St Mary's Church, Luddenham, is reached
by tortuous narrow lanes from Faversham, and lies on a tiny spur
of land overlooking marshlands reclaimed from tidal saltings,
mainly in medieval times. There seems never to have been a village
of Luddenham. The church stands in a farmyard, a stone's throw from
the manor house of Luddenham Court. The parish has fluctuated over
time, increasing as saltings were reclaimed, decreasing when
portions were given to other parishes.
In December 1821, William Cobbett wrote of the
marshes: 'it is impossible to see a finer country than this. You
frequently see a field of fifty acres, level as a die, clean as a
garden...' The parish once had detached portions between Oare and
Faversham creeks; alongside Perry Court, south of Faversham; and
furthest away, alongside the Thanet Way 3.2km east of the town.
The churchyard is quite large - and interesting memorials survive
- but it's a little overgrown in summer.
The population of the parish has never been
large, so it's perhaps surprising that the church is so big -
no aisles, no chapels, but a nave and chancel nearly thirty metres
long, and quite broad. A northern medieval tower was attached to
the east end of the nave which collapsed in 1807 and was replaced
by a small brick tower built within the footprint of the nave at
its south-west end. If the church had a chancel arch, it was
destroyed by the collapse of the tower.
There are only two monuments inside the church,
and the building was rather heavily restored in the 1870s and 1880s.
It was declared redundant in 1972, and was stripped of most of its
furnishings. There were then plans to turn it into a private
agricultural museum, but these proved abortive, and in 1992 it was
vested in the Churches Conservation Trust. The trust re-restored it,
sensitively and sympathetically, and it is now in better shape than
it has been for centuries.
No electricity is laid on. Instead, lighting
is by candles and oil pressure lamps. Towards the end of the
2000s some Victorian pews were reinstated, laid out longitudinally
down the nave, college-chapel style. Since 1972 the church has been
used only for funerals. However, ordinary services now take place
very occasionally, and concerts may be held. The building is open
daily throughout the year, maintained by means of contributions to
the Churches Conservation Trust.
The structure is Norman, but the only distinctive
features to survive are the west door (kept closed today) and the
entrance from the Victorian south porch. The windows are Early English
and Victorian, except for one from the fifteenth century. Roman bricks,
salvaged from a nearby villa, supplied the quoins at the corners. Their
presence may suggest an Anglo-Saxon origin, but there is nothing else
to indicate this - the walls are much thicker than in earlier churches.