Preston (next Wingham) -
St. Mildred's Church
© P.E. Blanche 2000
The Church from the Southeast
showing the unusual dormer windows.
© PE Blanche 2000
A blocked window on the
wall of the South Aisle.
© PE Blanche 2000
The Church of St. Mildred's was included in a recent edition (approx. 1994 when I started writing this section or page) of the North American magazine, British Heritage, when it listed its 100 best Churches and Cathedrals in England. It stated that this early English Church has a Victorian pyramidal cap on it's tower and the nave is very high for a country church. Some of the glass in the north windows is known to be over 500 year old.
It is, in fact, a strange little Church tucked away at the end of a lane at the South end of the Village and not too easy to find. Quite honestly, despite the comment made in "British Heritage" the Nave is not that high compared with some of the other Churches in this area. In Arthur Mee's "Kent" the very unusual dormer windows (clearly seen on the picture - top left) are dismissed as being a recent addition to the roof. However, in the details about the Church which are pinned to the notice board inside the porchway of the Church, say that these windows could date from the 12/13th Century, not long after the Nave was built. At the same time, it is suggested that some side windows, such as those in the South Aisle might have been filled in (picture - bottom left). I would suspect, given the bricks that were used, unless they were scavenged from elsewhere, the windows were blocked off in the 16/17th Century. It might be easier to tell once I have had the chance to actually see inside the Church.
The North side of the Church predates the South side by two centuries and it was the Chapel on the North side which was once used as a school room for the poor of the parish. On the opposite side of the road to the North side of the Church once stood the Palace of Juliana, The Countess of Huntingdon, also known as "The Infanta of Kent"*. The foundations of this Palace are now said to be under one of the ponds which can be seen in the grounds of what is now, Preston Court.
* Juliana, "The Infanta of Kent" was the daughter of Sir Thomas de "Leyburn" and the Great Granddaughter of Sir Roger de Leybourne of Leybourne Castle. Her Grandfather was Sir William de Leybourne who left Leybourne Castle and took up residence at Preston at a "Grand Residence and large possessions" previously owned by the Father of his wife, Juliana, Sir Henry de Sandwico. (Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. V 1863)
Juliana, "The Infanta of Kent" was orphaned at the age of three and inherited huge estates. She married three times and some sources state that she never had any children but the Archaeologia Cantiana article states that this is false and that there was an heir from her first marriage to John, Lord Hastings and Abergarvenny who eventually because the Earl of Pembroke. However, because of certain trust transactions completed during her lifetime, the estates of Juliana eventually reverted to the Crown upon her death. Apparently, the sum value of the house and belongings at Preston at the time of her death was £2,062. 12s. 8d. - a tidy amount in those days.
In the 1799 edition of Edward Hasted's "History of the Ancient and Metropolitical City of Canterbury" concerning St. Augustine's Abbey, he writes, "Here was also buried in St. Ann's, commonly called 'the Countess's Chapel', Juliana, Countess of Huntingdon, the rich Infanta of Kent, as she was called, who died in 1350, and endowed a chantry here for the repose of her soul, with many charities to be distributed to the poor, on the day of her anniversary yearly for ever".
(Although Hasted quotes a date of death of 1350, I believe that it was more likely that the date was 1367 or thereabouts, perhaps up to 1370).
My understanding is that because of the charities set up for the poor, she was a very popular and well liked member of the ruling class in this part of Kent.
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