The Church of St. Nicholas in New Romney, Kent, is a 12th-century Norman parish church with some Gothic additions at the east end. It has a large and attractive exterior, with a stout tower that once overlooked the harbor and still bears scars from the great storm of 1287.
History of New Romney Church (St Nicholas)
New Romney is one of the "Cinque Ports" of the southern English coast founded by William the Conqueror in 1066 AD. These five towns - Romney, Hythe, Dover, Sandwich and Hastings - resisted William's initial landings until he bribed them with trading privileges. Romney was the lead port of the five.
Cinque Port merchants also enjoyed the right to carry the canopy over the king at his coronation and sit next to him at the coronation banquet. These privileges have since gone the way of history, but the towns still have special duties at coronations.
The Church of St. Nicholas was begun by Bishop Odo, brother-in-law of William the Conqueror, in 1086. But most of it dates from the early 12th century. Constructed of Caen stone by masons from Normandy, the church consisted originally of a nave with clerestory and low-pitched side aisles.
It is quite hard to imagine today since the coast is now a couple miles away, but at that time the church stood at the head of the harbor and ships were moored at the edge of the churchyard. The tower and nave were regularly crowded with traders conducting business.
In 1287, the great South Coast storm filled the port with four feet of sand and shingle and singlehandedly moved the Rother estuary west to Rye. New Romney was covered in a deep layer of debris and went into decline. But the church survived it all, and still bears witness to the disaster through its below-ground entrance and stained pillars.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, the church was enlarged with a Gothic chancel and two side chapels at the east end. The side aisles were also raised, with the result that the clerestory windows no longer let in sunlight.
What to See at New Romney Church (St Nicholas)
The great west tower of St. Nicholas Church is a major landmark on Romney Marsh. Its base forms a west porch, from which rises four tiers of Norman blind arches and windows. The bottom and top tiers are decorated with corbel tables, carved with open-mouthed faces of humans and beasts. A Green Man or two can be spotted among them.
The Norman west door has four orders of decoratively carved arches and three capitals on each side, but no surviving figurative carvings. The door is approached by descending stairs due to the raised ground level caused by the 1287 storm.
Entrance is by the north door, which leads into the porch beneath the tower. The tower is supported by splendid Norman arches of three orders with leafy capitals, and roofed with a timber ceiling. A Gothic pointed arch on the east side leads into the nave.
The interior is in need of restoration - there is much peeling plaster in the side aisles - but the church is much loved and used, and fundraising efforts are currently underway.
The nave is composed of four bays of stout Norman piers and round arches, with a single Gothic bay at the east end. The clerestory windows now open into the side aisles.
At the east end is the Gothic chancel, with three bays of pointed arches, and two side chapels. Rather uniquely, each of the three sanctuaries has its own altar, piscina and sedilia.
The three east windows were inserted in the early 14th century, with tracery described by Simon Jenkins as "both refined and robust." The glass is from the 19th and 20th centuries, as is the case throughout the church. The central window features portraits of St. Nicholas, Christ in Majesty, and biblical scenes involving boats.
South of the chancel is St. Stephen's Chapel, with the table tomb of Richard Stuppeny (d.1526). Until 1885, council meetings and elections were held around this tomb. On the south wall of the chapel hangs a plaque in memory of Isaac Warquin, a Huguenot who fled persecution in France in 1689. He lived and practiced medicine in New Romney and was respected for his Christian charity.
The north chapel, the Lady Chapel, contains three table tombs. The larger one on the left bears a brass memorial of 1610 to the Smyth family.
Quick Facts on New Romney Church (St Nicholas)
|Names:||Church of St Nicholas · New Romney Church · New Romney Church (St Nicholas) · St Nicholas Church|
|Categories:||churches; parish churches; Grade I listed buildings|
|Dates:||early 12th C|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||50.985100° N, 0.941172° E|
|Address:||New Romney, England|
|Phone:||01797 362 729|
|Hours:||Saturdays 10-4; other hours vary|
|Lodging:||View hotels near New Romney Church (St Nicholas)|
- Personal visit (November 16, 2007).
- Information provided in the church
- Simon Jenkins, England's Thousand Best Churches (2000), 325-26.
- St. Nicholas, New Romney - official website
- Photos of New Romney Church (St Nicholas) - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of New Romney Church (St Nicholas)
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