History of St. John’s

From 1840

This little history collects together the “Your Church” items which appeared in the weekly Newsletter as from August 1980, with some additions, a few corrections, and the omission of sections 2, 3, 4 & 14, on the stained glass at St. John’s.
 
The result is not a full history of the Parish since St. Katherine’s at Shorne and St. John’s Schools at Denton are not here documented. And much more could be written about our Convents and about the priests and people of the Parish during the last 141 years.
 
Acknowledgement should be made to Fr. Richins, to whose careful research into the early history of St John’s this account is indebted; to Canon Mundy, for many pieces of information; to the kind parishioners who have done the printing; and posthumously to George M. Arnold, whose conscientious documenting of all that he did and found is itself a legacy to us.
 
Those desiring further reading about Denton can consult Mr. Arnold’s book in the Reference Room at the Gravesend Library. Published early in 1902 and containing many photographs, it is entitled “Denton near Gravesend”.
 
Its Manor, its Court House and its Ancient Chapel of St. Mary.”The Catholic “Mission” to Gravesend began, in post Reformatinn times, with the arrival in 1840 of Fr. Gregory Stasiewicz, a Polish Franciscan priest, who was sent to look after the spiritual needs of a number of Polish seamen who worked from the town. Fr. Stasiewicz remained five years in Gravesend, and found that he had quite a little community in the town, with Catholics of other than Polish origins. The early congregation gathered for worship in one of the courts off The Terrace, and later at 109 Windmill Street. As a result of a meeting in the gardens of the Clarence Hotel, at which the famous Daniel O’Connell was the principal speaker, the then generous sum of £100 was collected to establish the “Gravesend Mission.”
 
From 1845 to 1850 Fr. Hermengard Ritort looked after the needs of the Catholic community. He bore the title “Missionary Apostolic.” This was because although the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 had removed most of the restrictions against Catholics, dioceses and parishes, with their bishops and parish-priests, could not exist until 1850, when Rome restored the Catholic Hierarchy in England and Wales. In 1846, to accomodate the increasing Catholic community in Gravesend, a little chapel dedicated to St. Gregory was opened.

From 1850

Between 1850 and 1860 seven different priests were successively in charge of the Parish – as many parish priests as there have been from 1860 to the present day. Among the seven during the 1850s we may mention Fr John Butt, who spent 9 months at St John’s in 1851, then became an army-chaplain during the Crimean War, and was to be the Bishop of Southwark from 1885 to 1897.
 
1851, the year after the restoration of the Hierarchy, saw the congregation in Gravesend move from the little chapel of St. Gregory to the present St John’s. The early history of the Church is interesting.
 
In the 1830s, when the population of Gravesend was about 10,000 – less than a fifth of today’s size – there was found to be a serious lack of seating accommodation in the Established churches. So, at a meeting chaired by the Mayor at the Town Hall in 1833 it was decided to build another church which would seat 1,500 worshippers. This church – St. John’s – would of course be used for Church of England Worship. But, being put up by private enterprise, as a “proprietary chapel”, it would belong not to the Anglican Diocese (Rochester), but to its 100 shareholders who had each subscribed £50.
 
Serving, then, as a “chapel of ease” to the main parish church (Milton), and dedicated actually to St. John the Baptist, St. John’s Chapel was opened for Church of England worship on 16th November 1834 at a cost of £7,200 as against an original estimate of £3,950.
 
From the time of its opening for Church of England worship St. John’s was beset by financial difficulties. The public company in ownership of the building already had a debt of well over £2,000, and its only income – from pew rents, since apparaently there were no free seats! – was quite insufficient to meet running costs. By 1838 the Company had no money to pay the minister his £200 yearly salary, and so it was resolved to sell off St. John’s and liquidate the Company. Various offers of purchase were made, including one by the Archdeacon of Rochester for £3,500, which was for some reason turned down.
 
At length, in August 1842 it was decided to sell St. John’s for £4,000 to the Reverend William John Blew MA, then curate of St. Anne’s, Westminster, the money being provided by his father. Mr. Blew was in sympathy with the Oxford Movement – that pro-Catholic movement within the Church of England, which was to yeild to the Catholic Church such converts as Cardinal Newman and Cardinal Manning – and the worship and doctrine for which Mr. Blew was responsible at St. John’s would today be called in Anglican circles “high Church.”

Until 1851

Mr. Blew continued his ministry at St. John’s for 9 years, until 1851, when on 9th April The Times reported the “strong sensation excited in the town of Gravesend in consequence of the suspension for 6 months of Revd Mr. Blew by the Bishop of Rochester.”
 
Revd Blew had been among several Anglican clergymen who had written to Cardinal wiseman, lamenting the unfriendly and hostile manner in which the Cardinal had been received in England. “The clamour of the many” they said was not to be regarded as “the unequivocal voice of religion and of the Church of England.” The Illustrated London News of 12th April 1851 reported that a Mr. Durval, one of the wardens of Holy Trinity Church, had complained to the Bishop about Revd Blew’s pro-Roman stand. Holy Trinity Church, now demolished, had been built in 1844 after the refusal of the then proprietors of St. John’s to sell to a representative of the Diocese of Rochester.
 
The strained relationship between Holy Trinity and the Anglican St. John’s was in evidence before the former was even built; its first list of subscribers had complained against St. John’s that “it provides accommodation for those who can afford to pay for their seats… yet this is of little advantage to the poor and adds nothing necessarily to…the pastoral care of the parish.” If those things changed in the Revd Blew’s time (1842-51), there was now something of a rivalry as between an anti-Roman “low” church and a more Roman- like “high” church.
 
The Revd Blew must have been disillusioned and very hurt at his suspension by the Bishop of Rochester, the effect of which was to close for 6 months in favour of Holy Trinity the church his family had paid for, and to disperse his congregation. His response was to discontinue his ministry, permanently; to move out of Gravesend; and to sell St John’s to Cardinal Wiseman for the sum of £4,000. Half of this purchase sum was put up by Mr Lewis aaphael of Parrock Manor who had attempted to buy St. John’s for use as a Catholic church as early as 1838. The St. John’s of 1851 had a small bell-turret, but as yet no tower. The priest serving in Gravesend in that year was Fr. John Wenham.

From 1851

On 30th October 1851, nearly 17 years after its original opening, St. John’s was solemnly dedicated and opened for Catholic worship by Bishop Grant of Southwark. The Change of dedication, from St. John the Baptist to St. John the Evangelist, is puzzling. It may possibly be explained as emphasizing that in Catholic eyes 1851 was the beginning of this church’s life, and by no means the mere continuation of the Anglican cultus; and perhaps the title “St. John’s” was too firmly established among locals to attempt to have it effectively altered.
 
