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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St Dunstan Church, Canterbury          TR 1423 5830

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1991

Beside the important junction between the London and Whitstable roads on the west side of the City. In Kent (not Canterbury County Boro.) till 19th century. On slightly higher ground above main road, c. 50-60 feet above O.D. Orientated well south of east.

The earliest visible remains are the large 'megalithic quoins' at the N.W. corner of the nave, which perhaps suggest a date in the first half of the 11th century. The blocks which are in the lower half of the corner only, are of Hythe and Marquise stone. The present nave and chancel must have been rebuilt soon after the conquest. There is 'herringbone work' on the north side and small Caenstone groins. Local flint and sandstone rubble is used and both the nave and chancel are an original feature though no late 11th or 12th century architectural details remain.
   Unusually there is no evidence for a subsequent enlargement of the church until the early 14th century when the south aisle and south arcade were built. There are three fine two-light windows in the south aisle wall with big octofoils (really split-cusping) at the head. A similar window was inserted into the nave north wall. The big lancet to the west of the latter has a rere-arch which suggests it is also early 14th century in date. The inserted trefoil headed window on the north-east side of the chancel is also probably early 14th century, and the original east window was probably of the same date (as seen in pre-restoration drawings of the church interior).
   In 1330 a roadside chapel (with a door from the street) was added to the N.W. corner of the church. Dedicated to the Holy Trinity it was founded by Henry of Canterbury, the King's Chaplain, and in the care of the Poor priests' Hospital (Somner, Antiquities of Canterbury (1703 ed), 168-9). The east window of this chapel has been blocked up (see elevation drawing in Arch. Cant. 98 (1982), 234) - perhaps in c. 1685 when the porch roof was rebuilt. The west window of the chapel has new later 19th century tracery. Earlier 19th century views show the window empty and blocked, though the Grose drawing of 1758 apparently shows a 3-light window. There is also a small north window (square-headed) and a north doorway (now blocked). Inside the chapel (a vestry since at least the 18th century) there is a piscina and blocked up squint window in the south wall (now a cupboard).
   The main addition of the 15th century is the tall thin tower added to the west end of the south aisle. The tower arch is of the same date, as is the low round stair-turret on the south (the external door to this was inserted in the early 19th century) A vault under the tower seems to have been intended but was never built. (The present timber ribs are presumably 19th century). Nearby rope marks can be seen on the N.E. and west internal faces. There are 6 bells in the tower, which hang in a new (1936) frame. The top part of the tower has had considerable repair internally (concrete and tile etc.).
   Following the completion of the tower, the south aisle was reroofed, and a new south parapet was built. The wall posts on corbels perhaps date from this time in the 15th century, though the almost flat roof and ceiling has been restored. A new west doorway (with square hoodmould) and 3-light perpendicular west window to the nave (tracery restored) was also built in the 15th century, as was the existing 4-bay crown-post roof (and probably the 2-bay chancel roof - which now has a Victorian boarded ceiling). There is also a square headed 15th century 2-light window on the north side of the chancel, and it also seems likely that a stone porch was added at this time immediately east of the Trinity Chapel (the east window of which could still obtain light from above a steep-pitched porch roof). The porch was re-roofed and given new barge-boards in 1685 (the date is at the apex), perhaps after the Trinity chapel east window was blocked. Inside the church under the tower, are the remains of a 15th century font and (restored) pinnacled wooden cover.
   The final addition to the church is the well-known early 16th century brick Roper Chantry chapel (fully drawn and described in Antiq. J. LX (1980), 227-246). The chapel of St. Nicholas was first established here in 1402 (see A Hussey, Kent Chantries pt. I (1932), 56-9), but no 15th century remains appear to survive here. The engaged columns for the arches to the south aisle and chancel are probably of brick with a plaster facing. They have no bases. The stone column on the north (with a base) may be a later-restoration. Under this chapel are the brick burial vaults (details in op. cit. supra).
   A few fragments of ancient glass remain in the west window under the tower.
   The main restoration of the church was in 1880 (dates on drain-pipes, etc.), when two lancets were inserted on either side of the west door and new tracery was put into the vestry west window. Much other external restoration and refacing was also carried out at this time, and a new floor was laid in the church.
   The organ was put into the Roper Chapel (removed from here to the west gallery in c. 1932), and new pews made here. The east window was completely rebuilt and raised so that a new reredos behind the high altar could be put in. A drawing in the vestry shows the interior of the church before this restoration with box pews and a small organ in the south aisle. There is a large pulpit (on the same site as the present one), and a row of hatchments on the south upper wall of the chancel and nave.

