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Churches Committee
Kent Churches - Architectural & Historical Information

 St Mildred's Church, Canterbury          TR 1449 5753

Tim Tatton-Brown's Survey 1992

LOCATION: Built just inside the SW corner of the city walls with a large parish extending outside the walls to the south, the river Stour runs along the NW side of the large churchyard, this church is at about 36ft above OD and has the Norman castle on the higher ground just to the south.

The shell of the nave (and probably of the whole of the chancel) almost certainly date from just before the Norman conquest. The church was perhaps built here in the mid-11th century, soon after the relics (body) of St Mildred had been brought from Minster-in-Thanet to St Augustine's Abbey. The south-west and south-east quoins of the nave are made of very large blocks of Marquise Oolite (with some Hythe stone) that are almost certainly reused Roman (see Hussey 1858). The nave and south-west chancel walls also contain many reused Roman bricks. No original windows or doors survive, even in fragmentary form, as much of the south wall of the nave was refaced when new larger windows were inserted in the early 14th century.
   The first addition to the original nave and chancel was probably the tower added to the north side of the nave in the 13th century. It was demolished in 1836, but earlier drawings show it as a low structure only just projecting above the nave-ridge. The lower north wall of the tower still survives with two lancets in it (both totally restored in Bathstone externally). Three further lancets (also heavily restored externally) in a north wall, running east from the tower north wall, suggest that a north-east chapel may also have been built in the 13th century. (A blocked forth lancet is partly obscured by the later west wall of the vestry).
   The next alterations were the insertion in the early 14th century of the 3 fine tall square-headed windows with hood-moulds in the south wall of the nave and one in the south-west wall of the chancel. At the same time the nave wall was refaced in much of its upper sections and a buttress was added. Of these four windows, that at the east end of the nave (which was originally all made out of Ragstone) is perhaps a little earlier with its simpler trefoiled heads to the main lights and elongated quatrefoils above. The other windows have a hexafoil in the centre and half hexafoils on either side, all above two ogee-headed cinquefoils at the top of the main lights. (These windows can be roughly compared with those inserted into the south wall of the nave of Fordwich church).
   In the later 14th or earlier part of the 15th century the north-east chapel seems to have been rebuilt (and enlarged to the east with a new three-light perp. east window (unfortunately all of this work has been renewed externally in Bathstone and with new flint facing). A new five light east window may also have been built at this time, but it too is almost entirely 19th century work externally, as is the surrounding flint face, the high plinth and the flanking buttresses. The three-light perpendicular window at the west end of the nave is also of about the same date. The enlarged north-east chapel, which was probably dedicated to St John-the-Baptist (from the evidence of wills) is connected with the chapel by two arches on the south. That to the east is now almost entirely 19th century, while that on the west has semi-octagonal responds and an arch over of c.14th century date. All of this chapel area is now taken up with modern vestries. In the chancel were some 15th century stalls, of which some of the Poppy-head ends are now at the extreme west end of the chancel (they have an eagle with a scroll - the symbol of St John-the-Evangelist).
   Both the nave and chancel have separate 15th century crown-post roofs; that in the nave is on moulded tie-beams which are mostly on wall-posts with braces. The chancel roof has a crenellated wall-plate.
   A 1486 will tells us that reparations were going on in the nave at that time, and that a new vestry was being built. This must relate to the building of the surviving vestry on the north-east and probably to the construction of the new north-west aisle. The vestry has a single round-headed light (with square hood) on the north (with 5 surviving original glazing bars) and a two light window on the east. The vestry has a plinth all around and an external door on the north-west. The buttress at the north-east corner of the earlier chapel was probably added at the same time, and the southern ends of the two vestry walls are continued up as north buttresses to the chapel. There is a fine original doorway (in Caen) and door from this vestry into the north-east chapel. The north-gable of the vestry displays the end of a queen-strut truss with clasping side-purlins. This may be the original roof, but it is perhaps a little later (16th century). There is a fine moulded string course around the upper vestry wall which perhaps marks the original wall top (this vestry was badly burnt in a fire in December 1972).
   The north-west aisle also has a continuous plinth around it, and the buttress at the north-west corner of the nave seems to be of the same date. All the quoins (and on the vestry) are of large side alternate blocks of Hythe store. The two buttresses on the north side of the north aisle are both 19th century. The north-west aisle is lit from the north by a 3-light window with round heads under a square hood-mould. There are fine carved heads externally in the spandrels. The west window to this aisle now has 19th century perpendicular tracery in it but Petrie (1801) just shows a ?18th century wooden frame while Jewitt (c.1857) shows Y-tracery. The gable above this window is entirely of red-brick (behind peeling plaster), and may just possibly be late 15th-century work. It is more likely to be later, however. The north doorway into the new north-west aisle is a fine four-centred one made of Caenstone. It still contains its original pair of doors (though repaired at the bottom). Connecting the new north-west aisle with the nave are a pair of late 15th century 4-centred arches. They sit on finely carved ragstone octagonal and semi-octagonal piers with concave faces. (Compare the arcade in St Alphege, Canterbury). On the west face of the central octagonal pier, at the top, is an original canopied niche (now containing a c.1910 figure of St Mildred). Under the east side of the eastern arch is a fine late 15th-century font with its original oak cover with crocketed angles and finial (and pulley cable). (Late Medieval font covers also have survived at Holy Cross, St Alphege and St Dunstan's churches in Canterbury). The font, which stands on a decorated pedestal with moulded plinth has quatrefoils with rosettes on its upper faces. Glynne records an aperture for the rood-loft between the nave and channel (Glynne, 20).
   On the south-east side of the chancel is a fine Chantry chapel for the local Atwood family, said to have been built in 1512. It has much fine chequer work externally of knapped flint and Caenstone with an original consecration cross on a panel on the south-east side (another cross may have been on the now-worn-away panel above the south-west doorway into the chapel. The south and west windows of this chapel are of three lights with round heads under square hood-moulds. The east window is of three lights with perpendicular tracery, and to the north of this the base of an earlier buttress (a plinth block of ? reused Marquise store) to the south-corner of the chancel can be seen. The upper west gable of this chapel has been rebuilt with a cross in it. It also contains the chimney for the 19th century fireplace in the west wall of the chapel. The wide 4 centred arch from the chancel into this chapel was reopened when the chapel was restored in 1905. The chapel has a five-canted ceiling below its ?original roof. The major restoration of the church was carried out by Butterfield in 1861 when the west gallery (with organ) was removed. It was put on the north side of the choir. The north porch was added in c.1900. Another restoration was done in 1973 after a major fire.

