Dover’s Chapel of St Edmund of Abingdon
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Grateful thanks to all those that have provided many of the facts, images, references and details in these pages

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spacer The History of the Restoration

The first suggestion that the Chapel should be restored seems to have been made in 1944. Mr Philip V. Marchant, who was the Borough Engineer at the time, incorporated its restoration in his plans for the re-building of Dover after the Second World War.

Overhead view of Chapel during restoration
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This image shows the chapel during the restoration. Notice how close the surrounding buildings are to the Chapel's walls. The East wall is forming part of the rear of the shop buldings in Biggin Street - these have now all been replaced by new developments leaving the Chapel completely freestanding.

The Dover post-war development advisory committee during 1944 laid much stress upon the desirability of preserving the 12th [sic] century Wayside Chapel of St Edmund, situated between Priory Road and Biggin Street, which was 'discovered' following the destruction of the surrounding property by shellfire. Provision is made in the scheme, therefore, for the Chapel to be preserved in a strip of lawns and gardens fronting Biggin Street. The suggestion is put forward also that the existing War Memorial shall be transferred from its present position in front of Maison Dieu House to the lawns surrounding the Chapel and that, together, the Monument and the Chapel shall serve as Memorial to the men and women who gave their lives in the two World Wars. (Dover Re-construction Proposals, 1944, printed 1947, p.11.)
His plan was filed and forgotten. When, in 1965, Rev T Tanner made the same suggestion (including the re-siting of the War Memorial), he thought he was being original, and so did the local officials to whom he spoke.

The next attempt to save the Chapel were made by Lieutenant-Colonel R. F. H. Drake-Brockman, in 1953. He wrote in a letter to the Kent Messenger, 10th April 1963:

In that year steps were taken to try and get the Chapel, which is in private ownership, scheduled as an Ancient Monument, so as to save it from the threat of demolition, which still, to this day, hangs over it. Dover Corporation were informed by the Ministry that it would only be scheduled if they purchased it and maintained it in perpetuity. This they were unwilling to do, and when enquiries were again made recently the ministry stands by its ruling of ten years ago, and Dover Corporation likewise stands by their decision at that time.

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Tubby Clayton
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Rev P B (Tubby) Clayton, Founder Padre of Toc H
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His attempts to save the Chapel seem to have been inspired by a Service that had been held at St Mary's Church to celebrate the seven hundredth anniversary of the consecration of the Chapel. The Mayor, the Bishop of Dover, and the Reverend P. B. (Tubby) Clayton, Founder Padre of Toc H, were present, and the Service was conducted by the Reverend Canon A. Stanley Cooper. The Address was given by Reverend Canon A. R. Browne-Wilkinson, M.A., Canon Residentiary of Chichester Cathedral. After the Service, there was a Procession. A short stop was made for prayer at the Chapel and the Procession continued to the Maison Dieu for concluding prayers and a blessing by the Bishop of Dover.

Lieutenant-Colonel Drake-Brockman, who was Honorary Secretary of the Kent Archaeological Society's Sub-Committee for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings, did not give up his efforts until he knew that the Rev T Tanner was safely embarked upon restoring the Chapel.

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St Edmund
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St Richard
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Rev T E Tanner
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External Links
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Rediscovery of Chapel
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No resonsibility can be accepted for links to outside websites
 
 
 


Part of the Chapel joining the rear of the shops in Biggin Street
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A close up of the roof adjoining the buildings at the rear of the Chapel.

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A view of the Chapel prior to restoration
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A photograph taken before the restoration work was started. Notice the state of the stonework and the window at ground level. Also to the sides of the Chapel, small building extentions appear to have been added.

The Rev T E Tanner’s efforts to save the Chapel started very soon after his appointment to Dover in November 1958, although at that time he had no idea of undertaking the work himself.

As he got to know the local officials, he introduced the subject into conversations. Some were sympathetic and wished that something could be done. Others had no time for the proposal. Either way the official decision was always quoted: 'The building is of no historic or architectural value and is scheduled for demolition'.

As there were no immediate plans for redeveloping the site, there was no particular urgency to do anything to preserve the Chapel. At a meeting held in the Biggin Hall, however, on 12th March 1964, to discuss the possibility of building an old people's community centre, Rev T E Tanner made the suggestion that St Edmund's Chapel could easily be converted as a temporary measure and that a community centre could be built on the adjacent land when the time came to redevelop it. The proposal failed to find acceptance. A prominent official said: 'The site on which the Chapel stands is too valuable. The Chapel has no historic or architectural value, and no power on earth can save it from demolition.'

