In 1579 and 1750 the St Mary’s church registers included lists of fence lengths marking the church boundaries. Responsibility for their repair was assigned to parishioners in proportion to the value of their properties. The 1579 list allots 36 feet to Great Barnetts and 29 Feet to Hall Place. In 1835, the south and east fences were replaced by a brick wall 330 feet long, marked off in lengths; 46 feet for Great Barnetts and 45 feet for Hall Place. In contrast, Orchard House was responsible for 4 feet. [n.b. Lawrence Biddle “Leigh in Kent 1550-1900 p.99 states the wall in the south and east sides of the churchyard was rebuilt at a cost of £136. The cost was met by an assessment on the occupiers of property in the parish, in the same way as the liability for the repair of the churchyard boundaries had been assessed on the occupiers by the Churchwardens in 1597 and 1750]
The 1987 hurricane destroyed a section of the wall which had already been weakened by ivy and water penetration. The storms earlier this year accelerated the damage. Parts of the wall were leaning by as much as nine inches and approximately 60 feet could have been pushed over simply by rocking it. It was dangerous and obviously needed urgent repair.
A firm of builders quoted £11,100. The Church Council were horrified. So an alternative approach was conceived. Advice from Barry Roskilly led to Dave Green, a master bricklayer with over thirty years experience, including church restoration work. Church members acted as bricky’s labourers whilst students joined in the tedious job of cleaning old bricks for re-use. In the end, far more work was done that would have been undertaken by the building firm for the quoted figure. Parts of the wall had been completely rebuilt, new buttresses constructed, all coping stones removed and re-bedded, part of the wall raised to its original height and the gate at the Church Hill entrance repaired.
By the time the work was finished about 1,500 old bricks had been cleared whilst 80 coping stones and a further 1,500 new bricks had been bought, mostly from the local Chiddingstone brickworks. All were skilfully blended in with the existing wall. The final cost was £4,900. The work had been fraught with problems but the result is a tribute to the skills of a master craftsman and the community self-help; a true mark of stewardship. Do go and take look at it.
Next year for Church redecoration – given funds and comparable co-operation!
By Grace Higgins (Parish Magazine December 1990)