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History of Chalk

Chalk comes from the Anglian word ‘calc’ meaning ‘chalk, lime, limestone’; therefore, ‘chalk’. The Domesday Book records Chalk as Celca, and the Textus Roffensis as Celca and Cealces.

Chalk parish church is a Grade: II listed building, dedicated to Saint Mary the Virgin. The Saxons built the first church, which the Normans rebuilt in the 11th or early 12th century. By the end of the 12th century, they had added a north aisle to both the nave and chancel, together with a northwest tower. The south aisle appeared in the following century, although demolished in 1759, and the porch and west tower in the 15th century. Thomas de Weston cast and hung a bell in 1348, and John Wilnar cast two bells around that in 1634, to form a ring of three. In 1797, Edward Hasted described the Chalk church as consisting of ‘two isles and two chancels, having a square tower at the west end, in which are three bells. The porch of this church is remarkable for its strange and whimsical ornaments, a taste which often recurs in Gothic architecture, as may be seen in many of the Gothic buildings of churches in various parts of the kingdom. These chimerical sculptures convey little, if any, meaning or design, and appear to have been merely the effects of rude caprice and the fantastical humour of the architects; but here the artist has indulged his sportive fancy in a manner much too loose and absurd for a sacred building. On the crown of the arch, at the entrance, is the figure of a man, in the character of a jolly, tipling fellow, holding a jug with both hands, and looking up with a most expressive laughing countenance to a grotesque figure, in the attitude of a posture master or tumbler, above the centre of the moulding, as if pleased with his tricks and performances, and about to drink to him. Between these figures in a nitch, or recess, ornamented with a neat painted Gothic arch and roses, in which formerly stood the image of the Virgin Mary, to whom the church is dedicated. The impropriety, if not indecency, of its being placed between two such ludicrous figures one would think could not escape the observation, and of course excite the disgust of the congregation, who as good Catholics usually made their reverence when they approached it’. Charles Dickens worshipped at this church and would raise his hat to the ‘jolly monk’ referred to by Edward Hasted. The Victorians restored the whole church in the 19th century. The architect William Weir carried out further restoration work in 1922. The enlarged congregations in the 20th century resulted in the construction of the west gallery. In 1998, Whitechapel added three treble bells, to total six.