History

We know from the Domesday Book that a church existed here in 1086. It was enlarged towards the end of the 13th century though being shorter than today through lack of a west tower and the sanctuary projecting less than it does today. The south porch was added about this time.

There were more alterations in 1418, which may have been the time the famous detached bell tower was erected. It was a skilfully constructed wooden building on a stone foundation, situated some ten or twenty feet from the north-west corner of the nave and stated to have been 132 feet high – nearly twice as lofty as the present tower. Its tall spire was shingled and the church itself probably had a shingled roof then.

At this time the north porch was added with its grotesque gargoyles and stone-vaulted ceiling. The boss at the centre represents a salamander (symbol of eternal life). The four corners have curious corbels in the shape of fantastic faces or masks. The stone seats on either side were provided for parties to betrothal and marriage settlements and also for handing over legacies and other payments requiring witnesses.

Then in 1672 there was a great fire:- “Monday the 30th day of December 1672, between twelve and one in the morning, arose a storm of lightning, thunder, a hard gale of wind and some rains out of the south-west, which set fire to the steeple at Benenden: whereby the said steeple, with the roofe and all timber works of the Church was consumed in 4 or 5 howers time; the five large bells melted; also five houses adjoining to the Churchyard Gate on the north side burnt to the Ground”.

An appeal was launched and rebuilding took place 1677-1678. This included a low flat ceiling supported by Ionic columns, windows probably altered to let in more light, a red three-decker pulpit on the south side, squire’s high-boxed pew on the north side and a gallery in the west end from which the music for services was played. An estimate for this work in 1673 quoted £3,920 14s 0d.

The present tower was started at that time but not finished to its present height until 1718 when sufficient interest had accrued from money invested after the sale of the scrap metal from the old bells. The interior of the church then remained little altered until 1861 when it was entirely re-designed and adapted under the architect David Brandon who was commissioned by the Rt. Hon. Gathorne Hardy, owner of Hemsted from 1857 and later created Earl of Cranbrook. This resulted in the present appearance of the interior, which has altered little since and is especially lovely at Christmas when the original Victorian candelabra are used.