Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Date first listed:
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Sevenoaks (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 46621 40472




GV I C13 nave, chancel is late C13 or early C14, S porch, bell turret, spire and roofs C15. N aisle built in 1838 to designs by H Whichord; it was rebuilt and the NE vestry added in 1884 to designs by WO Milne. Some C20 repairs.

MATERIALS: Coursed stone rubble and with some square stone; remains of external render in places. Tiled roofs except for the W bay of the nave, bell turret and spire, which are shingled.

PLAN: Nave with N aisle shorter than the nave, S porch, timber bell turret on a frame within the W bay of the nave; chancel with NE vestry.

EXTERIOR: A tiny church with a very tall, shingled bell turret and broach spire over the W end of the nave. The spire is notably crooked. Three-light C19 E window with Decorated style tracery; the chancel N wall has a two-light C14 window with a square head. In the chancel S wall are three windows, one C14 with a cusped head and traces of former tracery, the other two C15 windows reset in their present positions in the C19. The nave S wall has C14 two-light windows on either side of the porch and a C13 trefoiled lancet towards the W end. There is a similar lancet on the N side to the W of the aisle. Late C15 or early C16 S porch has a coped gable, a two-light window above the outer door way and two-light windows in the side walls. The nave W window is Perpendicular of three lights with vertical tracery and the W door is also C15. There is a quatrefoil of c.1300 off centre in the nave W gable. The bell turret straddles the nave gable at the W end of the nave, and its shingle covering is carried onto the roof a the W end of the nave; the rest of the nave roof to the E is tiled. It has small, square louvered openings and a tall broach spire, also shingled. The C19 N aisle has a trefoiled lancet in its W wall, and in its N wall two square-headed windows, one of 1838 reset, the other of 1884 to match and another window with a triangular head and cusped lights, also reset. There is a chimney in the aisle E gable, and the NE vestry of 1884 has a small projecting porch and a Decorated-style E window.

INTERIOR: The interior is plastered and painted, and the view from the chancel looking W to the bell turret frame is particularly impressive. There is no chancel arch, but the division between nave and chancel is marked by a narrowing of the chancel and by the reduction in both height and width of the chancel roof compared to that of the nave. The E window has a roll moulded rerearch with internal shafts and a hood mould, probably late C13 or early C14. The two bay chancel roof is probably C15 and has a tie beam and a moulded wall plate with lively rustic carvings including two green men. It is ceiled in a canted shape. The C15 nave roof has tall crown posts with moulded capitals and bases and moulded wall plates. It is also ceiled in a canted shape and the braces. Four-bay N arcade of 1884 in a late C13 style with round piers with moulded capitals and roll-moulded arches; the arcade replaces iron columns of 1838. C19 arch from the aisle to the NE vestry and organ chamber has chamfers dying into the wall. The bell turret is supported on a massive frame at the W end of the nave, dendro dated to the mid C15. It has large posts with arched braces to massive tie beams and two further sets of diagonal braces to additional upper tie beams. There is evidence for repairs, including in 1954 and 2001.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: C15 piscina with nodding ogee arch in the chancel, and two additional piscinas further W in the N and S wall of the chancel for altars formerly against the (lost) rood screen. Font, C15 in style, polygonal with quatrefoils with fleurons on the bowl, but much recut in the C19. Very fine timber pulpit, dated 1628, of the wine glass form, with a slender stem and a polygonal drum. The drum has panelling with heavily rusticated, classicising arches. It retains its back plate (with inscribed date) and hexagonal sounding board with a large finial. The hourglass was stolen in 1972, but the stand for it remains. The communion rails have turned balusters, some of them possibly C17 in origin. Chancel reredos of 1936 with blind traceried panelling. C19 creed and commandment boards. C18 benefaction board and Royal Arms.

In the E window, seven small grisaille panels of c.1620, based on engravings by Lucas van Leyden. Also some good C20 glass, including the S window of 1947 by W Warren Wilson.

In the chancel, a cast-iron slab to John Bottinge (d.1622), a reflection of Cowden's importance in the Wealden ironworking industry.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: Some C18 slabs in the churchyard.

HISTORY: The earliest fabric is the C13 nave. The chancel was added or rebuilt in the C14. Both nave and chancel roofs were probably redone in the C15, perhaps at the same time that the bell turret was added and the chancel arch removed. The S porch is also C15 in origin. The church was at least partly refurnished in the 1620s. The ceilings were installed and other repairs carried out in 1742 using a large sum of money found in the possession of Joan Wickenden, who had received poor relief from the parish for 40 years. The N aisle was added in 1838 to designs by John Whichcord (1790-1860), who worked extensively in Kent on churches and many other types of buildings. The church also had a W gallery at that date. Whichcord's aisle had cast iron columns, which were removed and replaced with the present arcade in 1884, during a restoration by W O Milne (1847-1927). The spire was damaged during WWII and subsequently repaired, and there were further repairs to the church in the C20 and early C21.

SOURCES: Buildings of England: West Kent and the Weald (1969), 232-3 Lambeth Palace Library, ICBS 02164, 08926, 15649 Howard, R E et al, `Tree-ring dating analysis of the timber from St Mary Magdalen church, Cowden, Kent', Ancient Monuments Laboratory report, 44/99 (1999)

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The church of St Mary Magdalene, Cowden is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * Parish church with C13 nave, C14 chancel, C15 S porch, bell turret and roofs. C19 N aisle. * Very fine mid C15 timber bell turret with a tall broach spire on a dated internal frame. * C15 roofs to nave and chancel. * Excellent pulpit of 1628. * Glass of c.1620 and good C20 glass. * Unusual cast iron monumental slab to John Bottinge, d. 1622.


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

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