When I was asked to gather archival materials related to Cranbrook in Kent, England, a short series of correspondence in the Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers particularly caught my notice. Written to Henry Scripps Booth, the letters discuss a stone from St. Dunstan’s Church in Cranbrook, Kent, and its overseas delivery to Christ Church Cranbrook. I became quite curious about it.
One handwritten letter in the correspondence was rather difficult to decipher, but once I got the pattern of it, it helped me begin to comprehend the story.
In July 1930, St. Dunstan’s Vicar, Rev. Swingler, acknowledged a request from Booth for a fragment of the church which could be placed in the chapel of the same name at Christ Church Cranbrook.
It was July 1931 before Rev. Swingler wrote again to inform Booth that the stone was ready for dispatch. He explained that the Church Council had welcomed the idea and directed the Fabric Committee to select a stone, which they had, but that the Secretary had forgotten to inform Booth until then, a year later, and it was already on its way!
The forgetfulness of the Secretary and finding appropriate shipping arrangements for such an unusual commodity had caused quite a delay, to which Rev. Swingler writes,
“I am sorry that the matter has not been dealt with more speedily but old Cranbrook has hardly yet learned modern methods of business, as perhaps you know.”
He goes on to describe the provenance of the stone, at least as far as he could tell. A fifteenth century carved coign (an architectural term for a “projected corner”), it once formed part of the string course (a projected band of stone) which runs at the base of the battlements of the church nave. The course includes a series of grotesque heads, some of which were pierced for waterspouts. A grotesque, common in medieval church architecture, is a decoratively carved stone used to ward off evil spirits and to signify the sanctuary and safety of the church. On inspecting an historic photograph of the church, I could identify similar stones at the top of the drainpipes and around the tower battlements.
Rev. Swingler had first seen it laying in the churchyard and surmised that it had not been replaced during past repairs. He doesn’t mention why they selected that particular stone, but one could conjecture that it was because it was no longer part of the fabric of the church building and hence was available to be gifted to Christ Church. He notes that it is probably of Hartley stone, which was quarried in the Parish.
Henry Scripps Booth contributed great efforts to building relationships between the old and new Cranbrooks by establishing and maintaining connections between the two churches. The grotesque that arrived at Christ Church more than 90 years ago is an artifact that tells just one story of his efforts. From St. Dunstan’s of old Cranbrook, known as the “Cathedral of the Weald,” to St. Dunstan’s of Christ Church Cranbrook, the carved coign continues to herald sanctuary and give confidence to those who enter.
Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
To learn more about Cranbrook in Kent and its part in the history of Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills, register for Kevin Adkisson’s upcoming lecture, Uncovering Cranbrook: Two Pilgrimages to Kentish Cranbrook and join us for this year’s fundraiser: A House Party at Two Cranbrooks.