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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.

St Mary's Church Chilham

Welcome to Friends of St Mary's Chilham

Helping to Preserve the Church

for future generations

The Church of England has responsibility for 16,200 churches of which over 12,000 are listed. In all, there are 14,500 listed places of worship in England, and 45 per cent of all Grade I buildings are places of worship. 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’.

However, the cost of maintaining and repairing these buildings can be overwhelming. Research undertaken by English Heritage in collaboration with the Church of England estimated that necessary repairs to all listed places of worship are valued at £925 million over the next five years, or £185 million a year.(1)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 churches’ care or maintenance nor does the Church itself have central funds to put towards these buildings. Currently, it costs £70,000 yearly to keep St Mary's open plus  £30,000 is needed for essential roofing works. This is where the Friends can help and why we were formed - to keep our beautiful church building there for all to enjoy.

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.

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

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 isles, all covered with lead, and a high chancel, with two chaples, one of which is dedicated to St. Anne, on the south side; there was a chantry on the north side, now pulled down, with a transept, all covered with tile. It has a tower steeple at the west end, on one corner of which is a beacon turret, which till of late was covered with a small spire. There are six bells and a clock in it. The steeple was built about the year 1534, as appears by a legacy towards the building of it. In the chancel is a monument for Margaret, sister of Sir D. Digges, wife of Sir Anthony Palmer, K. B. obt. 1619. He lies buried here, within the altar-rails, obt. 1630. A memorial for Anne St. Leger, mother of Sir D. Diggs, obt. 1636, and several memorials for the Fogges. 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. There were formerly in the windows the arms of Ensing and Thawyts, as has been already mentioned, and of Ross and Honywood. In the chapel on the south side of the chancel, probably that of St. Anne, is the burial vault built by Sir Dudley Diggs, for himself and family, and referred to by his will, in it many of this family lie buried; and in the chapel is a monument for Mary Kempe, lady Digges, wife of Sir Dudley, with her genealogy and that of Digges, and another for Sir D. Digges himself, 1638; and on the north side, probably where the old chantry above-mentioned was, is a circular mausoleum, with a cupola at top, built by the Colebrooke family for their use.


It is called in Domesday, Cilleham; in Saxon, Cyleham

An Ancient history

Why we need 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 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.

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

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 7. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1798.

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, 

Canterbury Cathedral

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.

Even better become a Friend of St Mary's !


Chilham, Canterbury CT4, UK

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