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Gallery: Churches of Kent
by Peter Kessler, 30 August 2009
Canterbury Part 14: Churches of Harbledown &
St Michael & All Angels, Harbledown, sits
at the top of the steep hill on which the village is built. The area was
once covered by the dense forest of Blean which still stretches north towards
Whitstable. The name 'Harbledown' is likely to be the medieval village of
'Bobbe-up-and-doun' in which Chaucer and his pilgrims rested on the way to
Canterbury. The name apparently came about because the road was poor and
would 'bob up and down'. This later mutated into Harbledown.
The original small rectangular church was constructed
about 1160, and was still new when Henry II dismounted in Harbledown to
walk to St Dunstan's as part of his penance for Becket's murder. The church
was enlarged about 1450 and extensively restored by the Victorians in 1881,
which is when the wooden bell tower was probably added. Today the church sits
in a large, leafy and very peaceful churchyard and serves a widespread parish of
some 6,000 souls.
St Nicholas' Hospital, Harbledown, Church and
Chantry is known locally as 'The Leper Church'. It sits on the
crown of the steep hill around which Harbledown has grown, a little
further down the road from St Michael's. The church itself isn't
visible from the road. Instead, visitors have to ascend the steps
from the street to enter the private grounds via a Tudor gateway.
This exits onto a pathway which bisects almshouses and church, with
the latter sitting on top of a steep hill.
St Nicholas is a Norman church which was founded about
1084 by Archbishop Lanfranc (1070-1093) for the relief of lepers. Inside
the church, the main floor slopes from east to west, so that it could be
washed down after the services for the lepers. Apparently, many of the
priests who served at the church were also lepers themselves. Opposite
the church, at the bottom of the hill (to the right of this photo), the
hospital for lepers was established.
On the disappearance of leprosy from England,
Lanfranc's foundation gradually developed into the almshouses of
today. The chapel was enlarged to its present size in the fourteenth
century, but the original hospital buildings were demolished and
replaced by the present Victorian almshouses. Until very recently,
the hospital was on the main road from London to Canterbury, until a
bypass was added to divert traffic away from the now peaceful
St Gabriel's Church, in nearby Rough Common,
lies to the north of its parent church in Harbledown. Rough Common is
part of the same parish, but has this small iron church of its own,
which was built in around 1898 for local worshippers who could not make
the long journey (on foot) to St Michael's. It is situated on the north-west
side of the main, Rough Common Road, midway between Lovell Road and
One photo on this page licensed for re-use under
a Creative Commons Licence by Nigel Chadwick at Geograph British