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History of Chilham

Chilham comes from the Old English ‘hām’ meaning a ‘village, manor, homestead’ combined with a personal name; therefore, a ‘homestead/village of Cilla or Cille’. The Domesday Book records Chilham as Cilleham.


Chilham parish church is a Grade: I listed building, dedicated to Saint Mary the Virgin. The Normans first built the church in the 12th century, although largely rebuilt it 200 years later. The west tower dates to 1534. In 1552, there is a record of five bells in the tower. During the reformation,  the monks moved a shrine, containing the body of St Augustine, from Canterbury to St Mary’s. Since 1541, there is no record of the shrine’s location, despite many attempts to trace it. Richard Phelps completed a ring of six bells with a treble in 1709. In 1760, Lester and Pack recast the six bells into another ring of six. In 1799,  Edward Hasted described the Chilham church as a ‘handsome building, consisting of a body and two isles, all covered with lead, and a high chancel, with two chaples, one of which is dedicated to St. Anne, on the south side; there was a chantry on the north side, now pulled down, with a transept, all covered with tile. It has a tower steeple at the west end, on one corner of which is a beacon turret, which till of late was covered with a small spire. There are six bells and a clock in it. The steeple was built about the year 1534, as appears by a legacy towards the building of it’. In 1883, the architect David Brandon rebuilt the chancel its aisles. In 1883, John Taylor added two treble bells to complete the octave.


King John gave Chilham to his bastard son, Richard, who built a castle and settled with his wife, a girl from Dover. King John met Stephen Langton, the Papal choice for Archbishop of Canterbury, at the castle in 1216. Pope Innocent III had quashed King John’s candidate of John de Grey.