St Mary & St Eanswythe, Folkestone history
Church Exterior
St Mary & St Eanswythe, Folkestone heritage
Matthew Woodward
St Mary & St Eanswythe, Folkestone architecture
St Eanswythe
St Mary & St Eanswythe, Folkestone historical buildings
Church Interior Carving
St Mary & St Eanswythe, Folkestone history of art

The Abbey

Folkestone Abbey - more correctly known as Folkestone Priory (see note 1) was founded in 630 AD originally a monastery of Benedictine nuns in effect the very first Convent in Britain. The founder was St Eanswythe (Eanswith or Eanswide), daughter of Eabald, King of kent, who was the son of Ethelbert, the first English Christian King. It was dedicated to St. Peter. Moreover, like many other similar foundations, the danes destroyed it. In 1095 Nigel de Mundeville, Lord of Folkestone erected another monastery for Benedictine monks on the same site. This was an alien priory (see note 2). The Benedictine monks in Folkestone belonged to the Abbey of Lonley or Lolley in Normandy and dedicated the monastery to St Mary and St Eanswythe, whose relics were deposited in the church. The cliff on which the monastery was built was gradually undermined by the sea, and William de Abrincis in 1137 gave the monks a new site, that of the present church of Folkestone. The conventional buildings were erected between the church and the coastline. The King occasionally seized being an alien priory it, when England was at war with France. However after a time it was made denizen and independent of the mother-house in Normandy and thus escaped the fate which befell most of the alien priories in the reign of Henry V. Iyt continued to the time of the dissolution and was surrendered to the King on 15 November 1535. There are known to be at leafs twelve priors the final prior in 1535 being Thomas Barrett or Bassett. The net income at the dissolution was about £50. the only part of the monastic buildings remaining is a Norman doorway, but the foundations may be traced for a considerable distance.

The Background

In 927 Athelstan (King of England 924 - 939) built a new church in Folkestone dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This church lasted until 1052 when Earl Godwin plundered Folkestone in revenge for having been outlawed by King Edward the Confessor.
The church must have remained in ruins until well after the Norman Conquest, for it was not until 1095 that the Norman baron Nigel de Muneville built a new church and priory (see notes).

Later churches
The inroads of the sea and the instability of the cliffs caused problems and during the 1140's the Lord Manor William d'Averanche (see notes) was petitioned to remove them to a scare site. Thus in 1138 the present church of St Mary and St Eanswythe was founded and dedicated.
The d'Averanches' church was probably quite small and simple but in about 1180, side chapels were added to the chancel. The piers still remain crowned with capitals carved with stiff-leaf foliage, typical of the transitional period when Romanesque, or Norman, architecture was lowly moving to Gothic (see notes). Today they support simple early English pointed arches of two orders built after the French had destroyed the church by fire in 1216. The original font installed about this time may still be seen within the south aisle at the west end, although this has been seen out of use for centuries.

During the first half of the 13th Century the church assumed the plan we see today, comprising a chancel of two bays with chapels, a centre tower and transepts, and a nave with four bays with aisles. The convent buildings were situated on the south side of the nave on the site of the Priory Gardens.

About the year 1236 Hamo de Crevequer, a Norman nobleman, Baron of Folkestone and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports extended the chancel to the east to form a new and spacious sanctuary. Its style reflects the supreme period when first Pointed Gothic had reached its most graceful. the elegant series of seven lancet windows surrounding the alter with their richly carved shafts and mouldings are comparable with work of many of the great cathedrals, abbeys and churches of Europe.

14th century
The town of Folkestone was incorporated in 1313 by Edward 11 and from then until the Reformation the burgesses met annually at the Churchyard cross on the feast of the Nativity of our Lady (8th September) to elect the Mayor. The present cross is a restoration of 1897, but the steps on which it stands are mediaeval. The official stall of the Mayors of Folkestone may be seen within the Church at the head of the nave. It is decorated by an elaborately wrought brass mace-rest set with municipal seal of St Eanswythe.

The central tower was rebuilt about 1400 and raised to a greater height, doubtless to provide a platform for a beacon guide channel shipping. At that time there were three bells. Today there are eight, dating from 1879, though a century earlier another peal of eight had been installed. In a custom of the age each bell was engraved with a humorous couplet relating to their tuneful functions. Around the same time the spirelt (spire) on the tower staircase was added and crowned with the gilded weather vane. The tower basement was adorned with a fine vaulted roof in stone.
In 1464 the south chancel chapel was rebuilt and ten years later that on the north side was extensively altered and renovated when it was raised to the same height as the chancel and finished with an embattlement parapet.


With the coming of the Reformation the old mediaeval Latin services gave place to the new English liturgy of the Prayer Book. Unfortunately much havoc was wrought inside our churches, both then and during the Civil War 100 years later by extremists who objected to all fine carving, stained glass and beautiful things in general on the grounds that they were 'popish'. Screens and altars were thrown down and the magnificent Segrave tomb in c1350, in the chancel previously damaged.
The priory was suppressed finally in 1534 when it contained only the prior and one old sick monk.

After the Reformation the fabric of the church was sadly neglected. However some internal alterations were made with the introduction of pews and galleries and a plaster ceiling in the chancel, 'for warmth"! The henderson family commissioned an elaborate family monument in 1628 in the south chapel, using the classical style advocated by Inigo Jones. Earlier in 1605 Joan Harvey, the mother of the great William Harvey (see notes), died and her memorial brass is still to be seen on the south chancel wall by the door of the vestry.

By the end of the 17th Century the wets end of the nave must have been in dire condition, for during the great storm of 17045 the tow end bays were blown down. It was decide to rebuild online arch and the west end was finished off with a long sloping barn like roof and three domestic sash windows.

