Kent Style


Kent Style - Kentish School - Early Norman - Saxon - Early English - Primitive Christian English

The English county of Kent can claim the distinction of having the longest unbroken tradition of Christian worship in England, as in 598 CE St Augustine landed in Kent and established his Christian mission at Canterbury. Most rural Norman churches were small buildings consisting of a rectangular nave and a smaller, lower chancel, either rectangular, such as the Early Norman Anglican parish church of Paddlesworth dedicated to St Oswald, built in the C11 CE or earlier (being altered in the C13 and restored in the C19) which served as precedent for many Settler churches in the Eastern Cape (for example Southwell, Hilton, etc) or with a rounded eastern apse (for example Belvidere in Knysna, Cape).

These early English churches served as model to the C19 CE immigrant English Settlers to South Africa and were emulated where-ever new congregations established themselves. Thus even to the early designers these English precedents were inspirational.

So we have 'Early English', and what is referred to as the 'Kent or Kentish Style', called by Doreen GREIG the 'Kentish School'.

Expediency required the use of gable turrets for bells.

As Bishop Gray, whose wife Sophia GRAY was the gifted dilettante who provided designs for sixty-odd churches, is quoted as saying:
"my only regret is that all our churches will be of the same style of architecture, and of the same character; economy compels us to be contented with bell-turrets instead of towers and Early English instead of Decorated or Norman buildings".

Bishop Gray, in keeping with the injunctions of the Cambridge Camden Society in their 1841 publication 'A Few Words to Church-builders' disapproved of brick as building material for churches and expressed his preference for stone. He wrote that round-headed windows (a feature of the Romanesque style) were hideous and that galleries did not accord with the revived Gothic-styled churches being built at the time in Britain. He and his wife would have preferred their churches to have been built in a variety of styles and not confined to Early English. This, the simplest of the three Gothic styles, is characterized by the use of narrow lancet windows, pointed arches, buttressing, exposed roof trusses, steeply pitched roofs and floor plans comprising, each under its own roof, a nave with an articulated chancel, a porch and one or more vestries.

Influential for this style were English church architects were William BUTTERFIELD and Henry UNDERWOOD. Denis RADFORD suggests that UNDERWOOD supplied the designs for the Norman Revival Holy Trinity Church at Belvidere (1855) which is usually ascribed to William BUTTERFIELD or Sophia GRAY.

Herbert BAKER, of the next generation, was Kent born and raised and too had a predilection for the style. He says in 'Architecture and personalities' (1944: 145):
"The architect who would build in Africa has to reverse the process [of the evolution of the Gothic] … [which] never took healthy roots in the attempts which were made to transplant it to Italy; still less can fully developed Gothic … be successfully acclimatized under the rays of Africa's more vertical sun."

While BAKER had been articled to the Gothic revivalist, Sir George Gilbert SCOTT (Junior, 1839-1897), spending a year of his advanced pupilage as resident architect for the building of a new church at Lamberis, in England, his arrival in South Africa offered welcome opportunity for ecclesiastic architecture for a recently settled English population in need of new churches:
"One could almost imagine oneself amongst the primitive Christian pioneers, who built the early and simple churches … which still exist in England. Their small windows were suited to the clear and sunny climate of Africa."

Of the many churches he built he says:
"The masonry had to be rough, and forced upon us a primitive style of architecture."

The little church of St John the Baptist on the Twenty-Four Rivers Farm in the Vaalwater District epitomises this architectural approach.

Baker, who also followed the dictates of the persistent and pervading influence of the Cambridge Camden Society's 1841 publication 'A Few Words to Church-builders' advised that where funds were insufficient the apse be the first structure to be built until such time as the building be finished, as was done for his designs, both at St George's in Cape Town and St Albans in Pretoria.

[Roger FISHER, December 2010]

Buildings on this website in Kent Style style

All Saints Anglican Church: 1890 : 1905. Muizenberg, Western Cape
Anglican Church: n.d.. Southwell, Eastern Cape
Belvidere Church: 1855. Knysna, Western Cape
Duthie Church: 1851-53. Knysna, Western Cape
Holy Trinity Anglican Church: 1855. Caledon, Western Cape
Holy Trinity Church - Belvidere: 1851-53. Knysna, Western Cape
Shop (now Dit-en-Dat): Early 1900s. Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape
St Alban and St Augustine: 1903. Wellington, Western Cape
St Andrew's Anglican Church - St Andrew's Retreat: 1901. Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal
St Dunstan's Anglican Church: 1909. Benoni, Gauteng
St George's Anglican Chapel: 1913. Chrissiesmeer, Mpumalanga
St George's Anglican Church: 1849. Newhaven, Knysna, Western Cape
St George's Church: 1908. Cullinan, Gauteng
St John the Baptist: 1913. Vaalwater, Limpopo
St Mark's Anglican Cathedral: 1850. George, Western Cape
St Mary the Virgin Anglican Parish Church: 1871. Barkly West, Northern Cape
St Paul's Church - Second: 1849 : 1854 : 1880. Rondebosch, Cape Town, Western Cape
St Peter's Anglican Church: 1877. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape
Westminster Estate Buildings: The Schoolhouse: 1906. Tweespruit, Free State
Hodgson Hall : Methodist Church - First: 1845. Rosebank, Cape Town, Western Cape