A History of the Church Building
As the weathervane on the church tower proclaims, the people of Platt gained a church of their own in 1843. Until that time, they had to make their way to Wrotham for Sunday services, a distance of some one and a half miles, or two and a half kilometres, as the crow flies. The new church and parsonage were built on three acres of land given by William Lambard in 1841, with funds raised by the rector of Wrotham, thus creating a new parish separate from its mother church of St George’s Wrotham.
The weathervane is not original, being erected in 1900 to commemorate the Relief of Ladysmith.
An extract from the Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal of 1841 gives the following details:
“The Architects are Messrs. Whichcord and Walker of Maidstone. The Church will be built of Kentish rag stone in the early pointed style, and is cruciform in plan, with an octangular turret at the N.E. angle, in which is a stone staircase leading to the various floors and roof of the Tower. The Organ gallery (the only one in the Church) is situated in the Tower and is lighted by a large three light window in the Western wall. The Chancel has a corresponding East window under which there is a series of small pointed arches, and on either side a niche to serve as a seat for the officiating Minister. The Church will contain sittings for 500 persons, 120 in pews, 210 free seats, and 170 for children. The pews are placed in the transepts, the free seats in the Nave, and the children’s on raised seats at the West end of the Nave and in the Organ gallery. The Pulpit and Reader’s desk are placed at the S.E. angle of the intersection of the Nave and Transepts. The total cost of the Church will not exceed £2,500.”
The architect, John Whichcord (1790-1860), later built Maidstone Prison.
John Mickleburgh was appointed curate-in-charge of the new parish in 1843 at the age of 39. He had a wife, Fanny, and a young family of 5 children. A couple of years later, he was appointed as Incumbent of the church and was installed on 8th February 1846.
With £150 from the Rector of Wrotham and grants from the National Society, a school was opened on 30th November 1846 in what is now the Old School Hall, just by the church.
The Rev. John Mickleburgh and his family were, meanwhile, renting a house in Borough Green. Sadly, although John spent much time planning and overseeing the building of a vicarage, he died before it was finished. John Mickleburgh’s vicarage is now called the Glebe House following construction of a new vicarage on the old tennis court in 1979. The Rev. Mickleburgh’s memorial is on the north wall of the sanctuary.
The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72) states that Platt was a “chapelry in Wrotham parish, Kent; 5 miles N E of Sevenoaks railway station. It was constituted in 1846, and its post town is Sevenoaks. Its Population is 1,023, with 202 Houses. The living is a p. curacy in the diocese of Canterbury, with a value of £400. The Patron is the Archbishop of Canterbury. The church was built in 1845, and is a handsome edifice. Schools also were built in 1845.” For the avoidance of confusion, the parish of St Mary’s Platt is, of course, currently in the Diocese of Rochester, and the Patron is the Bishop of Rochester.
The church now seats 260 people. It is 90 ft long, with a Nave 30 ft in width, and with a gallery at the West End. It is Listed Grade II, the external elevations being in Kent ragstone facing. It was re roofed in 1988 with concrete tiles after the hurricane of 1987.
For the convenience of the parishioners who came to church by horseback in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there is a mounting block on the inside of the south wall of the churchyard, near the car park.
Prior to 1979 the church was cold and damp with a leaking roof and widespread woodworm. The interior was substantially and dramatically changed in 1979 to become the light, comfortable and warm building that it is today.
The church tower, with stone spiral access staircase, has a belfry with one bell and a mechanical weight driven clock with a decorative dial on the West face. The roof is asphalt finished. The tower has structural steel bracing internally at the upper levels to stabilise and strengthen it following the stonework’s stress damage suffered in the storm of 1987.
Internally the walls are plastered and decorated, the internal timber roof structure is a Victorian version of a Hammer Beam roof truss.
The clock was installed in 1864 by Admiral Randolf who lived in Great Comp. The movement, by weight and pendulum, runs for 6¾ days. In the 1920s and 1930s the Parochial Church Council paid £1 10 shillings (£1.50) a year for the clock to be wound, but this is now done by a volunteer. The clock was originally designed to run for a full week, but following strengthening works inside the bell tower following the hurricane force winds in October 1987, the weights no longer have the necessary drop length.
Gillett and Johnston (Croydon) maintain the clock. This firm has been in business for as long as the church has been standing.
The original building has lancet leaded windows, those on the North elevation being in clear glass.
The three light East window, in leaded stained glass, depicts the life of Christ and is believed to be by Heaton, Butler and Bayne or Ballantine of Edinburgh. The window was donated around the time of the church’s jubilee in 1893 as was the two light lancet in the South Transept which depicts the Parable of the 10 Virgins and of the Prodigal Son.
Three stained glass lancets to the South Nave show The Virgin Mary, The Lord Jesus Christ and St. John.
The 3 light West window, originally in clear glass, has a central stained glass panel, installed in 2001 to commemorate the Millennium. This depicts a golden cross entwined with hops and cobnuts, elements of the design echoing the village sign, also erected for the Millennium.
