Butts Hill, Wrotham

St George's Church

St George's Church is the second one to be built on this site. The first church was built about the middle of the l0th Century, the date being usually given as 964. The present building dates from the 13th Century. The church has always been dedicated to St George.

At the time of its consecration such a dedication was rare, for it was not until many years later that St George became the Patron Saint of England and subsequently the saint's name became popular for the dedication of Churches. It is probable that this church was among the first in the country to be so dedicated.

The oldest part of the church is the North Aisle, and the old tomb there, which has no name, is reputed to be that of the founder of the church, Richard de Wrotham. On the outside of the north wall, faint traces of early windows can be seen, the clearest being high up on the west wall of the aisle. On the north wall of the interior of the church there is a curious bulge in the masonry about three or four feet above floor level. It is believed that this was intended to act as a support for "sickly worshippers" when the then only seats in the church were at the foot of pillars or on an occasional step usually reserved for the elderly or those "heavy with child". The use of this bulge is possibly the source of the expression ''to go to the wall" used when a person or organisation is ailing.

The Porch
It will be noticed that the porch is on the south side. In this respect the church probably follows the pattern of the previous building because Anglo-Saxon churches unlike the Norman ones, were generally entered from the south.

In the niche over the entrance on the outside is a beautiful statuette of St George. This a modern work and it was exhibited at the Royal Academy before being placed in its present position.

On the central boss of the inside ceiling of the porch can be seen the arms of the Peckham family, who held Yaldham (formerly Ealdham) manor in this Parish for fourteen generations up to the year 1713.

Over the porch there is a room, sometimes called a parvise or priest's room, approached by a stone turret staircase. This also gives access to the porch roof. The Turret had to be completely dismantled and rebuilt in 1964. The heavy door of the church is worthy of notice especially the ancient lock that is no longer used and is a replica of the original, which was destroyed in 2003. The key to the old lock is kept on the Vestry - it also is of an exceptional size. The strength of the door is considered to be such as up until the early 18th century, the church could offer sanctuary to those who were suspect of any crime.

In England the right of a criminal to seek sanctuary was removed by legislation in 1623 and again 1697, though for civil offenders it remained until 1723. Immunity was valid for 40 days only, after which the claimant must either surrender or become an outlaw and go into permanent exile.

The Tower and Bells
The 15th century tower is remarkably fine in its proportions and is all the more impressive because of its position close to the road. It rises directly and seems to dominate the whole village. The passage through the tower is a very unusual feature and was probably made for the use of processions around the church that would otherwise have had to go outside the consecrated ground.

In this passage on the west side there is a large piece of sandstone with curious marks. Crosses were from time to time incised on external walls and door jambs of churches to ward off evil spirits: sometimes they were referred to as crusaders' or pilgrims' crosses but the former explanation is more likely. These marks may well be such but it has also been suggested that this may be a holy stone brought from some shrine probably - Canterbury - and marked by pilgrims with the Sign of the cross. This is possible as the Pilgrims Way, that starts to the west of Winchester, runs to the north of the village on its way to Canterbury. !n the same passage is another stone with the centre broken away which may have once held a "Sanctuary" ring to be grasped by those seeking sanctuary although outside the church.

The peal of eight bells is reputed to be one of the best in Kent. The number at one time was six. However it is recorded that, at a Vestry meeting in 1754, when repairs were being made to the tower, that "the six bells be taken down and carried to some foundry or other proper place and there melted down or cast into a complete peal of eight, with such additions of new metal as may be required". These eight were again recast in time for the coronation of King George V in 1911.

The Clock
The clock was made in 1614 and is probably one of the oldest church clocks in the country. It is still in excellent mechanical order, thanks to the attention of the village clock maker. It has a carillon, but purists refer to it as a repeater.

It is capable of playing one of four selectable tunes at selected hours, currently 9.00, 12.00, 15.00 and 18.00. The tunes were originally all hymns but in 1754 a popular song of the time, "The Captain with his whiskers, took a sly glance at me" was substituted for one of the hymns. There may be some interesting story behind this as, before the construction of army barracks, it was the custom for troops to be stationed in public houses and we know that the neighbouring "Bull Hotel" was used on many occasions for such purposes.

In 1968 the clock winding mechanism was "improved" so that it could be wound by electric motors rather than hand-winding which had to be carried out daily. This was done without making any alteration to the clock mechanism.

The Font
Coming to the interior of the church, the first noteworthy feature is the font. in all probability it was in the original church but, at the latest, it dates from the 1st Century. It is octagonal in shape and remarkable because it has two panels on each of its eight sides. In all probability each of these panels at one time contained a carving of a single figure, but they have all been effaced. Possibly as part of various puritanical phases affecting the church, but there is nothing in the church records to confirm this.