Several months ago I was staying in Kilndown near Cranbrook in Kent. Whilst partaking in a Sunday constitution around the pretty little hamlet, I came across Christ Church, the local parish church. The Church was built by one of the Duke of Wellington’s generals from the Napoleonic Wars, Field Marshal Viscount Beresford. Beresford had purchased the nearby 2,300 acre Bedgebury Park estate in 1836 and the church was built as a chapel of ease for the area of Goudhurst. It was consecrated in 1841 and in 1843 Kilndown became a separate parish. Stepping inside there is much to admire and plenty to fascinate the historian. Architect Anthony Salvin designed the church as a plain sandstone box. Over the years the interior was gradually transformed into an outstanding example of ‘Gothic Revival’.
During the Second World War, all the glass in the south windows was destroyed but the panels have been subsequently restored. At the east end of the church there is a stunning example of a fine stained glass, three-panelled window. In the centre panel there is a depiction of the Virgin and Child and either side there are panels depicting St. Peter with his keys and St. Paul with the martyr’s sword.
One of the most remarkable gems, just inside the church, are the free-standing marquetry panels known as The Bedgebury Panels. The Bedgebury Park estate had its own workshop including a sawpit. The workshop produced high quality examples of marquetry. In the 1860’s marquetry was known as Tarsia or Intarsia, a craft that originated from Italy. Records are not clear as to where exactly the skill of marquetry was learnt by the Bedgebury craftsmen. However, between 1865 and 1881 the workshops on the estate were dedicated to perfecting its complexities and George Parks was their lead craftsman.
The panels were originally created in the mid 1870s for the chapel at Trinity College, Cambridge. They were removed from there in the 20th century to make way for a memorial to the fallen in the Great War. The abandoned panels were found gathering dust in a cupboard beneath a set of stone stairs. It was suggested that the panels be returned to the parish in which they were made and be placed in the church at Kilndown, which is where they remain today, on permanent loan. The panels underwent restoration in 1986.
Each of the panels contains a medallion head of a Biblical character, surrounded by arabesques, flowers (including: buttercups, daisies, daffodils, fox gloves, water lilies and violets), fruit and birds (including: a green woodpecker, barn owl, finches, wagtails and kingfishers).
The Synagoga depicts four leaders of the Hebrew nation, all of which are from the Old Testament: Levi, Judah, Joseph and Benjamin.
The Ecclesia depicts the first recorded disciples of Jesus from the New Testament: St. John, St. James The Great, St. Andrew and St. Peter. All of the eight men are pairs of brothers.