That determined phrase introduced a note of urgency into the vague plans which were being formed for its future use.

It should be noted, that although the Corporation and some local officials were so uncooperative before the Rev T Tanner took the decision to restore the Chapel, after he took the decision to proceed they all afforded him every possible help.

Mr Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, who is the Honorary Director of the Friends of Friendliness Churches, and is associated with many other Societies and Trusts for the preservation of ancient churches and buildings, gave expert advice. It was learned from him that the surest way to preserve a Church was to put it into regular use. It was excellent advice, but it meant that the Chapel had to be purchased and restored before it could be used.

The first intention was to restore the Chapel as a Chapel of Unity. The Rural Dean of Dover (Canon T. Ewart Roberts, BA), was as enthusiastic as the Rev Tanner, and by a unanimous vote the clergy of the Dover Rural Deanery, in Chapter on 4th February 1964, decided: 'That we join our fellow Christians of the Roman Catholic Church in finding half the money needed to buy the freehold property known as Saint Edmund's Chapel, Priory Road, Dover'.

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In a letter, also of 4th February 1964, in which the Rural Dean informed the Rev Tanner  of the Chapter's decision, the Rural Dean continued: 'In the first instance we envisage the chapel restored as a Chapel of Unity, with the possibility of making it in due course an ecumenical centre with a hostel attached; but this, of course, must await further developments, although we must be ready for any possible purchase of adjacent properties'.

Later that year (7th August 1964) the Rural Dean wrote to the Rev Tanner: 'The Archbishop (of Canterbury) is most anxious that the Chapel of Saint Edmund should be preserved ... Have you any great feelings if the Anglican Church were to raise all the money required to buy the freehold?'

He had no objection, but on 12th March 1965, the Rural Dean informed the Dover Fraternal of Ministers that it looked as though it would be necessary to make an inter-denominational appeal after all, if the Chapel were to be saved.

And on 4th June 1965, the Rural Dean reported to the same Fraternal that: 'Neither the Anglican Churches nor the Free Churches were going to raise the money to purchase the building, and he personally withdrew from any money-raising efforts devoted towards this end. It was agreed to leave the project alone.'

Although the idea of restoring the Chapel as a Chapel of Unity had obviously to be abandoned, it should be recorded that almost half the cost of the purchase and restoration of the Chapel came from Church of England sources outside Dover.

The Roman Catholic community in Dover was many tens of thousands of pounds in debt due to an extensive building programme which the rev Tanner had initiated. It therefore could not accept responsibility for any more debt, especially for a building which would serve no useful parochial purpose.

As a result of theses financial obstacles, Rev Tanner decided to personally undertake the restoration project. However this decision was taken out of his hands by a speculator who was making enquiries with a view to buying the Chapel.

As a result the Rev Father Leonard Whatmore, who felt so strongly that this unique opportunity must not be missed, immediately made out a cheque for a deposit on the purchase price. This was paid to the agents on 2nd August 1965, and the preservation of the Chapel had at last begun in the right hands.

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Front elevation before restoration
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Another photograph of the chapel before its restoration on a sunnier day.
Courtesy Council for Kentish Archaeology
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Plaque
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Notice the plaque attached to the wall and the small light leading to the side entrance.
Courtesy Council for Kentish Archaeology

spacer spacer The Original and the Restored

Mr Anthony Swaine F.R.I.B.A., was in charge of the restoration of the Chapel, but even he does not know how responsible he was for its restoration. A lay person looking at the Chapel as it was in 1965 could have been permitted the opinion that not enough of the original building remained to merit restoration, but in those early days Mr Swaine accepted the responsibility for its being worthwhile. He is a leading authority on medieval architecture, and his enthusiasm was infectious. 'It is all here. It is remarkably preserved preserved Seventy-five per cent of this is original. You will never believe how completely it can be restored.' It was with phrases such as these that made the restoration inevitable.

Overhead view of Chapel during restoration
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The restoration had to be carried out on an extremely cramped site. Just behind the Chapel are the rear of the shops on Dover's busy High Street.

Dedication in restoring the old roof timbers
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The roof needed a great deal of work bringing it back to its original condition using materials that were a close to that employed at the time of the chapel's construction.

