There has certainly been a church on the present site in Penshurst since 1115, when it is mentioned in Textus Roffensis. There may have been a church on the site since Saxon times, as suggested by the recent discovery of artefacts dating from 860 AD on adjoining land.
Penshurst’s first priest, Wilhelmus, was installed in 1170 by Archbishop Thomas à Becket, his last public act before he was assassinated two days later in Canterbury cathedral by four knights, supposedly following King Henry II’s plaintive cry, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”.
Development of the church
Sections of the present building can be traced to almost each century between the 12th and 19th.. The roof was raised in the 14th century, the base of the tower added in the 15th, the present southern aisle in the 17th, the top of the tower in the 18th, the northern aisle in the 19th and now the north-eastern extension in the 21st.
Famous architects, artists and the Civil War have left their mark. Those buried, or commemorated inside, include Earls, Viscounts, a Viceroy of India, a Private Secretary to two Kings, Knights ancient and modern, leaders of the British Army – and two winners of the Victoria Cross.
The War Memorials and their roll of names tell of savage inroads made into the village’s youth by three wars within the first half of the 20th century- the Boer War, World War 1 and World War 2. Outside, the tower hovers protectively over the village, floodlit at night. In the graveyard below, tombstones contain the murdered and victims of disease.Much of a nation’s history and all of a village’s life can be found in and around its church. Penshurst is a rich example.