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The Church of St Matthew Borstal lies on
the western side of Borstal Street, the main connecting route
between Rochester and the village of Borstal, which is immediately
to the south-west of Rochester, offering splendid views over the
River Medway. The church is described as a simple, homely
building of Kentish ragstone, constructed in a design that was very
common in the late Victorian period. The church only has an
unassuming tower containing one solitary bell.
There had been no Anglican church in Borstal
until the church school was built on the bank opposite the current
church in 1868. It also served as a place of worship for the next
decade until work could begin on a proper church building for the
village. Thanks to its location on a steep hillside, the new church
had to be orientated north to south, instead of the more usual east
to west pattern. The architect was C A Luck, and the builder J G Naylar.
The foundation stone was laid on 29 June 1878
'by the Right Honourable the Earl of Darnley'. The family of the
earl of Darnley lived for some centuries at Cobham Hall, the famous
Tudor mansion five miles westward across the River Medway. The design
was simple - a nave boasting only a central aisle, with colour-washed
walls below a solidly-constructed timber root of the 'upturned boat'
variety, lit by tall, lancet-type 'West End' windows.
The first service was held in the new church on
22 July 1879 and the building eventually became the base of the
newly-constituted parish of St Matthew, hived off from the very
extensive parish of St Margaret. A few years later, in 1904, the church
was extended to accommodate the present choir stalls, sanctuary and choir
and clergy vestries. The foundation stone for this extension was laid
by the countess of Darnley in 1905.
Borstal Baptist Church also sits on the
western side of Borstal Street, just a few metres (yards) to the
south of St Matthew's and also overlooking the steep valley down to
the River Medway. The church was erected in the centre of the
village by Samuel Barker Booth in 1880, with a hall attached (to the
left here). Initially, it was primarily a place of recreation for Booth's
employees at Borstal Cement Works, and at first, the ground floor
was used as a recreation room.
At this time, nonconformist services were held in
a nearby house. With increasing attendances, services were
transferred to the upper room (which also held some early Anglican
services). The premises continued to be known for years as Borstal
Institute, then Borstal Chapel, then Borstal Free Church, and
finally, comparatively recently, as Borstal Baptist Church. From
time to time, magic lantern shows were held and this was the great
attraction of this church for local children.