We Begin with an Early History of Blean Parish Church and Site

[Click the link at the bottom of this page for some social history, in the form of an account of two well established families in the Blean and Tyler Hill area]

Not much is known with any degree of certainty of life in Blean during the dark ages between the departure of the Romans in 4th Century AD and the Norman conquest of the 11th Century AD. 

The Blean Historical and Archaeological Group undertook some very detailed research in the period 1982-86 (on which much of the information here is based), and established beyond doubt that a substantial Roman villa existed to the south-west of the church from 1st to 3rd Centuries - indeed, fragments of Roman brick, which would logically have derived from this site, have long been known to be incorporated into the west exterior wall of the present church and are still clearly visible. 

It is also known that a fortified manor was built on the same site in the 13th Century, so it is fairly likely that there were Jutish-Saxon settlements or small estates in this immediate area for much, if not all, of the intervening periods. By the time of the Domesday Book (1086), there were twelve surrounding farmsteads or holdings within the bounds of the manor, but clearly it had been well-established as a community long before that date. By the way, it is often the case, in English villages, that the Parish Church is to be found in a remote, outlying location rather than in the centre of the village, with the usual suggested explanation being that "'the village was re-established in a new location (away from the church) after the Black Death (plague)". This was almost never the case. In reality, many English villages (in Anglo-Saxon times) came into existence as a series of farmsteads scattered over a wide area. Among them would be a principal or 'manorial' farmstead. Many English country churches began their history, perhaps at around the time of the Norman Conquest, as chapels set up alongside manorial buildings belonging to the wealtheir or more influential members of the community.


Blean's First Church

A church was noted on the present site in 1086 (not the present building), with a strong suggestion of an early pre-Conquest church prior to that. There is an (unproven) folklore suggestion that the site of the present church actually dates from 598, when the early monks accompanying Augustine from Rome set up a shrine to the saints Cosmus and Damian at this point on the ancient Salt Road to the north Kent coast which runs past the church on its way to Seasalter. Here, at the top of the hill, perhaps there was already a much-visited ancient pagan shrine which the missionaries found and decided to 'Christianise'.

Dedications of churches to Cosmus and Damian are very unusual in Britain (there are, in fact, only four in the whole country), but they were at that time very well known in Rome, where a church in their names had been opened in the Forum as recently as 530 (the Basilica of Saints Cosmus & Damian). 

Whether any of that is true or not, the whole site appears to have been fortified at some point during the dark ages, resulting in the somewhat unusual relics of a wall and moat around what is now our graveyard - it was most likely a fortified manor within which a simple wooden church was included. The site became too restricted after the Conquest, resulting in the manor itself being moved onto what might have once been the Roman villa. Our picture shows what the range of buildings may have looked like in early  medieval times (you are looking southwards, from a point above the modern-day car park. The manorial building on  the right of the view, and the smaller dwellings to the centre left, have all disappeared).

These were times of great unrest, and clearly the presence of a fortified structure belonging to Robert de Crevequer (regarded as a "rebel" at a time of virtual civil war) at such a strategic location proved too much for King Henry III, who in 1259 ordered that the walls be razed to the ground and the moat filled in - in fact, only one wall alongside the road was razed, although that was sufficient for military purposes.  To no avail, since the manor was confiscated anyway - such was the political turbulence of the time!

The Origins of the Present Church

 The present flintstone church, roofed with Kent peg tiles, was rebuilt before 1233, by order of the Crown, and the "Calendar of Liberate Rolls" for 1233 shows Henry lll repaying the sum of £20.3s.8d to Walter de Kirkeham for carrying out this instruction. 

From about 1200 onwards, the Eastbridge Hospital had acquired a growing interest in the area, the lordship 
of the manor being formally confirmed in 1359, and the Master of Eastbridge still remains the Patron of the parish. It would appear that the fortunes of the manor itself declined after this, and severe fire damage in the late 14th or early 15th century resulted in the site being abandoned. 
It seems likely that the local population was then in decline in any case, possibly as a result of the ravages of the Black Death. 
Depopulation was a continuing problem right up until the present time, since the local communities polarised towards either Blean or Tyler Hill, a process accelerated by the opening of the present main roads to Whitstable and Herne Bay respectively.

The rebuilt church of circa 1233 is characterised by the lancet windows of Early English Gothic style and has changed little, apart from the closing of two lancets in the west wall and their replacement during the 14th century by a window in the Perpendicular late Gothic style, plus a similar new window in the south wall of the nave. 
This latter alteration coincided with the institution of the post of Vicar in the Blean (c.1375), and culminated in the building of the church's finest possession, its timber crown-post roof.

