The ancient parish of Leybourne takes its name from the Little Stream (or 'Lillieburn' as it was called in the year 941 A.D.) which runs through the valley. The original Saxon church was already standing when the castle was built just above it by Sir Phillip de Lelebourne in 1166. The Leybourne Family - The Heart Shrine and The Crowns.
It is believed that the progenitor of the Leybourne family came to England with William the Conqueror, who granted him, lands in Yorkshire. From him the town of Leyburn, near Richmond, takes its name. His descendant, Sir Phillip, settled in the Kentish village whose name was so similar to his own that the two merged together. Two members of this Kentish branch have left their marks upon the church. The first is Sir Roger de Leybourne (d. 1271), great-grandson of Phillip, who was entrusted by his friend Prince Edward (later Edward 1), with the defence of his territory in Gascony and after whom the French town of Libourne, near Bordeaux, is named.
In 1270 Sir Roger set off with Edward for the Holy Land, but was probably sent back en route through ill health, and died in France. His heart was sent home and placed in the left hand casket of the Heart Shrine in the north wall of the church. The right hand casket was never used. For many years this unique double shrine was obscured by rubble, and was rediscovered by Charles Hawley (Rector 1877 - 1914). Since it is some hundred years older than the wall in which it is set, it must originally have been in some other place, perhaps higher up. The other Leybourne to be remembered in the church is William (d. 1310), son of Sir Roger, who was the first Englishman to bear the title Admiral. On 25th October 1286 King Edward and Queen Eleanor visited Sir William at Leybourne castle.
It is said that the two crowns affixed to the north wall, not far from the Heart Shrine, were presented to the church on this occasion by the King and Queen as votive gifts, but experts claim that the crowns are of later date. A wooden plaque commemorating Sir William was unveiled in 1956 by Richard Charles Talbot Leybourne. Sir William was the last Leybourne to live in the castle, which reverted to the Crown. In 1377 Edward III gave the Manor of Leybourne to his newly founded Abbey of St Mary Graces near the Tower of London.
After the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII the castle gradually fell into ruins. On a part of its site a dwelling house was erected in Tudor times. For several generations this was the home of the Golding family. Thomas Golding was Sheriff of Kent in 1703. This house has quite disappeared, but in recent times a new stone mansion has been built mainly on its foundations, while attached to it parts of the old castle may still be seen.
The Heart Shrine Crowns at Leybourne Church The Church Tower and Bells When the church was restored in 1874 the architect, Sir Arthur Blomfield, found that the tower was in a ruinous condition; the upper part had collapsed and been rebuilt with bricks some 60 years before. Instead of restoring it, the architect unfortunately encased the old tower with the resent Victorian tower, cutting new windows bit leaving the old Norman and early English stones within.
There had been 3 bells, before the tower collapsed, but only 2 were hung on a wooden frame when it was rebuilt - one small priest's bell, weighing one hundred-weight, cast by Mears & Stainbank in 1826, and one interesting old bell, weighing seven hundred-weight, cast in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, with the inscription "Thomas Goddin gentleman, Robard Olver, youman 1585". Today there is only one bell. The tower fire, started by a thunderstorm on Friday 10th June 1966, destroyed all the timbers, and the two bells were recast into one by Mears & Stainbank, retaining the original inscription of 1585. The Nave On the south wall of the church, we shall observe on the left of the doorway an ancient holy water stoup, and higher up the filled-in-trace of a Norman window. A second window of the same period was opened up and restored in 1961. Note the original mural work on the splays. This part of the church is mentioned in the Doomsday Book, and has stood for over 900 years.
This church was probably like the little Saxon churches at Paddlesworth and Dode, consisting of an oblong nave with two windows high up on each side, a narrow chancel arch, and a small chancel with a window in the east wall. Then 100 years later, the present Early English chancel was built. The filled-in arch near the pulpit seems to indicate an intention to add a transept, or it may have been an entrance to a chapel. More than a century later, the narrow north aisle was added, with its three perpendicular windows. The font dates from about the year 1400, though the cover is a somewhat uncommon specimen of Jacobean craftsmanship. On the wall beside the door hangs a list of the Rectors of Leybourne dating from the year 1276.
