A Short History of St. Paul’s

A Short History of St. Paul’s - St Pauls Maidstone

Compiled by the late John Brazier in 1991

Photographs provided by Jeff Wilkinson with permission

The Foundation and the First Vicar, 1857 to 1876

To understand the origins of St. Paul’s Church it must be borne in mind that, from the beginning of the 19th century, the population of Maidstone was expanding. From just over 8,000 in 1801, the population had increased to over 23,000 in 1861. Until about 1820 the built-up area of the town had hardly increased for very many years but, from that time, more and more building took place. The whole of Maidstone was in the parish of All Saints and, although Holy Trinity Church was built in 1826-8, it was not until 1841 that a parish was assigned to it. By 1861 about half the population was living in the Holy Trinity parish, which included the present parishes of St. Paul and St. Luke.


There is some evidence that, as early as 1839, there were suggestions that something should be done to provide a separate church for the people living near the prison and barracks. However, nothing further seems to have happened until, in the years prior to 1857, cottage lectures and a Sunday school were organised, but efforts to promote the erection of a church failed.

By 1857 the need for a separate parish appears to have been accepted because, in that year, the Rev. Henry Woodhouse Dearden, curate of Loose, was appointed Minster of the District of St. Paul and he conducted the first services in that year in the Assembly Rooms which were in Sandling Road between Hope Street and what is now Staceys Street. At Christmas, 1858, the services were transferred to the Boys’ School which had just been opened in Fisher Street. These premises were occupied by Goodsells, building contractors, the major part of which was only demolished in 1989/90.

In May, 1859 a Church Building Committee was formed. They soon decided that they needed to raise £10,000 (£5,000 for a church, £1,000 for a vicarage and £4,000 for an endowment for the support of the clergy). The Balston family of Springfield, many of whose employees at Springfield Mill lived in the parish, promised to give £3,000. This was the beginning of over 100 years of support for St. Paul’s by the Balston family who were thus the major, but by no means the only, subscribers to the proposed church. The subscriptions came from many sources, in amounts ranging from £1,550 to less than £1.

In the event, over £10,500 was raised but the costs of the buildings proved higher than expected, the church costing £6,572 and the vicarage £1,476, leaving only £2,500 for the endowment. The land on which church and vicarage were built was given.

It should be mentioned here that the church stood at the Randall Street end of the site now occupied by Elizabeth House and the stone boundary walls of that site belonged to the church and the Girls’ (later Infants’) School which was built later at the Lower Boxley Road end of the site. The vicarage stood on the site of the present church.

The new church was completed in time for consecration by Archbishop Sumner in January 1861.

At that time there were usually three services on Sunday, at 10.30am, 3.00pm and 6.30pm. The afternoon service soon became a children’s service and the Holy Communion was only celebrated on the First Sunday of the month and at festivals. Soon the Holy Communion was celebrated on each Sunday at varying times and it was not until the turn of the century that the 8.00am service became a feature of every Sunday.

It was not long before, under Dearden’s vigorous leadership, many funds and organisations were set up to help the people of what was basically a working class parish. It should be remember that there was no National Health Service or National Insurance, no compulsory education, no banking for working men and no free public lending libraries.

It is worth listing the details of these funds and organisations to give an idea of the range of church activities in the mid-19th century:

The District Relief Fund – to give a modest amount of relief to those in need.

The Blanket Loan and Lying In Fund – to provide bedding and other necessities in sickness and at childbirth.

The Coal Fund – which, in its first year, distributed free 20½ tons at a cost to the fund of £1 per ton.

A Parish Nurse – appointed in 1863 during a severe outbreak of consumption and fever that year. Her salary was five shillings (25p) per week.

Boys’, Girls’ and Infants’ Schools – founded in 1859, before the building of the church. Attendance was not compulsory. The schools were financed by government and diocesan grants, subscriptions and fees.

A Ragged School and a Dame School – these were for children unable or unwilling to attend the main schools and were first held in a cottage, probably in Wheeler Street, and then in specially built premises in Bedford Row (now James Street). these premises were near the Wheeler Street end of James Street and were only demolished in the mid 1980s. Their site is now occupied by small factory units. It is not clear what was taught in these schools, but “Sabbath breaking and bad language were greatly lessened”!

The Penny Bank – this attracted 200 depositors in its first year and was still active 20 years later, but the need for it decreased with the rise of Post Office Savings Bank.

The Lending Library – founded in 1858, 32 years before Miadstone’s first public lending library.

There were also numerous other enterprises, for example the Literary Institute and Reading Rooms, Sunday Schools, Night Schools for Men, Mothers’ Meetings, etc., etc. By 1886-7, the printed reports and accounts of these activities ran to 30 pages.