Sanctuary, Chancel and Choir
The oak carved High Altar was the gift of St. George’s Church, Beckenham.
The Bishop’s Throne, kneeler and desk were given in memory of Isabel Gristwood in 1934.
The chancel communion rail is in decorative polished brass and was donated by The Rev. TS Frampton in 1895.
On the south wall of the sanctuary, there is a memorial to John Brand, vicar of Platt for 15 years before he died on 12 December, 1922. He was sometime Rector of Bridgetown, Western Australia, hence the kangaroo carved in the top right hand corner of the memorial.
The oak choir stalls were donated by Percy Minter in 1937 in memory of his wife, Mary Minter. A further oak commemorative choir pew was installed in 1995 to the north of the Chancel, in memory of Kenneth and Freda Rogers.
The oak credence table was given in memory of Canon Ronald Bristow, vicar of Platt 1952-1962 who died in 1966.
In St Mary’s Platt Church we have a moderately large pipe organ of undeniable quality. To its advantage, it speaks directly into an acoustic that is kind to musical sound. It is often said that the best stop on an organ is the building itself.
The small single manual organ shown in the earlier sepia photograph (above) was built by Atterton c1878. There is no record of the original organ in the Tower Gallery.
The display case front of the present organ is early 19c and is known to have been installed in Holy Trinity church, Maidstone, which was built in 1826. In 1867 the organ with its ‘fine painted case’ was moved to King Street, Maidstone Undenominational Church. In the early 20th century this organ was in the care of Maidstone organ builder WL Tovey who purchased the instrument in 1926 and reinstalled it here at Platt, with some alteration. It is interesting to note that the removal to Platt excluded the bottom octave of the Pedal Open pipes, hence the incorporation of the twelve metal 16 ft Open Diapason pipes on the side of the case. This stop is now metal throughout its full compass.
A Trumpet stop made by F H Browne in 1888, was added to the Great organ in about 1964, having been removed from St George, Deal, when the organ there was reduced in size. The organ was completely rebuilt by Hill, Norman and Beard in 1983 with Paul Hale (Rector Chori at Southwell Minster) as organ advisor, at a cost of about £43,000, producing the fine organ we have today. A pedal trombone was added, together with other stop changes, and a new electric action replaced the original tracker.
In 2001 horizontal 8 ft and 4 ft “Trompette en Chamade” stops were installed on the West Gallery balustrade under the tower as a tribute to the memory of John Collings, who was treasurer to the Church at the time of his sudden death, and father of Julian, a Cambridge University Organ Scholar. The Trompette is played from a new third “Solo” keyboard provided at the organ console; it not only adds to the flexibility of the organ in terms of repertoire, but also makes an exciting visual and musical addition. In the words of the organ builder, Colin K Jilks and Associates who installed them, these “en chamade” trompettes provide a crowning glory to a very fine instrument. It is considered to be one of the best village church organs in Kent.
The font, in moulded and carved stone, was re-sited in 1979 to its present position on the North West angle of the transept, having previously been at the South West end of the Nave.
In 1986 the oak panelled choir screen in the south transept was constructed to hold vestments and form the robing area. This was constructed In memory of a number of parishioners whose names can be seen on the dedication plate on the screen.
The pulpit was installed in 1930.
The lectern was given in memory of Cloudesley Marsham in 1928.
Above the altar in the Lady Chapel there is a large round memorial in bas-relief in memory of George Billing, vicar of Platt 1898-1907. The memorial is the work of Henry Wilson (1864-1934), a prominent arts and crafts practitioner, jeweller, sculptor and architect.
Chairs, that allow more flexible and comfortable seating arrangements, replaced the pews in 1979 though the pews that were replaced cannot have been the original ones, as the number of seats they provided were nowhere near as many as mentioned in the extract from the Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal. Modern central heating was installed at the same time. The architect responsible for the re-ordering and for the colour scheme was Kenneth Holgate ARIBA.
On the west wall of the nave, a Memorial bears the names of those who fell in the Great War of 1914 – 1918.
In 1979, the porch was panelled to make it warm and welcoming.
In 1998, an internal glazed screen was erected inside the main West doors. The intention was to reduce draught while allowing the main doors to remain open, affording a view into the church. The architect for this work was Geoffrey Uffindell FRIBA, FRSA, MSIA.
As a further Millennium commemoration, the doors between the porch and the nave were re-glazed. The glazing of each door carries the roman numerals MM etched by Graham Chandler. The roman numerals were chosen, rather than AD 2000, so that they could be read from either side of the glazed panel.
Extension to existing building
In 1990, the Garden Room was built off the north chancel and transept, providing a most useful addition to the church in the form of a meeting room, kitchen and lavatories. The architect for the new building was again Geoffrey Uffindell. Geoff’s clever lighting design illuminates the ceiling and therefore all in the room with the light of the cross.