Cuxton is an ancient settlement, dating back at least to the Stone Age. Large numbers of flint tools have been found in the Rectory grounds. Archaeologists identify these as the work of the Acheulian people who flourished approximately 200,000 years ago. It is remarkable how perfectly these tools fit a man's hand, still ready to use even today.
The Church is at the intersection of two ancient trackways - routes which followed the heights of the chalk downs to avoid the thick woods and bogs of the lowlands. It is probable that Cuxton was settled so early because of its proximity to the River Medway and its tributary, which ran roughly where Bush Road is now. Early settlers chose to farm light, chalky soils, which were easy to work, but the development of more robust agricultural implements in the early Middle Ages enabled people to cultivate the heavier, but more fertile, clays such as are found in the Weald. Cuxton's population, therefore, remained small (93 inhabitants in 1763) until the Nineteenth Century. The present main road is substantially the 1827 turnpike. The South Eastern Railway opened Cuxton Station in 1856. Brick making and lime burning may have begun in the Eighteenth Century and were certainly major industries in the Nineteenth. Bricks from Cuxton were used in the construction of the British Museum. Cement was a major local employer from c1850 for more than 120 years. Chalk hills and good rivers provided ideal conditions for the manufacture of Portland Cement which was actually invented in the area of the Thames and Medway Valleys.
The presence of the railway and the opening of the M2 motorway made Cuxton an ideal commuter settlement and a large number of houses was built in the 1960s. House-building continues today, but the village remains surrounded by beautiful countryside.
The name Cuxton is unique and probably derives from a boundary or mark stone, named after a Saxon with a name something like Cucola.
Roman remains are often unearthed in the churchyard - demonstrating that there was once a Roman villa here. If those Romans (like the ones at Lullingstone) had their own Christian chapel, people have worshipped God in Christ on this site for nearly as long as the faith has been known in Britain.
The Prehistory of the Church
It is probable that there was some kind of pre-Christian shrine here. Christian missionaries in England were instructed to build churches in places where people already met for worship. This site for worship could have been constructed at the intersection of the trackways. This might have been the spot marked by Cucola's stone. The Church is dedicated to St Michael and All Angels, common both in churches built on hills and those built at mark stones.
It is well known that Cuxton Church does not face due East and there is an old rhyme:
If you would see a church miswent
Then you must go to Cuxton in Kent.
This unusual orientation may be explained by the fact that there were already sacred buildings on the site when the substance of the present church was laid out.
The Saxons certainly had a church here, possibly of stone, possibly of wood. It was given by Ethelwulf, King of the West Saxons (839-855), to the Bishop of Rochester. The Bishop remains patron of the living, since the merger with the neighbouring parish of Halling in 1976, alternating with the Dean and Chapter in presenting Rectors.
A Tour of St Michael's Church Today.
The church, as it is now, is largely the result of work done in the 1860s. The oldest parts are the remains of the early Norman building. There are no traces of the Saxon church - though, of course, some of the materials used by the Normans might date from that era. The Norman building consisted of a small nave and a short chancel. The windows would have been small and probably unglazed, as glass was expensive, and the building would have been dark and drafty. There was probably little or no seating and the gorgeously robed priest would have celebrated Communion in the tiny chancel, while the people stood in the nave or knelt to pray on the earth floor. The mass was in Latin and spoken out loud, and the congregation joined in the parts with which they were familiar. The walls might have been painted with biblical scenes or lives of the saints. Unglazed windows might have been an advantage when the atmosphere was filled with the smoke of incense and guttering lamps. (It has been claimed that, much later on, people actually fainted at overcrowded services in the early Twentieth Century.)
The church is approached by a path which was cut into the hillside at the Victorian restoration. Before that, the porch was at a higher level and steps descended into the church. Entering through the present porch on the north side, the visitor comes into the nave. Look up to the roof. The present construction is Victorian, but based on the Mediaeval original. The shape is reminiscent of an upturned boat to remind worshippers of Noah’s Ark. Just as Noah was safe in the ark, we are safe in the Church.
Next to the door is the font. As we come into the church building by the door, we come into membership of the Church by Baptism. The existing font is Victorian. Bits of its Mediaeval predecessor were half buried in the churchyard but are now inside for better preservation. The pews in the nave are also Victorian.
On the left of the door are the remains of a stoup. People washed in holy water as they came into church – a sign of the need to be pure as we come into the presence of God.
The windows in the north wall were enlarged to their present size at the time of substantial works in the Fifteenth Century.
It was also at this time that the tower was built. Until 1866, there was one bell cast in c1400 and two others of later date. In 1866, these were replaced with a ring of five bells. In 1964, the tower needed extensive repair work and these five bells were retuned and rehung and a treble was added to make the existing ring of six. Also in the tower is a fading Victorian window. In the lead on the tower roof are various graffiti (supposedly inscribed by the daughter of the then Rector!) celebrating Mafeking.
