History Files


Modern Britain

Gallery: Churches of Kent

by Peter Kessler, 30 August 2009



Canterbury Part 17: Churches of Harbledown & Rough Common

St Michael and All Angels in 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.

St Michael and All Angels, Harbledown, Kent

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 and Church, Harbledown, Kent

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 Hospital and Church, Harbledown, Kent

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.

St Nicholas Hospital and Church, Harbledown, Kent

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 village.

St Gabriels Church

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 Ravenscourt Road.

One photo on this page licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence by Nigel Chadwick at Geograph British Isles.

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