Rochester Road, Denton, Gravesend, Kent DA12
A small medieval chapel which was originally the manor chapel and later the parish church of Denton. Disused by the time of the Reformation and in ruins by the eighteenth century, it was bought by George Matthews Arnold and restored by F. A. Walters in 1901.
St Mary’s chapel is often dated to 950, but this relates to the putative year of its foundation rather than to extant fabric. In 950, the Anglo-Saxon thane Bryhtric bequeathed land at Denton, which possibly included a church, to the Priory of St Andrew the Apostle, Rochester (now Rochester Cathedral). St Mary’s used to be the chapel to Denton Manor, then became a parish church and later, as a ruin, was in private ownership. It seems to have fallen out of use by the time of the Reformation, as it was not mentioned when the Manor of Denton was granted by Henry VIII to Rochester Cathedral. An illustration of 1774 shows the church in ruins, and in 1798 six poplar trees were planted in the nave.
In 1787 the London and Dover turnpike road was built through St Mary’s churchyard, disinterring numerous burials. The scattered bones were later assembled and placed in a chest in the restored church, which was sealed and re-interred within the church. In July 1882, part of the manor, including the ruined church and a house called Denton Court, was purchased by George Matthews Arnold for £2,900. Arnold (1826–1908), a solicitor and eight times mayor of Gravesend, proceeded to restore the church, under the architect F. A. Walters. Only the east wall, the chancel arch, and the north and south nave walls were still standing by then. Of the west wall, only the foundations were found. The other walls were rebuilt in matching flint, with a tiled roof, while incorporating all original remains. A new rood screen was installed using the ancient sockets in the walls from the pre-Reformation screen. Side altars (since removed) were placed on either side of the chancel arch, one of which was dedicated to St Andrew, commemorating the connection with Rochester. The first post-Reformation Mass was said on 4 July 1901.
Arnold had converted to Catholicism in 1858 and was a benefactor to St John’s, Gravesend, as well as restoring three small medieval churches: St Mary’s Denton, St Katherine’s, Shorne, (also restored by F. A. Walters; listed grade II) and the Norman church at Dode (grade II*, now in private ownership). (The chapel at Shorne used to belong to the old people’s home and convent of the Corpus Christi Carmelite sisters, which are now run by the Sons of Divine Providence. It has ceased to be a regular chapel-of-ease.)
Arnold bequeathed 100 acres of land in Denton to the diocese. Of these, 72 were sold and 28 retained for the parish schools. In 1928 Irene Arnold made the church over to the diocesan trustees. Due to the 1930s housing developments in Denton, St Mary’s had once again a community to serve and from 1941 it was in regular Sunday use. For its millennium celebrations in 1950, the chapel was reroofed, electricity was installed, a new tabernacle purchased and two stone gable crosses erected. On Whitsuntide 1951, the 100th anniversary of St John the Evangelist, Gravesend, and the millennium of St Mary’s were jointly celebrated. An archaeological report of 1952 dated the church to the twelfth century. It is the oldest Catholic church in the area and Gravesend’s oldest functioning church of any denomination.
The list description (below) is very brief and does not mention the restorer (F. A. Walters) or George Matthews Arnold. It erroneously states that the Catholic use of the chapel resumed in 1940, rather than 1901 or the regular Sunday use in 1941.
The surviving medieval fabric dates from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, with several walls and the roof entirely rebuilt in 1901 by F. A. Walters. The church is built of flint with a tiled roof. The plan is rectangular with a narrower chancel and a Lady Chapel off the south wall, which might be a remnant from a former south aisle. The west facade has two lancet windows above a central doorway. There is a further entrance on the north side. Nave and chancel have complex scissor-beam roofs. To the south of the west door is a memorial plaque to the reinterred remains disturbed in 1787. On the other side of the door is a green marble plaque to Mr and Mrs Arnold, Bryhtric, the putative founder, and his wife, and all those buried in the chapel. The north side of the nave has a window on either side of the north door. The south side has a small Lady Chapel in an arched recess with two side windows.
The chancel arch has a rood on a horizontal beam. The forward altar and lectern are of bogwood, sculpted by Michael Casey (see also St John the Evangelist, Gravesend). There is another altar against the east wall, below a two-light stained-glass window of the Annunciation (1900, in memory of George and Elizabeth Arnold). The north window depicts St George, the south window St Elizabeth of Hungary, the patron saints of the Arnolds. On either side of the high altar are a built-in aumbry and piscina. On the south wall, beside the piscina is a wide traceried niche, possibly intended as sedilia, now with a statue of St John Fisher. Part of the chancel is tiled with medieval-style tiles. On the altar is a larger tile depicting the Crucifixion, which might be the tile found in or near the chapel which is mentioned in histories of the chapel.
This was the original Parish Church of Denton before the present Parish Church was built in the C14. It is C12-C13. It fell into ruins at the Reformation and was restored in 1901. It was opened as a Roman Catholic Church in 1940. Built of flints with a tiled roof. Little mediaeval work visible outside.
Architect: Unknown; restored by F. A. Walters
Original Date: 1200
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II