St Michael's Roman Catholic Church, Chatham

Of the scores of churches and chapels built in the Medway Towns during the Victorian period, very few remain in use as places of worship. One such is St Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Hills Terrace, Chatham.

Before this church opened in 1863, the Catholics of the Medway Towns worshipped in a small chapel in Brompton. However, with a large proportion of the servicemen stationed in the area of Irish origin, and with the population expanding generally, the need for a new Catholic place of worship was pressing.
In 1862, the Diocese of Southwark paid the Government £350 for a site near Chatham Railway Station. The builder, K Spicer, working from plans by the architect Henry Clutton, commenced work almost immediately, and the foundation stone was blessed by the Bishop of Southwark in October 1862. The service had not been publicised in advance, and the only non-Catholic witnesses watched the rituals from the windows of surrounding houses. Once the service was complete, the Bishop walked round the corner to Chatham station and returned to London.

The finished building was fairly plain, the stock brickwork only relieved by a few courses of black and light bricks. Worshippers entered by a double doorway on the western side, which had a circular “wheel” window above.

When the church was officially opened in June 1863, only the nave (100ft long by 50ft wide) was completed. This was divided into three by two arcades of five arches each.

The opening ceremony was led by Dr Grant, the Bishop of Southwark and Dr E Manning. Both were converts from Anglicanism. The nave was packed with visiting clergy, servicemen of all ranks, and the lay Catholics of the Medway Towns, who had contributed £300 towards building costs. Members of the Royal Marine Band and the choir of St John’s Church, Gravesend supplied the music. High Mass was celebrated and then Manning gave a sermon in which he pointed to the need for additional Catholic churches and schools in the Towns. He particularly thanked the Bishop and Father Morley of Brompton for their dedication in creating St Michael’s, together with an anonymous Catholic benefactor who had contributed half of the cost.

Eighty of the congregation then adjourned to the neighbouring headquarters of the 9th Kent Volunteer Rifles, where they lunched on food and drink provided by the landlord of the nearby York Tavern. The Bishop and his party then returned to London via Chatham station.

Manning’s hopes of additional Catholic churches and schools throughout the Medway Towns materialised over the coming decades, and St Michael’s is still tucked away behind Chatham Station.