Wherever you stand in the Parish of Rainham, if you look up you are bound to catch a glimpse sooner or later of our magnificent tower, standing as a witness to faithful Christian worship since its construction many centuries ago. Or maybe you will hear the peel of the bells, carried on the breeze, a timeless reminder of a worshipping community with a mission of outreach and service to the people of Rainham and beyond!
The present Parish of Rainham is a very large one and has over 30,000 people living within its boundary.
There was a village here by 811 AD when a charter records a grant of land at ‘Roegingaham’ to Wulfrid, Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1137 Robert de Crevecoeur gave Rainham Church and 18 acres of land to
Leeds Priory, which he had founded. This meant that the abbot was also the rector of Rainham and would have appointed the vicar as the abbey’s representative to act as the parish priest.
After Leeds Priory was dissolved by Henry VIII, vicars were appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who became Patron of the Parish. The names of most of the vicars since 1282 are listed on a display inside the church.
The Parish was transferred from Canterbury to the Diocese of Rochester in 1938, when the Patron then became the Bishop of Rochester.
The Church of St.Margaret
The present church building is almost entirely of Gothic design, with just a few remains of the Norman church still incorporated in the east wall of the chancel. The 13th century Early English style can be seen in the chancel ,the 14th century period, known as the Decorated, represented in the nave and aisle, with the latest period of Gothic architecture, the Perpendicular most obvious in the 15th century tower.
The church itself is built of Kentish ragstone and flint. The church underwent major restoration in the 1860’sand 1870’s,and there have been several further important periods of reconstruction in the 20th and again in this century, when it was discovered that the main roof and tower were in an advanced state of decay, and required a comprehensive programme of works to ensure the long term safety and integrity of the building. The repairs were initially estimated to cost up to £1million, but were completed in April 2010 for less than £1/2 million.
The tower is a major local landmark and was built about 1480. It stands 30m (100ft) high with an octagonal stair turret probably housing a beacon at the top to act as one of a chain between coast and capital. The tower houses a peel of eight bells (read more on the page about the bell ringers)
14th century nave, is very plain and almost all the roof timbers are original. Most of the window stonework was replaced in the 19th century. The stained glass of the south-east window is by Hardman [1871 ].
The most interesting feature in the nave is the celure which is unique and once formed a canopy for a rood screen. It was painted in the 1460’s on the orders of Sir Thomas St Leger, who married Edward IV’s sister, and depicted the King’s badge of the Sun in Splendour. This was changed rapidly after the demise of the House of York, following the Wars of the Roses, with the rose of Lancaster.
The mediaeval wall paintings and consecration crosses were uncovered in the 1920’s following a chance discovery by workmen of a cross beneath the surface of the south wall. The consecration crosses date from the reconstruction of the nave in the 14th century. In the chancel are the earliest remaining parts of the building in the form of 13th century wall arcading.
There are three sedilia and nearby is a 13th century piscina. By comparison you will also see the newest addition to the chancel, the Millennium Cross, made out of branches of our 1000 year old yew tree, which can still be seen in the churchyard.
Between the chancel and chapel is the arcade, with the two arches nearest the nave dating from the 13th century. The parclose screen inserted into the arcade is a very fine example of 15th century woodwork.. The chapel also houses a particularly fine 14th century oak chest.
The oldest monument in the church is a very short 13th century ‘tomb chest, a cross, which lies in the south east corner of the chapel. Beside the east window is a memorial to Thomas Norreys, a commissioner in the navy who died in 1624. Also in the chancel are a number of brasses. The oldest lies between the choir stalls and is that of James Donet who died in 1409, but only the inscription survives. There are others of interest, including William Bloor 1529, one dated 1500 and another of Charles Garlick, who died in 1573. The chapel contains two large marble monuments commemorating members of the Tufton family. One of these is of Nicholas, 3rd Earl of Thanet, who died in 1679 and twice suffered periods of imprisonment under Cromwell. The other is that of his younger brother George.
Most recently following the major work on the roof and tower additional work has taken place inside the Church. Thanks to the Friends of St. Margaret’s the wall paintings in the Nave have been restored and these are well worth a look if you happen to be passing the Church. A number of the brasses in the Chancel were also removed and taken for repair, and at this point it was found that there were inscriptions on the reverse -they had in fact been reused – a Palimpsests. This is a form of medieval recycling!
We have taken the opportunity to have resin casts made of the palimpsests and these have been set in a board with an explanation attached, and this is on display in the Chancel.
Following the repair of the brasses they have been relaid in the Chancel. We were advised that we should now cover the brasses to avoid damage and again thanks to the Friends of St Margaret’s and the assistance of Gerald Lukehurst & Son a new carpet has been laid in the chancel.
In 2017 a re-ordering project to remove some of the pews from the back section of the Church to create a multipurpose space with many exciting possibilities for its use has been completed.