There is a Victorian window above the font . A few years ago, this had to be remade, having been smashed in an attempt to break into the church.
The wooden screen between the tower and the nave is believed to incorporate wood from the chancel screen originally installed in the Fifteenth Century. The chancel arch was rebuilt at this time. Worship became more magnificent and more mysterious as the Middle Ages went on and it was believed to be a good thing to separate holy things from the mundane. Such separation, however, can also create a barrier between people and priest, even between people and God and the screen was removed at the end of the Nineteenth Century. We have still not resolved the question of how ordinary our worship should be and how special. Probably, the screen was topped by a large wooden cross or crucifix. There must have been stairs to reach this and there is still a spiral stone staircase on the south side of the chancel arch – which now leads into thin air. So watch it! Unusually, our chancel screen was originally painted.
Above the chancel arch are the royal arms of George II. It was Henry VIII who first directed that the royal arms be displayed in churches in this position, where previously it had been customary to display Christ as King. Henry could never be accused of excessive modesty.
The Mediaeval south wall was taken down in the 1860s and replaced with arches of Bath stone, allowing the construction of the existing south aisle to provide extra seating. These Victorian windows too had to be replaced following damage by vandals. In recent years, a reredos and an altar have been provided for the south aisle, enabling it to be used as a separate chapel for weekday services.
At the East End of the south aisle are the south door and a vestry constructed in 1936 in memory of Canon John Toone, Rector 1901 - 1934.
Coming into the chancel, one of the choir stalls is Jacobean. The other is a Victorian copy.
One of the windows on the north side is still the original Norman shape and size. The glass is Victorian, but the curious painting around it is Mediaeval.
On the south side of the chancel is the Fifteenth Century Lady Chapel. This is largely now filled by the organ. It contains a stately monument to Lady Ann Harley (ob. 1603). The roof of the Lady Chapel was beautifully restored in 1971 in memory of Fred and Annie Hayward.
The organ itself was installed by Foster and Andrews in 1881. In earlier years, there would have been a band of village musicians and there is some evidence that Cuxton Church once owned a barrel organ. (Village bands were not always reliable or skilful and churches were sometimes desperate for dependable music of acceptable quality!).
The sanctuary is largely a Thirteenth Century extension. It is still possible to see the division between the Norman and the later stonework on the outside wall. Victorian windows depict the Ascension and St Michael slaying the dragon (Satan). There used to be a biblical text on a brass plate above the east window and the Ten Commandments on either side. These were removed some time after the Second World War and the commandments relocated on the west wall of the nave. There is piscina in the south wall.
The tiles on the east wall are now considered attractive, though a row of hooks is evidence that they were once hidden behind curtains. From these tiles, it is possible to see that the altar used to be placed against that wall, which would have been its position for most of the church’s life. For a time, in the Tudor and Stuart periods, it was probably placed lengthways in the chancel. It was then moved back to its Mediaeval position until modern times, when it was brought forward to enable the priest to face the people across the holy table. All these changes are signs of people’s striving to get the balance right between awe and familiarity, between God the Infinite, and God our most intimate Friend. He is, in fact, both.
Of Historical Interest.
The first Rector whose name we know was Thomas in 1185. Hence the keeping of the Octocentenary in 1985.
The Black Death was severe in Kent in 1349 when Robert Wrondysher was Rector.
William Laud was Rector in 1610. He went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury and was beheaded by Parliament in 1645. He was a complex character, of great personal devotion and learning, an effective reformer both of the Church and University system. He was also, however, a cruel man in dealing with his opponents and made unforgiving enemies.
William Pett was a royalist who was ejected from the Rectory by Parliament in 1646, but he continued to live in the village and is buried here. His parliament appointed successor, John Robinson, conformed to the Church of England in 1662 when Charles II was restored to the throne and the Book of Common Prayer came back into use.
Margaret Cousens (ob. 1783) was so afraid of mistakenly being buried alive that she was laid to rest inside the church in a coffin that was not screwed down, in a tomb with a glass door and a key on the inside. In 1868, she was reburied in the churchyard, by which time there was presumably no doubt that she was dead!
The Present and Future
We have a long and fascinating history as the Church in Cuxton. We are still here - along with Christians of other denominations - to bear witness to Jesus, to show His love in our care for one another and for the community at large. This building still exists as a place of prayer and worship. Please feel free to use it as a place of prayer whenever you visit and to join us at any of our Sunday or weekday services. Details are given on the notice board and in the parish magazine.
Roger Knight .
Our Laudian chalice and other pieces of pewter and silver ware were stolen in 1969. The brass palimpsests and other remaining artefacts mentioned in the guidebooks are now kept at the Guild Hall Museum, Rochester. The parish archives (dating back to 1560) are to be found at Medway Archive Office, Strood.
The Church and Village of Cuxton: the Reverend R A Smith MA.
Cuxton A Kentish Village: Derek Church.
Anglican Worship Today: ed.
Colin Buchanan, Trevor Lloyd and Harold