|St Mary's Churchyard and Burial Ground||Bexley|
A church in 'Bixle' was recorded at the time of the Domesday Survey, but there may have been an earlier Saxon church. Major restoration was undertaken to St Mary's Church in 1883 with the intention of reproducing its C15th appearance, at which time more trees and shrubs were planted in the churchyard. The lych-gate, originally at the main entrance, was moved to its current position and replaced by an elaborate entrance in 1891. The churchyard has over 200 memorials dating from the C17th, C18th and C19th. The detached walled Burial Ground, sometimes called the cemetery, was enclosed from farmland in 1857 then on the edge of the village of Bexley.
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A church was recorded here at the time of the Domesday Survey, but there may have been a Saxon church here, probably rebuilt between 1180-1200. St Paulinus is said to have preached here in the C7th. Elements of the current church of St Mary date back to C12th and C13th when it was enlarged, and there were subsequent changes over the centuries. It was largely restored at various times in the C19th. Between 1817-23 the roofs, steeple and tower were repaired and more pews were installed to accommodate the congregation; a new gallery was built in 1847. Major restoration was undertaken in 1883 by Basil Champneys architect, with the intention of reproducing the C15th appearance of the church, and at the same time more trees and shrubs were planted in the churchyard.
The churchyard, which is now closed except for existing family graves, is approached from the east through an early C18th lych-gate, its roof being supported by six oak posts, earlier basal timbers having rotted. The lych-gate was originally at the main entrance but was moved to its current position and replaced by an elaborate entrance with Arts and Crafts Gothic tracery (probably designed by Basil Champneys) in 1891. The churchyard has over 200 memorials dating from the C17th, C18th and C19th, the earliest tomb that of the Payne family of 1603 situated on the north side near the old lych-gate and a yew tree that may be 300 years old. Tombs of interest include that of Mrs Catharina Thorpe, which has a large piece of iron sandstone with fossil shells that were discovered by her husband the antiquary John Thorpe. In 1832 there are records that a riot took place in the churchyard. The wall separating the churchyard from the High Street is Tudor in part. The brick path from the High Street is largely screened from the road by an avenue of tall yew trees. The detached walled Burial Ground, sometimes called the cemetery, was enclosed from farmland in 1857 then on the edge of the village of Bexley. The 1860 Ordnance Survey map shows the path layout, a St George Cross with a tree in each quarter. Planting includes holm oaks, yews, Lebanon cedars, stone pine, Atlantic cedar, acacia and self sown scrub. Parts are very much overgrown, and it is managed as a conservation area partly as grassland and partly as woodland. There are some very good C19th monuments and it has stone gate piers and mounting block.
K M Roome, 'A History of the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Bexley, Kent', 2nd ed 1981; N. Pevsner The Buildings of England London - South p133-4; St Mary's Cemetery leaflet, London Wildlife Trust 1990; D. Spurgeon, Discover Bexley and Sidcup, 1993 p23-24; LB Bexley, 'Old Bexley Conservation Area, Area Appraisal and Management Plan', 2009; history section on church website