In the inaugural ceremony Cardinal Wiseman preached the sermon and spoke kindly of the Revd Blew who was present in the congregation, but never actually became a Catholic.
 
During the period following the Restoration of the Hierarchy things could be quite difficult for the Catholic Community. The very act of restoration had been dubbed by many “the papal aggression,” and an incident recorded of the first week’s history of the now-Catholic St. John’s illustrates the general situation.
 
On Guy Fawkes Night in that year of 1851 the celebration of Benediction in the Church had to be discontinued owing to the bombardment of the building with fireworks, rockets and stones. By the end of it, every pane of glass in the Parrock Street windows was broken, and representation about the incident was made to the Home Office. Clearly local anti-Catholic feeling could run very high, fuelled by resentment about the way in which a local Anglican church had come into Catholic hands. And this sad situation continued for some time. It is recounted in the published History of St. John’s Seminary, Wonersh, that “at Gravesend Fr. Butt had had hard times and short commons…..He had to spend most of his income in keeping the glass in the church windows, which were constantly stoned by the inhabitants, and he depended largely for his sustenance upon hampers of food sent by his parents.”

From 1860

26th November 1860 saw the arrival in Gravesend of the first four Sisters of Mercy. They moved into a small rented house close to St. John’s and quickly found that there was more than enough work to be done. They staffed the parish school, which at their arrival consisted of no more than the church porch and a rented room in Windmill Street; however, by 1864 some classrooms had been built and the School contained 100 pupils. In 1950 the Convent of Mercy was moved from Milton Road to Hillside Drive. The community today numbers 22 sisters and in addition there are branch-houses at Ashford and Park Wood.
 
1925 saw the arrival in Gravesend of the Sisters of Charity whose work in the town has been to care for the children of the Southwark Catholic Children’s Society. The community at St. Mary’s Convent today numbers five sisters. Clearly our parish and Diocese have been very blessed by the presence of our religious sisters, whose work with and for our people has made great impact down the years.
 
We should also mention the Carmelite Sisters of Corpus Christi who from 1960 until 1980 looked after the residents at St. Joseph’s Old People’s Home at Shorne. Lack of vocations caused the closure of their convent last year. In 1975 the community at Shorne was stunned by the brutal and bloody murder of their chaplain, Fr. Anthony Crean of the Gibraltar Diocese.
 
Returning to St. John’s and to the 19th century, the year 1860 saw the appointment as parish priest of Fr. Michael O’Sullivan, aged only 28. Within eight years he had died. There is an inscription to his memory on the right-hand stained glass windows on the sanctuary.
 
The next parish priest was to be the longest-serving and longest resident in Gravesend: Fr. Joseph Wyatt, who was appointed in 1868, retired through ill-health in 1906, and lived then at 1 Edwin Street until his death in 1913. 192 Parrock Street had been purpose-built as the Presbytery in 1869.

St. John's

St. John’s was solemnly consecrated on 22nd May 1894 in a ceremony which lasted from 9am to 1.30 pmYou may have noticed the twelve golden Consecration Crosses on the walls: they mark twelve places where the Bishop consecrated the walls with chrism. With the altar, which represents Christ, they signify that the Church on earth is founded upon Christ and his apostles. A church is not usually consecrated until it has been entirely paid for and is in a fit state structurally and decoratively. And once consecrated, it cannot ever be put to secular usage unless the circumstances are exceptional and a special authorization is obtained.
 
The bishop who consecrated St. John’s was the Rt Revd John Butt, who had been parish priest here in 1851, just after the church became Catholic. Assisting him at the Ceremony was his immediate predecessor here, who had supervised the move from St. Gregory’s: Canon Provost John Wenham. In the reception afterwsrds at Milton Hall, Bishop Butt expressed what a great satisfaction it was to him to see how different the church was from how he had known it 42 years earlier. Obviously much had been done since Fr. Wyatt’s coming in 1860.
 
During the consecration ceremony the two new side altars, to the Sacred Heart and to Our Lady, were blessed by the bishop. Designed in 14th century style, they were built out of stone from Caen in Normandy.
 
We conclude our history of St. John’s with some observations on the architecture of the building. Back in 1864 Elizabeth Brabazon had said of St. John’s “it is in my opinion by far the most beautiful and sacred looking of the ecclesiastical buildings of Gravesend. This noble edifice is 120ft long by 68ft wide, and 45ft in height…. It is decidedly one of the greatest ornaments of the town.” Miss Brabazon appears not to have been a Catholic.
 
Suffolk brick was used as the building material in 1834, and the choice of brick has been regarded as wise: at least one church in the town built from local stone deteriorated very badly. The building was described as follows: “Of stock brick with stone dressings. In preantiquarian Gothic style. Six bay nave. The windows are double lancets with quaterfoil motif and well-detailed geometrical plate tracery. A shallow five-sided canted apse. Galleries on three sides and a small bell-turret.”

From 1872

In 1872 the present tower, with its saddle-back roof, replaced the bell-turret. The gallery which had gone round three sides of the church,enabling it to hold a congregation of 1,500, was removed at some date after 1860, the only trace of it today being the area behind the choir-loft. The structural effect from the removal of the gallery was to place the whole thrust of the roof onto the buttresses of the walls, and the surveyor’s report of 1911 was very concerned about this.
 
The six pairs of columns and the wooden beams supporting the ceiling were therefore added in 1912. The columns are especially noteworthy because they are wrought-iron. Being therefore much more slender than stone columns, the visibility of the sanctuary is hardly impaired at all. You will often see wrought-iron columns in public buildings and railway stations, but not very often in churches. The wooden truss beams encase steel cables and blend harmoniously with the original work of 1834.
 
It would take a lot of telling to chronicle the count- less repair and redecoration jobs that have been undertaken by the parish priests over the years. In 1951, in preparation for St. John’s Centenary Celebration, repairs were made to the tower and parapet, and the stonework was extensively renovated with Portland stone. In 1960 major restoration of the interior of the church was undertaken. A Rhodesian tealc floor was put in; new confessionals and pews of English oak were installed; the sanctuary was refitted and its side-screens taken down; new sacristy doors, external main doors and the doors between porch and nave were all put in.
 
The organ at St. John’s was purchased in 1969 from St. Patrick’s Plumstead. Comprising two manuals and a pedal-board, it has 21 stops and electro-mechanical action, and was installed in time for the first ordination to take place in St John’s – of Fr Michael Gaughran SSC by Archbishop Cowderoy. As for the choir gallery, this was erected before 1911, possibly at the time when the original gallery was removed.
 
