St Mary’s Church, Chilham
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Unlike the other four on the route, the church is set prominently at one end of the village square opposite Chilham Castle and is open daily, making it one of the most visited in Kent. Being on Chaucer’s Pilgrims Way it afforded overnight shelter in its spacious interior before the final half day’s journey to Canterbury Cathedral. Tradition has it that St Augustine was buried here!
Its layout is an impressive cruciform, with the wide nave supplemented by an aisle on each side, and a lofty beamed roof above clerestory windows. The entire east end beyond the ancient transepts was rebuilt in 1865 to replace external mausoleums of two Castle families with vaults under the two outer bays.
Additionally in the south wall there is a large porch (now fitted out for serving coffees etc.) with a spiral staircase to a schoolroom used until the village school was built in about 1860. Its old oak table defaced with pupils initials can be admired at the back the church. The exterior, which is illuminated after dark each evening, is covered with knapped flint and castellated. The 16th Cent. tower has been modified several times, with the clock moved higher to be visible from the castle. Its eight fine bells are regularly rung for services, the heaviest also striking the hours.
After entering the west door please take a free A4 floor plan which answers everybody’s question “When was the church built?” (There are also souvenir village guidebooks, postcards etc on sale). It is known for its large monuments dominating each corner with other interesting ones on its walls Despite 900 years of development, the view from the west end of the nave to the extremity of the chancel is satisfyingly well balanced, as if all built at one time. However substantial changes were made to the layout in 2003 after a very substantial grant from the Government’s landfill tax scheme to aid community projects where they had raised over 10% by their own fundraising efforts
The most substantial (but least visible) was the building of a disabled toilet annex accessed through a new doorway through the external south wall. Moving the organ across to the front of the north transept released the whole south transept as an open space for community uses. Removal of three front rows of pews for a wheel chair ramp by the organ facilitated a raised nave altar platform with rails closer to the congregation than the one in the sanctuary beyond the choir stalls. The font was moved from the back of the church to correspond to the pulpit.
Such large scale creative work is only possible once in a lifetime. Normally it’s a case of finding enough money for essential repairs & maintenance, so this annual fundraising walk is essential.