The guide book which follows was written by Colin Patience & Hugh Perks A.R.I.C.S. It was published in 1996 by Harty Church Love Memorial Fund and sold in aid of restoration work to the church.
Writing to a former Rector, apologising for his inability to attend the Harvest Festival at Harry, the Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman said, "Alas I shall have to console myself with memories of the Church in its splendid isolation, with sea birds wheeling by and the Thames so wide as to be open sea, and air so fresh as to be healthier than yoghurt (unflavoured)."
Harty has been described by more than one writer as Kent's remotest church, and yet it is never without its pilgrims and visitors. A Mass is held on the first Sunday of each month. There is a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and a Harvest Festival which can attract 100 people.
The compilers of these notes feel that a prior mention must be made of all the feelings of those people who regularly worship here. This is a much loved place of worship, and with one accord the congregation finds here a strength that seems to come from the very simplicity, the beautiful remoteness, and the absolute tranquillity of the place. It is an ideal setting for prayer and meditation, and although typically English, it has been remarked that it has the "feel" of pilgrimage churches in remote parts of Bavaria, Austria and other parts of Europe where Heaven and Earth seem to meet. There is a legend, reiterated when Mr Clarke's notes on Harty were published in' the "Sheppey Church Magazine" in 1887, that the North Aisle was built as a shelter for pilgrims in the reign of Henry III - possibly on their way by ferry North to follow the route to Walsingham, and South to Becket's shrine at Canterbury. Thousands of visitors continue to be attracted to Harry Church. It is well publicised in tourist literature in South-east England and abroad. From time to time we invite congregations of inner city churches to worship with us. Commenting on the oil lamps and candles, one visitor from a late-Victorian church was prompted to ask "Why did they not put in electricity when the church was built?"
A feature of Harry is the "Flowers in a Country Church" festival which is held over our Patronal Weekend close to St Thomas's Day. It is attended by an enormous number of people from the Southeast, and the funds raised enables us to carry out an on-going programme of maintenance and repair, including the recent restoration of the West windows at a cost of £25,000.
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Visiting Harty, with its spectacular views across to Faversham, Whitstable, Herne Bay and the North Downs, one cannot but feel the remoteness of the place. Why was this church built in such an isolated location? See Harty from the seaward side and one realises it stands on the channel of the East Swale, once a tributary of the Medway, where merchant ships and men O war would pass its door on every tide. It saw stone-age man navigate his early boats; the coming of the Romans, who settled in the Ospringe area; the Saxons built their ancient port of Cilling directly opposite; the Danish invaders settled here; and Henry VIII provisioned his fleet in the East Swale sending an armada of over 25,000 men to attack Calais, (shown on a map now in the Bntish Library).
Schooners, Thames barges and oyster smacks filled the East Swale until the early years of the 20th century. Barges traded to beaches and landings at Warden, Leysdown, Harty and Elmley, bringing up manure to enrich the land and taking away haystacks. The late Freda Peckham who was born in 1901 remembered them sailing up Windmill Creek to discharge at her father's farm landing. The remains of Corona, New World and Lizard, are hulked on the Harty foreshore. Today, the vista of sail on the water is enhanced by the fleet of smacks and barges preserved at Faversham.
In times of threat Harty's position was a strategic one: with its long views down the North Kent coast and out into the Thames Estuary channels the approach of invading hordes could he signalled to the mainland. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle tells us:
AD 835 "In this year the heathen (Danes) devastated Sheppey"
AD 855 "the heathen for the first time wintered in Sheppey."
AD 1016 In May King Edmund persued the Cnut into Kent "and the host fled before him with their horses into Sheppey." King Edmund followed them into Essex where he was killed across the Estuary at Ashingdon. The final mention in the Chronicles comes in AD 1052 when Harold joined forces with Godwine, to attack Kent and everywhere hostages and provisions were given to them wherever they desired them Some ships went within the Isle of Sheppey and did much damage there and made their way to Milton Royal and burnt it to the ground."
If a church existed in this place at the time it is unlikely that it escaped the ferocity of the invaders. The date ascribed to the church of 1089 would be consistent with a re-building following damage by the Danes.
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Unfortunately in some ways, the stones of Harty keep their secrets very closely, and in consequence we are unable accurately to pin-point dates of structural additions and alterations, but our thanks are due to past and present authorities, such as Arthur Mee and Marcus Crouch who have visited Harty and given us the benefit of their knowledge and opinions.