The inscription on the altar rails reads: “Valde honorandus est beatus Ioannes, qui supra pectus Domini in coena recubuit.” “Greatly to be honoured is the blessed John, who at the Supper reclined upon the Lord’s breast.” This was formerly the antiphon of the first psalm at Lauds on the Feast of Saint John the Evangelist. These elegant wrought-iron railings were donated at some date after 1858. Also to be noted are the eagles, the traditional representation of the Fourth Evangelist. Inscribed on the altar-gates are the Greek capitals XPS and IHS, which abbreviate th. names Christ and Jesus. This very fitting inscription reminds the worshipper that it is Christ Jesus who is our sole access to God the Father.
 
The stained glass windows all appear to be late 19th century, and several match up in style and script. The inscription on the window by the Sacred Heart Altar reads ” In thanksgiving for the preservation of the Church from destruction by fire on New Year’s Day 1881.” It refers to the chance but timely, discovery by a parishioner of the setting alight of the Christmas crib.
 
The four mosaic figures of saints on the reredos were made in 1926 and were the work of Belgian craftsmen who were then also working in the Convent Chapel in Milton Road.
Among the distinctions of the Gravesend Parish is its possession of, and regular weekly usage of, two pre-Reformation Churches. We refer to  St. Mary’s at Denton, founded in the 10th century or earlier, and restored in 1901; and  St. Katherine’s at Shorne, dating from about 1330, and restored in the 1890s. It is entirely due to the generosity of George Matthews Arnold, probably the greatest benefactor our parish has had, that these two chapels are in Catholic use today, as also the remotely situated little Norman church at Dode, near Paddlesworth, belonging to the parish of Strood, and restored in 1904.
 
By profession a solicitor, eight times Mayor of Gravesend, Mr. Arnold was received into the Church by Bishop Grant in 1858, along with his wife Elizabeth Cotton Arnold. The Arnolds provided for the removal of the old gallery at  St. John’s, for the altar rails, and and for much else not documented. George Arnold was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and the care with which he restored the three mediaeval chapels is proof enough of his sense of history and his commitment to the Church’s work. As he himself wrote in his book about St. Mary’s “the ruins of this little Temple of God.. having fallen into the hands of the Author, it seemed a simple and elementary duty cast upon him to rebuild what yet remained after the devastation and accumulated neglect of centuries.” A plate on the back wall of St. John’s commemorates Mrs. Arnold’s death in 1906, while Mr. Arnold died in 1908.

Ancient

St. Mary’s Church, Rochester Road, Denton (foundation approx. 950)
 
St. Mary’s Denton, is not only the oldest Catholic church in the area, but appears also to be Gravesend’s oldest functioning Christian church. Other ancient local churches include:
  • Milton Parish Church. Reckoning a foundation date around 975, the present building is 14th century.
  • Milton Chantry. 1322. Disused since the Reformation.
  • Chalk Parish Church. 16th century building on the site of a 13th century structure. Foundation may go back to 11th century.
  • Cobham Parish Church. 13th century.

St. Botolph’s at Northfleet is a mainly 14th century building, with parts of it’s tower appearing to be Saxon.

Since Saxon days the parish of Denton, coterminous with the Manor of Denton, had been a separate parish from that of Milton In fact, according to official Church of England boundaries, this was to be so until as late as 1879.
 
The first documentary mention of the Manor of Denton is found in the last will, dated to about AD 950, of the Anglo-Saxon thane Byrhtric and his wife Aelfswith, in a list of legacies they were making to St. Andrew’s Cathedral at Rochester, which includes “two SULINGS (pieces of land) at Denton.” This couple actually resided at Meopham, and the terms of their will show something of their piety and faith. George Arnold conjectured that in view of the known generosity of Byrhtric and Aelfswith towards the Church, there was every likelihood of their having provided “an Altar for the spiritual necessities of their dependents within the Manor…so that we may fairly ascribe the honour of the foundation of the little Church of Denton to these two Anglo-Saxons.” This is, however only a conjecture, for which documentary evidence may never be found. The foundation of St. Mary’s could well date from 950, but it could equally also pre-date or post-date Brythric and Aelfswith. The marble plaque on the West wall is over- confident in asserting foundation in 950, and in any case gives incorrectly both the Restorer’s middle name and the year of restoration.

9th & 10th centuries

During the Danish invasions of the 9th & 10th centuries, the county of Kent did not escape lightly. As late as 1011, St. Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, was ruthlessly murdered by the invaders. The place-name Denton has been held to derive from “Dane town,” in reference to a Danish encampment there.
 
As for the Manor of Denton, it appears to have been snatched by the Danes; to have been lost again to the Anglo-Saxon kings; and to have passed by conquest to William the Conqueror in 1066. The Norman Conqueror was determined that the dispossessed properties of the Church should be restored to her, and he set about this with the aid of Archbishop Lanfranc, whom he had nominated to the See of Canterbury in 1070.
 
This resulted in the convoking of a County Assembly on Penenden Heath near Maidstone in 1076, at which it was decided after three days of deliberation to restore to St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Rochester, various of her misappropriated properties and benefices. Included among these were the Manor and Church of Denton. And today the left hand side altar at St. Mary’s, erected in 1901, preserves the connexion of Denton with St. Andrew.
 
The Domesday Book, being a survey of all the lands in England and compiled by order of William the Conqueror in 1087, makes mention of the church at Denton. It says: “The same Bishop (i.e. Gunduif of Rochester) holds Denton ….the six villeins there have one plough-team. There is a church there and four slaves and four acres of meadow. There is pannage for 15 pigs. In the time of King Edward it was worth 100s, and now £7-15s.”
 
We know that in 1082 Bishop Gundulf replaced with Benedictine monks the diocesan canons who had until then staffed Rochester Cathedral. For the next few centuries those monks would look after the spiritual needs of the parishioners of Denton, as also of Milton. Both churches were daughter houses of St. Andrew’s Abbey/Cathedral, and usually in the vicinity of such a church there would have been a residence for the small group of priests and brothers who ministered there, faithiful in their daily recitation of the Divine Office, and probably supervising the work on the land. Diocesan archives at Rochester show that certain revenues and tithes were payable each year by the Manor of Denton to the Main Monastery or the Episcopal Household e.g. every 30th sheaf of corn; hens and eggs; and, two items for which Denton was especially noted,sturgeon and lampreys from the River.

St. Mary’s “chapel”

People nowadays usually talk of St. Mary’s “chapel”. The observation is worth making that although St. Mary’s did probably begin its life as a manorial chapel, throughout most of its active history it was, as the possession of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, a proper parish church. ‘When eventually it came into private ownership as part of Denton Court, it had long been a ruin.
 
