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Kent Archaeological Review extract

St Edmund's Chapel, Dover.
by Christopher Buckingham.

On the 27th May this year it is hoped to rededicate the thirteenth century chapel of St Edmund in Dover. This little building, said to be one of the smallest ancient chapels in England (28 feet by 14 feet), has its origins in mediaeval romance and considering its chequered "post-dark age" history it is something of a miracle that it has emerged once again as a spiritual and historical memorial to one of the great archbishops of Canterbury.

PHOTO: St Edmund's chapel, Dover.

Photo Caption: <./span>St Edmund's Chapel, Dover: the west front.

PICTURE: Painting of St Richard consecrating St Edmund's in 1253.

Picture Caption: St Richard of Chichester consecrating St Edmund's Chapel, Dover: March 30th, 1253.

The chapel, situated just past the Prince Albert in Priory Road, was built by the Brethren of the Maison Dieu as a cemetery chapel for the poor of the town When Richard, Bishop of Chichester, arrived in Dover while preaching a crusade around the south-east coast in 1253, he was asked to consecrate the chapel. Ralph Bocking, his biographer, tells how it had been Richard's great desire to consecrate before he died a church to St Edmund Rich who had been his closest friend in life and had been canonised seven years before. On 30th March he performed the ceremony and on 3rd April he collapsed and died in the Maison Dieu. The bishop lay in state in St Edmund's chapel before his body was taken to Chichester Cathedral for burial; his entrails were buried before the high altar in the chapel.

The chapel continued to be used by the Maison Dieu until the dissolution. In 1544 the Brethren were dispersed and their property sold. When the houses in Biggin Street were built the chapel was absorbed into the back part of the properties; as a chapel it disappeared from the map. In the eighteenth century Robert Wellard, mayor of Dover in 1764 and a member of a well-known Dover family, lived in the mansion in Biggin Street immediately in front of the chapel. Soon after the property passed to the Walker family of Brewers; it was divided up and the Prince Albert was built. St Edmund's became surrounded by houses and a large hole knocked in the north wall. In 1889 Mr Loftus Brock observed that it was used as a blacksmith's. It was used as a workshop until the Second World War but in August 1943 the houses which concealed it in Priory Road were destroyed by a bomb. Miraculously the chapel escaped.

Since then its preservation has been touch-and-go. Toc H used it until 1966 but it was officially due for demolition since 1963. Father Terence Tanner of Dover tried various ways to have it preserved but eventually had to buy it himself. The cost of the restoration was estimated to be about 10,000.

All the materials used in the restoration work, which is in the hands of Mr Anthony Swaine, are thirteenth century. The east wall of the chapel which has a house built against it is undoubtedly earlier than 1253 and possibly the present chapel consecrated by St Richard is an older one rebuilt. It is to be hoped that the singular and very courageous attempt on the part of Father Tanner to save not only a spiritual shrine but a building full of historical associations for Dover and England, will be supported by the generosity of pilgrims and visitors in the years to come.

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