The church is constructed primarily of stone. Its exact composition cannot be determined, as when the church was re-furbished in Victorian times the stonework was heavily re-pointed and partly re-faced. The external materials are mostly Kentish ragstone, which would have been brought here by boat from quarries on the River Medway at Allington. A close lock at the walling reveals the use of several other materials. Al the West end there are isolated flints, possibly from the pits at Uplees, and several pieces of tufa stone. Tufa is a porous limestone (it looks like heavily pitted stone), which was used in a limited way by both the Saxons and early Normans. A dozen and a half blocks of tufa are to be found at the North-west angle of the church, including two quoin stones.
The North-east corner of the church contains quantities of septaria, which is not a stone but nodules of clay within calcareous deposits This light brown material, which now shows signs of crumbling into small cubes, used to be gathered off the foreshores of Sheppey. In its natural state it was a hard material, capable of being sawn into building blocks When burnt with coal it produced a clinker which was patented in 1797 as Roman Cement. Capable of setting under water it was widely used as a mortar before the invention of Portland cement. The re-pointing of Harty church was probably executed in this material. In a few places it is possible to see the composition of the original lime mortar, which contains an admixture of sea-shells.
The church comprises a Nave, Chancel, North Aisle, Porch, North Chapel, and a Lady Chapel on the South side. When built the church would have been a simple two cell building of Nave and Chancel separated by a Chancel arch. The original church would appear to have been Saxon in origin The evidence for this is in the walls themselves, which are unusually narrow, which was a characteristic of the Saxon builders The original North wall of the Nave (now the arcade wall) measures just under 29 inches in thickness, and the South wall just over 28 Inches In 1989 when a shallow trench was excavated in the South wall to accommodate the new Lady Chapel screen, traces of Saxon work were uncovered To the side of the wall several ancient artefacts were uncovered, including a small flint hand axe.
The early Norman church incorporated a round-headed Chancel arch and three round-headed windows (Clarke believed there was a fourth, now hidden in the South wall), two of which were re-positioned at the East end of the 13th century Chancel. The third Norman window is high up in the original North wall. It was constructed with tufa stone jambs, which are still visible, and was blanked off when the North Aisle was constructed. The window would have been made no later than the end of the 11th century, as tufa was rarely used after the early Norman period. When the Lady Chapel was constructed the original Norman chancel was fe-positioned in the South wall, where it remains today. The date of AD 1089 is ascribed to the Norman work, which may well have been the re-building of an earlier structure desecrated by the Danish invaders.
Shortly after 1200 when the North Aisle was constructed, openings were cut into the original North wall to form a two arched arcade with piers. Note the curious half octagonal respond which supports the base of the pier which is on the left hand side as you enter the church. These piers have moulded bases, and moulded imposts off which pointed arches spring. The South door, now blocked-off, dates from just after 1200. Note the Scratch Dial carved into the head of the jamb. This was a primitive sundial to give the time for the Mass. Insert a pencil into the centre hole and watch the position of its shadow relative to the carved grooves.
In common with many small Kent churches Harty is towerless but has a bellcote at the West end It has one bell, 26 1/2 inches marked "Lester & Peck of London Fecit 1760. The heavy oak framing formed of four massive posts supported either side on cill plates is believed to have been erected in the 15th century to give added support to the bell-cote. Each pair of posts is braced diagonally in the form of a cross, and there are tension braces spanning the angle between the posts and the tie beams. It these tie beams which carry the bell-cote. Access from the tie beam platform is by means of a rare pole ladder - a single substantial pole, slightly curved, in which notches have been cut to take wooden splines.
Although there is no longer a Chancel arch, the Nave and Chancel are divided by a carved oak rood screen probably of the 14th century. High up to the left of the screen can be seen part of the rood stairs, now blocked-off, as generally the practice of the churchwarden climbing out onto a rood beam to read the Gospel has been discontinued. The "Holy Rood" would have carried a Cross with our crucified Lord, flanked by Our Lady and St John the Divine.
The extent of the original Chancel cannot be determined, although externally the walling differs slightly from that of the Nave, and in its present form may date from just after the building of the North Aisle. To the left of the high altar there is a finely decorated niche with a Victorian bracket which, it is thought, might once have held the figure of a saint, possibly St Thomas the Apostle. Traces of 14th century painting at the back of the niche have been obscured almost entirely by another painting which was superimposed, perhaps a century later.
