of Vicars of Cranbrook in the years 1364 and 1371.
It was in the reign of Edward III. that this little town. received its great stimulus. The year 1332 forms an epoch in its history. Edward, having observed during his visit to Flanders the effect of the Flemish loom industry on the prosperity of the people, resolved to import into England some of those skilled craftsmen, and selected Cranbrook as one of the centres for weaving broadcloth, for which it soon became so famous. Why this still retired spot should have been selected is an enquiry of some interest. Perhaps its very retirement, which its very name, the haunt of Cranes, implies, constituted one of the attractions.
Others no doubt were found in its ample supply of wood, and of water too; for fuel and water would be essential to the manufacture; and the Weald, with its milder climate, would perhaps be more congenial to the Flemish than the more Northern Forests of Sherwood or Arden; while its lordly oaks would furnish an ample supply of timber, and here, almost only through the length and breadth of the Weald, would be found the also equally needed water. It seems worth noting that while there are denes or dens§ wellnigh innumerable in that district, no less than seven of the
Notitia Monastica, p. 199.
+ Reynolds's Reg., f. 49 b.
Vol. Q, f. 180.
§ Furley's Weald of Kent, vol. ii., pp. 728, 827.
towns having that suffix to their names, this alone, with the exception of Tonbridge and Edenbridge, proclaims the presence of water sufficient to entitle it to the designation of a "brook," or requiring a "bridge," the present narrow stream running below the town representing what was then no doubt a brook of goodly proportions. May not this account for the selection by Edward III. of this spot for his imported broadcloth workers ?
This brings us back to the Church itself. Its dedication to St. Dunstan is not without interest. In the not remote parish of Mayfield, included also within the Weald, are still preserved reputed relics of that distinguished but much maligned Primate, who was wont to find there a favourite place for retirement and retreat, and whose legendary life had no doubt made him an object of awe and veneration in the neighbourhood.
Assuming then, as I think we must, that three successive churches have stood on this site, and more or less on the same lines, it is clear that the earliest could not have been built before the later years of the thirteenth century, and that would have been of the simple form. No bold massive Norman, or Romanesque, which belongs to the preceding centuries, and arrests the eye and calls out the admiration of the antiquary in almost every Church along the eastern fringe of the county, nor any of that lighter and more ornate style which characterizes the following one, would be found or looked for in it. Rough rubble walls pierced by narrow lancet windows would probably have been the best that this retired, little known, and but recently redeemed Weald could boast.
The question then arises, "Does any part of that earliest church remain in the present building ?" The answer must, I think, be in the affirmative. In the west end of the north aisle, in the corner abutting from the tower, the extreme and irregular thickness of the wall suggests that it must have formed the eastern wall of the basement of a tower; and this is confirmed by the discovery made by the Rev. T. A. Carr of the foundations of such a tower extending westward from this north aisle, where the lines could be
distinctly traced. Then again, along the north wall of this aisle, the rough rubble work externally of the first four bays, without plinth, and the corresponding string-course along the wall inside, carry us back to the thirteenth century, and seem to have belonged to the first small Early English church.
As the village grew into a small town, boasting too its market, the enlargement of the Church became necessary. This enlargement was enough to constitute it a second Church, for what was left of the earlier one was converted into a north aisle, retaining its old level; while at a lower level, to adapt itself to the sloping ground, a new nave and aisle were added on at the south. In the porch we detect the improved masonry of the early years of the fourteenth century, and, very soon after, the lower stages at least of the present Tower. The Church was now carried eastward as far as the present Chancel arch (where at the restoration in 1868 the basement and the marble slab that had formed the top of the high altar were discovered). About eighty years later (1430) it seems as if the north aisle was extended by the addition of a chapel dedicated to the Virgin, marked off by a roodloft, trace of which remains in the small door now built up, still visible in the wall, to which access was gained by the newel stair running up in the projecting buttress. Another little trace of the handiwork of the fourteenth century may be seen in a very delicately moulded recessed niche in the north wall, which may have been used for an image or a light. And in the same wall, nearer the north doorway, is a wider recess under a debased arch, which once could boast of fresco work, now so utterly disfigured as to be undecipherable.
Such, it may be assumed, were the leading features of the second Church; such it would have stood through the fourteenth and into the fifteenth century. By that time, however, the Flemish clothworkers had become a prosperous and influential body. In their native land they had doubtless been accustomed to grander and more ornate churches, and were not content with the chaste simplicity of the Early English style. Moreover the addition of so many to the population of the town would have necessitated an expansion