St Clement's church, Sandwich
St Clement's Church, Sandwich

The Norman church of St Clements stands in a leafy churchyard in the south-east corner of ancient Sandwich, close to the medieval town walls which once encircled the town. The church was almost certainly begun in the late Saxon period, but much of what we see today is a result of a 12th-century rebuilding.

The oldest part of the building is the 12th-century central tower and the nave, while the chancel and north chapel are 13th century and the south chapel dating to the 14th century.

The Tower

By far the most attractive feature of the exterior is the wonderful Norman tower, which must rank among the finest in southern England. This features three tiers of blind arcading rising to a castellated roofline.

The rounded arches are supported on pillars ornamented with marvellous carved scrollwork depicting foliage and strange beasts. If you look at the north-west angle of the tower you can see a round-arched door that leads to a spiral stair.

The tympanum over the doorway is attractively carved in typical late Saxon or early Norman style. The tower was originally topped by a spire, but this was removed in the 1670s shortly after the towers of both other Sandwich parish churches had collapsed.

The 15th century font
The 15th-century font

The interior is large and spacious, with slender clusters of pillars adding to the overall sense of space and light. To the left of the north door by which you enter is a wonderful 15th-century octagonal font, each face of the bowl decorated with heraldic shields. One face features to arms of Robert Hallum, and Archdeacon here in 1406. It is thought the Hallum donated the money for the font. On another heraldic shield are the arms of Sandwich itself.

In the chancel are attractively carved medieval benches, one of which features a misericord. These benches were installed for the Confraternity of St Clement, a kind of medieval religious guild. Note the unusually large rectangular window between the nave and north chapel, acting as a squint, or hagioscope.

There are several notable brasses including one of a medieval Bishop of Ross, who served as vicar of St Clements in 1444. St Margaret's Chapel still features its complete original medieval tiled floor (restored in the Victorian period), while in St George's Chapel you can find a medieval statue of St John that came from Lincoln Cathedral.

Arms of Sandwich town on the font
Arms of Sandwich town on the font

One of the unusual features of St Clements is the roof, which is decorated with carved wooden angels and roof bosses in a style that is common in East Anglia but seldom seen in the south-east. Much of the roof was rebuilt in the 18th century. A much more modern feature is a memorial to Wing Commander Roland Stanford-Tuck, who flew in the Battle of Britain and is buried in the churchyard.

Mayors of Sandwich

Until 1683 it was custom in Sandwich that the Mayor was elected in St Clements Church. So important was the position considered that the townsfolk had the right to burn down the house of anyone who refused the honour. Not surprisingly, no one declined the position.

St Clements also served as a mustering point in times of trouble. If the moot horn was sounded, all able men over the age of 14 had to immediately gather at St Clement's and report to the Mayor.

Other Sandwich Churches

Sandwich traditionally had 3 parished, served by the churches of St Clements, St Peter and St Mary. In 1948 the parishes were merged into one, served by St Clements. The other two churches in Sandwich were declared redundant and are now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. As I can attest from personal experience, both are well worth visiting and are less than a 10-minute stroll from St Clements.

The Norman tower
The Norman tower
Carved capitals, tower crossing
Carved capitals, tower crossing
15th century benches in the chancel
15th-c. benches in the chancel
15th century squint in the chancel wall
15th c. squint in the chancel wall
The chancel and three-light medieval lancets
The chancel and three-light
medieval lancets
South aisle arcading
South aisle arcading
16th century monument, south wall
16th-c. monument
The medieval piscina
The medieval piscina

About Sandwich, St Clement
Address: Church Street, Sandwich, Kent, England, CT13 9EH
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: At the end of church Street, just a few minutes walk from the Market Square and from a paid parking lot at the quayside.
Website: Sandwich, St Clement
Location map
OS: TR332580
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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