The end of the 14th century saw the building of the Lady Chapel in the South Transept. Here again is a niche for an image which has recently been filled with a replica of Our Lady of Walsingham in the Norfolk shrine which was and is the chief pilgrimage to. the Blessed Virgin in England, as a result of a vision to the lady of the manor. there in AD 1016. Every evening at 6 p.m. in the shrine of Walsingharn prayers are offered for all who have visited a local shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham the same day - so remember this, you who have visited the Lady Chapel at Harty.
The lady Chapel contains Harty's. most ~ a finely sculpted oak muniment chest said to date from the 14th century. The carving depicts two knights in a friendly joustmg tournament with their attendant squires and an onlooker on each side in a tower Nobody knows how the chest came into Harty's possession - legend claims it Was found floating in the Swale. It has been called a "Flemish Kist" and arc three other such chests in the neighbourhood, at Graveney, Faversham and Rainham, and they should be compared. Ours is certainly of Flemish or German provenance and some years ago was carefully restored by the late HaroId Studd.
The chest is a. much travelled item, which has been lent to London museums for special exhibitions. Mystery and intrigue surround its recent history, for on a Friday night in August 1987 it was stolen. Our two churchwardens, Marion Studd and Colin Patience, put out the word and details of its loss were given in a television broadcast over the weekend. 0' the Monday the chest was trundled into Phillips auction rooms and offered for sale, where a sharp-eyed member of their staff recognised it from the description and contacted the police, from which the churchwardens gratefully took possession.
The chest was slightly damaged by its journey and was repaired by a craftsman from the Victoria & Albert Museum. In the meanwhile proposals went ahead for making the chest secure. A member of the P.C.C. designed a metal security screen to infill the Lady Chapel arch; Sheerness Steel kindly provided the steelwork; and a friend of Harty constructed it; One of the fleur-de-lys cappings came from the medieval gates given to St Gregory the Great Church in Canterbury in memory of Archbishop Howley and believed to have originated from the Cathedral.
On the 29 October 1989 we celebrated 900 years of Harty Church at a special Mass conducted by Dr Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, who blessed the screen and the newly returned Harty Chest before a congregation of 120 persons.
Opposite the chest in the Lady Chapel is an altar table which is reputed to have come from Meopham Church, Kent. There are remains of two brasses in the church, one in the Nave (Habrarn Fare 1512) showing the lower half only of a man in civilian dress - the matrix of the other part still exists; the other in the floor of the North Chapel, being a brass inscription of the 17th century. From this point leads the old rood stairs. Adjacent is a deep niche, probably an aumbry - in which books and sacred vessels would be kept - as its design shows it once had hinged doors. This North Chapel dates from approximately the same period as the Lady Chapel and is also flat-roofed, leaded and with similar on-face moulded oak beams.
The East and West windows, Lady Chapel, North Sanctuary and the two North Chapel windows are l4th century, all formed with deep jamb stones and large single cills. There is a slight variation in the design of the West windows whose centre muIlions are carried to full height. The East window depicts St Thomas the Apostle placing his hand against the wound in Our Lord's Side. The remaining windows formerly made up of pale coloured glass of the Victorian period, as can be seen in the North Chapel. 0n the death of Marion Studd's parents the PCC had the beautiful Love, Memorial Window" created for the Nave in recognition of the Love family's long association with the church. In one light it depicts sheep and a gamboling lamb: in the other, a prospect of Harty Church seen from the Swale foreshore.
We are fortunate to have talented members of the PCC. Jim Weatherley of Goddard & Gibbs embarked on a progamme of producing new glass for Harty. The Lady Chapel is in beautiful clear glass; the window in the South wall of the Chancel shows a chalice with the "host" being elevated above it. The North window in the Sanctuary is a wonderfully rich representation of St Thomas the Apostle, designed by Paul Chapman, while the South window of the Sanctuary is of an owl - beautiful in its simplicity,
The West wall was damaged during the last war by the bomb which fell on Sayes Court behind. It has long been the ambition to restore the wall and to provide new glass. This has now been completed. Messrs Ormistons restored the stonework and "Shades 'of Light" made four exciting new lights depicting the four seasons at Harty. The West windows contain two pieces of medieval glass, restored by the Canterbury Cathedral Glass works.
