Christian worship has been offered in this place since well before the Norman Conquest, and this church, standing only three hundred yards from Watling Street at its nearest point to Faversham Creek, would have been a natural site for a settlement and church at any time after St Augustine and his monks came to Canterbury
The only trace of the Saxon building, however, which the Normans completely rebuilt, comprises fragments of Saxon stonework found during nineteenth century alterations, undated except for part of a doss arm dated to the early eighth century - but it is not known whether this would have been part of a preaching cross on this site pre-dating any church building, or evidence of an actual building already in place. The Norman church comprised the middle section of the present nave (without the side aisles) and some but probably not all the present chancel.
This leaflet documents the principal features of the church's development since the Conquest.
The present appearance of the church owes everything to the evolution over time of a sacred place hallowed by the worship of the centuries, to meet the spiritual and social needs of successive generations.
Preston, which now forms part of the town of Faversham, is a settlement of Anglo-Saxon origin. Preston itself means Priest's farmstead or manor and from Anglo-Saxon times to the Reformation was actually owned by the monks of Christ Church cathedral Abbey, Canterbury. It is referred to in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Prestetone.
In 1716, there were but 16 families in the parish. The population was 220 at the time of the first national census in 1801. In 1831 the population was 673. There was a great increase in population after the coming of the railway to Faversham in 1858. At the time of the 1871 census, the population stood at 2007. At the present time the population is around 3500.
Preston Church is dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria, a virgin martyred at the city in the early fourth century AD.
Concerning the actual facts of Catherine's life, very little is known. Legend, however, relates that Catherine rebuked the Emperor Maxentius for his tyranny and worsted in debate 50 of that ruler's philosophers. Her eloquence won over to the cause of Christ the Emperor's wife as well as 200 soldiers. The Emperor sentenced Catherine to be killed on a spiked wheel. The ropes by which she was bound to the wheel were broken as was the wheel itself, the spikes flying off and killing many onlookers. This method of execution having manifestly failed, Maxentius had Catherine beheaded.
St Catherine was a focus of intense devotion in the Middle Ages. She was regarded as the patroness of young women, lawyers, philosophers, preachers, millers and wheelwrights.
Sir John Betjeman in the Collin's Pocket Guide to English Parish Churches has described St Catherine's as "high and distinguished among the railways and breweries". The church has served the needs of both Preston and the wider community of Faversham since Anglo-Saxon times. All traces of the Saxon church have, however, vanished.*
*Except for some masonry fragments -mentioned above. - Ed.
The Norman building between 1100 and 1200 consisted of a nave and chancel with no aisle. There was probably a bell turret at the western end of the nave. In the thirteenth century additions were made to the simple plan of the church. Lancet windows were placed in the north and south walls and a tower was built on the south of the nave. The south wall was pierced with two arches and the south aisle, which now contains the Lady Chapel, was added. The northern wall of the church stood until it was pulled down in the restoration work of the 1860's. The southern wall of the Norman church had disappeared earlier in 1855 when the south arcade was inserted.
The present chancel, which was lengthened, is thought to be the work of John Peckham, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 12'19 to 1292. Windows were put into the north wall at this time. The first recorded incumbent dates from this time. He was Walter de Plesiaco, rector, who appointed Richard de Trenge as vicar in 1284.
Until the nineteenth century, no great architectural changes were carried out to the church. A notable eighteenth-century benefactor, however, was George Sykes, vicar from 1715 to 1766. You will notice that his memorial tablet is in the nave, and not the chancel because the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral are lay rectors of the parish and the chancel belongs to them.
James Peto, who was Vicar of Preston from 183-7 to 1878, presided over extensive restoration works carried out to the church; the construction of the south arcade in place of the thick Norman arches was carried out thus opening up the south aisle. The architect responsible for these works, carried out in 1853-5, was R C Hussey. Also, around this time, Mr Austin, the architect of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury, designed the present East Window and restored the sedilia. The East Window was, in fact, originally meant for Canterbury Cathedral. (The signatures of restorers in 1912 & 1999 as well as of the original installers in 1854 are inscribed on seven lenses in the bottom right-hand side. A photograph of these is on display under the organ loft. -Ed.)
In 1867 the church was enlarged by the building of the north aisle and porch and an arcade to match the one in the south was constructed. The spire also dates from this time.
these important works were carried out, much money has been spent on the building, some £90,000 between 1981-91 alone.