Two of these Rectors, Dr Ullock and Dr Hardy, have been Deans of Rochester. Wm. Mills, Rector 1493-1510 was the son of Wm. Mills of West Malling, whose brass is in that church. The ancient chest near the door was the receptacle in early days of valuable books and the sacred vessels used in the administration of the sacraments. Note the three locks. Rector and Churchwardens each held a key and all three had to be present to open the chest. The pulpit is a typical specimen of country craftsmanship of the Jacobean period. All the other old oak unfortunately perished in the Victorian restoration when it was replaced by varnished pitch pine. The Chancel In 1937 an attempt was made to restore the chancel and the adjoining chapel in their original condition.
At the previous restoration in 1874 the levels of the floor had been raised by extra steps in the chancel and sanctuary. When these were removed there were brought to light once more the tombstones of three former Rectors, which are worth studying, if only for their calligraphy and spelling. One of these Rectors, Henry Ullock, Dean of Rochester (1639-1706), presented to the church a silver chalice which is still occasionally used.The modern oak choir stalls, incorporating two ancient stall ends, were erected in memory of the Revd. Charles Trevor Horan, M.A., Hon. Canon of St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, and Archdeacon of Cairo, and subsequently Rector of Leybourne from 1928-1932. The Windows, and the Hawley Family All the present stained glass windows are modern and replace those destroyed during the Second World War.
The window over the Heart Shrine "is the gift of members of the family of Laybourn, and citizens of Libourne, France, in thanksgiving to God for the preservation of this church and the Heart Shrine of their founder". In the background are scenes from Leybourne and Libourne. The east window represents the Transfiguration, and the window in the north wall opposite the entrance to the church, representing St Peter and St Paul, commemorates Canon Thorne, Rector from 1933-1948. The earlier windows all commemorated members of the Hawley family. (The brass commemorative plaques have outlived the windows). In 1776 James Hawley, M.D., F.R.S., purchased Leybourne Grange and the land comprising the whole parish. His death is recorded on the marble memorial in the north west corner of the chapel. His son Henry was created a baronet in 1795, and his descendants owned and lived at Leybourne during the next century.
Sir Joseph Hawley (1813-1875) was a well-known racehorse owner, who won the Derby four times. He restored the church extensively in 1874, (though much of this work is now either regretted or undone, as appears elsewhere in this account). His brother, the Revd. Henry C. Hawley, was Rector of the parish, as was his nephew the Revd. Charles Hawley, Hon. Canon of Rochester, who died in 1914 - the last of the Hawley family to live at Leybourne. The family still holds the patronage of the living.
Blessed John Larke John Larke, Rector of Leybourne from 1527-1543, suffered martyrdom on 7th March, 1544, denying the validity of Henry VIII's new title "Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England". Hanging, drawing and quartering while still alive, designed in imitation of the death of Judas, was inflicted upon him for refusing to acknowledge the King's new title, which he believed to be a betrayal of his Master. Larke was the close friend of St Thomas More, Chancellor of England, who suffered execution for the same cause. Since John Larke was also Rector of St Ethelburga, Bishopsgate and Woodford in Essex, and Chelsea all at the same time, it may be doubted whether he spent much time in Leybourne.
The Living On the death of Canon John Lloyd in 1971, the living was placed under sequestration, The Vicar of West Malling, Canon Geoffrey Young was appointed Priest-in-Charge, he was succeeded in 1976 by the Vicar of Larkfield, the Revd. Richard Lea and no Rector was appointed until The Reverend Chris Dench on 11th May 1998. (having served as Priest in Charge since 11th September 1994). His farewell Eucharist took place on 4th September 2005.
He was succeeded by the Reverend Matthew Buchan as Priest in Charge on 16th October 2006.