It is interesting to find that St. Paul’s started its support for the work of the Church Missionary Society in 1859.

Dearden, who was said to be a fine preacher and who was also active in church affairs generally in Maidstone, notably in the Church Institute (later the Y.M.C.A.) remained at St. Paul’s until 1876.

Consolidation 1876 to 1901

Dearden was succeeded by Nathaniel Dimock who, according to Dearden, was “the holiest and humblest man of God” he had ever known.


Under Dimock all the activities of the church continued to flourish and expand. The Perry Street and Gladstone Road Mission Halls were built to help to take the church’s message to people who were, perhaps, unwilling to attend the main church. Both these buildings are still there (1991), the former used as a builder’s store and the latter as a Calor gas store. Later another mission hall was opened in the Allen Street area and this, together with James Street premises, was the basis from which the parish of St. Luke was formed at the turn of the century. A full programme of services was maintained at the church and at all these missions, but there were, in addition to the vicar, three curates and a scripture reader.

Dimock retired in 1887 and was succeeded by Samuel William Darwin-Fox. Little is known about him or the parish in this time and he appears to have never settled in satisfactorily.

Darwin-Fox therefore exchanged livings in 1891 with John Roe.

Under Roe parish life seems to have continued to flourish quietly, but he was a sick man and he died in 1895.

However, in Roe’s time the separate vestry was built and this is the building which was extended after the fire in 1963 to form a temporary chapel until the new church was built.

Also under Roe, alternations were made to the chancel to bring it up to very much its pre-fire appearance. A new reredos, altar and altar rails were installed, together with new choir and clergy stalls and organ case.

Roe was succeeded by Arthur H. Powell, Not surprisingly he found some deficiencies, notably a shortage of Sunday School teachers and district visitors, which he set about remedying with considerable vigour.

One of his innovations was a monthly service for men on a Sunday afternoon. These were run by a men’s committee with a special choir and were often attended by several hundred men.

In Powell’s time the final major alterations before the fire were made to the church buildings. These, which were paid for by the Balston family, included new oak pews, the embellishment of the columns in the nave, a carved wooden pulpit and a screen. This screen was designed by Archbishop Benson. It appears that the archbishop had a scheme to create a diocese of Maidstone with All Saints’ Church as its cathedral. It is said that Powell was to be the first bishop. Whatever the truth of this, the archbishop died before anything was arranged and Powell was left a disappointed man.

Powell left suddenly in 1901 under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

The Difficult Years 1901 to 1921

Powel’s departure led to twenty difficult years. He exchanged livings with Henry Bircham, who arrived in November 1901 and had gone by the end of March 1902. He appears to have been a narrow evangelical who was not acceptable to St. Paul’s congregation. For this part, Bircham seems to have complained that he had been deceived over the terms of the exchange.


Whatever the trust of all this, Bircham arranged another exchange, this time with William Hunter Denovan who had arrived by the end of March 1902.

Denovan’s arrival led to many difficulties. For one thing, the diocesan authorities disapproved of him and, whereas St. Paul’s had usually had at least two curates up until that time, none were allowed under Denovan.

He seems to have been an extraordinary character and a powerful preacher who, at first, attracted congregations from all over the town including many non-conformists. The subjects for many of his sermons were taken from the Book of Daniel and from the Revelation. It has been said that, while many were highly impressed, others feared to come to church at all because of the force of his sermons.

However, as time went on, his extreme views and unfortunate personality repelled many parishioners, especially the well-to-do. Later his health, mental as well as physical, deteriorated and he became a tragic figure but, having no private means, he had to continue in office.

The result of all this was that the churchwardens had all kinds of problems to contend with and naturally many aspects of parish life declined.

Denovan died in 1921 and it was good to note that, despite everything, his funeral was well attended.

(As a footnote to the difficulties of Denovan’s time, it is worth noting that in 1927 the Church of England introduced a clergy pension scheme which, had it existed earlier, might have enabled Denovan to retire when his powers began to fail.)

Revival, 1921 to 1929

Denovan’s successor was Claude Spencer Thomas Watkins.


He naturally faced considerable material problems because the church finances were in a poor way and much urgent expenditure was immediately necessary. The church roof frequently leaked and really needed renewal, but it was only possible to carry out absolutely essential repairs. In addition, the heating system was in urgent need of attention, the vicarage had had virtually no repairs or redecoration carried out during Denovan’s time and the church grounds and vicarage garden were in a bad state. Later, the heating again gave trouble, the organ needed urgent major repairs and the drains of the boys’ school, still largely the responsibility of the church, had to be replaced.

These works were tackled, some by voluntary labour, but mainly by appeals for the necessary money, and by January 1923 Watkins felt that the finances were sound although many repairs were still necessary.

