History of St. Mary’s Church

There has been a church in Upton since at least 1092, when it was recorded that the tithes were given to the Cluniac Priory of Bermondsey. Perhaps the present building is the actual church mentioned as some of its features suggest it could have been built at an even earlier date. Its simple structure has never been drastically enlarged. It still consists basically of a nave and chancel which communicate through a round chancel arch.
The vestry and entrance doorways, north and south, are both narrow and round-headed. They are also opposite each other, an arrangement common before the Norman Conquest. On the outside, the entrance door has a Vandyke pattern round the arch, a late 12th century decoration. The arch itself seems to have been re-set at some time and the stones displaced, the keystone appears to be at the side. There are two scratch dials (sundials), one dated 1629 on the east side of the doorway, with signs of knife-sharpening on the outside. On the inside of the south door, the arch has been flattened to allow the door to open.
The fine timber roof is probably 15th century; what the original roof was like we do not know. A ceiling which hid the rafters, box pews, a three-decker pulpit and a gallery (would that have been for musicians?) at the west end were all removed during a major restoration in 1885.
The walls are of chalk rubble and are very thick, with a pronounced batter (thicker at the base than at the top), but chalk can dissolve if wet so the surface had to be covered. The present flint was applied when the church was restored; an old framed water colour painting shows that previously there were patches of brick and that the roof was thatched. Originally the walls were probably covered with mud and lime. The interior walls remain lime-washed.
The stonework around the chancel arch doors and windows could be Beer or Caen stone (a very fine relatively soft limestone). The font is lead lined, it underwent repairs in the 1800s so is not of the same stone. The Chamber Organ was given to the church at the end of the 18th century and for many years it stood by the chancel arch. It is believed that the instrument was a mix of two organs and that some of the pipework was 17th century in origin, probably around 1680.
A major restoration of the church was undertaken in 1885.The porch was added early in the 20th century and the vestry in 1934-5.
We now have wood block and tile flooring and electric lighting that was installed in 1938, but the lighting was not what you see now. The present ‘up’ lighting reflecting off the inside of the roof was installed in the late 1960s in memory of the Rector Derwas Chitty and further ‘down-spots’ were installed in 2002.
But what would it have been like originally? Probably the floor was just earth strewn with straw, we know that early churches did not have seating, perhaps they took their own cushions or stools or had bundles of straw or hay around the edge, the lighting would probably have been by tallow and oil lamps. Imagine what Upton must have been like in those early days, no more than a small hamlet, I wonder how many would have attended those early services and what form they would have taken.