Gravesend, Kent

St. George's Church, Gravesend, Kent

The first record of a church at Gravesend comes from the Domesday Book when churches are mentioned at Milton and at Gravesend, then two separate parishes. This church seems to have stood some distance from what is now the town centre. In 1380 the French and Spanish attacked Gravesend and destroyed much of the town. After this time it is thought that the church was moved to the town centre to make it more convenient for the growing port. A Chapel of Ease was licenced here in 1497 and it officially became the Parish church in 1544, the old church having suffered a terrible fire in 1508 and never being repaired. Henry VIII finally decommissioned the old church and nothing now remains of it.

The new church, St. George’s, looks to have had a steeple in its original form and was larger than the newer church. It was this version of the church which saw the burial of Princess Pocahontas in 1617. Her statue stands outside the current church and is one of Gravesend’s main tourist draws. By 1710, however, the church is described as old, run down, and having no steeple.

Gravesend seems to have suffered a number of fires – and on 24 August 1727 one such blaze destroyed the centre of town, taking with it 120 houses and St. George’s Church. Funds were begged from the King who gave money, but none of this seems to have gone to rebuilding the church and it wasn’t until the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches in London was brought into the equation that funding was found to build St. George’s Church anew – even though it wasn’t in London. The new church was opened for business in February 1733. In the 1890s the Church was extended.

In 1951 St. George’s ceased to be the parish church and was re-opened as a “Chapel of Unity”. Strong links were forged with the people of the USA and in particular the State of Virginia as interest in Pocahontas and her story began to grow.

Mr George Tatchell sold his house and lived in the north aisle of the church until his death in 1965 and it is to him that we can turn to thank for the survival of the church which would most likely have been destroyed if he had not occupied it. In 1968 it became Gravesend’s Parish Church once more and today, with its famous statue of Pocahontas, has become the trademark building of the town.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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