Matthew Woodward (see notes)
So the church remained until the arrival of Matthew Woodward as vicar in July 1851. he was appalled by what he saw and made extensive plans to restore not only the disfigured and truncated nave but also the church as a whole. He ensured that the best craftsmen available carried out all of the work undertaken using the very best materials. He had the gift not only to inspire his congregation with the power of his sermons and sincerity of his ministry but also to encourage generous donations enabling him to rebuild and beautify the building to an extent rarely seen outside a cathedral.

The Windows

The Windows of St Mary and St Eanswythe

The most notable examples being by Kempe who executed the three altar windows and those in the Lady Chapel. Others were supplied by Clayton & Bell, O'Connor and Hemming.

The beautiful octagonal font of circa 1490 was enclosed by an elaborate brass and iron screen, which may be by Skidmore of Coventry. The great brass lectern is by Jones and Willis and originally stood under the tower.

The 14th Century font with its ornate 19th century brass cover

The High Altar itself came a little later, probably about 1910. Its mensa (table) is formed by a massive slab of pink marble. This is supported on a base of carved English oak, which has five compartments with scenes in terra cotta of the life of Our Lord.

The Stations of the Cross by Hemmings, who did most of the other murals, date from the early eighteen-nineties. They are thought to be unique with such detailed figures about one-third life size.

The Relics

St. Eanswythe's Relics

In June 1885, during the installation of Hem's elaborate Sanctuary arcading of Derbyshire alabaster, with the Apostle mosaics designed by Capello, the workmen came across a small cavity in the north wall containing an ancient lead casket. Upon its removal and examination it was found to contain the remains of a young woman who had died in the 7th century. From the place of burial near the High Altar, the position of greatest honour and distinction in the church, it was concluded that here were the long lost relics of St. Eanswythe which tradition asserted had been hidden somewhere in or near the Parish Church at the time of the Reformation.

The remains were reverently interred in the place where they had been discovered still in their ages-old Saxon coffer, and enclosed behind an elaborate brass grill and engraved door. There they remain to this day, bestowing a rare distinction upon our church, which is one of the very few places remaining in this country, which has the bones of its patron saint buried within its walls.

Modern additions
The tradition of adornment and dignified worship initiated by Canon Woodward has been preserved and extended down to the present time. This venerable Parish Church now possesses among other things one of the finest collections of vestments and altar frontals in the south east, with notable examples by Bodley and Comper. This is a revival of the pre-Reformation tradition when Folkestone Church was famous for its rich vestments.

Among the altar plate is a magnificent Gothic Revival chalice of silver gilt and enamel work of French origin reputed to have once belonged to Cardinal Manning. The Jacobean Communion Cup with its standing cover, also of silver gilt, is hallmarked 1608. A more recent addition is the lovely hand-beaten silver altar book rest by Omar Ramsden, modern artist of great sensitivity.

In 1934 the Lady Chapel was restored and five years later
F. C. Eden was called in to design the magnificent carved and gilded reredos and stone altar.

The organ was first built by Hill in 1894 and rebuilt in 1931. During the latter part of the 18th century the organ stood at the west end of the nave. Later it was moved to a new site in the present Lady Chapel, before finally being rebuilt in its present position during the later Victorian period.

The vestries were extended in 1954 and contained some 16th century stained glass roundels said to have come originally from Canterbury Cathedral. These roundels and the screen in which they were mounted were badly damaged by fire in a recent arson attack but they were rescued and have been restored and can now be seen on display in the church. A few years later the generosity of the same donor rebuilt and extended the north-west porch which now forms the main entrance.

The splendid carved oak pulpit dating from 1913 was re-sited during the early part of 1973. In the mid-1990s three pews were removed from the head of the nave creating a space for the altar at the Sunday Parish Eucharist and for other services and presentations. Thus each passing age has left its mark upon this building.

The pulpit & St George's Chapel
Generations come and go. Like a sentinel the old grey tower watches over them all as they pass. It has seen Folkestone as a sleepy little fishing village containing but a handful of folk develop into a spacious and fashionable Victorian watering place. In turn this has passed into history and modern times have witnessed the advent of a busy and thriving channel port and a popular seaside resort.

The 21
st Century has seen the development of ‘The Creative Quarter’ in the Old High Street and Tontine Street in which the church plays its part hosting concerts and exhibitions and bringing people into this marvellous, historic building to absorb its atmosphere of centuries of prayer and to admire its architectural and aesthetic glories.

Yet through the centuries this ancient building has remained much as our forefathers knew it, the symbol of a living and changeless Faith, beckoning people to turn aside awhile from all the tumult of a tempestuous existence to enter in and find refreshment and renewal in Him who is indeed, the way, the truth and the life. Let us also turn aside and with them echo the praise of the Psalmist when he says:

‘Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy House
and the place where Thy Honour dwelleth.'


St Mary & St Eanswythe, Folkestone and kent heritage
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St Mary & St Eanswythe, Folkestone and kent heritage buildings
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St Mary & St Eanswythe, a history of Folkestone
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St Mary & St Eanswythe, historical buildings in Folkestone
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St Mary & St Eanswythe, history of Kent and Folkestone
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St Mary & St Eanswythe, architecture and history in Folkestone
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St Mary & St Eanswythe, Folkestone
who we are
The Friends of St Mary and St Eanswythe Parish Church began on 21st March 2014 and is dedicated to the preservation of St Mary and St Eanswythe's Church.

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what we do
Our sole aim is to raise funds all of which will be devoted to the upkeep of the building and to the furthering of public understanding of its history, architecture and significance.