The earliest known Marden church was listed in Domesday Monachorum (1085), as a daughter church of St. Mary's, Maidstone (now All Saints). It was probably of wood and likely to be standing when Duke William put to sea in 1066. For Marden was part of the great Forest of Anderida covering the Weald and started its active life as a pig pannage area for the men of Milton Regis. Marden is not mentioned in Domesday itself, but it is recorded there that Milton (owned by the Kings of Kent) was paid 50 shillings by "the Men of the Weald". Marden was Milton’s only Wealden land and thus became a royal possession until the end of Elizabeth I's reign.
In 1178 Richard de Luci founded the Augustinian Abbey of Lesnes (where he later retired) and the income of Marden Church was given to this Abbey. For twenty-five years de Luci was the loyal Chief Justiciar to Henry II.
Edward I (1272-1302) seized the lands of Leeds Castle and added the parts which were in Staplehurst and Goudhurst to his Marden estate. He gave Marden to his mother Eleanor who then had the right to benefit from the weekly market and the annual fair.
To reflect this growth the wooden Saxon church had been replaced by a stone building, of which the Chancel arch is deemed to be the oldest part. The marks where the rood screen rested on the arch are clearly visible. Unfortunately the staircase, once to be seen behind the little door in the pillar, is now covered in rubble. The North aisle was added in the early fourteenth century, followed by the South aisle and the Lady Chapel. These two aisles have round and octagonal pillars and traditional Kentish flat roofs. The crown post in the nave dates from around 1450. The North Chapel was added early in the fifteenth century and was dedicated to St. John.
Changes dominated the sixteenth century: at the Dissolution of the monasteries, Cardinal Wolsey closed the Abbey of Lesnes and took the Marden money to found Cardinal College, Oxford (now Queen's). After his fall from power, Marden Church returned to the Crown.
In 1556/7 the Chancel burned down and as Archbishop Parker reported in 1573 after a Visitation: "... there Chancell was burned in the 2/3 yere of Queen Mary and yerely presented, but reformacon (repair) they have none, wych yf they cannot have they must be driven to sewe to the Councell, for the parishioners are so annoyed for lack of Rowme (room) that many therefore comme not to Church as they shulde." He added "...they have sermons, but not at the appointment of there Vicar, but by the procurement of the parishioners, there Vicar is absent and hath lett his benefice to a Curate."
Was this a warning about the dangers of visiting preachers? Thirty years before, Marden had been included in Cranmer's list of parishes needing "learned men with sufficient stipends". And his subject? "The Heretics of Kent".
Marden lost its Church plate, all 63 ounces of it, to Edward VI's private purse. Some churches had their silver restored by Queen Mary, but enquiries revealed that Marden's had disappeared, probably melted down.
The seventeenth century century saw much change, for the Civil War split families and communities. The Covenant which all adults had to sign is removed from our Vestry Book. This was a document forbidding anyone to help any army raised by Charles I. In fact George Amhurst, Vicar, instituted after a series of clergy in 1657, remained in Marden for fifty years. He must have been a popular and adaptable priest. In 1662, the font was built.
Thanks to Edward III's encouraging Flemings to come to England, a flourishing cloth trade had established itself in Cranbrook and Maidstone. Naturally the surrounding villages, including Marden, benefited; the Weald had an abundance of water and a reasonable climate. The trade was at its height in the seventeenth century before it slipped away to the West and eventually the North. In this century and the next, the focus was also on church bells which needed attention. The usual problem - lack of money - made progress slow. Eventually they had a ring of six. One dated 1745 is inscribed:
"Thomas Lester made me 1745. At proper times my voice I will raise And sound to my subscriber's praise."
Who said materialism is modern? The bells were recast in 1909 and two more added.
In 1738 a false ceiling was put over the nave - presumably for warmth. It was removed over two hundred years later by a congregation - cooler but thankful at the lack of beetle damage in the nave beams.
The last major building was in 1887 (Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee) The architect wanted to build a wooden spire (to replace the old wooden "snuffer" housing the bells) and to make a vestry at the end of the south wall where there were the remains of a large building of unknown origin.
Thackeray Turner of the Society for the Protection of Ancient buildings heard about all this. He visited the church and much correspondence arose. Both sides won: the useful vestry was built (with donations from F.S. Cornwallis of Linton Park - and we still don't know what the old “large building” was) but the spire was not. And we did get open pews and choir stalls.
Various sources, edited by PHYLLIS HIGHWOOD and PEGGY SKELTON