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
A few re-used Roman bricks, the N.W. quoin has large Hythe stone and Marquise stone blocks (? re-used). Also Marquise stone and Caen in the nave N.E. quoin. Then much Caen stone and Kentish Rag for later medieval quoins. Also flint and tertiary sandstone in rubble walls. Red bricks for early 16th century. Roper Chantry (and Caen quoins). Restoration in Bath stone (and Lepine 1990). Some Reigate stone blocks in the west gable of the nave, may suggest 13th century repairs.

The two Bethersden marble tomb-chests (the back wall brasses have gone) in the south wall of the Roper Chantry (John and Jane Roper c. 1524), and William and Margaret Roper), and the wall monument to Thomas Roper c. 1597.

Size: Large (for urban/suburban church) Burial from at least 1468 documented (Test. Cant. (East Kent 1967), 4.)
Shape: Rectangular with rounded N. corner at road junction. Originally adjoining rural area to S.W. see plans of churchyard in 1850 etc., in church records.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: 19th century. The iron-railings presumably removed in the last War.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: Modern parish hall (built 1984) with surrounding car park built in churchyard.

Exceptional monuments: Many 19th century monuments and stones.

Ecological potential: Quite good - some large trees (Yews, Oak) and pollarded lines N. and E. sides (road frontage).

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: In c. 1085 foundation charter of St. Gregory's Priory.

Late med. status (vicarage/appropriation): Appropriated to St. Gregory's Priory Vicarage endowed in 1322 - see Somner Antiquities of Canterbury (1703 ed.) Appendix LXX (74-5).

Patron: Archbishop, then c. 1085 St. Gregory's Priory, until returned to Archbishop at Dissolution.

Other documentary sources: Registers (from 1559) - published by Cowper (1887). Also refs. in Cartulary of St. Gregory's Canterbury - published 1956 (Camden Soc. 34d series, LXXXVIII) 1485-1580 were published by J M Cowper in Arch. Cant. XVI (1886), 289-321 and XVII (1887), 77-149. See also C. E. Woodruff Canterbury Diocesan Records (1922) 37-9.

Reused materials: Some reused from bricks in walls. The N.W. nave quoins may also be reused.

Excavation of Roper vault (July 1978) see Antiqs. J LX (1980), 227-246.
Record drawing made of central south aisle tracery during restoration (March 1990) by John Atherton Bowern (Unpublished).
Note on Trinity Chapel (east gable wall) - Arch. Cant. 98 (1982), 234-5.

Inside present church: Possibly below 1880 rubble under present floor. Many 18th and 19th century vaults seem to have been filled at this time (including the Roper vault). Hasted (IX 37) records the Roper's vault as being under the chancel.

Outside present church: Reasonable, but drainage trench has been dug around outside of church.

To structure: Repairs (stonework) to tower in 1990 - also new weathervane (1990) after storm damage. Middle window to south aisle restored externally (1990) using Lepine stone. Retiling of the roofs took place in 1982.

To floors: Complete relaying of floors in 1880 much disturbance.

To graveyard: Very large church hall built in western part of churchyard, 1984, with car park to N. and W.

Quinquennial inspection (date/architect): Dec. 1990 Peter Marsh

The church and churchyard: The church was first built probably in the early 11th century for the major western suburb of the city outside the Westgate. The churchyard probably overlies a Roman cemetery. Immediately north of the church, there was a free-standing cross in the centre of the road junction. It was destroyed in the 1640s, but is shown on 'The Map of Canterbury' (1703 edition of Somner Antquities of Canterbury).

The wider context: The church is probably a rare late Saxon building (cf. St. Mildred's Canterbury). The brick Roper Chantry (Roper House (only the brick gateway now survives) is just to the S.E. of the church), is also unusual, as is the c. 1330 NW Chapel of the Holy Trinity.

REFERENCES: Roper Vault (Antiquaries Journal LX (1980), 227-246) and other refs. listed therein. The Registers of St. Dunstan's Canterbury (1559-1800) ed. J. M. Cowper (1887).

Guide book: By an ex-Vicar, Hugh Albin (undated, but early 1980s), no longer on sale.

Photographs: Several recent ones in guide by Kentish Gazette.
Also photos (and drawings) of Roper Chantry (and excavation) in 1978 by H. Strik (for P. Marsh, architect).

Plans & drawings: Plan on north wall at west end of church (1960s by Ashenden). Drawing by F Grose (30 March 1758) by N.W. also by Buckler (c. 1806) from N.E. and S.W., (all in Canterbury Museums) and view from S.W. (c. 1820) (at Victoria and Albert Museum). Drawing of church interior before 1880 restorations in vestry. Also a photo of the church interior from W. c. 1890.

DATES VISITED: 2nd July 1991                           REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown.

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