St Thomas à Becket, Fairfield
St Thomas à Becket Church in Fairfield stands alone in a field on the Marsh, surrounded by watercourses and sheep. A causeway was built in 1913, and until then the church was more often than not surrounded by water during the winter and spring.
Fairfield, the village it once served has long since disappeared, but the church has survived and is now part of the civil parish which includes the villages of Brookland, Brenzett and Snargate. The church is dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170.
Legend has it that the Archbishop was journeying across the dangerous Romney Marsh when he fell into one of the many ditches. He prayed to St.Thomas, as he came up for the second time, for a miracle to save him from a watery death. Just in time, a farmer arrived to save him, and in gratitude the Archbishop had the little church built and dedicated to St Thomas a Becket.
Sometime around AD 1200 a simple structure of timber and lath construction was built as a purely temporary measure to provide the local farmers with a place of worship. Temporary became permanent, and the 13th century building survived intact until the 18th century, when the entire timber building was encased within brick walls, and the roof covered with heavy red tiles.
The building would have originally been a timber frame clad in wattle and daub. In time the plaster work was replaced with brick, when the base plate of the frame was removed and walls built on a foundation of brick. Much of the original timber work remains in the roof frame, seen here is the roof structure over the chancel.
In 1912 the fabric was in a very poor state and a complete rebuilding within the timber framework took place. However, the inside of the church was, fortunately, left untouched. It is Georgian, with a three decker pulpit, box pews and texts boards. The pews are still painted white with black linings.
The interior is pure Georgian theatrics; entering the church is like stepping back into the 18th century. The interior is filled with rows of box pews, painted bright white, with a triple-decker pulpit rising over them and Biblical texts staring down from the walls.
There is a peculiar seven-sided font, but for the real treasure is the interior timber-framing, with low timber arches stretching over the nave. But entering the interior is like going back in time – the Georgian interior feels as though little has changed for over 200 years.
Close the heavy door behind you, and all is peaceful and silent, except for the muffled sound of the wind. It is truly evocative of a bygone age.
The font is plain, and a design unique in Kent. The bowl has seven sides, perhaps a reminder of the seven sacrements of the church. It was originally located on the north side of the church, but is now in the centre, underneath the turret.
This iconic church has been used as a filming location, including 2011 BBC adaption of Great Expectations, Great Expectations (2012 film) and Parade's End (TV series)
St Thomas à Beckett Church holds services at 10am on the first Sunday of every month. Further information can be obtained from the vicar Rev Shuna Body. email 01797 343977
The church is kept locked. The key can be obtained from Becket Barn Farm, Fairfield, TN29 9RZ, which is on the opposite side of the road a few hundred yards to the west of the church.
Inside the Church (Ack. 53)
Photos courtesy of Sybille Setchfield