Although it is not obvious today, Gillingham was once the major town in the Medway area and dates back to around the 7th Century. A wooden church is likely to have stood near where today’s church stands although no trace of it has survived.
Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1070, is thought to be responsible for the first stone church which was built in the precinct of a Palace for the Archbishops, and it is probable that it began life as a private chapel.
As time passed the church became the parish church and in the 14th Century it was enlarged when Gillingham received its market charter and the population began to grow. The Palace survived until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII when it was demolished and now no trace of it has survived, although enough survived in 1785 for a drawing to be made of the Hall.
In 1564 local hero Will Adams was baptised at the Church. He famously travelled to Japan with the Dutch fleet. Adams became a favourite advisor of the Shogun Iyeyasu Tokugawa. He later became commander of the Japanese fleet and a richly rewarded part of the Japanese court.
By the 19th Century Gillingham Church had become in a seriously poor condition and so work was undertaken to rebuild. This has almost entirely obscured the original medieval work and today the church looks more Victorian, belying its long and illustrious past. The Victorians removed all the medieval monuments from inside the church, giving an even stronger feeling of modernity.
Until World War II the church tower was used as a navigation aid by the Fleet at Chatham Dockyard, but more recent years have seen it slowly fade into the general mishmash of buildings to the extent that it is no longer readily visible from the Medway.
Shaun and Alison where married at Gillingham Church.
Photo - Andrew J. Müller
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