During the Victorian period the church was substantially over-restored. This work involved total re-pointing of the exterior, and the re-roofing of the Nave and Chancel, which included re-raftering. Three tie beams were inserted in the Nave carrying crown posts, in possible semblance of what might have existed before, which in turn carry a collar purlin down from the bell-cote to terminate rather abruptly at the end of the nave.
Before you leave the church, note the Royal Arms of George II, the small barrel organ which once played three hymns - the drums have long disappeared; there is also a lovely view of the East Swale through the clear glass window in the Lady Chapel.
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Behind the church, cm the South-East side, are three large vaults, recently restored, each bearing the name of Randall - one Thomas Randall being a former lord of Borstall Manor, Minster. A John Randall served as churchwarden at Harty from 1708 to 1719 and was succeded by a ThomasRandall. In 1759 a second Thomas Randall was appointed as churchwarden. This family, then, had a long and honourable association in serving Harty church.
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Eastcherche 13s 4d
Laisdon 5s 0d
Warden 6s 8d
EImley . 6s 8d
The Nuns of Scapeya, the church of Menstre £23. 6s 8d
The churches of Herecheghe (Harty) Nyewyngham (Newnham) and
Danyton (Davington) £12 0s 0d
Vicarages were then recorded only at Eastchurch and Leysdown.
Before the Dissolution Harty was given by Henry VIII to Faversham Abbey. It was subsequently joined with Leysdown and until recently was known as Leysdown- cum-Harty.
Edward Hasted in his "History of Kent" us that Eastchurch was appropriated to the Abbey of Dunes in Flanders in 1196 and transferred to Boxley Abbey in 1313. This church may have been located between Shurland and Swanley Farm. It was pulIed down and a new church was built in the village in 1432, using chalk blocks as foundations, brought to Sheppey by barge. Leysdowns first church was given to St Radigiund's at Dover in the 12th century and a vicarage was endowed in 1223. This church is believed to have collapsed. In Hasted's day the second church was in ruinous condition and services were held in a wooden church. The 'New Seamens' Gmde and Coasters' Companion" of 1806 uses Leysdown as a sea-mark. "In running down from the Nore, steer E.S.E. about 3 1/2 miles.... This mark will lead along the Cant till Leisdon-church (commonly called the Mouse-Hole Church) comes open with the lands of Sheppey." The third church of St Clement built on the site in 1874, was demolished only a few years ago as being unsafe. The final church within the Benefice was Warden St James, whose early 19th century tower had been built of stones of old London Bridge. It was pulled down in 1875 and a few years later its churchyard tumbled into the sea. An earlier church stood much further out, and Hasted says it was "destroyed by inroads of the sea" This church had been granted by Henry VIII to the Maison Dieu at Dover and its Rector was given the benefice of Leysdown.
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The minister in 1599 was Abraham Greengrasse, who functioned until his death in 1612. The year 1609 was a particularly bad year on Harty, with 16 burials, including that of Mrs Greengrasse. Richard Hilles succeeded as curate. Among the marriages he performed were Christopher Reede to Mildred Napleton, and Valentine Smith to Arms Hurst, both in 1614.
Baptiste Piggott took over from 1615 to 1622, and Leonard Smith is recorded as churchwarden. The year 1515/16 was a bad one for burials, as was 1624/25 when Richard Daley was curate, having taken over after the brief tenure of NathanieI Nelson. Among the parishioners from this period are Snode, Throughly, Drayton, Thomas and Martin. A George Moore is shown as being a sidesman in the 1630's. Richard Daley served Harty as curate for 40 years, one of his churchwardens for all but four of those years being Richard Harding, the other, Leonard Smith serving 42 years, and the records show there were 53 marriages, 88 baptisms and 116 burials in the 25 years between 1616 to 1640. There were 19 marriages, 62 baptisms and 79 burials in the years 1663-1687. Ministers John TayIor (1664-1669), Thomas Webb (l670-1679) and churchwardens John Beale, Stephen Saffery and Robert Morrison have come and gone. In 1679 we find Thomas Web as curate, with Thomas Moore and Henry Andrews then John Huggens as churchwardens. Parishoners include Thomas Woollatt and Ann Loos, who married on 17/5/1674; Simon Russell and Rebeckah Busholt who married on 26/8/1674; and the Rev'd Henry Nicholls (also vicar of Boughton Aluph) who married Mrs Martha Gardener of Rochester on 22/10/1682. Philip Ashby married Elizabeth Rabbet on 28 April 1684 and their son Thomas was baptised a less than respectable six months later.
