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The History of Kent

Copyright Kent Past 2010

Saint Peter an Saint Paul - River

Over the years, the dedication of the Parish of River Church has varied. From earliest times until 1486, the dedication was to St. Peter. From then until the Reformation it was given the dual dedication of St. Peter and St. Paul. Then the name St. Peter was deleted until 1876 when the Saint's name reappeared in the records; this was almost certainly linked with the work of the Oxford Movement, at this time. The Parish is under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Diocese of Canterbury and the Deanery of Dover.

The Church was a small structure, seating about two hundred with the addition of the choir area. It has a nave, chancel with apse, two vestries and a tower.

Before the Norman's came to England in 1066 there was a tiny settlement along the banks of the river which flowed down to the sea and it is likely that a small Christian Church formed part of this settlement. The track running through this followed a similar line to that of Lower Road today and would have linked the villages of Ewell and Buckland. The earliest suggestion of a Church that existed in River is found in the records made shortly after the Norman Conquest, in 1070, which refers to two Churches at Ewell. The first precise evidence comes in a manuscript dated 26th March, 1208. In this King John granted the care of the Church of St Peterie Apostoli de Ryveris to the monks of St. Radigund's Abbey at Bradsole, on the hills about a mile and a half to the south-east of River. It was to continue in their care for a further 300 years, until the Reformation. The present Church is probably the third or even fourth built on the site. The earliest Church would have been very small and dark, looking more like a barn. There would have been many murals depicting scenes from the Bible or the lives of the Saints, and possibly even some tapestries; there would have been no pews or seating, only some rushes scattered on the floor. Even some 180 years later, in 1384, during the reign of Richard II, the benefice was too small to meet Customary Tax. However, by this time, it is likely the Church was larger than the original building and some insight can be gained from the wills of parishioners who died during the 15th century. Certainly, a rood screen separated the congregation from the Sanctuary and above was a carved figure of Christ on the cross with figures of St. Peter and the Virgin Mary on either side.

During the 16th Century, the Parish was greatly affected by the Reformation. St. Radigunds Abbey was dissolved in 1538 and with this came the departure of the monks who maintained a very close association with the Church and the life of the village for over 300 years. The Abbey property, which included parts of the village, passed to the Crown and was either sold or given to private families.

In the 1550s there was a brief return to Roman Catholicism during Mary's reign.There are accounts of parishioners being persecuted, at this time, for taking part in acts of sacrilege. However, as traditional Catholicism was gradually swept aside Protestantism became firmly established, and many clergy became increasingly ultra-puritan in their beliefs and teaching.

1638 The vicar, Patrick Brown, broke down the Altar because it held cavities containing the relics of the saints. He was also reported to have taken the Rood screen and destroyed the Stoup of the Holy Water near the door.
There is evidence too that, following the Reformation, the church fell into an increasingly poor state of repair. Records of 1572 state the Church became very ruinous, even the seats and pews would, in a short time, mould and fall to pieces. The fabric of the building gave the parishioners much cause for concern, particularly the chancel roof, when it rained. In 1596, records refer to the churchyard being unfenced and the church being unglazed, with its Bible torn. In 1607/8, a request was made for a collection of various services to be allocated to the churchwardens for repairing the decaying steeple and recasting a cracked bell. Between 1661 and 1678, the Church had deteriorated to such a degree that it had partially fallen down and was no longer fit for Divine Services. This was the culmination of years of neglect possibly aggravated by the plague of 1665 when it is believed as many as 900 people died in Dover. However, the Stuart Royal Coat of Arms over the north door would indicate that the repair of the church was completed by 1688.

As the years went by, River, with its beautiful situation, began to attract some of the wealthier citizens of Dover who preferred to live outside the town. Flour and paper mills along the course of the river also helped to encourage the growth of a thriving village community.

On 23rd February 1829, a meeting was held to consider enlarging the existing church. It was agreed to take down part of the church and rebuild it on a considerably larger scale. In order to meet the costs of this, the churchwardens were given permission to borrow a sum of £300 from the church rates, to appeal for subscriptions from interested persons in the parish and to approach The Incorporated Society, which promoted schemes for enlarging churches, for a grant. A special committee was set up, who met Friday lunchtimes, at the Dublin man
O' War, which at that time stood opposite the church in Minnis Lane and was frequently used for important meetings. A vestry meeting held on 29th April 1831, resolved that the churchwardens be authorised to borrow a further £100 and that the proposed alterations be implemented immediately. The newly extended church was dedicated at the end of 1831.

In February 1876, plans were approved at a parish meeting ordering the re-seating of the church and the construction of an apse and a porch. The new pews and the apse were complete by the end of the year. A plaque over the north door states that the porch was erected in 1897 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

Various precautions were taken during the Second World War (1939-1945) as the parish was well within shelling range from France and along the route of enemy bombers raiding this country. An air raid shelter was erected on the grass by the church hall and the vicar announced that in the event of an evacuation of the village the church at River would be closed. Sunday evening services were brought forward to 3.30pm in winter months because of blackout regulations after dark. Insurance coverage was increased under War Damage Act. The stained glass windows were taken down and removed to the vicarage for safety, these being replaced with plain glass. Church Minutes recorded that the stained glass windows were replaced by 1947. In 1952 a new vestry, to become the vicar�s vestry, was built on the north west corner of the church in memory of R. J. Barwick, a former churchwarden and in 1953, as a thanksgiving to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, a choir vestry was built on the south-west corner of the church to replace the former tower vestry. In 1965, a decision was made to spend £400 to install electrical heating in the church. 1985-1986 was a period of much refurbishing, new lighting was installed as a memorial to Robert Barwick, churchwarden for forty-two years. This extensive work was made possible by gifts in his memory and two large legacies received from the late Mrs. R. Hopper and Mrs Ida Luck. In addition, generous giving made it possible to re-carpet the church in the nave and chancel.

In 1974 the Parochial Church Council was informed that St. Peter's Church has been given a Grade II listing by the Department of the Environment, as a building of historical and architectural interest, thus protecting from demolition.


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