Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Date first listed:
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Canterbury (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TR 14240 58314



I The nave is late C11 or early C12 in origin. The NW chapel was built in 1330. The S aisle is late C14 and the SW tower is late C14 or early C15. The SE chapel was added in 1402 and rebuilt in brick c.1524. The porch was added in the C17. The church was restored in 1878-80 to designs by Ewan Christian, and there were further repairs in the C20.

MATERIALS: Flint and stone rubble with stone dressings; SE chapel C16 red brick. Tiled roofs.

PLAN: Chancel with SE chapel, nave with S aisle and SW tower, N porch, NW chapel.

EXTERIOR: There is good massing at the W end, descending from the tall SW tower across the nave roof to the NW chapel. The C14 tower has an embattled parapet, the lower three stages undivided and with a single, small C14 window with a square head on each face. The bell stage has two-light C14 cusped openings, also with square heads. There is a short, round stair turret on the S side. The W end of the nave has a large C15 W window and below it a C15 W door with blind tracery in the spandrels. The door is flanked by two C13 lancets, presumably reset, as they are in an odd position. The very large quoin stones in the NW corner of the nave survive from the late C11 or early C12 nave. The C14 NW chapel has its own gabled roof, a two-light Decorated W window, and in the N wall a small rectangular C14 window that breaks the string course and a blocked C14 doorway.

The N porch was added or rebuilt in the late C17 and has a chamfered outer opening and a small E window. There is a C17 pendant at the apex of the gable bargeboards. Herringbone masonry in the nave N wall survives from the late C11 or early C12 nave; the lancet to the E of the N porch is late C12 or very early C13, and there is also a C14 window in the nave N wall. There is another C14 window and a C13 lancet in the chancel N wall, and the E window is C14, heavily renewed, with intersecting ogee tracery. The SE chapel was rebuilt in brick c.1524 and has a low pitched roof behind a plain parapet, and three light windows with depressed heads and uncusped lights. The S aisle also has a low pitched roof behind a plain parapet, and three late Decorated windows, each of two lights with a large cusped lozenge in the head. There is no clerestory.

INTERIOR: There is no chancel arch, but the chancel is distinguished by offsets that narrow it from the nave on either side. The four bay S arcade is very tall for the height of the nave, reaching almost to the top of the wall and is late C14 in date. The outer orders have continuous hollow chamfers, the inner is on half-round shafts with moulded capitals and bases. The tower arch, opening into the W bay of the S aisle, is also C14 and has a continuous outer order and an inner order on shafts with moulded capitals that are slightly different to those in the arcade. The tower is vaulted, with corner shafts similar to the tower arch, and thin ribs. The SW chapel opens to the aisle through an early C15 arch on polygonal responds with moulded capitals, and there is a matching two bay arcade from the chapel to the chancel, the central pier with a very high base. Traces of a former squint from the nave into the NW chapel are visible in the nave N wall. Timber W gallery, underbuilt to form a vestry, the upper part used as the organ loft.

Late medieval nave roof of tie beam and crown post construction. The tie beams are moulded, and the crown posts have moulded capitals and bases. The rafters are open. The chancel roof is of similar construction, but is largely C19 and the rafters are panelled. The S aisle roof is also C19 but retains the moulded timber wall posts and stone corbels of the medieval roof. The SE chapel roof is flat and C16 in style with moulded beams.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: Plain octagonal font, probably C14, with an excellent C15 timber cover in the form of a tabernacle, with buttresses, pinnacles, and tracery; the lower part of the cover has been restored. There are also two identical Coade stone fonts, probably early C19, with baluster stems and small bowls with fluting on the undersides. C19 timber pulpit, choir stalls and simple nave benches.

Some good C20 glass, notably chancel E window by William Aikman of 1933, the Thomas More window by Lawrence Lee (1973) and the Ecumenical window of 1984 by John Hayward, both in the SE chapel.

In the S chapel, two marble tomb chests, one of quite plain of Bethersden marble for John Roper, d.1524, with a back plate for brasses, now lost. The other is larger, and more heavily decorated, for Edmund Roper, d.1533. Also a wall tablet with double columns but no figures for Thomas Roper, d.1597. A ledger slab of 1932 marks the burial place in the S Chapel's Roper vault of the head of Sir Thomas More, d.1535 and revered as a saint in the Roman Catholic church.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES Some good table tombs in the churchyard.

HISTORY The present church is late C11 or early C12 in origin, and the herringbone flint work and large NW quoins of the nave are of this date. In 1170/1 King Henry II is said to have removed his shoes and changed into penitential garments here for his entrance into Canterbury following the murder of Thomas Becket. The chancel was rebuilt in the C13 and retains a lancet of this date. The NW chapel was built c.1330 as a chantry by Henry de Canterbury, chaplain to Edward III. The SW tower and S aisle were built in the later C14, possibly in two phases. The SE chapel was built in 1402 by John Roper and dedicated to St Nicholas. It was rebuilt in brick c. 1524. The head of Sir Thomas More, beheaded in 1535 for refusing to sign the Act of Supremacy, is buried in the Roper vault in the S aisle. His daughter, Margaret Roper, wife of William Roper, persuaded the bridgekeeper of London Bridge to throw it to her as she passed under the bridge in a boat. Although she was imprisoned for this, she was eventually released and allowed to keep the head. More is revered as a saint by the Roman Catholic church, and the church is a place of pilgrimage. The church was restored in 1878-80 to designs by Ewan Christian, a well known church architect. The SE chapel was used as an organ chamber and restored as a chapel in the early C20.

SOURCES: Lambeth Palace Library ICBS 08399 Buildings of England North-East and East Kent (1976), 236-7 Worgan, M. The Church of St Dunstan, Canterbury: A General Guide to the Church (nd)

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The church of St Dunstan's without the west gate, Canterbury is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * Parish church, late C11 or early C12 in origin, preserving herringbone masonry and quoins of that date, enlarged in the C13 and C14 and with a possibly C15 roof in nave; the history of the building can be easily read in the masonry; * Very good massing with particularly tall tower and small C19 staircase block; * SE (Roper) chapel rebuilt in brick c1524; * C14 font with very rare C15 cover; * Historic interest as the reputed site of the start of Henry II's penitence in Canterbury following the murder of Thomas Becket, and as the site of the burial place of the head of Thomas More (as such as place of pilgrimage).


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 30 Jun 2001
Reference: IOE01/06770/04
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Barry Amos. Source Historic England Archive
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