Our History

The first mission in the Medway Towns was founded in 1795 in Brompton (now Old Brompton) by a French émigré priest. It served mostly the Catholic members of the Royal Marines. Mass was first said in Westcourt Street, but later the mission moved to a building in Manor Street which was hidden behind two houses with access via a covered passage between them. This was to remain the only Catholic chapel in the Medway area until St Michael’s church was built on a site near the railway station. St Michael’s then became the centre of the Chatham mission; the chapel in Manor Street appears to have been retained until the Methodist Chapel only a few houses further north was acquired for Catholic use in 1892 (becoming the church of St Paulinus, qv).

St Michael’s was built in 1862-63 from designs by Henry Clutton. Building funds were restricted and the estimate quoted in the Builder was only £1,695. Originally, only the five-bay nave and aisles were built, with a small sacristy at the east. In 1881 the pulpit was presented by ‘the Catholic soldiers of the Garrison’. According to map evidence, the church had been extended by 1898 when an apsed mortuary chapel was added at the northeast (now the sacristy), and a presbytery and a school were built. The architect for these additions has not been established.

Henry Clutton

A new school was built in 1929 from designs by F.A. Walters & Son on a site in Hill’s Terrace further south of the church. The long-planned sanctuary extension, complete with side chapels, was built in 1935, using money donated for the silver jubilee of Canon Ryan’s ordination in 1928. Built in the year of the 400th anniversary of St John Fisher’s death as well as the year of his canonization, the sanctuary was dedicated to his memory. The foundation stone was laid by Mgr Hallett. The architects were F. A. Walters & Son. (An alternative design showed an unexecuted rose window at the east end.) The Lady Chapel was the gift of Miss Maude Ansell, whose brother was the first Catholic  mayor  of  Chatham  in  1934-35.  The  re-entrant  angles  between  the  side chapels and the sanctuary were built in Fletton brick, rather than the stock brick used elsewhere, with toothed corners, anticipating a further eastward extension of the side chapels.

The church was consecrated on 6 June 1951. In the 1960s and 1970s, several terraces in the neighbourhood were demolished, creating the church car park and giving the school, which had been hemmed in on both sides by houses, room to expand. The first school is now the hall, which is used by St Michael’s Day Nursery. 

The church was built in 1862-63 from designs by Henry Clutton. A mortuary chapel was added by 1898 by an unknown architect. In 1935 the sanctuary and side chapels were added by F. A. Walters & Son. The materials are stock brick, laid in English bond, with decorative bands of dark brick and stone dressings. The plan is longitudinal, consisting of an aisled nave with a sanctuary and side chapels. At the southeast is the sacristy (the former mortuary chapel), an apsed space at right angles to the church. There is a bellcote at the northeast. Nave and aisles are covered by a single pitched roof.

The west front has a wheel window above a double doorway with an incongruous classical cornice, flanked by buttresses. The south facade has flying buttresses. There is a narthex at the west end, with a memorial plaque to the Rev. James Morrissey (died 1882), mission priest at Chatham. Above is the organ gallery. The west window depicts Our Lady with musician angels (possibly by Hardman). At the northwest corner,  is  the  repository  with  iron  gates,  probably  the  original  baptistery.  The Stations are framed, carved reliefs.

The nave has five bays, with an arcade of paired columns with Early French-style capitals dividing the nave from the side aisles. The nave roof is a simplified version of a hammerbeam roof. The north side has two stained glass windows: near the west end, Mary Help of Christians (Goddard & Gibbs, 1990); and, further east, St Michael and  the dragon (attributed  to  Goddard  & Gibbs,  1990s).  There are statues  of  St Theresa and St John Fisher set against the arcade pillars of the north side. The octagonal pulpit of 1881 is set against the second pair of pillars from the east. It has quatrefoils depicting the four Evangelists and St Michael with the dragon.

The sacristy at the northeast is lit by a window band below the upper, hipped roof. It has an apse to the north and blind circular windows on its east and west elevations. The northeast chapel has a timber altar with a statue of the Sacred Heart. At the northeast corner in front of the sanctuary is a statue of Our Lady. The sanctuary has a stone high altar and panelled reredos. Above hangs a Calvary scene. The forward altar is modern. The lectern is finely carved with Gothic tracery. To the southeast of the sanctuary stands the octagonal stone and marble font. Its sides are richly carved with seated figures in gabled niches.

The Lady Chapel is at the southeast. It has a marble altar with a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, both given in 1891by Henry, Duke of Norfolk. The altar frontal depicts the Sacred Heart. The two windows in the chapel depict the Annunciation in two lights (attributed to Goddard & Gibbs, 1990s). The subjects of the south windows are: the Resurrection (1990s, Goddard & Gibbs, given by the Terenzy family); the incredulity of St Thomas (1990s, Goddard & Gibbs, in memory of Charles and Magdalen Burton); and the Risen Christ appearing to the Apostles (2000). Statues of a bishop saint and St Anthony are set against the arcade columns of the south side.