The church at this time was very colourful, with many of the windows being in stained glass (of which only a few fragments remain in one of the chancel lancet windows), a painted rood screen (the marks where it was fitted are still visible in the beams above the pulpit) and several wall paintings dedicated to St. Thomas, the Virgin Mary, and of course our "own" Saints Cosmus and Damian. With sets of candles in front of each, the impression would have been one of a highly coloured interior, typical of the medieval fashions. 

Naturally, it all had to go in the religious upheavals following the Reformation, and whitewash became the order of the day - even the stone altar had to be broken up, its wooden replacement itself landing the then Vicar in serious trouble in 1551 as it was judged by the Archdeaconry Court as being "indistinguishable from the stone altar it had replaced!" 
Hard times indeed - by the visitation of Archbishop Parker in 1573, it was reported that the church was "devoid of all glazing" - and we complain today of draughts! Apart from the walls and roof, the only major fittings remaining are the 15th Century stone font, the John Boys memorial of 1612 and the Communion Rails of 1697.

According to Edward Hasted's book History of the County of Kent, Canterbury 1782 vol. 3 ...The Church is but small and mean. It consists of only one aisle and a chancel having a low pointed turret at the west end...Anciently an appendage of the manor and remained so until Hamo le Crevequer called in the Charter. Hamo de Blen son of Etardus le Crevequer, gave the church to the Master and Brethren of the Hospital of Eastbridge, Canterbury. The gift was confirmed to the Hospital by the Archbishop Stephen Langton between 1206 and 1228. Blean was known as Cossmasblene in a document of 1548 by which the Master and co-Brethren of the Eastbridge Hospital confirmed their gift of about one virgate of land, subject to a rental of 3s a year, to William Harter and his wife. This piece of land and "a lyttel tennemant besyde the church of Cosmes Bleane" was referred to in a survey of houses and lands of the Manor of Hothe and Blean (calendared 'late 16th Century'), and gyven by the Masters of the Hospitall longe tyme past to the Auncesters of the wiff of one William Harter yet lyving and her heirs....

Extension during 1860's 

The Victorian rebuilding and extension was certainly enthusiastic, although unfortunately much of the original appearance of the church appears to have been obliterated in the process. The whole north wall disappeared to accommodate a sizeable extension, whilst the present single bell gable replaced the earlier wooden turret above the old building (the timbers from which are alleged to have been used in the stables of the then vicarage at Mulberry Down). 

The old windows were replaced by new stained glass ones - including work by the well-known Victorian artist Henry Holiday. 
Some fragments of the earlier glass were built into one window however, and perhaps more importantly, the quality of the work done has withstood the test of time, and we are very fortunate today in that we have inherited a basically sound structure in relatively good repair. Nevertheless, there is currently a scheduled programme of work to repair and restore these beautiful windows. 
The plain open pews, choir and pulpit date from 1866, whilst the new organ (strangely sited by today's tastes) was installed in 1909. We are told that the original seating was for 273 souls - perhaps they were thinner in those days! The present main altar is comparatively modern, being designed in 1964 by Harold Anderson (architect to Canterbury Cathedral and a Churchwarden in Blean for 49 years!). 
In 2000, after considerable consultation within the parish, the opportunity was taken to re-order the church with the objective of making it more accessible for worship and community use. The restrictive pew layout and the poor acoustics were tackled. In particular the organ was moved to a more appropriate location at the west end of the church. The font was moved away from the main door to the eastern end of the (‘new’ Victorian) north aisle.
The pulpit was moved to the place where the organ had originally been sited and we believe that the opening up of the sight lines resulting from this show off the magnificent timber crown-post roof in all its splendour. In 2005, we succeeded in raising sufficient money to bring water to the church hall providing much needed lavatory and kitchen facilities. Further developments to that hall are planned. 
We are determined that our church building should provide the flexibility and modern facilities needed for the Christian message to continue to be proclaimed for another thousand years in this ancient place. 

There are several plaques and memorials in the church which may be included on this page.

For the time being here are two Plaques and signs in the church, one giving an interesting bequest and another the list of Vicars up to 1995.

To bring the list of vicars up to date 

The Revd David M Hayes 2003

The Revd Canon Noelle Hall 2007

Revd Dr Stephen Laird FSA 2009 

Social History
History of some important families in the area