Watkins himself was a good preacher and once again people were attracted to St. Paul’s from outside the parish.

As support for the church was built up, it became possible to start new activities and it was during Watkin’s early years that the Mothers’ Union was founded as well as a Men’s Fellowship, Boys’ Club, Girl Guides and a Communicants’ Guild. Open air services were also started in various parts of the parish.

At the end of 1922 a curate was appointed, although he had to be shared with another parish.

As well as the necessary repairs which have been mentioned, it was found possible to convert the lighting from gas to electricity and, in 1925, War Memorial gates were erected at the Randal Street and Fisher Street entrances to the churchyard. The money for the gates was raised by an appeal, but not without difficulty. Watkins was not averse to addressing critical words to his parishioners and the lack of prompt response to this appeal produced some sharp comments.

Watkins left early in 1929. He had led the parish in a considerable revival of its fortunes, but the financial picture was not good. The church had lost many of its patrons of earlier years, the building was nearly 70 years old and had not fully recovered from the neglect of the early years of the century and the schools, some of whose buildings were older than the church, were still, to a degree, the responsibility of the church.

The institution and induction of Edwin Arthur Miller in 1929 was probably a unique occasion in the history of St. Paul’s, being the only time when two bishops have been present at the same service. he was instituted by the Archbishop and inducted by the Bishop of Dover in his other office of Archdeacon of Maidstone.

Within about a year a curate was appointed and he was largely entrusted with the further development of church organisations which had been started by Watkins. During the next year or two a Scout Troop was founded as well as a Cub Pack and the curate was also largely responsible for the formation of the Young People’s Fellowship, which ultimately became St. Paul’s Fellowship.


Meanwhile, the existing organisations and activities continued to prosper in the main.

Miller, although apparently not a great preacher, was a man of sound business sense. This was fortunate because the finances continued to give cause for concern.

St. Paul’s had had a parish nurse for many years but in 1930 a Church Army woman worker was appointed who, it was emphasised, was not a nurse. However, in a little over a year, she had left because the parish could no longer afford to pay her.

Similarly, although there was a curate, the Curate Fund was, from time to time, overdrawn and both it and the general funds of the Church were only kept solvent at various times by bank overdrafts or loans from parishioners.

Once again the organ gave trouble and, in 1932, it was found that the top of the spire and its cross were in a dangerous condition. a house-to-house collection had to be made to pay for the repairs to the spire and newly formed Young People’s Fellowship paid for a new cross. This is the cross which is now on the wall of the choir area of the new church.

In 1934 the parish boundary was changed slightly. This arose because of the construction of the Ringlestone Estate on land which was then in the parish of Boxley. It was felt that this estate could best be served by St. Faith’s parish and, to avoid this being a detached parT of St. Faith’s parish, the land between Sandling Road and the river and stretching from the East Station to Monckton’s Lane was transferred from St. Paul’s to St. Faith’s.

From 1931, re-organisation of the schools in the area led, first, to the transfer of some pupils and staff to Union Street School and then, in 1934, to the opening of North Borough School and the closure of the church schools which stood on the site bounded by Randall Street, Fisher Street and Perryfield Street. Most of these premises were sold to Goodsells, building contractors. These were largely demolished in 1989/90. A small part in Randal Street was retained as a church hall although it was not converted for this purpose until after Miller left in 1935.

War and its Aftermath, 1935 to 1963

Miller was succeeded by Malcolm Kennedy Dow who, until 1944, continued to have the assistance of a succession of curates, although there was a gap in 1938 when a curate was appointed who was unable to take up the post for medical reasons.


All the activities and organisation of the church were maintained and, indeed, some expansion occurred with the formation of the Senior Boys’ and Girls’ Guilds in 1940, although it is not clear how long the lasted.

The refurbished hall in Randall Street was brought into use, giving the church its own hall for the first time, The Boys’ School War Memorial was re-erected and re-dedicated in the church and the copper panel from this may still be seen in the choir area of the new church.

Financial matters do not seem to have been quite such a worry in Dow’s early years although it was alwarys difficult to pay for the curate.

However, the deteriorating international situation was the main cause for concern, leading, through the Munich Crisis of 1938, to the outbreak of war in September 1939.

This immediately caused changes in the church. The bells were not allowed to be rung because they were to be used as an invasion warning and, because the church could not be blacked out, the time of evensong had to be adjusted with the seasons to enable it to be completed in daylight hours. The north porch, under the tower, was sandbagged and kept open all day as a refuge and a place for quiet prayer. It was thought that, because its walls were nearly two feet thick, it would make a good air raid shelter. Perhaps fortunately, it was not put to the test!