Among early 18th century names are Robert Eaton, curate from 1696 to 1701, John Nicholls from 1701 to 1735 and Joseph Marthwait from 1736 to 1754. Over that period Thomas Moore, Joshua Fleet, John Mockett, James Mockett, John Saffery and Thomas Mockett, William Goodwin, John Randall, Thomas Randall and Joshua Steele served as churchwardens In 1701 Richwater was a labourer, as were John Gold, John Jenkins, John Dix and William Stonard. Thomas Curd and John Kent were servants. William Bax married Martha Luckoss in 1748, and William Mitchell married Mary Williams, daughter of John Williams, a "looker." The unfortunate Esther was the baseborn daughter of Susannah Watson:
In 1755 James Allenson was appointed curate and during his 25 year tenure William Loud, another Thomas Randall and Thomas Denne served as his churchwardens. During this period Thomas Woollet was the ferryman, maintaining the ferryboat across to Harty Ferry south-side, with William Smeed recorded as holding this post in 1764. An unfortunate incident occurred in 1766, the burial on 15 September of "Henry Warn. Drowned oversetting the ferry boat." The previous year the burial of James Barton took place, recorded as "a boy on board a vessel." The prominent families of the time were John and Mary Pullen, and William and Mary Mitchell, whose many children occupied the ministers in baptisms and burials.
John Robertson served for four years as curate from 1780, then there seems to have been a long interregnum, during which time Samuel Langley appears as officiating curate. The curiously named Morduant Leathers was appointed as curate in 1787. The reason for such a high proportion of burials on Harty was the numbers of drowned seamen washed ashore on the island. On Tuesday 2nd September 1785 a burial was held by Coroners Warant of a corpse which was found and picked upon the Harty-Shore and supposed to have been from Norway. Another was from a mans body lost off Shellness The infant Mary Hudson was buried aged about 9 months and having been basely begotten of one Thomas Stickings and Mary Hudson, spinster. You will be pleased to learn that they later did the decent thing.
Local families included Thomas and Mary Holmes, William and Mary Gipps and Elizabeth Ann and John Rutland, whose children Amelia, Frederick, Ephraim, Alfred, Sophia, Alfred Francis and Louise were baptised in rotation. The number of marriages had fallen to an average of one every three years, but with an average of a burial a year - many of these being drowned seamen. Of the 19 burials conducted between 1788 and 1812 one was of William Cripps "who being a lunatic poisoned himself;" and six others were drownings, including William Cambo from Whitstable, John Waters from Rye and Richard West, while the remainder were described simply as "drowned man name unknown."
A Dr Martins was appointed to Harty in 1805; H. Jones served as officiating curate during an interregnum, in 1811, then Francis William Robe was appointed as curate in 1812. Of the "new" registers, opened by the Rev'd Robe, two of them - the Baptisimal Register which commenced in 1813 and the Burials Register which commenced in 1814 - remain in use today.
The ferry to the mainland was Harty's most importent link of communication: the rights to the ferry were, and still are 'held by the landlord of the "Ferry House Inn. Originally the priest would have come to Harty from the South-shore using the ferry. The Sheppey Church Magazine records that in 1899 the Rev'd Castle was based on the mainland, Leysdown vicarage having fallen into decay. "By the providence of God" wrote Mr Castle "not a single service has been missed Some very rough passages had to be made. Once we were an hour and a half getting over; on another occasion we were lost in the water for two hours in a dense fog, but we have always accomplished the passage." To Mr Marshall (the ferryman) to Mr S. Studd and Mr Bradshaw, Mr Castle extended his grateful thanks for their ready and courageous help. His churchwardens were Mr S Studd and Mr Albert Love of Capel Hill Farm who served from Easter 1875 to 1921. Later in 1899 when the ferryman Marshall died aged 80, his obituary recorded that he "was well known to a large number of people who had occasion to cross over to the island by way of Harty Ferry from the mainland. Many and many a rough voyage he had experienced.
The population of Harty according to the census of 1891 was 125. By 1899 it was some 90 persons. One wedding, two baptisms, five confirmations and no burials were recorded. The total collection for all purposes was £14 8s 4d. The population in 1911 was 87 and by 1921 it had risen to 96 persons. Few people now live on the island. The school has closed and is derelict, but the church and the "Ferry House" Inn remain in remarkably healthy condition.
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Your prayers are asked for those who worship, minister and visit here and for the souls of those who have done the same at this church down the centuries..
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