HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
The church is famous as the last known resting place of the shrine of St Augustine. When the Abbey of St Augustine in Canterbury was destroyed during the English Reformation, the gilded shrine containing the saint's body was removed from the abbey and brought to Chilham church. Here it stayed until 1541 when it disappeared. Several attempts to determine what happened to the shrine have proved unsuccessful, and its whereabouts remain a great historical mystery.
It is believed Saint Thomas Becket
is buried in the Churchyard.
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 interior of St Mary's is notable for some very fine memorials, many to members of the Digges family of Chilham Castle. The finest of these is the very grand monument to Mary Kemp, Lady Digges, who died in 1631. She was the wife of Sir Dudley Digges, who had the current Chilham Castle built beside the old Norman keep above the Stour.
The Lady Digges memorial depicts four seated muses, representing the four cardinal virtues of Patience, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. The virtues are seated about a tall classical column that rises to 11 feet in height.
In the north aisle is a poignant memorial depicting two children of the Hardy family, who owned the castle from 1861-1918. The unusual feature of this memorial is that there is a carved battledore and shuttlecock at the children's feet, making this the only known example in England of a church monument depicting children's toys.
There is also an interesting carved and painted memorial to Lady Margaret Palmer, sister of Sir Dudley Digges. Lady Margaret died in 1619 and her flowery epitaph is worth reading; it describes her as
Chilham was granted by king Henry VIII. to Thomas Manners, Lord Roos, afterwards created Earl of Rutland, who in the 30th year of that reign conveyed it back again, by sale, to that king, by the description of the honour, castle, lordship, and manor of Chylham, with all its rights, members, and appurtenances.
The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 7. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1798.
Chilham LIES upon the river Stour, about six miles southward from Canterbury. It is called in Domesday, Cilleham; in Saxon, Cyleham; which signifies the cold place; and some think this place was antiently called Julham, or Juliham, i. e. the village or dwelling of Julius, in regard to Julius Cæsar, the Roman emperor, who had several conflicts with the Britons in and near it.
¶The Parish of Chilham is situated exceedingly pleasant, in a fine healthy part of the county, about six miles southward from Canterbury, and nine from Ashford, the high road leading through it, a little below which the river Stour runs along the eastern part of the parish, on which there is a corn mill, long known by the name of French Mill, belonging to Mr. Wildman, and on the height above it the noted mount of earth, usually called Julliberries grave. On an eminence, almost adjoining to the opposite or west side of the road, is the village, built mostly on the summit of the hill, round a small forstal, having the church and vicarage, a neat modern built house, on the north side of it, and the antient castle, with the stately mansion and park of Chilham. On the opposite side from which there is a most beautiful view over the spacious Ashford vale, through which the river Stour directs its course; a vale which comprehends within it a most beautiful scene, ornamented with seats, parks, towns, and churches, in the various parts of it, bounded by the majestic tower of Ashford church in front, the fine down hills, the summits of which are well cloathed with soliage on one side, and the extended range of Wye and Braborne downs on the other, all together forming a most rich and luxuriant prospect.
The parish is nearly circular, between three and four miles across. The ground in it is very unequal and hilly, the soil of the hills being mostly chalk, and the vales clay. There is some coppice wood in the south west part of it towards Molash, where it becomes, among the hills, which are bold and romantic, a barren and slinty country. About a mile northward from Chilham church is the common, or small heath, called Old Wives lees, over which the branch of the turnpike road goes which leads for the Ashford road abovementioned to Faversham. Near the lees is Lower Emsin, and adjoining the Blean woods. There are about one hundred and twenty houses, and seven hundred and twenty inhabitants in this parish
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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information
St Mary Church, Chilham TR 068 537
CANTERBURY DIOCESE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1993
LOCATION: The church lies at the end of a low ridge at c. 150ft. above O.D. with the village square and castle to the S.W.
Though a church at Chilham is mentioned in Doomsday Book (1086), the earliest visible above-ground remains here are the transepts, which date from the very late 13th century or early 14th century. These transepts do however suggest that they were built flanking the tower of an earlier cruciform church, perhaps of the 12th century, and it is possible that some 12th century masonry survives in the piers on either side of the chancel arch. The awkward joint between the east and of the nave clerestory and the gable wall above the chancel area (mostly 19th cent. in its upper section) possibly survives from the east side of an earlier tower. There are some later medieval quoins here at the outer edge, and the scar for the earlier chancel roof is visible (particularly on the north). All other work east of this dates, however, from the 19th century. The rest of the tower (to the west) must have been destroyed in the 15th century, before the new nave was constructed.
The transepts, which both have angled buttresses were probably added at the same time in the very late 13th century or early 14th century. All the windows in the north transept have been replaced with Bath stone, which probably reflects the earlier tracery. In the south transept the fine 3-light trefoil-headed 'lancet' south window is original (though with Bath stone jambs), while the west window in this transept still has its original early 14th century 2-light window with a spherical triangle at its head. The east window in this transept was replaced with a 3-light window in c. 1500. Piscina's in the transepts suggest altars here. The north transept roof is 19th century, while the south transept still has a fine 2-bay crown-post roof with raised tie-beams of perhaps the late 14th/early 15th century.
