JUST outside Ospringe, on the road leading to Sittingbourne, is a relic of the past, or rather fragments of a relic. To reach it the traveller must gain the bottom of Judde Hill and then he will see—that is, if he keeps a discerning eye open—a bit of spile fencing in the middle of a ploughed field almost within a stone's throw of the highway. This fence encloses some rugged flint walls, part of the ancient chapel of Stone.
Yet not long since these remnants of a holy place were covered in bramble and undergrowth, and so they remained until the good offices of the Society of Antiquaries were invoked to preserve them and not in vain. Colonel Hawley, F.S.A., undertook the work of removing the rubbish and excavation. We therefore have exposed to view a part of a chapel used by the Romans and residents of the settlement that existed in the neighbourhood. The walls are built of flint and tiles, bound together by that superb and incomparable mortar mixed by the ancient builders. When restoring the place Colonel Hawley collected many flints that lay about and built up parts of the walls to a greater height, but it need scarcely be added that the effect of the ancient ruin with its jagged walls has in no way been lost.
To-day, all we see is the east end, the lower part of the two corners being intact. In the centre is the flint altar, with a small orifice in the wall on each side, while three stone slabs for use as seats are in the south wall. That is all. But what a field for speculation! Experts have varied in their endeavour to penetrate the past and visualise the picture as it appeared during the Saxon or Roman occupation; but according to one authority it was built during the eleventh century, and was originally about fourteen feet square, and that about the year 1200 it was enlarged six feet on the east side, while the nave was added in the fourteenth century, and lengthened at an even later date. This is the considered opinion of Mr. C. R. Peers, Chief Government Inspector of Ancient Monuments. On the other hand we have a quite different opinion from the Rev. Canon Livett, who pronounced the building to be of Saxon origin. He based this assertion upon the fact that in Kent they had several seventh-century Saxon churches, all with apses. This one had no apse, but it was like later Saxon churches in respect of its having a square end. Almost all later Saxon churches had these square ends. There were exceptions, but the point is that there was nothing in the square end that pre-vented this church being Saxon. The method of construction here, too, was similar to that a Reculver, the same meticulous care being shown in regard to pattern, and we know the date of Reculver to be 670. Everything, therefore, according to Canon Livett, points to this being a Saxon church, though possibly fifty or a hundred years later than Reculver. He would put it down to be a church of the eighth century and possibly late seventh. And here is yet another opinion. In a recent work on "Anglo-Saxon Architecture" Professor Baldwin Brown writes:—" From the point of view of technique, there is nothing extant to compare with the masonry that is preserved in the ruins of the ancient church (tenth century), known as Stone-by-Faversham. The oldest parts are the west ends of the chancel walls and on the south the adjacent quo of the nave. A bit of masonry in the angle between the chancel wall and the east wall of the nave on the south side is composed of squared blocks of tufa and Kentish rag, alternating in classic fashion with Roman tiles." This description is accompanied by a very clear woodcut, showing masonry with Roman material at Stone-by-Faversham.
The ruins as seen to-day are not in the same condition as when the excavations were made. Then a mass of interesting material was laid bare, but, for the sake of preservation from bad weather, it was again covered, and all we now see are the walls which I have already described. Among the things uncovered, besides the thirteenth-century altar, were an Early English floor of plaster, fragments of window glass, double courses of brick alternating with courses of stone, coloured plaster attached to the altar step, a Purbeck marble coffin lid with a Latin cross upon it and carving depicting two hands clasping a heart or chalice. This lid was taken to Syndale, but unfortunately was broken into several pieces. Next it went to Luddenham church, in the chancel of which it remains. There is a suggestion that a more appropriate resting place would be the museum at Ospringe.
Three distinct floors could be traced and a fire had apparently occurred within the chapel at some time. The black matter looks as if it had been used for charcoal burning, or the place may have been temporarily occupied as a dwelling. The hair may have been from hair mortar. Another problem arose when, in digging for the wall foundations, a quantity of other black matter was observed. This was found to consist of a mixture of ordinary charcoal dust and ordinary coal ; also hair and pieces of decayed wood, evidently birch. It was impossible to account for this layer of dark matter. Both in the chancel and the nave burials had taken place, but in each case the graves had been despoiled and only bones remained.
This is the third parish of Stone in Kent—the others being Stone-in-Oxney and Stone-near-Dartford—and therefore is usually referred to as Stone-by-Faversham. It is mentioned in Domesday and its ancient manor of Elverton was given by King Edmund to the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury. Henry the Eighth handed it over to the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury, and subsequently it passed into the ownership of private individuals. The old church was known as the Chapel of Our Lady of Eylwarton, as the name of the manor was originally spelt.