St Mary's church by the lake at Eastwell
St Mary's church collapsed after the last war following years of neglect and then serious structural damage caused, it's said, by the wartime movement of tanks and other heavy vehicles in Eastwell Park. The site is now cared for by the Friends of Friendless Churches who kindly provided the following text. Please visit their website here to discover more of their wonderful work. Further notes by Angela Berrie are further down the page, along with a wonderful snap of the church in its heyday, courtesy of the Francis Frith Collection.
Eastwell church in Kent was once a place of great importance. Royals were regulars. Queen Victoria enjoyed being pulled across the frozen lake there in her sledge-chair. And in the churchyard, are the remains of Richard III’s illegitimate son, Richard Plantagenet…
It’s believed that Richard III fathered three children out of wedlock, and it’s widely accepted that this Richard was one of them. For many years, Richard worked as a bricklayer at Eastwell Park for Sir Thomas Moyle. In his late 70s, he was seen reading a book in Latin (a language reserved for the highly born). It was only then that Richard revealed his secret.
He told Sir Thomas that growing up, he didn’t know his parents. He had been brought up by a schoolmaster and was assisted by a gentleman who paid for his schooling and was interested in his well-being.
He said that aged 16 he was taken to Bosworth Field, where he met his father – the king - on the eve of battle. Here, he was told ‘I will provide for you as befits your blood.’ The king told him that, if he won, he would acknowledge Richard as his son. If he lost, he told the boy to conceal his identity forever.
The next day, Richard’s father and benefactor were killed. Richard retreated to London and found an apprenticeship with a bricklayer. He kept his father’s confidence until 1546.
Richard died in 1550, aged 83. He was buried in the churchyard at Eastwell. The church registers record his death, “Rychard Plantagenet was buryed on the 22. daye of December 1550”.
Over the past few months, we've been repairing the ruin: re-pointing the stonework, replacing eroded masonry and rebuilding weathering details. We've also lightly repaired Richard Plantagenet's tomb: re-pointing the chest and resetting the capstone.
It's a beautiful spot, and once a year in June - Covid permitting - the clergy and congregation meet to celebrate Morning Prayer in this the most tranquil of settings imaginable. This year it is likely to be on June 20th or 27th, but details will be published here when confirmed.
Eastwell Church by Angela Berrie
The ruins of the 14th Century church of St Mary’s Eastwell lie on the north bank of Eastwell lake in Eastwell park. An account of the church from 1798 (The History and Topographical survey of the County of Kent Vol. 7, W. Bristow 1798) describes it as consisting of two aisles and two chancels with a square embattled tower at the west end. The main body of the church was constructed mainly of chalk blocks with the tower built largely of flint. At that time three bells hung in the tower and this was later increased to six. The side mortuary chapel was added in the 19th century. Numerous memorials and monuments were present in the church which also had fine stained glass.
The chalk construction was mainly responsible for the demise of the church as following the flooding of the valley in 1841 to form the lake, the chalk blocks soaked up huge amounts of water. The church was already in an unstable state when the army took over Eastwell Park in the second world war for tank training exercises. After the war Captain Broderick who managed the estate wanted to preserve the church but with no funds available the church fell further into disrepair. On July 22 1950 the six bells were rung for the last time and sold for scrap. Heavy rain led to the collapse of the nave roof in February 1951. The remaining shell of the church was demolished in 1956 leaving only the wall of the South aisle dating from the 15th century, the 15th century tower and the 19th century mortuary chapel. The internal fittings and monuments were removed and are mostly in the care of the Victoria and Albert museum, including a marble monument to Elizabeth Finch 1st Countess of Winchelsea (d. 1634) although a highly decorated silver gilt flagon is held at Canterbury Cathedral and can be seen here.
Since 1980 the remains of the church have been cared for by the Friends of Friendless Churches (friendsoffriendlesschurches.org.uk), who with help from English Heritage made the tower safer.