In fact, by 1900 St. Mary’s had been disused for at least three, if not four, centuries. In 1798 six poplar trees were even planted in the Nave. The sanctuary points just off East, and when the restorers set to work they found still standing the East Wall, the Chancel Arch, most of the North & South Nave Walls, but nothing of the chancel walls (N&S), and on]y the foundations of the West wall (where today’s main doors are).
 
The chamber which contains the Lady Altar is of particular note: projecting from the South wall of the nave, it is flanked by its two original early English columns, which are in different styles. It is clear that its semi-circular arch is the sole survivor of three such bays – one on either side of the reconstructed bay, thus explaining the two different columns. Running the length of the southern wall of the nave, these three bays formed a side aisle, but of the outer wall of this side aisle neither foundations nor any trace could be found. Accordingly the restorers reconstructed only a small central chamber for the altar to our Lady, whose patronage of the church is attested by the monastic records at Rochester. Clearly it is most unlikely that an altar had originally stood there. If it were ever decided to extend St. Mary’s a good case could be made with the Department of the Environment’s Grade 2 Classification for restoration of the Southern aisle to its original length and width. However, the cost of further restoration in flint would probably be absolutely prohibitive.
 
St. Mary’s is thought to have Possessed also a bell-turret. The walls were certainly sturdy enough to bear one, but no traces were found in 1901.
 
J. T. Micklethwaite, architect to Westminster Abbey at the turn of the century, gave the opinion in his survey that the church formerly had two altars in the nave, one on either Bide of the chancel gate, as re-erected by the restorers. The restorers dedicated the right-hand altar to (St.) John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester from 1504 until his martyrdom in 1535 at the age of 76. Bishop Fisher certainly visited Gravesend in April 1510, when he consecrated St. George’s Chapel. It is highly likely that he visited the town on other occasions, and it is not impossible that he would have visited or celebrated Mass at our little St. Mary’s, if the church was still in use then.

Milton Parish Church

Milton Chantry

Chalk Parish Church

Cobham Parish Church

St. Botolph’s at Northfleet

From 1901

A single floor-tile (NE of chancel) survives from pre-Reformation days. And when the rood screen was erected in 1901 it was even possible to utilize the ancient holes in the wall from which the old beam had been removed at the Reformation.
 
To what era can the surviving original pieces of St. Mary’s be assigned? An Archaeologist’s report in 1952 assigned them to the mid-l2th century, adding that there was no reason to doubt that the edifice was of one period. It is “just another little Norman church” he said, “but one that is architecturally exceptional fox’ Kent.” A less robust and less enduring building (or buildings) must clearly have preceded that 12th century construction which has stood so well the neglect of the centuries.
 
Unfortunately no list of the priests who served St. Mary’s has yet come to light, but from miscellaneous documents, such as wills, the following names & titles have emerged: 1437 John Grigg, Rector. 1452 Thomas Kynge, Rector. 1487 Thomas Denet, Rector and also Bursar of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. 1512 John de Wylbor, Rector. 1533 George Richardson,Curate. 1536 John Stace, Curate.
 
The titles of these priests would indicate that at some unknown date before 1437 diocesan priests, instead of Benedictine monks, were again being appointed to St. Mary’s. No names of incumbents after 1536 have come to light, and in fact the last two names appear in connexion with the renunciation of Papal authority.
 
This leads into an often-asked question: were Church of England services ever celebrated within the hallowed walls of St. Mary’s? (St. John’s of course was used for Protestant worship for near enough 17 years.)
 
A writer in 1723 recorded that “the Church called St. Mary’s is now down.” An etching made in 1774 shows that the state of Denton Church was then very ruinous, and 1798 saw the plantation of trees in the nave. The contention of local historians has always been that worship continued at St. Mary’s until around the year 1650 but there is no firm evidence that St. Mary’s was still in use at the time of the Reformation, let alone until 1650. While Milton Parish Registers record four burials in Denton churchyard between 1672 and 1678, there is nothing too unusual about burial in the ancient churchyard to a disused building. The favourite “evidence” of local historians is the following entry at Milton: “1675. Richard, the son of Thomas Haffenden of Denton, baptized at Denton, 8th February.” A solitary entry like that, which does NOT read “in Denton Church”, has every appearance of being of a house baptism in danger of death.
 
Other considerations also support the conclusions puplished by Mr. Elliston Erwood in 1952: that St. Mary’s was already in decay in the 15th century, with its living held as a sinecure; that no services appear to have been celebrated there after the 15th century, and hence the probability that “the reformed rite has never been heard within these walls.”

In 1951

In 1951 St. John’s had been in Catholic use for 100 years and celebrations were prepared to mark the Centenary. Nobody could of course put a date on the foundation of St. Mary’s: while the building appeared to be 12th century, the original foundation was taken to have been at least two centuries earlier. However, since Bryhtric’a last will could with confidence be dated to around AD 950, it was thought fitting that the Millennium of St. Mary’s should be commemorated with St. John’s Centenary, and preparations were put in hand.
 
So during 1950, while extensive work was being done on the fabric of St. John’s, St. Mary’s was reroofed, electricity was put in, a tabernacle (not used today) was purchased, and the two stone crosses on the roof were erected. The stone crosses may not be architecturally accurate on such a Norman building, but they made up for the probuble bell-turret that was not restored, and gave the building much more of an ecclesiastical appearance.
 
The double celebration – St. John’s Centenary and St. Mary’s Millennium – took place at Whitsuntide 1951 and consisted of a Solemn Pontifical Mass at St. John’s in the morning, and a Procession & Benediction of the B1essed Sacrament in the afternoon at Denton. Canon Mundy remembers how Bishop Cowderoy was very concerned that he shoijld be Able to offer a Mass at St. Mary’s during his 1951 visitation, saying that he regarded the church as “one of the gems of the Diocese” on account of its venerable past.
 
The London to Dover Road was in Roman times Watling Street, close by the present A2 which was opened in 1924. In the middle ages it was Dover Road and Old Road West and East route which took “countless ambassadors and courtiers and men of high degree” through Gravesend on their way to and from the City. In the 18th century a new turnpike road was cut. The road-line had to be altered several times to avoid flooding, and in 1787 this road was cut right through the ancient churchyard at St. Mary’s. Observers reported that some of the south wall of the churchyard was still standing. Because the road-level was six feet below that of the church, serious disentombment was caused. The stone plaque on the West wall explains that the many human remains thus disturbed “were but scantily reinterred” by the roadmakers and that “such as lay near the surface have now been reverently placed within these walls of ancient consecration, awaiting the great Resurrection”.
 
