Dunstan Church, Canterbury
TR 1423 5830
DIOCESE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY
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
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
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
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.
EXCEPTIONAL MONUMENTS IN THE CHURCH
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.
CHURCHYARD AND ENVIRONS:
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
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.
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
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),
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
SURVIVAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DEPOSITS:
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
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT:
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
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
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
REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown.