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Gallery: Churches of Kent
by Peter Kessler, 29 June 2009
Canterbury Part 24: St Alphege, 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'.
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.
The cortege landed at Seasalter, and the body was
laid in the church for three days before being taken through Whitstable
and then 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 1100s.
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.
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.
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.