“May God have mercy on their souls and ours”. The plaque bears the date of 4th July 1901, the day of the reopening of St. Mary’s.

Monasteries

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries the Manor of Denton was appropriated by Henry VIII and “donated” by him to the newly erected Chapter of Rochester Cathedral in 1541. The non-appearance of the church’s name both in these Letters Patent and in the earlier Valor Ecclesiasticus or “King’s Books” of 1535 (a national valuation of church revenues) supports the opinion that it was no longer a functioning parish church. Certainly the parish had gone into decline: some of its 420 acres had always been riverside marshland, and an official survey of 1650 found that it contained but two houses and a farm nearby!
 
For many years the grounds of Denton Manor were let on lease by the Dean & Chapter of Rochester. At length the estate became vested in the Church Commissioners, and, after passing through various hands, a part of it, which included the ruined church and the House (i.e. Denton Court), was purchased by George Arnold in July 1883 for £2,900. Mr. Arnold’s own house, Milton Hall, was on the other side of the road, at Denton Paddock, now the site of St. John’s Schools.

May 1879

In May 1879 the Church of England officially merged its Parish of Denton with that of Milton. Some 30 years earlier, however, the Tithe Commissioners for England and Wales discovered that tithes on Denton Manor were still due to the Bishop of Rochester, even though payment of these dues had long since lapsed. Accordingly they fixed the tithe rentcharge for Denton’s 420 acres at £220 per annum. As purchaser of the house and ruins, George Arnold was from 1883 responsible for paying most of this annual sum. He complained in his book that it was a disproportionate sum to be imposed upon so limited an area, and being himself a Catholic since 1858, doubtlessly found it the more irksome. From 1879 the Anglican Bishop forwarded £120 a year from the tithes on Denton to the Rector of Milton to help his parish expenses and the payment of a curate. Our records do not show when the tithes on Denton were abolished.
 
Under the painstaking direction of George Arnold, the restoration of St Mary’s went ahead during 1901 with F. A. Walters FSA employed as architect. Rebuilding in flint, except for the roof which was tiled, the Restorers’ aim and achievement was to retain and reutilize all the old surviving fragments. On 4th July 1901, for the first time since before the Reformation,Mass was again offered at St Mary’s. Sadly, we do not possess any details of the ceremony.
 
Within seven years George & Elizabeth Arnold had both died, leaving to the Diocese 100 acres of land at Denton. Of the 100 acres, 72 were eventually sold, while the 28 acres of Denton Paddock were retained for the schools and meantime let out for grazing. During these years Mass was only occasionally celebrated at St. Mary’s, and the Church remained the property of the Arnold family until 1928 when Irene Arnold, daughter of the Restorer, made it over to the Diocesan Trustees.
 
With a lot of building being done at Denton in the late 1930s, the little church found itself once again viable, with a local community to serve, as it had been five centuries previously. In 1941 St. Mary’s came again into regular Sunday use. George Arnold would have been very gratified could he have realized that within 40 years his little church would be filled to capacity each Sunday.

St. Katherine’s Chapel, Shorne

St. Katherine’s Chapel, Shorne (foundation approx. 1300)
 
The little chapel of St. Katharine is regarded by antiquarians as something of a mystery as very few records remain concerning it and, because the building has three obvious portions, built in different eras, it was difficult to date the structure. The oldest, eastern, section is dated between 1300-1350 which generally was in the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) under the Pontificate of John XXII during the Episcopate of Haymo, Bishop of Rochester.
 
A further mystery remains unanswered – why should a chapel have been built within a ¼ mile from the even older Parish Church? There are many assumptions regarding this but, alas, no firm evidence.
 
First of all, we have to thank Mr. George Arnold, FSA, a Mayor of Gravesend, Solicitor and Scholar who saw an advertisement in a Kentish newspaper announcing the sale by auction of a freehold property at Shorne in Kent. It stated that – “adjoining and in the rear is an ancient chapel supposed to have been formerly occupied by Monks and visited by pilgrims on their way to the Shrine of Thomas a Becket ….. The spot is rich in antiquarian interest and the chapel is well-known to Archaeologists.” This was in February 1890. He instructed his Agent to attend the sale and to purchase the property with a view to preserving this little medieval structure which had been used as a cowshed and stable.
 
The property in question was the Pipe’s Place Estate which included Ivy Cottage now known as St. Katharine’s a private house, but previously a Carmelite Convent (more of this later).
 
Mr. Arnold then instructed an Architect, Mr. F.A. Walters of 4 Great Queen Street, Westminster in London. Mr. Walters described the Chapel in his report written prior to the restoration work in 1890 as follows:- “St. Katharine’s Chapel is a flint chapel banded with stone on the North side with single light windows with ogee heads. Perhaps the most interesting features of the interior are the piscina and shafted sedilia under one ogeed decorated arch, and in the North wall close to the east end is a small aumbry.
 
The walls are 2 feet 10 inches thick and are built of flint and chalk with window quoins and other dressings of Kentish rag-stone. The eastern half of the building is the oldest and is a good (although simple) example of the last “Decorated” work dating from about 1330. The double sedilia, the piscina and the aumbry remained in a fairly perfect state prior to the restoration as were the cills and jambs and the four single light side windows. The Western portion of the building is later and of inferior work in every respect; it dates probably from about 1450 or later”.
 
The Architect went on to report that he detected certain indications of want of unity of date in the style of the walls (flint and stone work) and upon digging, in consequence, about one-third of the whole length from the east end, the base of a buttress was uncovered on the north side and the same result attended a like excavation on the south, at a similar distance from the east end. He gathered from this that the original erection ended there, which gave an interior length of 18 feet by a width of 17 feet. This would suffice for a mere chantry but at the end of another third of the length of the little edifice in its present extension, the base of another buttress was uncovered on the north side, without any corresponding foundation appearing on the south wide; and finally, at the north and south angles of the west end, the bases of two large buttresses were exhumed, as was the case at the like angles of the east end.

Chapel

It is therefore possible that after its first erection the chapel was elongated upon two successive occasions and as this could but have been for the purpose of affording increased accommodation for worshippers it rather suggests the later use of the chapel as a place of worship in the sense of a chapel of ease.
 
The style of the eastern part of the building, where the east window has retained its old cill and jambs up to the springing, with the starting of two vertical mullions worked in the stone cill is Decorated or Second Pointed, the window being like those at the east ends of Northfleet, Southfleet and Dartford churches and in the pair of side windows of one light each, next to the chancel, each head is ogeed, the other and westerly openings of the same size terminated with simple Gothic cusps.
 