During the 15th century, it was decided that to completely replace the nave and aisles (and probably the crossing tower), and new 4-bay arcades was built all the way to the chancel arch ie. across the north and south transepts with a clerestory above. This meant that the easternmost clerestory windows looked into the transept roof-spaces, a clear indication that the rebuilding of the transepts was also proposed. At the same time a new south porch was built with a parvise chamber above, with rounded stair-turret on the north-west. Externally the nave aisles (and porch) and clerestory walls are embattled, though the latter seems to have been a (? re) creation of the 19th century (the Petrie view of 1806 shows no battlements on the upper wall). The aisle windows are all fine Perpendicular ones with original glazing bars and some fragments of medieval glass (apparently with armourical evidence to suggest that some of it went in before 1461 - J. Newman B.of E. N.E. + E. Kent). The tracery form can be compared with the windows in the nave of Mersham church. The roof over the nave (lead-covered) can be compared with Lyminge church, and is a low-pitched king-post roof with queen-struts and purlins. The tie-beams sit on wall-posts on stone corbels, with the 4 evangelists and angels with shields carved on them. The eastern corbels only date from 1897 when the chancel arch was rebuilt/strengthened. On the outside of the south aisle and porch much of the window tracery was replaced with Bath stone and a cement plinth (with some bricks beneath) was put on. A large drainage channel was also dug. At the west end of the north aisle is a small blocked doorway, while at its north-east corner a 19th century chimney flue has been inserted.
The final major addition to the church was the large western tower. This was constructed probably in the early 16th century (Hasted mentions a legacy being given in 1534). Externally it has flint and Caen/Rag chequer work with Ragstone plinth and quoins. There is a 'Beacon' stair-turret on the south-east side, the turret had a lead spirelet until removed in 1784, and round-headed windows with square hood-moulds in the upper stage. The west window under the tower is entirely 19th century (of Bath stone).
The chancel and chancel aisles date entirely from the rebuilding by David Brandon in 1863. All dressings are in Bath stone with heavy flintwork externally. Glynne (in 1846) mentions c. 13th century arch on the north side of the chancel, and there was probably a chantry chapel on the north-east side (documented as being dissolved in 1548). This was probably replaced by the unusual domical chapel built in 1755 for the Colebrook family. On the south-side of the chancel was the Digges chapel built in c. 1631. Earlier a medieval chapel of St Anne is mentioned here. On its south side Petrie (and other early views) show a large doorway on the west ( cf. the doors at the contemporary Chilham Castle) and a large Venetian window to the east. All these features were sadly swept away in 1883. Virtually all the fittings in the church, except the many fine monuments (see below), date from this restoration.
BUILDING MATERIALS: The main walls are of flint with dressings in Caen (and some Reigate) stone. Kent Rag is also found in the west window of the south transept, and the tower quoins and plinth; also in the original transept buttresses.
All the later 19th century restorations were in Bath stone. Some original glass in the nave windows.
EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN CHURCH: Many very fine post-Medieval monuments in the church, see Lipscombe op. cit. inf. and J. A. Newman B.of E "N.E.+E. Kent (3rd ed. 1983), 271-3.
CHURCHYARD AND ENVIRONS:
Size: Large area around church with extension down hill to N.E. still in use.
Condition: Good, but many old trees (particularly Limes) destroyed in 1987 storm.
Building in churchyard or on boundary: Fine 1746 house to N.E. of church.
Exceptional monuments: Early 17th cent. gravestone near S.E. corner of church.
Ecological potential: Yes -
HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: Domesday Book
Evidence of pre-Norman status (DM, DM, TR etc): ? Minster church with Molash chapel attached.
Late med. status: Vicarage\appropriation): Appropriated c. 1385 + vicarage endowed.
Patron: The honor and manor of Chilham, then in 1153 to the alien priory of Throwley till 1414. Then to crown till given c. 1444 to Sion Priory till 1540. Then to the manor of Chilham.
Other documentary sources: Test. Cant. (E. Kent, 1907), 81-3 mentions chapels chancels of St Anne (1476), St John-the -Baptist, (1505), and many lights. Also 'to the leading of the church of Chilham' (1492). There was also a chantry chapel (? on north-east) dissolved in 1548. Hasted VII (1798), 287-292, who mentions a legacy of 1534 to the building of the tower.
SURVIVAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DEPOSITS:
Inside present church: ? Good
Outside present church: ? Good, but drainage ditch around several areas outside.
To structure: New Dormer made in N.W. side of S. Transept roof, after clerestory window opened up in 1990.
To floors: New "facility" made in S. porch, and pipes trenches put in.
Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): June 1990 Andrew Clague.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT:
The church and churchyard: A fine large church? cruciform originally, rebuilt in the 15th century (nave) and early 16th century (West tower), though the transepts are earlier dating from c. 1300. The chancel and aisles were entirely rebuilt in 1863.
The wider context: This church contains some of the finest monuments in the County, though sadly the 17th and 18th century chapels going with many of them were destroyed in 1863.
REFERENCES: J.M. Lipscombe 'The Chilham Mansalea', Arch. Cant. 102 (1985), 135-147. S.R. Glynne, Churches of Kent (1877), 132-3. He visited in 1846.
Guide Book: Reprinted 1975 (Anon).
Plans & early drawings: View from S. in Z. Cogens, A Tour through the Isle of Thanet (1793), 222. Also H. Petrie's view from S.E. in 1806.
DATE VISITED: 13th April 1993 REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown
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