The oldest known object in the Churchyard of St. Mary (and probably in the whole of Chilham) is the Yew tree stump between the war memorial and the church entrance. Calculations prove it was planted about 690 AD! within 90 years of St. Augustine's arrival at Canterbury. In 1792 it was recorded that "one half of this very large fine Yew tree was taken down some years since to give the village a sight of the clock dial”.
The first documented evidence of a church here is in the 1085 Domesday Book, though the Yew tree implies a church site for considerably longer. Building records go back to 1280 when the present Norman structure was started on earlier foundations. The present church is classed as English Perpendicular.
There was a bizarre period when the church tax, called Tythe, raised in Chilham, went to the French via the Benedictine Abbey in Flanders for their wars against the British! This was suppressed by Henry V in 1415.
The ghost of a hooded monk with a flickering candle is reported to emerge into the churchyard on stormy nights. He meets a skeleton horse and then retires backwards into a door on the churchyard wall, and both vanish!
There is some evidence that the bones of St. Augustine (died 605) were brought here to protect them from the plundering of Canterbury Cathedral soon after 1535 when Henry VIII made himself head of the English Church. An ancient sarcophagus with a battered cross on its lid can still be seen in the church, but the bones are lost.
There is a continuous record of 35 vicars since 1321. The appointment of Chilham Vicars has been the right of the Lords of the Chilham Castle from then until now, except for the English Civil War 'Interregnum' 1645-60. From the record of 359 communicants in 1578, we know that this is when the village was at its most populous.
Local history is reflected within the church in some of the finer monuments to the local aristocracy by eminent sculptors: the Digges memorial in Bethersden Marble by Nicholas Stone (1585-1647), the Wildman monument by Francis Chantry (1781-1841), and the Arthur and Edmund Hardy 'Babes in the Wood' monument by Alexander Munroe (1825-71).
The clock and superb set of eight church bells weighing nearly four tons date from the 1720's. The church tower's turret had, at one time, a rather wonky spire, which was removed as dangerous in 1784.
Do not miss a glimpse of the classic Georgian Old Vicarage behind the church, built in 1746.
Reproduced with the kind permission of the author Tom Reed, 1996
Hooded Ghost Image created by Tony Maclaren
MORE SKELETONS White Horse pub in Chilham is said to be haunted by the ghost of Samson Horne, a former vicar of St. Mary’s church who was ejected from office in 1662 and died alone and penniless in the pub in 1669. During the 1956 alterations, two complete and perfectly preserved male skeletons were found under the kitchen floor of the pub at a depth of two feet. The general supposition is that they were either soldiers who fell in the battle at Chilham during the Wat Tyler rebellion or the much older remains of men buried in the pre-Christian era. The skeletons now rest in the churchyard of St. Mary’s Chilham, where they were given a Christian burial by the vicar after the coroner’s inquest had pronounced them to be ancient bones and not the result of undetected crime.
If you enjoyed this content, please share and comment below. This helps us produce more content you like!