The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Willesborough, is a predominantly medieval church, with an early-C13 nave and tower, early-C14 chancel, and largely C15 south aisle, which is believed to have replaced the original Saxon church - a fragment of which survives at the west end. The north aisle was added c1868 when the church underwent restoration.
Reasons for Designation
St Mary's Church, Willesborough is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: as a medieval parish church which retains a substantial quantity of C13-C15 fabric, and fragmentary Anglo-Saxon fabric;
* Architectural interest: the church possesses a number of features of note, including a blocked Saxon window, some fine C14 carving in the chancel, medieval stained glass and a handsome crown-post roof in the south aisle.
The history of the church dates back to the Anglo-Saxon period, when it belonged to the monastery of St. Augustine at Canterbury. After the dissolution of the monastery of St Augustine in the C16, the church passed to the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury.
The earliest part of the existing building is within the south aisle, where the west end wall is believed to be part of the Saxon church. Around 1200 the church was enlarged with the addition of a new nave to the north and a tower at its west end. A chancel was possibly added at this time, but the present chancel is believed to date from c1320. The memorial chapel at the east end of the south aisle was built as a chantry by the Ellis family c1470, and it is likely that the present roof structure of the south aisle, possibly the east end of the south arcade, and the south porch date from this period also.
The church underwent a major restoration in 1858, when the chancel roof was renewed and the old pews and the font were replaced. In the late 1860s the north aisle was constructed and the chantry was restored; it is likely that the south aisle door was also restored at this time, placing the scratch dials on an inside wall. In 1947 the chantry became a memorial chapel for those from the parish who gave their lives during the Second World War. This change entailed enlarging the entrance from the south aisle.
The tower may have been topped by a steeple since the early C14, but the present steeple dates from 1868.
The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Willesborough, is a church predominantly of the C13-C15, with fragmentary Saxon survival and c1868 extension and restoration.
MATERIALS: the church is constructed of rag stone rubble, with a tiled roof and cedar shingles to the spire.
PLAN: the building has a 5-bay nave, with tower to the W, and chancel to the E. The predominantly C15 south aisle has a chantry (now memorial chapel) to the E and a porch to the S. To the N of the nave is a c1868 aisle, and a vestry of similar date to the N of the chancel.
EXTERIOR: the tower has corner buttresses and a bipartite spire: square below (like the base of a broached spire) and octagonal above. There is a multiply-moulded shafted W doorway, with cusped lancet above, and a later S lancet and clock, the latter installed at Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee.
The Perpendicular S aisle is separately gabled and has paired cusped lights under square heads and an arched three-light E window. The W end of the aisle contains some Saxon fabric, as evidenced by the remains of a small blocked window high on the W gable end. At the E end of the aisle the stone plinth of the last bay, and diagonal corner buttress, marks the chantry, added in the C15.
The chancel has a handsome five-light Decorated E window with ogival cusped lights and a large quatrefoil in the apex. The two-light N and S windows follow a similar pattern, and all three windows have fine carved head corbels. There is a blocked doorway below the S window.
To the north is the C19 vestry and separately gabled N aisle, the latter having three-light Decorated windows.
INTERIOR: the S arcade has four piers: two round (W) and two octagonal (E); these support wide double-chamfered arches. The C19 N arcade is an exact copy. The nave roof has common rafters with braced collars; the C15 roof of the S aisle has octagonal molded crown posts with four up-braces, resting on molded tie-beams. This structure is repeated in the S porch and replicated in the C19 north aisle.
The chancel arch has head corbels; adjacent and high up to the S, is a rood-loft doorway. In the chancel is a Decorated piscina and triple sedilia on the S wall. Over the S door, within the porch, is what appears to be a heavily weathered head corbel. The scratch (or mass) dials on the inner face of the south door suggest the stones which now form the inner reveal of the doorway have been relocated from outside the church. Just to the E of the doorway is a water stoup, and further to the E, by the entrance to what is now the memorial chapel, is a piscina.
The liturgical furniture and pews are generally C19, with that in the memorial chapel being mid C20 and including a Roll of Honour on the panelling to either side of the reredos. The organ is late C19, with the choir organ being added in memory of those who gave their lives in the First World War. There are various memorials within the church, the most elaborate being the Warton memorial on the N side of the chapel. Made from Bethersden marble with a central relief bust, it commemorates Charles Warton who died in 1863 and Lucy, his wife, who died in 1896. The church is floored predominantly with C19 encaustic tiles.
The N and S chancel windows contain C14 glass, that to the N being particularly complete, depicting saints standing under tabernacles. The S window largely dates from 1868, but is thought to include glass from the original E window, which recorded Edward III's granting of a licence to Abbot John of St. Augustine's Abbey in 1349. The three-light E window over the chapel alter contains some C15 glass. All the medieval glass was reset in 1868 by Clayton and Bell, who designed the E window, which features scenes from the Passion.
The W window in the tower is c1848, by William Warrington, and the window over the piscina in the south aisle is by Herbert Bryans, dedicated to the memory of the Reverend T. F. Dixon, rector from 1886 to 1903.