As time went on, the number of air raids increased and damage occurred in the parish including some superficial damage to the church. There are reports in the magazine of parishioners killed and injured in these raids and, as more young men and women were called up for active service, reports of casualties and prisoners, though these, in common with other news, had to be curtailed as the war went on because paper rationing meant that the magazine was reduced in size.

Large numbers of troops were billeted in the area and sing-songs were organised for them. A sock darning services was also provided for them. The darners were asked to “pray for the soldiers who will re-enter these socks”!

Large quantities of knitted clothing were produced for the forces.

In 1943, when he had been vicar for eight years, Dow commented on the fact that, although both he and his curate were met with great friendliness as they went about the parish, nevertheless attendance at services was poor.

Eventually, in 1945, the war ended and in 1947, before the after-effects of war had been thrown off, a new vicar arrived.

He was Julius John Wilmshurst. He was energetic in encouraging the re-establishment of all activities and organisations, particularly those for young people, and the Scouts and Guides, under strong leadership, achieved much. An early innovation was the introduction in 1949 of the Christmas Midnight Communion.

However, the whole of his stay of over 15 years was dominated by the necessity of dealing with a seemingly endless series of repairs to the church and its equipment. Soon after his arrival, the roof over the organ was found to be leaking and eventually the whole of the roof had to be re-tiled. Repairs also had to be made to the timbers because of dry rot, etc. and remedial treatment was also necessary. At various times the heating apparatus and organ needed major attention and the electrical installation was found to be dangerous. In addition, the parochial hall was in a bad way. This accumulation of work could be partly attributed to war damage and to the enforced neglect of the war years and also, probably, to the fact that in the 1920s it had not been possible to do as much as was really necessary. Also the buildings were approaching their centenary.

The War Damage Commission paid for some of the early work and the Balston family paid for the repairs to the chancel roof in memory of a member of the family, but most of the work was paid for by the generosity of the parish in general.

In 1961, the centenary of the consecration of the church was celebrated with a service at which Archbishop Fisher was the preacher and there were various other events during the year.

By this time, it was possible to feel that the restoration of the building was almost complete and to look forward to other things.

However, in 1963 Wilmshurst left and it was decided that the vicarage was no longer suitable for use. A new vicarage, the present one, was purchased, the old vicarage was demolished and negotiations were started for the sale of the site.

After a lengthy interregnum, it was announced that Edwin Lucius Wyndham Bell would be inducted in the autumn of 1963.

However, before this could happen, the church was gutted by fire on 5th October. The fire was started deliberately by some young boys, perhaps the same hands as had damaged the harvest festival decorations the previous weekend.

Resurgam 1963 to 1971

Fortunately, the vestry, which was a separate building connected to the church by a passageway, was undamaged and it was immediately converted into a chapel with seating for about 50 people. In this building, Mr Bell’s institution and induction took place in November 1963. Later this building was extended but it was still inadequate on major occasions and extra services sometimes had to be arranged.


Immediately thoughts turned to rebuilding. The sale of the old vicarage site was stopped because it was felt that the new church should be in a position which was more central to the parish which, by now, was built up virtually all the way from Sandling Road to the M20 Motorway. Finding a large enough piece of land proved difficult and it was eventually decided to use the old vicarage site.

There was some opposition to the rebuilding from diocesan authorities but this was overcome. There were also design problems in meeting planning requirements and in keeping within the finance available. The cost of the new church was met partly by the insurance money from the old church, partly by donations and partly by the sale of the old church and Infant’s School site. Soon after the fire, the Infant’s School moved to new premises in Hillary Road and the whole area now occupied by Elizabeth House became available to the church to sell.

Eventually all problems were overcome and the new church was consecrated by Archbishop Ramsey in May, 1970.

The New Church 1971 to 1991

These years need only be summarised.

Mr Bell remained as vicar until 1978. He was succeeded by Kenneth Euan Oram Jamieson who was priest in charge of St Paul’s and St Faith’s until 1983. This experiment in having one priest in charge of what were still two separate parishes was not entirely successful and in 1983 a vicar of St. Paul’s was again appointed in the person of Paul Michael Rampton, succeeded in 1988 by Neil Hamish Taylor.

This brief and incomplete account of St Paul’s Church has been compiled mainly from documents held in the Centre for Kentish Studies at County Hall.

Much background information about the first nine vicars, from Dearden to Miller, was found in a book, which contained impressions of these vicars by Edward Elliott, who knew them all and who worked at St Paul’s in various capacities from 1873, being churchwarden for much of Denovan’s incumbency.

For the period from 1945 to the fire, for which the parish magazines are missing, much information has come from the script of an address given by the Rev J Wilmshurst in centenary year.