A Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Usefulness of the ‘Reculvers’ Daymark
Trinity House Court Minute:
“Certificate of Trinity House to the Archbishop of Canterbury, showing the necessity of repairing the steeple of Reculver in Kent, in regard it was an ancient sea mark.”
Note on the Reculvers daymark excerpted from Captain Golding’s Trinity House From Within (1929):
The ‘Reculvers’ daymark is actually the (now ruined) church of St. Mary in the City of Canterbury district of Kent, known as ‘The Church Of The Two Sisters’.
Stands on the site of a Roman camp, which had an area of about 8 acres and was surrounded by a wall. A Monastic Foundation was established here in the year 679: the Monastery and its possessions were annexed to Christ Church, Canterbury, in 949, the Foundation being dissolved.
The Church, which is a mixture of Saxon and Norman styles, was built about the year 1100 out of the material of the Monastery, a considerable quantity of Roman bricks being incorporated in the building. The masonry towers are square and broad but not lofty, connected by a narrow balcony.
It seems to have continued a church of more than ordinary note, under the government of a dean, until the middle of the 14th century: from that time onward it appears to have gradually diminished in consequence.
The tradition of the two spires is that Frances St. Clair, Abbess of a Convent of Benedictine Nuns at Davington, about the year 1500, caused the towers, which had fallen into decay, to be repaired, and added the spires to be called “The Sisters” in memory of her sister Isabel, who died following the wreck, at Reculver, of a vessel in which they were proceeding from Faversham to Broadstairs; and to act as a guide and warning to mariners.
That they have long served as a sea-mark is shown by the old Court Minute of January 28, 1662.
Owing to coast erosion the cliffs gradually disappeared, and in 1780 the north angle of the tower was 50 yards from the cliff. In 1802 the greater portion of the church fell down; in 1805 the towers were only 5 yards from the face of the cliff. In 1807 the local farmers commenced to take up the stonework on the seaward side and sold it to the Margate Pier Company, to form the foundation for a new pier, the result being further encroachment by the sea.
In 1810 Trinity House purchased the church to preserve it as a sea-mark; groins were erected, the cliff next the church was faced with stone, the steeples, which had been blown down, were replaced by wooden structures, and the church was fenced in.
In the gable between the two towers is a stone bearing the following inscription:-
“These towers, the remains of the venerable Church of Reculver, were purchased of the parish by the Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond, in the year 1810; and groins were laid down at their expense to protect the cliff on which the church had stood. When the spires were afterwards blown down the present substitutes were erected, to render the towers sufficiently conspicuous to be useful to navigation. Captain Joseph Cotton, Deputy Master, in the year 1819.”
The materials of the fallen church were sold to various persons in 1811; a considerable portion was used in building a church at Hillborough. A considerable outlay has been incurred from time to time on repairs and the upkeep of the sea defences.
Having outlived its sphere of usefulness as a sea-mark, it was handed over in 1925 to H.M. Office of Works to be preserved as an ancient monument.