The joy and exhilaration of ‘the hunt’ is one of the finer delights of book collecting. One of the more unusual, and interesting, books we have recently uncovered is a rather lovely copy of “The History and Antiquities of the Church and Parish of St Laurence, Thanet, In the County of Kent” by Charles Cotton.
An imposingly large volume from 1895, on the history of St Laurence’s Church, Thanet, with glorious period illustrations, this book gives a fascinating insight into the history of the area. It is described by Michael’s Bookshop, who published a modern reprint in 2008 as “one of the most important local history books”. Copies are held in the Royal Collection, The National Art Library at the V&A, and of course in the British Library and a number of other libraries of note.
Compiled by Charles Cotton, a local physician practising in the area, it reveals his meticulous and detailed research but is also, as Cotton states in his preface, based on many conversations with many of the ‘oldest inhabitants’ of the parish about past local matters and traditions. Extending to nearly 300 pages, it took him fourteen years to research and write. Cotton was born in London but spent the majority of his adult life in Kent where he practiced as a doctor. As well as managing a general practice and serving local hospitals, he took a keen interest in local history. He regularly contributed to the proceedings of the Kent Archaeological Society and served on its board for over 30 years. He died in Canterbury in 1939. His obituary appeared in the Society’s journal.
St Laurence’s church in Ramsgate is set well back from the harbour, at the upper end of the High Street. It was once Ramsgate’s parish church. As with so many medieval churches in Thanet, St Laurence was founded as a chapel of ease to Minster Abbey. It was probably founded shortly before the Norman Conquest, around 1062, which would make it the oldest building in Thanet apart from Minster Abbey itself. A large monochrome plate frontispiece reproduces a late 19th century photograph of St Lawrence Church’s from the South West. (It is interesting to note that it is credited as St Lawrence, whereas the title of the book uses an alternative spelling of St Laurence.)
The volume was produced in a limited edition of 250 copies, each one numbered (our copy is No 41) and signed by the author, almost exclusively to meet the needs of subscribers, who are listed. Most of the subscribers were Kent residents, often living close to St Laurence. They include local luminaries such as the Right Rev Bishop of Dover; J Sebag Montefiore, who had inherited land in Ramsgate and titles from his uncle, Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, 1st Baronet (1784-1885).
One of the more murky stories which turned up while researching this volume was that of Adam Sprakeling. Sprakeling, a local aristocrat with a reputation for violence and cruelty, murdered his wife, Katherine Lewkenor in 1652: late one night, while in a rage, he severed her head, before covering himself in her blood so that he could plead insanity at trial. He was convicted and hanged the following year in Sandwich. Katherine was buried in the chancel in St Laurence’s, under a tablet. When Adam was hung, he was refused burial in the Church on the grounds that he was a convicted killer. Local legend, though, suggests that Adam’s friends conspired to smuggle his body into the Church where they buried him in secret. Later renovations in the church uncovered a body under the floor with no tablet or clue to its identity. Was this the body of Adam Sprakeling?
If you are interested in purchasing this book, please look here (if you get a nil result or see an error page, it’s likely because we have sold the book, but feel free to email or telephone us to inquire).
Cotton, Charles, The History and Antiquities of the Church and Parish of St Laurence, Thanet, in the County of Kent, With Special Contributions upon Local Subjects by other Contributors, Illustrated with maps and pedigrees, lithographs and Zincographs from Photographs specially take for the Work, published by Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co (London) and S R Wilson, 36 Harbour Street, 1895.  288pp. Half bound in roan leather over speckled cloth boards, printed on Dutch handmade paper with deckled edges. Originally offer in advance for a guinea, the price rising to 25/- on publication. Promotional leaflet for the book from the publisher pasted in at rear, and a list of illustrations laid in.
 Various chapters consider the “Ancient History…of the Parish of St Laurence”; ‘History of the Church of St Laurence’; Transcriptions of the Leger Stones within the Church’; The Brasses, Ancient and Modern, and the Hatchments hanging in the Church’; Description of the Fragment of 14th Century Service Book’; ‘ The Churchyard, Parish Clerks and Sextons, the Old Church House, and Transcriptions of Tomb Stones’; ‘The Vicarage, Houses and Glebe, with lists of successive Vicars and Churchwardens and of the Constables of the Upper Half Hundred of Ringsloe’; ‘The Manors of St Laurence…of Nether Court and Manston’; Description of Ozengell and Newland Granges; Ellington and Cliffs End’; Description of the Hamlets of Pegwell, alias Courtstairs, Chilton, Southwood, Spratling Street, Haine, Northwood, Hereson and Hollicondane’; ‘List of payers of Romescot temp Edward I, and Holders of Penygal Land, temp Henry VIII’; ‘Description of the Church Books’; Abstracts from some St Laurence Wills and Benefactions’; Descriptions of the Neolithic, British and Roman Remains found in the Parish’, etc.