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Gallery: Churches of Kent

by Peter Kessler, 29 June 2009

 

 

Canterbury Part 19: St Alphege, Seasalter Old Church

The Parish Church of St Alphege in Seasalter

The Parish Church of St Alphege, Seasalter, is otherwise known as Seasalter Old Church, to differentiate it from St Alphege Church in the centre of Whitstable. As its name suggests, Seasalter has a long history as a centre of salt production. After Christ Church Priory was founded, the village of Seasalter and its lands were taken into the priory's possession, and at the time of Domesday Book, in 1087, the region was noted as belonging 'to the kitchen of the archbishop'.

Main doors of Seasalter Old Church in Whitstable

Until the eleventh century the Saxon church was dedicated to St Peter and lay somewhere off the present day coastline. In 1012 Archbishop Alphege was captured by Vikings and taken to their encampment at Greenwich, where they hoped to ransom him. During a drunken feast, the Vikings pelted Alphege with bones, and he was killed by a blow to the head from an axe. He was buried in St Paul's in London, but King Canute returned his body to Canterbury in 1023.

Seasalter Old Church bell tower

The cortege landed at Seasalter, and the body was laid in the church for three days, before being taken through Whitstable and on to Canterbury. The church, as well as another in Canterbury, was rededicated in his honour. This original Saxon Seasalter Church was engulfed by a great storm in 1099, which also stripped away the coastline, moving it further inland. To replace the lost church, Seasalter's present 'Old Church' was built on higher ground in the twelfth century.

Rear view of Seasalter Old Church in Whitstable

The church continued to serve as Seasalter's main parish church throughout the Middle Ages and into the nineteenth century (the parish church for Whitstable was a mile inland, outside of the town itself). The railways came to Kent between 1830 and 1860. By this time the church had become very run down, and the fishing trade over in Whitstable had expanded greatly in importance, especially with direct railway access to Canterbury, drawing people away from Seasalter.

Side view of St Alphege Church in Seasalter

It was clear that a church was needed nearer to the bulk of the congregation in Whitstable. In 1844 the first stone was laid for the new St Alphege Church on the High Street, which was intended to be a replacement building. The fate of the Old Church was quite different. The front section, containing the nave, was demolished, leaving only the tiny chancel and sanctuary, which survive today. A small bell tower was added above the new main doors.

Seasalter Old Church in Whitstable as seen from a distance

By 1900, the Old Church was no longer being mentioned in the church magazine, showing that it had been completely displaced by the new church. In the twenty-first century the situation for the church became much more hopeful. A huge house-building programme covered the grass hills between Seasalter and Whitstable with new buildings, and the church found a new lease of life with an increased congregation. The new houses do not intrude on the churchyard at all.

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