St John the Baptist church, Penshurst

St John the Baptist Church

There was almost certainly a church on the site of St. John the Baptist, Penshurst before the Norman Conquest. We do know that in 1170. Thomas a Becket appointed a rector, Willelmus, as the first priest of the parish. There is some evidence to suggest the foundation to be 860AD and in 2004 many Saxon artefacts were unearthed on adjoining land which might also support this.

Note in the churchyard in front of the porch is a large stone table which was used once a year to distribute money to the needy of the village. Also note, for more notorious reasons, the grave of Richard Sax under a yew tree near the bottom of some steps as you enter the churchyard under the arch. Mr Sax was a farmer who was brutally murdered in 1813 following an argument with a farm labourer who worked on the estate of Baden-Powell (the founder of the world scout movement).

St John the Baptist church, Penshurst : the porchEntering the church via the porch you open a 15th century door and possibly the first things a visitor notices are the delightful chancel screen carved from Penshurst Oak and erected in 1897 as a memorial to 2nd Viscount Hardinge, the 15th century font, brightly painted as it was originally and the bell ropes. The oldest of the bells was cast before 1400 and still rings out over the village today.

Detailed information on the interior of the church is to be found in a booklet entitled ‘Penshurst Church and Village’, available for purchase when visiting the church.

The Church House

To be seen in the square on the left as you face the church. One of possibly only two still left standing in England. Every parish used to have one to house spits, crocks and other utensils for the preparation of food and drink.

Leicester Square, Penshurst

After the Reformation parish clergy had to provide shelter for travellers and their parishioners from outlying districts who came for morning and afternoon services on feast days. Church Inns were set up to provide food and drink in respectable surroundings controlled by the church. Church ales were brewed and profits went to provide the poor with feasts on special occasions, and for church upkeep. Shelter was provided in a room which forms the archway under which you pass to enter the churchyard.

In later times the upkeep of these inns became the duty of the Lord of the Manor, hence the name “landlord” for the person of the innkeeper. Church Inns were finally abolished by the Puritans.
Leicester Square, Penshurst




Picturesque Leicester Square nestles near the
village church and the entrance to Penshurst Place


The Village Hall

This is a large stone building in the centre of the village on the corner. It was erected in 1900 as the result of the generosity of a benefactor and it stands on the site of three almshouses. After the monasteries had been abolished there was no-one with responsibility for the poor until Queen Elizabeth 1 decreed the first “Poor Law” which left their care to the church wardens.

Charitably minded individuals then began to make bequests in their Wills for the assistance of those less fortunate. Records show that at least one of these was very shrewdly managed by the churchwardens, assisted by the generosity of Sir Robert Sydney.Village Hall, Penshurst

A certain individual named “Bullfinch” gave 5 cows for the relief of the poor in Penshurst and for the repair of the bridges in the parish. The church wardens were empowered to sell them for twenty shillings per cow. Instead they let them out for eight shillings and four pennies per year of which they gave five shillings per annum to the poor and three shillings and four pennies to bridge repairs. Finally they sold all the cows for five pounds.

With the five pounds they built a cottage for the poor on land given by Sir Robert Sydney for 1000 years at a token rent of “3 red roses at midsummer”. This cottage was then let to Anthony Williams for eight shillings and four pennies per year of which five shillings was given to the poor and three shillings and four pennies to repair the bridges! This was the first almshouse to be built in Penshurst.

Turnpike house, Penshurst

The Turnpike Roads

Maps of 1711 & 1843 show that there was a turnpike house and gates opposite the present village hall to the point where the seat now stands. A toll fee was taken from all vehicles except carriages attending royalty, and carts on local farm work.


The Old Post Office

Old post office, PenshurstUntil 1830 the only sign of a post office in Penshurst was a letter box in the window sill of the Leicester Arms. The Post Office then moved to Leicester Square in a house bearing the date 1850. On the front door is a miniature door knocker bearing the broad arrow emblem of the Sidney family in whose ownership it remained.

At one time it was the home and workplace of the village tailor William Eagleton from Chiddingstone. He was the postmaster as well, and both businesses were carried out there by more than one generation of the family.

Pioneer Cottages

These 3 pairs of semi detached cottages are to be found on the left of Smarts Hill near the top when travelling up the hill. They are reputed to be the first purpose built council house properties in England and were built by a local builder, George Constable. They were built in 1900 on freehold land, under the provision of The Housing Act 1890.

The foundations were laid in Spring 1900. In October of the same year they were completed and before Christmas all six homes were occupied. Tenants paid a rent of 25% of the average income (about five shillings) and at least one applicant from a couple had to be a local person.

The arrangements for sanitation were:

a) a pail closet for each house in a wooden shed at the bottom of the garden, night soil being trenched into the garden
b) one soak away pit in the garden for each pair, to take the waste from the sinks. Theses pits are cleared by the Council’s cesspool empties as and when required. The sink waste was originally disposed of by means of open irrigation channels but these were finally dispensed with in 1936.

Star House

Victorian addition to a much older house. Evidence of De’Lisle connections are to be seen For about a hundred years it was a village butchers shop and Victorian & Edwardian children attending the village school recall the sound of squealing pigs on Mondays, which was slaughter day! Later it became a fashion boutique and in the last twenty years a private home.