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Great Woodlands Farm, Lyminge, Kent

(51°7′50″N, 1°3′56″E)
TR 146 413
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Kent
now Kent
  • Toby Huitson
N/A. Report written March 2021.

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This entry is for a site at Lyminge, SE Kent, which was reported by Rev. Robert Jenkins, rector of Lyminge, in 1861. According to Jenkins, the removal of some farm buildings at Great Woodlands, Lyminge adjacent to the boundary wall revealed a quantity of ashlar and worked Romanesque masonry sculpture embedded into quite old mortar. This material apparently included chevron voussoirs, 'embattled' (fret) and billet mouldings together with other typical motifs, and parts of string-courses. There were also fourteen capitals, all of differing design.

With the permission of the farm owner, Miss Tournay, Jenkins (as he reports in his article for Archaeologia Cantiana of 1861) was able to 'take down the portions of the wall in which these stones were found, and to remove any which appeared to me to be of antiquarian value'. Jenkins also mentions similar material elsewhere in the locality which he saw in walls 'at North Lyminge, at Ottinge, at Longage, and in an ancient wall belonging to the Rectory'. Some of the mouldings apparently matched material at these sites. In August 2021 a double capital was found at old Robus, north Lyminge, which could possibly be one of the items which Jenkins saw (see CRSBI report for Old Robus, Lyminge).

Eight capitals (or perhaps seven as two are captioned '3') together with a piece of string-course are illustrated in Jenkins' report. According to Ron Baxter, the capitals are all variants of the scallop and trefoil type; many have beaded decoration, and one has a foliate motif. There is unfortunately no scale on the illustration; one assumes they probably belonged to nook-shafts rather than the main elevation of a church.

The present-day whereabouts of this material is not known, but its preservation in a museum store is technically still within the bounds of possibility; it is hoped that the material illustrated (reproduced here) may help identification one day.


Dating and Stylistic parallels - written with Ron Baxter

Stylistically the material is more likely to be mid-12thc. than immediately post-Conquest. According to Ron Baxter (pers. comm.), 'the capitals are variants of the scallop and trefoil type, certainly later than the 1120s and probably before 1160. He also describes voussoirs (stones from an arch) carved with zigzag (chevron) billet and embattled ornament (fret). Billet appeared as early as the 1070s, and chevron in the 1110s, so these do not help us much. The fret fits the date range suggested for the trefoil capitals, i.e. around the middle of the 12thc.

The obvious place to look for parallels is Canterbury, specifically Prior Wibert’s work in the precinct. The Treasury (vestiarium) and the Water Tower are perhaps the most relevant, with fret on the entrance arches of the Treasury W façade and many parallels with Rev. Jenkins’s capitals. Fergusson has suggested that there is an element of commemoration in the sculpture here, which is meant to recall Archbishop Anselm’s work in his eastern arm, built 50 years earlier.i Capitals, some very like those illustrated, occur at both buildings, and on Wibert’s Aula Nova staircase. The flowing foliage forms on the right-hand drawing of capital 3 find a close parallel on the central pier of the Water Tower ground storey, and the impost of the same capital bears comparison with Jenkins’s stone 8. (see P. Fergusson, Canterbury Cathedral Priory in the Age of Becket, Yale University Press 2011, 129. See also D. Kahn, Canterbury Cathedral and its Romanesque Sculpture (London, 1991), 95-138).

Many more parallels could be illustrated, and they are so close that the same workshop could well be responsible for Jenkins’s stones and the Canterbury work. It also seems possible that the stones came from Canterbury. It should also be added that the Water Tower, Treasury and Aula Nova were all built of Caen stone, like the Lyminge stones described by Jenkins. Canterbury was constantly subject to rebuilding throughout the Middle Ages, For example, Prior Wibert’s Great Cloister was taken down by Prior Chillenden (1391-1411), and its stones reused as masonry fill at the cathedral,i and what could be more likely that some of this building stone was taken to the Archbishop’s property at Lyminge. This would explain the presence among the Lyminge stones of what appear to be a large number of capitals carved on all four faces – typical of an open arcade. The problem with this interpretation is that what we know of the Great Cloister (based on stones recovered) must put it rather later in Wibert’s priorate than one might like. Wibert was prior from c.1153 to his death in 1167, and while the Lyminge stones fit well into a date in the 1150s, they look old-fashioned in comparison with the Great Cloister group. [ i See T. Tatton-Brown, ‘The Two Mid-Twelfth-Century Cloister Arcades at Canterbury Cathedral Priory’, in M. Henig and J. McNeill (ed.), The Medieval Cloister in England and Wales, special issue of Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 159 (2006), 91-104].'

Original Source

The original context and source for the material is therefore not immediately obvious. The main building on the site is described by Historic England as a timber-framed farmhouse, now house of later C15, with C16 and C17 alterations, and C19 and C20 additions. The fact that the material was found to be reset in old mortar implies that it may well have been reused many centuries before Jenkins discovered it, probably in the post-Reformation era. Jenkins believed that the most likely source for the material he had identified at this and at other locations in the vicinity was an archiepisopal building at Lyminge, the so-called 'Camera de Lymings', first mentioned in a register of Archbishop Peckham (1279-92) and of which demolition with sale of materials was granted in 1382. While such a building complex might have been an appropriate context for a collection of high-status sculptural material, the fact that it appears to be documented only from the late 13thc and was demolished over a century before the earliest dated parts of the farm were built inevitably raises doubts about the likelihood of Jenkins' hypothesis.

The parish church has Anglo-Saxon origins with an associated monastic complex which is currently being re-appraised at the time of writing. Ironically, most of the present church is later medieval in date and there is no Romanesque sculpture present. As a source for the masonry this has to remain a possibility, but seems unpromising.

Given the elaborate nature of the sculpture, and presence of chevron and small capitals, a link with the Cluniac Priory of Horton seems more probable. The remains of the priory (see CRSBI site entry) include a substantial amount of in-situ and recycled Romanesque material; a surviving part of the West Front shows that it was elaborately sculptured. There is fairly direct access by road, and the site lies only just over 4 miles distant, which would have been close enough to transport material from (the report author's own research findings are that monastic material was often re-used in up to a five-mile radius). Some surviving capitals at the site even have strings of beaded decoration and another has foliate motifs reminiscent of those in capital illustration 2. Finally, Horton was founded in 1142, so would accord well with Ron Baxter's suggested date of the 1150s, and its dissolution in 1536 would have made material available for salvage during the time-frame of the house's construction.


R. C. Jenkins, 'On some fragments of Norman building recently discovered at Great Woodlands, in the parish of Lyminge', Archaeologica Cantiana (1861), 123-6.