Building » Gillingham – Our Lady of Gillingham

Gillingham – Our Lady of Gillingham

Railway Street, Gillingham ME7

A plain mission-style Gothic Revival church of 1896, with some later extensions. It retains most of its original furnishings and has some recent stained glass of note. The church forms part of a larger group with the presbytery, the first church-cum-school building, and a later school building.

The mission at Gillingham was founded from Brompton, the precursor to the parish of Chatham. This part of Gillingham, then called New Brompton, was developed to provide housing for the workers at Chatham dockyard. The local Arathoon family promoted the establishment of the mission. In about 1888, the first mission priest arrived, Fr (later Canon) Thomas McMahon. Two years later building work started, possibly with the presbytery. A small building used as school and church (now the McMahon Hall) opened in 1893, with donations from the Fauld family.

The current church was opened on 12 May 1896 by Bishop Bourne. In 1902 this was considerably enlarged. Louis Brennan is credited with the donation of the high altar and reredos, the work of Belgian craftsmen. A larger school building (now the Scott Hall) was added in 1934. In 1972 the new infants’ school buildings were opened in Greenfield Road, leaving only the junior school on the old site. The second phase of the school buildings was completed in October 1988, when the junior school also moved there. Some of the old school buildings were demolished, creating a large car park.

In 1990 a narthex extension was built onto the west end of the church, enabling direct access to the church from the car park. The projecting bay for the gallery stair was added possibly at the same time, as well as two confessionals, and the new entrance to the presbytery. At some point, niches were added for the side altars which used to be set against the sanctuary arch. Between 1999 and 2003, the two halls were refurbished. The Scott Hall (named after the second mission priest, Fr Thomas Scott) is currently used by the First Friends Day Nursery.


The church was built in 1896 by an unknown architect. It was extended in 1902, with further additions in 1990. It was built using stock brick laid in English garden wall bond (stretcher bond for the later additions) with red brick dressings. The plan is longitudinal, consisting of a long aisleless nave with a narrower chancel. The modern projecting staircase bay at the northwest has a large crucifix fixed to the external wall.

The narthex at the west has a repository, a toilet and the gallery stair. The nave is six bays long, in addition to one bay for the gallery. It has a rafter and purlin roof with angle braces, which is ceiled at collar level. The rose window at the west end has the symbols of the Evangelists (1988, by Cox & Barnard, in memory of Fr Arthur Patrick Porter). The Stations of the Cross are framed casts. The north wall has six stained glass windows of English martyrs, all by Cox & Barnard (from west): St Thomas More (in memory of Margaret L. Ling, d. 1982); St Thomas of Canterbury (1983); St John Fisher; the English Martyrs (1980, donated by Mary & Edward Ennis); St Margaret Clitherow (in memory of Margaret and Robert Brown); and St Alban (1985). There are two confessionals at the north side, as well as the disused original pulpit of stone and marble which now supports a pietà. The northeast chapel is dedicated to the Sacred Heart and has a marble altar with reredos and a statue.

The two-bay sanctuary has stone altar rails given in memory of Gladys Muriel Hawking (d. 1955). The side windows date from 1987 and are by Cox & Barnard: on the north side St Michael and St Gabriel, on the south St Raphael. The east window is contained within a vesica and depicts the Virgin and Child. The original altar has been moved forward; its frontal depicts the Last Supper.  The reredos is made from Caen stone and Italian marble. The outer niches have statues of St Anthony and St Patrick, beside depictions of the Nativity and the Crucifixion. At the centre is the canopied monstrance throne with pillars of Egyptian onyx, above the tabernacle with pillars of Donegal marble. On either side of the reredos are statues of St Joseph and St Theresa. The north wall has a piscina, while an aumbry recess in the south wall has been blocked off. The timber font, chair and lectern are modern.

In the southeast corner, beside the entrance to the sacristy, is the Lady Chapel, with a marble altar and reredos with a statue of the Virgin with Child. Nearby is a memorial plaque to Elizabeth Field (d. 1900) in whose memory the altar was erected. The south nave wall has four stained glass windows of Marian scenes (from the east): St Mary Immaculate (Cox & Barnard); the Assumption (1994, Cox & Barnard, in memory of Fr Arthur Porter); the Deposition (1922, Jones & Willis, in memory of Mary Julia Arathoon, d. 1920, wife of Lt. Col. Robert Lewis Arathoon, daughter of Sir John Haggerston, 8th Baronet of Chathill, Northumberland); Our Lady of Gillingham (Cox & Barnard, 1986).

At the southwest is the former baptistery with its iron gates, now used as chapel for the Divine Mercy devotion. The original font is still in situ, but no longer used. There are several memorial plaques, including to the first two mission priests.

Heritage Details

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1896

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed