St Paul’s Without the Walls History

Why ‘St. Paul’s without the Walls’? The word ‘without’ once meant ‘outside’. This Church was built ‘without’ (outside) the city walls now just across the ring road.

Why was St. Paul’s without the Walls built?

St Paul’s stands on the site of a smaller but substantial Norman church built outside the line of the Roman city walls in the 11th or early 12th Century. The surviving north aisle and tower were added in the 1260s and the chancel extended eastwards a little later; two fine east windows were constructed one of which is behind the space now occupied by our organ ( built in 1901). The Norman south and west walls survived until the 19th century. 

St Pauls was closely associated with the nearby St Augustine’s Abbey (now exetnsive ruins) which for three centuries appointed its vicars. 

In the organ space, and sadly no longer visible, there is piscina and a three tiered seat or sedilia for the priest and deacons.

Parishioners had the right to be buried in the Abbey’s lay cemetery. This caused a problem when the Abbey closed, so in 1591 a burial area was created in Longport (now closed and since 1951 an open space at the bottom of St. Martin’s Hill).


St. Paul’s from the Reformation to the 19th century.

The Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries c1536-1540 had a serious economic effect on the City of Canterbury. As well as the closure of St Augustine’s Abbey in this parish, the destruction of Thomas Becket’s shrine meant no more pilgrims and a great loss of income. In 1570, a Visitation to the parish (inspection by senior clergy) recorded that there were 90 houses in this Parish and 243 communicants.
In 1681, St. Paul’s was united with the ancient church of St. Martin. The worshippers at St. Martin’s were ordered to view St. Paul’s as ‘their proper church’- fortunately, they seem to have stayed at St. Martin’s! (Both parishes continued side by side under a joint Rector & Vicar until the 1970s, when the Parish of St. Martin & St. Paul was formed with one Parochial Church Council). 

In 1683 the parents of Aphra Behn – playwright, novelist, poet and translator – were married in the Church
In 1709 Admiral George Rooke, who captured Gibraltar, was buried in a vault under where the organ now stands.

By the early 19th Century St. Paul’s was described as ‘a small, mean, building’ and in poor repair. All that would change with the advent of William Chesshyre!

The 19th Century

A print of St. Paul’s in 1828 shows a rather shabby building in a busy street. In 1842 William John Chesshyre arrived as Parish Priest. He was a wealthy man who resided in his mother’s house at Barton Court (now Barton Court Grammar School on St. Martin’s Hill/Longport).

Chesshyre died in his fifties in 1859 but in his 17 years in the Parish he oversaw a dramatic extension and refurbishment of St. Paul’s under George Gilbert Scott as well as the founding of St. Paul’s School (closed and demolished in the 1960s).
The tower was substantially rebuilt and a third aisle built southwards creating the space we enjoy today. An elaborate altarpiece was created in the sanctuary with the choir seated in the traditional chancel under a decorated ceiling.  A new font replaced the ancient one now stored in the church’s cellar in three pieces.  Whatever nave seating existed was replaced by pews provided under a national church scheme to help clergy pew their churches.

Late 20th and Early 21st Century Changes

In 1985, Canon Reg Humphriss oversaw a reordering (programme of interior changes) project that brought the altar forward, removed the altarpiece and moved the choir to the north aisle. The font was also moved from its traditional place at the back of the Church to its present position. This opening up of space reflected changes in worship patterns but it meant the loss of some of the fine Victorian chancel ornamentation, the chapel and the positioning of the choir rather close to the very powerful organ.

Canon Noelle Hall, our first female Rector, began her ministry in 2000 and over the course of the next 16 years there were substantial developments to the mission and buildings in the parish under her leadership.

In 2005 a new Parish Centre incorporating an office, hall, toilets, meeting room,  children’s room, choir room and a kitchen was built on the remaining land surrounding the church including on the site of the original Victorian church hall which was bombed in 1942 and its 1950s replacement around the corner – the Longport Hall, was sold.

In 2008 the large church organ from 1901 was rebuilt and extended.

In 2012-2013, a further reordering of the church took place. A key element of this was the replacement of the fixed pews with modern seating allowing creative use of space and the restoration of the chapel. New choir stalls enabled the choir to be positioned further from the organ.  In line with developments at the time, new technology was been installed including a screen that descends from a tie beam over the chancel which is used for presentations at events and for film showings.  The chancel  itself was levelled, extended and recarpeted, and new digital lighting installed. 

Using the Parish Centre and Church together, we are able to offer traditional and innovative worship and welcome people to use the church for concerts and conferences.