It is clear from the appearance of the remains that the chapel had been purposely destroyed and the eastern (the only mullioned) window defaced. Its fragments were built up mixed with red Jacobean bricks. The wallplates were at the same time removed and the walls raised by a few courses, in order that the building should thenceforth consist of two storeys. For the upper floor and its supports the timber work of the old roof was freely laid under contribution and cut as required.
 
The chapel is 54 feet 4 inches long by 17 feet 2 inches wide, the side walls being about 12 feet high from the floor.
 
Although the sedilia, piscina and aumbry remain in a fairly perfect state, all traces of the altar, the steps and floor have been removed. The east window of three lights has also been destroyed.
 
During the course of his early enquiries into the origins of the chapel, Mr. Arnold found that the dedication of the chapel was to St. Katharine a circumstance which had been previously unknown. No record of the institution or induction of any clerk in respect of the chapel was found and indeed the slender written evidence of the existence of a chapel at all is derived from the circumstance that in a Shorne Deed of Confirmation by Walter, Bishop of Rochester, one of the five attesting witnesses is “Nicholas, the Chaplain of Shorne”. Then followed the information contained in the Will of Thomas Davy of “Shorn Streete” dated AD 1516 in which occurs the bequest: “To the reparacion of Seynt Kateren Chapell half a quarter of Barley”; and as there is no record of an altar or chantry of St. Katharine at the Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Shorne, the legacy is confirmatory that it related to our chapel. It also confirms that the chapel was in a state of disrepair even in 1516. This seems to be the earliest written evidence that remains regarding the foundation of the chapel.

Historical

Mr. Arnold continued his researches to no avail until he consulted a Mr. William Boyd who referred him to a commission as to concealed lands in the Counties of Kent and Sussex dated April 28, 1581 of which the following is a translated copy and also the Certificate returned by the Commissioners.
 
As these are such interesting historical documents I reproduce them in full:
 
“ELIZABETH by the Grace of God of England France and Ireland Queen Defender of the Faith and to our very dear and faithful Sir Roland Clerke, Knight, Sir Thomas Shirley, Knight, George Harte Esquire, Henry Mervyn, Esquire, Henry Palmer, Esquire, Anthony Lewkenour, Esquire, Samuel Hales, Esquire and Michael Cobb, Esquire, greeting.
 
KNOW ye that we, putting very great confidence in your fidelities and provident circumspections to act in our affairs, have assigned you eight, seven, six, five, four or three of you to examine inquire and investigate as well by the examinations, relations, testimonies or depositions of whatsoever trustworthy men, of our Counties of Kent and Sussex, or by all other ways, means or manners by which you shall the better know or shall be able, or seven, six, five, four or three of you shall the better know or shall be able, concerning all and singular and lordships, manors, messuages, lands, tenements, rents, rectories, tithes and other possessions and hereditaments and emoluments whatsoever, in our aforesaid Counties of Kent and Sussex, which came or ought to come to our hands or to the hands of any of our late progenitors as well by reason of the dissolution, suppression, resignation, surrender or forfeiture of any late monasteries, abbeys, priories, colleges, chantries, free chapels, fraternities, guilds or such other like kinds of things, as by escheat in any manner whatsoever and by the Statute made and provided that lands and tenements are not to be put to Mortmain, and by reason of the attainder of any person or of any persons for high treasons felonies or murders and being concealed withdrawn and unjustly withheld from us and our aforesaid progenitors, in any way soever, in the Counties aforesaid, by whom, when how and for how long, and who received and had the issues and profits of the premises in the meantime issuing and as yet receive and have them, by what title, right or warrant, and how much they are worth by the year in all issues beyond reprises, also touching other articles and circumstances more fully concerning the truth of the premises in any way soever. And therefore we command you eight, seven, six, five, four or three of you that you do not omit on account of any liberty but that you enter into it or three of you enter into it and at a day and place, or days and places, which you shall have provided for this, or three of you shall have provided for this, and you shall diligently inquire in respect of and concerning the premises with their circumstances and you shall do and execute those things or three of you shall do or execute them, with effect. So that the certificates, examinations, testimonies or depositions touching the premises distinctly and openly taken and had before you (or three) of you, do you have, or three of you have, before the Barons of our Exchequer at Westminster, as quickly as you shall be able, and at the latest in three weeks from the day of Holy Trinity next to come, under your seals or the seals of three of you, and sealed with the seals of those by whom the premises shall have been made, remitting then and there this Commission. And also for the better execution we give and commit full power and authority to you eight, seven, six, five, four or three of you, at such time and (place) by you or three of you to be assigned, whatsoever persons whom you shall deem especially fitting for the testifying of the truth in the premises according to your wise discretions. And in respect of and concerning the premises, the Holy Evangelists being first touched by them before you or three of you, to examine and inquire and the examinations, testimonies and relations, and your enquiries and notices or those of three of you, are to be set down on parchment, together with your Certificate or that of three of you thereupon taken and to be written and verified with your hands, or (the hands) of three of you.
 
WITNESS Sir Roger Manwood, Knight, at Westminster, on the 28th day of April in the 23rd year of our reign (A.D.1581)
 
“BY the Roll of the Memoranda of this Easter Roll of Commissions and Letters Patent. “AND by the Barons. “Tho. Fanshawe”.
The Certificate returned by the Commissioners reads as follows:
 
THE CERTIFICATE of Sir Roland Clerke, Knight, Michael Cobb, Esquire and Samuel Hales, Esquire, Commissioners of the most Illustrious Lady Elizabeth by the Grace of God of England France and Ireland Queen defender of the faith & by virtue of a Commission of the said Lady the Queen to them amongst others directed and annexed to this certificate made on the 19th day of May in the 23rd year of the same Lady the Queen (A.D.1581)
 
WE certify to the Barons of the Exchequer of the said Lady the Queen by virtue of the Commission aforesaid and according to the tenor force form and effect of the same.
 
THAT one parcel of land with the appurtenances commonly called Pandolfe’s Grove, containing half an acre lying or being in the parish of Harbaldowne in the County of Kent now or late in the tenure of John Monger, formerly given, granted or appointed for the maintenance of an obit or anniversary or such other kind of superstitious use for ever, is worth clear by the year in all issues beyond reprises, 2d.
 
WE Certify also that the Chapel of St. Katharine with a small croft or garden to the same adjacent half an acre lying or being within the parish of Shorne in the County aforesaid, is worth clear by the year in all issues beyond reprises, 2d.
 
