For centuries at the centre of the community of Westerham
Westerham (Oistreham) is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, and was a significant settlement at the time. The earliest parts of the present building date from the 13th century and it has been added to and modified many times over the years. Indeed it is believed that there has been a church on this site since the 7th century. The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin is clearly visible from a distance as you approach the town of Westerham and nestles behind the north-east corner of the Green.
The Church registers record the baptism of General James Wolfe (who was born in the Old Vicarage) and three of Sir Winston Churchill’s grandchildren in this same font, as well as many thousands of other local residents.
The entry in our church records of the baptism of General James Wolfe which reads “Wolfe, James Son of Collonel Edward Wolfe Bapt. Janry 11th 1726” A later hand has added the comment above “The General”.
A memorial tablet and window commemorate General Wolfe and the hanging lamp in the St Katherine Chapel, Sir Winston. Other interesting memorials include a number of brasses which have been collected together in the Katherine Chapel, amongst them one to the memory of The Revd Thomas Dye, one of only two in the country to show a Post-Reformation priest in his full robes.
Other rarities can be found at the base of the tower. The fine fourteenth century spiral staircase is one of only two of this age to turn unusually to the left. On the walls nearby hang three Royal Coats of Arms; those of Edward VI (the oldest known of this reign), George III and (added during the Jubilee year) that of Queen Elizabeth II. In this same tower hangs and excellent peal of 8 bells.
The building both gained and lost by an extensive restoration in the mid nineteenth century. It lost a music gallery and a three decker pulpit but gained an unrestricted view of a fine roof, an east window, a reredos and a Lewis organ (the latter two in memory of members of the Warde family of Squerryes Court). The Archbishop of Canterbury re-dedicated the Church in 1883 after the restoration was completed. The evolution of the present building can be traced by studying the interesting plan displayed opposite the main door showing the dates at which the various parts were added.
The John Fryth room is to the north of the tower and was added in the 1960s as a meeting room, taking its name from a famous Westerham resident, the biblical scholar, friend of William Tyndale and Reformation Martyr, who was baptised at St Mary’s. More recently to celebrate the Millenium the Resurrection Chapel was reordered to include a glass screen with etchings which make use of images from around the Church to celebrate Westerham life throughout the ages and the power of the Resurrection.
St Mary’s Church has been the spiritual centre of Westerham for centuries and many of the names appearing on the memorials on the tombstones surrounding the Church are found also as street and place names in the town, as well as being common amongst local residents. Thus the Church has had a permanent influence on the life of the town and the histories of the two are inextricably linked.
St Mary’s Westerham Heritage Trust is a registered charity which exists to help in the work of preserving, restoring, improving and caring for our beautiful ancient church building, its furnishings and grounds. Find out more at their website.
For Genealogical Enquiries (all but the most recent baptisms and marriages) the local Diocesan Record Office is:
Centre for Kentish Studies
Tel 01622 694363
Some more recent records continue to be held by the church. Please note that our churchyard and its records are extensive and searching the records can take time. If you are planning to visit the church to make enquiries, please contact us in advance by telephone on 01959 561330, weekday mornings or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org, providing as much information as possible, so that we have the opportunity to search our records thoroughly on your behalf.
There is a charge for this service which our Parish Administrator will be happy to explain to you.