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Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 Holy Cross Church, Canterbury       TR 1460 5806

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1992

LOCATION: Since 1380, the church has been situated immediately south of the Westgate just inside the city walls. It is also not far from the river Stour at about 35 ft above O.D.

The earliest mention of the church (in c. 1085) suggests that it may already have been built just before the Norman conquest. Its original situation was on top of the Roman gateway at Westgate. Nothing else is known about it until it was rebuilt on a new site immediately to the south of the new Westgate in c. 1380.

This new church still survives, though mutilated and heavily restored in the 19th century (see below). It consists of a nave with four-bay aisles on either side (the tower is built in the west bay of the south aisle), and an unaisled chancel of two bays (no chancel arch). There are doorways on the north, south and west and a small priests door into the chancel. There was also a contemporary stone north porch, but this was cut off and reduced to a very shallow porch when the road was widened around the south side of the Westgate in the early 19th century. The early 19th century views of the church from the north-east show the original porch with a continuous upper string course (continuing from the north aisle) and a small chamfer above the porch. It acquired a 'Dutch' north gable in the late 17th century (see Buckler view). All the windows in the church which were very heavily restored in the last century, and perpendicular in style but are a mixture of two-light pointed windows (in the aisles), two-light windows with nearly flat heads (in the chancel) and three-light flat-headed window with square hood-moulds above (at the east ends of the aisles, west end of north aisle and above the south doorway). The arcades have octagonal piers with fine moulded capitals and arches over with double hollow chamfers and deep hollows in between. The main nave roof was an ordinary crown-post roof, but the lower parts of the crown-posts were cut off, and the central sections of the tie-beams were removed (in the late 16th century?) and very long braces were inserted on either side of each crown-post. The south aisle roof is nearly flat, while the north aisle roof is pitched but it may well have been rebuilt in the late 15th century when the upper string-course and gables were renewed (the gables were again renewed in the 19th century). A large square projection from the north aisle (now removed) is shown in the early 19th century views. This must be for a new rood-stair (perhaps created - see wills -as late as 1517).

The tower, containing 5 bells (one original of 1381 inscribed 'Stephorus Nortone de Kent me fecit), was heavily restored in the late 19th century when a new pyramid roof was put on. Earlier it had a turret on top with a small pyramid roof. It has two trefoiled windows one above the other on the south and west sides, and another single light in the upper east wall (and door onto the flat roof below). There is a two-light window in the upper north side of the tower.

There was a plain octagonal font in the church with an elaborate late-medieval cover - restored in the 17th century, when an ironwork crane was added - but this was all taken to Minster-in-Thanet church, after Holy Cross became redundant in 1973.

A series of exceptionally heavy restorations were carried out to the church in c. 1860, 1870, 1895 and 1908 (see Glynne, 1877, where an editorial footnote says 'This church has been thoroughly repaired, restored and rearranged; the tower more recently, has been rebuilt. A new organ has been placed in the south aisle (it was earlier at the west end). The major restoration of 1870 saw the removal of the buttresses at the west end of the north aisle and at the east end of the chancel, and the inserting in the east wall of a new east window. The tower was also rebuilt at this time with a completely new flint face and, at intervals up the faces, thin courses of red tiles.

In 1973 the church was declared redundant, and in 1978 it was converted into a new Council Chamber.

BUILDING MATERIALS (incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
Externally much of the church has been refaced with heavy knapped flintwork, but the more ruffly medieval wall faces (with flint, local sandstone etc.) can still be seen in some places eg. the north and south walls of the chancel.

The original quoins were in Rag with Caen used for some jambs, etc. The restored quoins, jambs etc. of the later 19th century, are in Bath, while the rebuilt porch (early 19th century) still uses rag.

To Almund Colph - early 17th cent. bust on wall-monument in N.W. corner. Also in chancel to James Six (of 1786) - the inventor of the maximum + minimum thermometer.

Size & Shape: Large rectangular area to the south-west of the church. More of the churchyard on the north-east side of the church was covered by a road (St Peter's Place) in the early 19th century.

Condition: Good

Present Burial: closed 1855, but at least 2 burials allowed by special permission after this date.

Building in churchyard or on boundary: City wall just outside parallel to west churchyard wall.

Ecological potential: ? Yes, but now mown regularly.

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Earliest ref. to church: c. 1085 - when given to St Gregory's Priory.

Late med. status (vicarage\appropriation): Appropriated - then endowed 1347.

Patron: The Archbishop, then to St Gregory's Priory c. 1805 till its dissolution in 1536, when given by the crown back to the Archbishop. United with St Peter's in 1681.

Other documentary sources: Hasted XI (1800), 254-264 + Urry Angevin Kings (1967), 212 quoting Somner Antiquities (1703ed) App. IXXII (a trans of letters Pat. of 3 RICHARD II, empowering a committee of citizens to take over ground for the reconstruction of Holy Cross church previously standing on top of quaedam antiqua deblis porta vocata Westgate' (ancient ruined gate called Westgate).
Wills (Test. Cant. (E. Kent 1907), 46 - 8 mention the 'choir' as well as chancels of Our Lady + St John + the making of a new Roodloft (1517+1521).

Reused materials: -Occasional Roman brick.


Outside present church: Good

The church and churchyard: An over-restored but unusual completely new church of c, 1380. It has a most unusual altered nave roof.

REFERENCES: C.C.C. Pastoral Measure PM.126 (by Peter Burman) - April 1971.

Photographs:The font and cover is depicted in Kent Churches 1954, 126.

Plans & drawings: Buckler views from N.E. + S.W. (in Canterbury Museums). See also view in Gostling's Walks (1825 edition).

DATE VISITED: 27/10/92                                   REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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