Before entering the worthwhile part of the chancel, considered by Pevsner to be the most worthwhile part of the church, you will observe, affixed to the chancel arch the figure of Our Lori on the Cross, with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John beside him. This was erected in 1947 in memory of John Hankins Martin, incumbent from 1912 to 1938. The words on the ‘Rood Screen’ are from Revelation 22.2.
Reforming zeal at the time of the Reformation, and under the Puritans, left its mark on all medieval churches. On either side of the arch the beam ends can be seen, that once supported a rood loft. Access was by way of a doorway, the portico of which can be identified in the south wall.
The fifteenth century choir stalls, with their poppyhead carvings, are of some interest. A close observation of those on the north side of the chancel will convince the visitor that the inscribing of graffiti on surface is not a twentieth -century phenomenon!
Carved panels of
C15/C16 choir stalls
in the Chancel
In the northern wall of the chancel, just beyond the choir stalls, is a canopied tomb in the Decorated style, which may have been, used as an Easter sepulchre.
In the southern wall of the chancel is a memorial tablet of some poignancy. The tablet refers to Mrs Silvester Borough, the eldest daughter of Robert Derre of Derrehill who; journeying from London to her own house in Thanet, fell into "untimely travail" in Ospringe, and there being delivered of two children, together with them died on 18 May 1609, aged 27.
Also on this wall is the first of a sequence of 15 Stations of the Cross. These portray the Passion of Our Lord. The fifteenth Station, which you see On the wall opposite, represents Christ in Glory. The stations were given in memory of John Mount Elliott, who died on 27 October 1981.
There are two memorial brasses on the chancel floor, just short of the sanctuary. The brass on the north side is of Valentine and Cecilia Baret of Perry Court. He died on 20 November 1440 and she. on I1 March 1442. She was a daughter of Marcellus at Lese, of Sheldwich. They had no Sons; Perry Court, which had belonged to the Barets for about a hundred years, passed into the hands of the Darrel (or Darell) family of Colehill. The Barets' only daughter Joanne married John Darrel.
The brass on the south side is of William Mareys, courtier and squire of Henry V, the victor of Agincourt. His "fantastic armour work" as Arthur Mee described it, incorporates the latest technology of the day, including some elbow buckles. William, who later married Joan, the widow of Thomas Bromston, the owner of Macknade Manor, was later a member of the household of Cardinal Beaufort, son of John of Gaunt, "time honoured Lancaster", several times Lord Chancellor of England. William died on 31 August 1459.
The words issuing from William's lips are: "I will sing the mercies of the Lord for ever". On the stone slab the words "Mercy Jesu" are twice repeated.
In the sanctuary is the impressive marble tomb erected in 1629 by Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork 1566-1643), in memory of his parents, Roger and Joan (nee Naylor). They are the recumbent figures on the tomb; They lived in Preston Parish until their respective deaths in 1576 and 1586.
The eldest Son, John, is depicted kneeling at the feet of his parents: John became Bishop of Cork in 1618, dying in 1620. Richard himself is depicted kneeling at his parents' head, facing eastwards. Kneeling at the side of tomb are depicted the three remaining children of Roger and Joan. Hugh, their third son, killed in wars abroad, is joined by Elizabeth, the eldest daughter, wife of Piers Power, and Mary, wife of Sir Richard Smyth.
Richard made his money mainly by buying all Sir Walter Raleigh's confiscated estates and developing them. He had 12 children; the eldest inherited his title as Earl of Cork (to which was added that of Burlington, so Preston can claim a link with the fashionable Burlington Arcade of Piccadilly). After two more generations, that family became extinct since the fourth Earl had only two daughters, one of whom married Lord Hartington, later Duke of Devonshire (so that the Boyle estates in Ireland went to that family). The other married Lord Euston, son of the Duke of Grafton, who is reputed to have murdered her.
The fifth son of Richard, who erected this monument, was Robert Boyle (1627.1691), philosopher and scientist. Robert formulated the scientific law, known as Boyle's Law, that the volume of a given mass of gas varies inversely as the pressure, if the temperature remains constant. He was a founder of the Royal Society and founded a lectureship in defence of Christianity.
The monument, having fallen into a sad state of decay, was restored during the ministry of Noel Brownsell (1938-1951). More recently, work to the tomb has been carried out and funded by the Duke of Devonshire.
On the south side of the sanctuary, on the epistle side of the altar, are the sedilia (three seats for ministers at the Eucharist, still used today) and a piscina (a small basin, set in the wall, for the .priest to wash his fingers during the offertory) beside them. Both sedilia and piscina are in the Decorated style and date from about 1315. When the sedilia were restored in 1877 the three pinnacles were added and not copied. The faces on the bar parallel with the piscina are original; the features have power and character. There is some similarity between these and thirteenth century works in Westminster Abbey.
Cleaning and conservation work were carried out in 1990 with the help of a Pilgrim Trust grant.
The High Altar and reredos were dedicated in 1947 as a memorial to a former vicar John Hankins Martin. The hanging pyx (in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved), adapted from an Edwardian sanctuary lamp, was designed by Leslie Durbin, who also designed the Scottish and Welsh £1 coins. The pyx was given in memory of Peter Head, who died in December 1978.
Of the chancel windows, the great East Window by George Austin, has received favourable comment by Pevsner. The stained glass in the south chancel windows was installed in 1879 and is the work of Messrs Clayton and Bell. The only ancient glass is to be found in the North East windows, behind the Boyle monument, which includes a fine thirteenth century grisaille (monochromatic stained glass in shades of grey) roundel.
The nave with both sets of arcades dates from James Peto's incumbency in the nineteenth century. The Western door and the three light windows over it are in perpendicular style. An interesting memorial to John Finch of Preston, Esq. lies inside the West Door. He died on `the Feast Of St Peter & St Paul 1669'. The present nave altar was established in 1985 as a memorial to Kenneth Harman Warner, former Bishop of Edinburgh, Tom Harris, former Churchwarden and Vernon Allen, priest, who had all been regular worshippers at this church.
The fine lectern was dedicated in memory of William Carus-Wilson (Vicar 1894-1911) by parishioners and friends.
Look up to the barrel vaulting of the nave roof and notice the embosses of a nun and a monk on the arches of the south aisle.
One of the tombstones in the nave floor is inscribed in Latin and bears the coat of arms of Charles Hulse, Gentlemen, who died on 17 October 1678, aged 54 years.
South Aisle (Lady Chapel)
The South Aisle is in the early Decorated style. In 1947, it was dedicated to Our Lady and a figure of the Virgin and Child, a copy of an Italian statue, the work of Martin Travers, was erected above the Lady altar itself is in memory of Fr Carus-Wilson. The aumbry (now used for keeping the holy oils), given in memory of Douglas Reynolds, ex-chorister, the candlesticks engraved with ears of wheat and hops, given of Charles Carey, ex-chorister, were installed in about 1968.
The stained glass window, depicting St Michael and St George installed in 1922 in memory of the men from the parish who died in the First World War. The face of the devil, who is being trampled underfoot by the Archangel, is said to bear a resemblance Wilhelm II.
The statue of St Catherine, which stands at the eastern end of the North aisle, above the stalls where the choir now sings, stands on a plinth, which was all that remained of the medieval figure of the saint. The original figure would have probably been over the original South door. The modern statue was made by Mr W Day and dedicated in 1971 in memory of Miss Mollie Livermore.
To the right of the statue is a mural brass of Bennet, the wife of Thomas Finch; she died in 1612, he in 1615. Above the brass is a mural tablet in bas-relief depicting them both. The tomb behind the choir stalls was moved in 1866 from the original North wall. There is a mural tablet on the wall commemorating those who died in the 1939-45 war.
As well as the restoration of St Paul to the feast day of 29th June on the John Finch
memorial at the west end (cf.p.6 above) - a reversal of reformation practice - what seems to be a further piece of evidence of the persistence of catholic tradition and practice at Preston may be found in the list of incumbents by the north door, where we find the bald statement: `1645 - Church Suppressed'. The next incumbent, Francis Worrall, was not inducted until 1662 - the year of the final edition of the Book of Common Prayer. The later, Tractarian leanings of the parish in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are well attested, and St Catherine's has continued to uphold that strong doctrinal, spiritual and liturgical tradition up to the present day.
Before you leave this church, please pray for the clergy and parishioners who worship here, for all the people of this parish as well as visitors like yourself.
If you wish to make your own contribution to the continuing work of maintaining this beautiful and historic building, the Parochial Church Council will be very grateful. There is a wall safe just to the left of the door into which contributions may be put, and there are Gift Aid forms in church if you would like to covenant your gift.
Written by Michael L Taylor
Illustrations by Kerry Smith
First published 1991 -- Additional Editor's notes Lent 2004