AND that all and singular the premises came and of right ought to come to the Crown of this kingdom of England by reason of an Act of Parliament made and provided in the 27th year of the reign of the late King Henry the eighth, for the dissolution of monasteries, priories or such other kind of religious houses, or by force of a certain Act of Parliament made and provided in the 31st year of the said late King, for the dissolution of abbeys, monasteries, priories, or such kind of religious houses, or by reason and pretext of a certain Statute made and provided for the dissolution of colleges, chantries, free chapels, guilds and such like kinds of (places) in the 1st year of the reign of the late King Edward the sixth, or in any other lawful manner whatsoever, and are, nevertheless, as yet concealed, withdrawn and unjustly withheld, as we have learnt by the relation of divers trustworthy (men) and is given to us the aforesaid Commissioners to be understood and informed, from the Crown aforesaid.
 
IN witness whereof we the aforesaid Commissioners have set our Seals to this our present Certificate.
 
DATED the day and year above written.
 
(Signed) “RD CLERKE MYCHAELL COBBE SAMUEL HALES.

In honour of St. Katharine

It seems the chapel and croft were then treated as part of the Royal Manor of Greenwich.
 
From the above Certificate and especially from the low estimate of value that it records, it is clear that the chapel and land in Shorne were laid to waste, the former probably being roofless and it affords grounds for the further conjecture that there had been no material endowment either of land or tithes annexed to it which might otherwise have led to its earlier discovery, seizure and alienation.
 
The Certificate is also valuable in that it reveals to us for the first time the dedication of the building, in honour of St. Katharine, a very interesting fact.
 
Within six months from the date of the Certificate, followed the final alienation of the suppressed chantry as evidenced by the Letters Patent dated 2nd November, 23 Elizabeth, AD 1581. In which the Queen sold to “our very dear subjects Edmund Haselwood of Lyneham in the County of Oxford, gentleman, and Edward Thomlynson of Hindon in our County of Wilts, gentleman, …..All that our Chapel of St Katharine with a small croft or garden to the same adjacent containing half an acre lying or being within the parish of Shorne in the county aforesaid….. two shillings”.
 
Therefore the records not only reveal the true dedication but also confirm the ecclesiastical status of the chapel as a chantry and thus legally warrant and verify its civil suppression and dissolution and they inform us of the true date and circumstances of its sale and diversion to secular purposes, to which it remainded in the form of malting-house, stables and cowhouse, until the period of its resale and projected restoration in AD 1890 – neglect of about 309 years.

Archaeological Mystery

Thanks to the exhaustive research done by Mr. George Arnold during the time of the restoration of the Chapel we have the knowledge which is being collected together here. He obtained information from a Mr. Leland L. Duncan, FSA of Lingarde Road, Lewisham in a letter dated 8th January 1894 in which he informed Mr. Arnold of his notes of Wills proved in the Rochester Consistory Court, further information being obtained from the British Museum and from the records held in Hatfield House and from various publications such as Thorpe’s Custumale Roffense 1788, the Annals of Bermondsey Priory and from a translation by Mr. Joseph Lucas (1892) of an account by Kaim who had reason to stop over at Gravesend on his way to North America for the purpose of investigating its “natural productions”, in the 1700′s.
 
In a rare book relating Kalm’s journeys and finds together with illustrations, Mr. Arnold turned to the text to see of what nature the “Archaeological Mystery near Gravesend” consisted. He found with great interest and surprise that it was none other than St. Katharine’s Chapel and this is a transcription of what Kalm wrote:
 
“15 July 1748. Churches….We went afterwards from the high road to a hamlet where we saw an old church, which they used as a malthouse. This was similarly almost entirely built of flints only that the window-frames and mullions and the door posts were of Portland stone. The windows were quite small. There appeared, truly enough, bricks in the walls in one place and another but it could at the same time be plainly seen that the wall had there been broken and that the brickwork was the work of later times . . . . . . . . . . ”

Research

Another interesting mention of our Chapel was in the Custumale Roffense, 1788 page 247 in which he writes: “On the right hand of the road leading up to Shorne Street …… stands an ancient and fair chapel, or oratory; which, with some additional building, is now used as a Malthouse and a small tenement erected against the east end of it inhabited by the Maltman. I was informed by an ancient and creditable person there that in digging the foundation of the new building, or lean-to, a stone coffin and many human bones were disturbed. On the north side is a small orchard which probably was the cemetery to it. This edifice has not been mentioned by any writer, nor have I been able hitherto to meet with anything relative to its foundation and endowment. It is likely to have been raised by some of the eminent proprietors of the manors of Shorne and Roundall but this is merely conjectural…. ”
 
From Mr Arnold’s subsequent researches he could discover no such endowment by any of the lords of the manors in the district. In fact Mr. Arnold stated that “information which might lead to the establishment of any connection between St. Katharine’s and the ancient manorial lords would be distinctly useful, such as Sir John de Nevill, John de Cobham, Sir Arnold Savage, Walter de Shorne, Arnold de Shorne, Henry de Shorne, Sir John de Northwood and others, while, on the ecclesiastical side, any trace of the institution of any clerk to the chaplaincy would be valuable, the absence of any record of which is not very explicable”.

Valuable

There remains only speculation regarding the possible uses of St. Katharine’s offered by the late Mr. Arthur Allen and by members of the Shorne History Group
  • A disused parish church
  • Oratory or chapel chantry
  • Chapel of Ease
  • Chapel attached to a monastic cell
  • Wayside shrine or chapel
It was unlikely to have been a disused parish church because the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul less than half a mile away is an older church.
There is no record of any endowment by any local lords. Sometimes however such chantries were founded by Guilds. In the middle of the 15th century there was a Corpus Christi Guild in Shorne. Valuable information relating to this has, alas, been lost.
Again, the Parish Church is too near for it to have been a Chapel of Ease.
The Rectors of Shorne were the Priors of Bermondsey Priory since the time of Henry I in 1132 and they received the tithes. It could not have been a monastery proper as it would have been picked up sooner than 1581. No record of its being a cell of the Priory remains.
Shrine or chapel. When Mr. Arnold saw the advertisement for the property in 1890 it stated this.

Canterbury

Canterbury was the main place of pilgrimage during the 12th 13th and 14th centuries, but in the 13th century the monks at Rochester Cathedral set up a shrine to St. William of Perth, a baker who was murdered in Rochester on his way on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and pilgrims flocked to this shrine also. Pilgrims came from London to Gravesend by river and then journeyed towards Rochester. Many wayside chapels were erected along the route by wealthy men and sometimes by the Guilds, where the pilgrims could stop and ask God for safe passage. St. Katharine’s chapel is on the old pilgrims’ way in an ideal spot before braving the dangerous robbers at near-by Gad’s Hill. Originally it may have been a shrine, which fell into decay so that at a later date it was decided to rebuild it; it may have been built by Bermondsey Priory hoping to gain some income from pilgrims. It may not have been a successful venture and allowed to fall into decay and the restorers may well have been the local Corpus Christi Guild in the 13th century (or the latter portion of the 15th century). Pilgrim chapels do not normally have burials and here we have many. They may be the graves of pilgrims who died on their journey but it seems a bizarre coincidence that so many dropped at Shorne!