BUILDING MATERIALS (Incl. old plaster, paintings, glass, tiles etc.):
The main original building materials are whole rounded flints and large Tertiary sandstone boulders with reused Roman bricks for the rubblework of the nave and chancel. There are also very large ? reused Roman blocks for quoins made of Hythe stone and Marquise. Later medieval features use Kentish ragstone (? from Hythe area) and Caenstone as well as knapped flint facework. Some red bricks can be found in the north-west aisle (?late 15th century) as well as red brickwork in the west gable and cornice area (? later date). All of the outside walls were plastered originally. The SE chantry chapel is faced in chequer work of knapped flint and (? reused) Caenstone block work. 19th century restorations are in Bathstone. There is a 15th century stained glass figure of St Mildred in the W window of the Atwood Chantry.

Some quite fine wall monuments on nave S and W walls - Thomasine Honeywood, Sir W Cranmer, Thomas Cranmer (1604) and in SE Chapel -Margatet Hales. Also tomb-chest of Sir Francis Head (1716) at NW Corner of nave. For monuments see Hasted XI, 249-51.

There is also a fine collection of eight hatchments in the nave and north aisle, and a 1747 plan of the tenements in Castle Street north-east of the churchyard of St Mary-de-Castro in the vestry.

Size: Large area within city walls, with burial here from at least 1472 (Wills).
Shape: Trapezoid shape with city walls on west - ? extended to NW (River Stour) earlier this century.

Condition: Good

Boundary walls: on west the boundary walls sits on the Roman city wall

Building in churchyard or on boundary: 19th century school (now houses) to NW

Exceptional monuments: Many fine 18th and 19th century monuments, including Alderman Simmons (recently restored)

Ecological potential: ? could be good

HISTORICAL RECORD (where known):
Somner & Hasted record Stow as saying that the church and this area of the City were burnt in a major fire of 30 Henry III (1246)

In 1087/8 dispute between Abp. Lanfranc and monks of St Augustines (in continuation of A-S chronicle)

Late med. status: rectory

Patron: St Augustine's Abbey till 1538 then the crown. United with All Saints in 1684, it had been united with St Mary-de-Castro earlier.

Other documentary sources: Hasted (XI) (1800), 249-254 and Somner (1703), 166 and App. p.70. Testaments Cantiana (E Kent 1907), 60-1 mentions chancel or choir of St John-the-Baptist (on NE?) in 1472, 1498. Also light of the Holy Cross (1466, 1486) in the roodloft (1503). Light of Our Lady in the Nave (1477) other lights to St Ann, St Christopher, St John, St Katherine, St Mildred and "the Bachelors Light and Easter Sepulcre light and Jesus Mans light". "To the work and reparation of the Nave of the church and a new Vestry" (1486).

The parish registers record: Isaack Walton and Rachel Floudd were maryed the 27th day of December Ao. 1626".

Reused materials: Many Roman bricks and large quoin-stones reused from Roman buildings.

Finds from church\churchyard: There are some broken architectural fragments in the north-west corner of the nave (behind the Head tomb).

Inside present church: ? quite good, but burial vaults

Outside present church: - ? good

To structure:
To floors: In 1983, the vestry had toilet, drains, etc. inserted.

Quinquennial inspection (date\architect): 1988 A Swaine

The church and churchyard:
A rare ? Late Saxon church in Kent, this is now the finest surviving parish church in Canterbury. It is still in use. Its fine late 15th century additions (NW aisle and NE vestry) and SE Chantry added to the early nave and chancel make this church of exceptional importance.

The wider context: One of only a handful of Anglo-Saxon churches surviving in Kent.

REFERENCES: R Hussey 'St Mildreds' Canterbury 'Arch Cant I (1858), 143-6 - re Roman bricks and reused quoins G Ward 'The Age of St Mildreds' Church, Canterbury 'Arch Cant 54(1941), 62-8 - re early 9th century date R U Potts 'St Mildred's Church', Canterbury - further notes on the site 'Arch Cant 56(1943), 19-22 - re early 11th century date S Glynne, The Churches of Kent (1877), 19-20 - visited c.1830 and CAR Radford Arch J 126 (1970), 237

Guide book: Leaflet

Photographs: Font and cover shown in Kent Churches 1954, 126

Plans & drawings: J Buckler views from NE (1801) at Canterbury Museum, H Petrie from SW (1801) and O Jewitt (c1857) in AC I (1858), 143 (from SW)

DATES VISITED: 3rd & 26th October 1992                        REPORT BY: Tim Tatton-Brown

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