ST. WERBURGH'S CHURCH
The largest – and most attractive – of the three Hoo churches, St. Werburgh is also unusual for its naming. St. Werburgh was the daughter of Wulfere, King of Mercia and granddaughter of Ercombert, King of Kent. She died on 3rd February 700 and only around 10 churches anywhere in the UK are dedicated to her.
Unlike both St. Mary Hoo and Hoo Allhallows, there is no specific evidence for a Saxon founding of this church – barring the dedication to a Saxon saint. In fact, the earliest mention is in the mid-12th Century. By this time the Church was almost certainly a typical late Norman three-aisled church and the basic tower may already have been in place as it shows signs of being Norman in origin rather than the usual 13th/14th Century additions common to many English parish churches.
The church was already large by this time, particularly considering that at that time the Hoo Peninsula was a desolate home to the dreaded ague (malaria), and so would not have been heavily populated.
Like most of the churches on the Peninsula it is thought that St. Werburgh’s began as a possession of St. Andrew’s Priory in Rochester.
The 60 foot spire was added in the late 14th Century and completes the picture of the church we have today. Or would if those pesky Victorians hadn’t arrived and began to rebuild in their usual heavy-handed manner. A lot of prime medieval stonework and carving was destroyed or subsumed by clunky Victorian neo-Gothic.
Luckily some medieval work survived, including some ancient stained glass which can be differentiated by its muted colours next to the strident glass of the Victorian period. A number of Tudor and Stuart fixtures managed to survive including a number of brasses and at least three tombs. Another tomb is dated 1412 belonging to a priest, Richard Bayly – although he lost his head, probably during the Commonwealth.
The other thing which survived the Victorians was the peel of bells, the oldest of which is from 1588.
So all in all, although a bit of a mess architecturally speaking, the Church of Hoo St. Werburgh is attractive, even though its once rural location is rapidly being swamped by the ever spreading Medway conurbation.
Photo - Andrew J. Müller
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