George Arnold

However, a more likely conclusion is arrived at by George Arnold himself when he wrote:
 
“The suggestion which I advance, with diffidence, is that the community of Bermondsey, having for the collection and safeguarding of their grain and other tithes, occasion to be represented in Shorne by their bailiffs, labourers and dependents for the reception, storage and conversion of their property and occasionally by clerical members of their own community, provided the house (Little St. Katharine’s the ancient timber-framed house nearby) for residential and storage purposes for their own people and for their own property. At the adjoining Chapel of St. Katharine (if it were theirs) they would be able to render independently and receive, when in residence, those daily offices of religion which were in accordance with the requirements of their rule .
 
It is not thought that the suggestion is one which stands on any basis of proof but Arthur Allen thought it to be the only suggestion that had occurred to him in the matter of the use and appropriation of the old timber-framed house. He concluded that an argument in favour of the theory was afforded in that it would account for the absence of any record of the induction of a chaplain serving at St. Katharine’s Chapel.
 
As for St. Katharine’s Chapel since the 1890 purchase by George Arnold and its restoration.
 
George Arnold left a lasting memorial of the work he did at St. Katharine’s in the east window. The left-hand window dedicated to St. George entreats the congregation to Pray for George Arnold, the right-hand window is dedicated to St. Elizabeth and asks for prayers for Elizabeth Arnold (his wife) and the centre window is dedicated to St. Katharine herself and the inscription on this window reads “Pray for the Founder and Restorers of this Chapel”.
 
The front of the main altar bears the emblem of St. Katharine 5 martyrdom – the Katharine Wheel- which took place in Alexandria under the tyrant Maximinus at the beginning of the 4th century. Legend has made her a young christian who rejected the advances of the Emperor Maximinus and routed a meeting of learned men gathered together to induce her to deny Christ. It is also asserted that her body was taken up to Mount Sinai by angels. Philosophers honour St .Katharine as their patron. Her feast day falls on November 25th.
 
After the restoration of the Chapel, George Arnold (a convert to Catholicism) returned the Chapel to the Catholic Church in the Southwark Diocese.

First Mass

The first Mass since the Reformation was said there by the Reverend Father Joseph Wyatt of Gravesend on 8th August 1895.
 
Little is known of the early days of the century.
 
In 1930 the Diocese gave permission for the Chapel to be used by the Southwark Catholic Travelling Mission which was founded in 1926 as a means of providing for the outlying parts of the Diocese.
 
They reported in their Report and Appeal for 1934 ….
 
“At Shorne we have the very unusual privilege and joy of being able to use a pre-Reformation chantry chapel for our services. Thanks to the zeal of the late Mr. George M Arnold three of these little chapels in this neighbourhood, Dode, Denton and Shorne, have been restored and re-established for their proper use…. It has passed through the many vicissitudes to which the temples built to the glory of God by our Catholic forefathers were so often condemned …….. The convenience of having this beautiful Chapel made Shorne an attractive centre for the Mission, even though it is rather nearer to its parish church at Gravesend than most of our villages. Moreover it serves an area further away from Gravesend and is a real help to Catholics living in these more distant parts. We draw our little congregation from Shorne, Higham, Cobham and Luddesdown……..” The first visit was in May 1930.
 
Apparently in those days they drove around the remote villages and brought Catholics they found by car to Shorne.
 
It is thought that during this period the Stations of the Cross were added. We have no record of when the Mission ceased to hold services at St. Katharine’s.

First Baptism

An article found in an old copy of a local newspaper reported on the 15th June 1956 the first Baptism in the Chapel since the Reformation. The Chaplain, Father Bernard Ellison baptised Robert John, the infant son of Mr. and Mrs. J P Perez-Ugarte of Lawrence Drive, Cobham.
 
We now come into the period of time of which we have personal knowledge.
 
In 1954 the Corpus Christi Carmelite Sisters (a community founded in Leicester in 1908; they are very proud of the fact that they are one of the very few congregations founded in England since the Reformation) acquired the house adjoining the Chapel which they purchased from Miss Arnold (George Arnold’s daughter) for their English Novitiate. They had prayed at the Shrine of Our Lady at Hartley that they might find a suitable house and here, quite suddenly, was the answer with the wonderful addition of a pre-reformation chapel for them to use and care for.
 
The earlier indications that the Chapel was connected with the local Corpus Christi Guild was an odd coincidence and a happy one for the Sisters as they were Corpus Christi Carmelites and wear the old Guild badge of Chalice and Host.
 
The solemn opening and blessing of the house and chapel was performed by Bishop Cowderoy on September 20th 1954 and from then on there was daily Mass almost continuously.
 
By 1959 the Sisters had negotiated to buy Pipe’s Place the large Georgian house opposite. They dedicated the house to St. Joseph and opened their Home for the Elderly. As soon as the keys were handed over Father Bernard Kelly, their Chaplain (then aged 87) blessed the house in a short ceremony, the later formal opening having been planned by the Bishop.

The Chaplain

The Chaplain to the Sisters lived in the Maithouse, a very interesting old semi-circular flint house to the west of the chapel. Father Kelly lived well into his nineties and when he died (1967) he was buried in the precincts of the chapel, together with Father Anthony Crean (a later Chaplain) who was to join him in 1975 under tragic circumstances when he was savagely murdered in the Malthouse by Patrick Mackay, a person whom he had befriended. By 1978 the Sisters knew that they had to sell the Convent and St. Joseph’s due to their decreasing numbers and advancing years and the search for suitable successors started.
 
The Convent itself was sold and is now a private residence and when the sale became likely the Diocese of Southwark applied to the Home Office for an exhumation order to remove the bodies of Father Kelly and Father Crean from the Convent grounds and rebury them elsewhere. Permission was granted
 
Suitable successors were indeed found and in 1980 the Sons of Divine Providence took on the challenge of adding St. Joseph’s and St. Katharine’s chapel to their growing “family”. They immediately set’ into motion renovations to the Malthouse into four flats for the elderly and, although they had to temporarily close St. Joseph’s for renovation work, it is now open as self-contained flats for the able-bodied elderly.

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