A skilled mason repairing damaged stonework
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In order to complete some of the brickwork, a mason using stone recovered from other ancient sites in Kent was employed to reshape the stonework to replace or store that which has been lost or destroyed over time.

Front elevation just prior to the Chapel's full restoration
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The front elevation showing in detail the restoration work including a new door reflecting as closely as possible the one that would have been in place at the time of the chapel's original construction.

It was he who explained the two schools of thought on restoring old buildings. There are the people who say that a restoration should show, rather like a patch on a little Dutch boy's trousers: that modern materials should be used so that the original and the restored are easily distinguishable. They call it being faithful. Mr Swaine belongs to the second school of thought, and he has gone to enormous trouble to procure only ancient material to restore this Chapel. Sometimes he has had to use pre-thirteenth-century material, but as he says,
'the builders could have used it, too'.

Two views of the front door of the Chapel
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This image shows the before and after. The image on the left is that of the Chapel's door (then a window) before restoration. It is obvious as to how little or how much work was needed to bring the building back to its former glory by comparing with the image on the right taken more recently.

The Dover building company Messrs R. J. Barwick and Sons, Ltd, were the contractors for the restoration. The carpenter was Bert Cave and he had as his apprentice Ron Atkins. The mason was Ted Langley, assistant for a short period by Steve Carswell, and their mate was Arthur Goldsack.

When the Chapel came into the possession of Rev Terence Tanner in 1965, it was much as Mr Loftus Brock had seen it. The bottom half of the west door had been bricked up and a window had been inserted into the upper half. Two doors had been inserted into the north wall - a single door, where the vestment cupboard now is, and a double door between the two windows. The window at the west end of the north wall had been increased in width and the window at the east end of this wall had been partially bricked in. The semi-circular headed window, high up in the east wall had been match-boarded over, and the larger window below had been bricked in. On the south wall, the window at the west end had not been altered , but the window at the east end had been bricked in. The floor had been raised eighteen inches and concreted over, and in the angle of the north and east walls a fireplace had been inserted, complete with chimney breast.

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Shortly after restoration
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A view of the restored Chapel soon after its completion. Notice that the building is still attached to the back of the shops in Biggin Street. At that time there was no path leading between the Chapel and Biggin Street, however, to the right hand side can be seen an unmade path leading to a door in one of the properties.

Against the inside of the west wall a lavatory and kitchen sink had been built, and a staircase leading to the floor above. Upstairs, the walls and roof had been match-boarded over and another fireplace inserted in the angle of the north and east walls. Light was by two sky-lights inserted into the roof. If it was hard to identify as a chapel from the outside it was harder to identify as a chapel from the inside. Yet, incredibly, a large amount of the original material remained - in the walls, in the hardcore that has been used to raise the floor level, and in the ground nearby.

The two shops which stood in Priory Road, and hemmed in the Chapel, were destroyed by shells on 24th August 1943. Their ruins had been levelled and earthed over, and there was a small garden at pavement level.

Only some of the uses to which the Chapel had been put between 1544 and 1965 are known.

At the time it was purchased, it was the Headquarters of the Buckland Branch of Toc H. The upstairs room was their meeting place. Downstairs, they chopped and sawed wood for distribution as firewood to old people, and made and repaired toys as Christmas presents for poor children. They had been there for twenty years.

The Chapel as a forge
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For a while the Chapel was used as forge. This view is of the north side of the chapel.

Before that, the Chapel had been used as a workshop by Mr G Isaacson, who is described in an Abstract of Titles, drawn up in 1933, and in the Dover Directory of 1925, as a blacksmith, but it always described by those who knew him as a whitesmith. At the time when Miss Mabel Martin did her drawing of the Old Forge (Plate 4), Mr Isaacson was very proud of the fact that he was working in one of the oldest chapels in the land while his son was preaching in one of the newest churches.

Before him, a Frederick Turtle, described as a whitesmith, plumber and electrician, used the Chapel as his workshop. It was he who gave the Reverend T.S. Frampton permission to inspect it.And - 'a blacksmith has the east end' at the time of Mr Loftus Brock's visit in 1833.Before that, however, it is uncertain to what use the Chapel had been put.

The Chapel as a forge
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Finally the chapel was reconsecrated in 1968 as seen in this single frame from a 16mm movie shot at the time by Dover's renown Ray Warner.
Courtesy Dover Film Festival


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Mr Anthony Swaine F.R.I.B.A.
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Mr Anthony Swaine F.R.I.B.A.

 
 
 
 
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