The Reverend Bryan Faussett and the Northbourne Corbels
In Northbourne church near to the Sandys monument is a medieval sculptured stone corbel of a king. Corbels such as this one were highly decorative features although their main purpose was as a projecting wall support, usually for roof beams or at the base of window arches to minimize thrust on the walls.
The face had been badly mutilated some time in the past and it did not originate from Northbourne church. A Kentish antiquary the Reverend Bryan Faussett (1720-1776) acquired the corbel, along with a second, from Northbourne Court.
Faussett was Rector of Monks-Horton near Hythe and Perpetual Curate of Nackington near Canterbury. He collected a large number of archaeological artifacts and is mainly known for his prolific digging of Saxon barrows in east Kent. Between 1767 and 1773 he, or rather his workmen - who were encouraged by tots of brandy, opened 308 barrows on the Kingston Downs near Canterbury. On 29th July 1771 his records indicate he opened thirty-one barrows in a day and it was not unusual for him to dig eight burial mounds before breakfast. He undertook some of his work with another well-known Kent antiquary, Edward Hasted.
Faussett's collection included more than five thousand British and Roman coins. The duplicates and indecipherable coins he melted down and cast a bell for the roof of his house at Heppington, near Canterbury.
For some of his larger relics he built a garden pavilion at the end of a cedar grove close to Heppington House. The pavilion was a fairly plain building in the Georgian style, constructed of brick with sandstone dressings, a marble tablet bearing a Latin inscription accompanied each of the relics; these texts range in date from 1769 to 1775. There were originally seven items set into the back wall of the pavilion:
- A quern stone from Sibertswold Down.
- The bowl of a font from Kingston church near Canterbury once used as a pig-trough.
- Two sculptured corbels from Northbourne.
- A Purbeck marble effigy from St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury.
- A terra-cotta head from Roman London.
- A Romanesque sculpture from the Precincts of Canterbury Cathedral.
The translation of the inscription for the Northbourne corbels is as follows: -
"This pair of very ancient and moreover mutilated heads, that is to say of Ethelbert the fifth king of Kent who flourished about A.D. 564, and of Augustine the monk who established the Christian faith in this island in A.D. 597, was dug up among the ruins of the palace of Northbourne, built by Ethelbald son of the said king. Here in this place B.F. decided that they should be preserved from more serious damage, A.D. 1775"
In 1931 the font was restored to St. Giles church Kingston and one of the Northbourne corbels was included with it as a gift. The corbel given to Kingston and wrongly assumed by Faussett to be St. Augustine is almost life size and described by Ronald Jessup as:
"…the head of a bearded and moustached man wearing a cloth hood continued under the chin, and from the style of the hair it could have been carved at almost any time during the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries. It has no saintly attributes and no ecclesiastical character, and the most it seems certain to say is that the head is not a portrait of St. Augustine. The corbel is now mounted on the wall at the west-end of Kingston Church."
The other corbel, the head of a king with side curls, was returned to Northbourne church in early 1951 when the pavilion was demolished.
Faussett assumed that it was King Ethelberht because Ethelberht's son, Ethelbald owned the Manor of Northbourne. It is likely Faussett obtained the two corbels from the ruined medieval chapel that still remains in the grounds of Northbourne Court. The corbel appears to be the same date as the one now in Kingston church (thirteenth or early fourteenth century) although the identity of the subject is unclear. The hairstyle and crown is similar to that depicted on the coinage of Edward I, Edward II who between them reigned from 1272 - 1327.
It is probably not merely by chance that the Rev. Bryan Faussett came to possess the corbels. Hasted relates how, following the death of Sir Richard Sandys in 1726, the ownership of the Northbourne Court became split up and eventually a third of the estate was owned by Bryan Faussett's son Henry Godfrey Faussett of Heppington, who married Susan Sandys in 1749.
Hasted, E., 1800, 'The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent' Vol. IX.
Jessup, R. F., 'The Faussett Pavilion, Part 1 The Pavilion', Archaeologia Cantiana, lxvi, (1953) 1-8.
Marsden B. M., 1974, 'The Early Barrow Diggers'.