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St Mary's Church Chilham

Welcome to Friends of St Mary's Chilham

Helping to preserve the Church building

for future generations

Sitting outside the White Horse pub in Chilham square with a drink in your hand in the warm early evenings summer sun - the air heavy with the scent of flowers, and freshly-cut grass, you look up at the great tower of St Mary’s Church and allow your gaze to drift across the idyllic square and up to the imposing facade of Chilham castle. The church bells of St Mary’s toll the end of another day. In the churchyard the war memorial speaks of young men lost in the first and second world wars, and in the graveyard, long dead parishioners lie buried here since the 12th century. A church has stood on the site since the seventh century.

On such an evening you could be forgiven for believing this little piece of England might never change - ­but you would be mistaken.

The cost of maintaining and repairing churches such as  St Mary’s can be overwhelming.

Contrary to what many people still believe, the responsibility for maintaining church buildings and keeping them in repair lies with each individual church: the incumbent and the Parochial Church Council. There is no guaranteed state funding for church care or maintenance nor does the Church itself have central funds to put towards these buildings. 
As Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage has said, ‘The parish churches of England are some of the most sparkling jewels in the precious crown that is our historic environment’, and yet rural parish churches are closing at the rate of 20 a year.

Currently, it costs £70,000 yearly to keep St Mary's open, and an additional £30,000 is needed for essential roofing works.


Friends of St Mary’s is a non-religious, not for profit organisation. We were formed to keep our beautiful ancient church building there for all to enjoy now and for future generations.All our work is done by volunteers.

As a small rural community we cannot do this alone, and it is why we are appealing to everyone who cares about our irreplaceable heritage.

St Mary's has a rich history

And a few unsolved mysteries....

The Church, which is dedicated to St. Mary, is a handsome building consisting of a body and two aisles. It has a high Chancel with two chapels, one of which on the South side is dedicated to St. Anne.  There was a Chantry on the North side which was removed during the re-build of the East end of the Church in 1863. There is a tower steeple at the West end and a beacon turret, which until recently was topped with a small spire. The tower itself, built in 1534, houses a belfry with six bells and a clock. The Dover clock with one hand was installed in 1727, only to repositioned with the addition of the minute hand in 1790.
The Church is famous as the last known resting place of St. Augustine – The St .Augustine Sarcophagus can be found in the North Chapel.  It also believed that St. Thomas Beckett is buried in the churchyard.
Within the Church there are fine memorials to the family members of the owners of Chilham Castle and prominent families from the surrounding villages.
A distinguished family in Chilham was that of Sir Dudley Digges and their burial vault is in the South side of the Chancel.  Within this Chapel is the monument to Mary Kempe, wife of Sir Dudley.  His mother, Anne St. Leger and brother-in-law Sir Anthony Palmer are buried within the altar rails. A memorial to his sister, Lady Margaret Palmer, was moved from St. Anne Chapel to the North aisle during the rebuild of the East end.  In the body of the church are memorials for the Cumberlands, Paynes, Cobbes, Belkes and Bates; in the North transept, for Masters Petits, Spracklyns and Cobbe and, in the South one for Dixon.  In the windows there were formerly the arms of Ensing/Esting and Thwayts and of Ross and Honywood.   North side – probably where the old above-mentioned Chantry was, is a circular mausoleum topped with a cupola built by the Colebrooke family for their use.
There are the remnants of the steps to the Rood loft in the South Transept.  The Rood Screen and Crucifix were removed at the time of Cranmer’s Depositions against the heretics in Kent in 1543.


It is called Cilleham in Saxon, Cyleham in the Domesday book

The nave

Visit our Gallery

All the latest photographs

Inside St Mary's Church Chilham


Catch up on all the latest news 

BBC Emma

filmed in Chilham 

An Ancient history

That will be lost without your help

The church of St Mary, Chilham, was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 but has a history going back perhaps as far as the 7th century. In the 12th century, the church was owned by the French abbey of St Bertin, a Benedictine monastery at St Omer. It later passed into the hands of Syon Abbey, based at Isleworth in Middlesex.

The striking tower reaches 68 feet in height, affording far-reaching views. On a clear day, the towers of Canterbury Cathedral can be seen. Canterbury is only six miles away and the cathedral must not be missed on your visit.

Small fragments of medieval glass remain, Among these are sections bearing the arms of the Esting family (1347-1539) and the Roos, owners of the castle from 1364-1482.

In the north-east corner of the church is a rough sarcophagus of Purbeck Marble. This sarcophagus, of unknown date, was discovered underneath the north transept. It was hoped that it might prove to contain the lost shrine of St Augustine, but when it was opened in 1948 it was found to be empty.

Stained glass window

Don't miss our beautiful stained glass gallery. Click on the window above to visit! Our main gallery is here

Saint Augustine

Visit our history section here

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George M Kennedy C.B.E.

Thank you for visiting our website

George M Kennedy C.B.E.
Friends of St Mary's Church Chilham

If you have enjoyed visiting our website, and hopefully visiting our beautiful Church and village, I would be grateful if you could make a donation no matter how small.

Click the Donate button on any page to donate by PayPal or credit card.

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St Mary’s Tower Clock and Dial Restoration project is to remove, repair, fully renovate and restore the clock mechanism and the clock face.

Also required is a new purpose-built clock mechanism case.

The clock has high historic significance, dating from the early 1600’s from the Leonard Tennant School of Turret Clock Manufacturers and one of few in the county. 

The cost to fully renovate and restore is circa £48,000.

The Friends are seeking to raise at least £20,000 or more towards this - £9,000 raised to date. 

Grants are being sought from various bodies and fund-raising events organised by The Friends throughout 2023 into 2024.

Your support for our events and contributions to the fund will be much appreciated.

Let’s get our clock started! You can read more about the project in our Blog

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