A Virtual Museum - Your Town, the Borough and its History

St Johns Roman Catholic Church
St Johns Roman Catholic Church
The church on the south side of Milton Road at the corner of Parrock Street has a curious history. In the 1830s, when the population of Gravesend and Milton had become double that of 30 years previous (9,445 against 4,539) and the town was a holiday resort as well as a residential and business district, the two parish churches of Gravesend and Milton were unable to accommodate the Church of England worshippers of that time. After considering an application for a grant under the Church Building Acts of 1815 and 1825, a scheme to build a 'proprietary chapel' by a group of local residents and businessmen was launched at a meeting in the Town Hall, a company being formed having a capital of £5,000 in £50 shares.

 The church was built in 1834, the architect being a Mr. William Jenkins (Junior). The builder was George Cobham, a local man. It cost £7,200, which greatly exceeded the estimate of £3,950, and the shares declined in value, being advertised within a year at a 20 per cent reduction.

The church was put up for auction at the London Auction Mart on 21 July 1842. Although the particulars stated that 'the purchaser was not restrained as to use' and that 'a residence or several houses might be built on the ornamental gardens which surrounded it' no purchaser was found. In 1843 the Rev. W.J. Blew (curate of St. Anne’s, Westminster) bought it for £4,000. Previously it had been offered to the Rochester diocesan authorities but the Archdeacon of Rochester was only prepared to pay £3,500.

The Rev. Blew ministered here until 1851, the year of the so called 'Papal Aggression' (when the Roman Catholic Church established their hierarchy in this country) when he and other High Church members of the Church of England wrote to Cardinal Wiseman regretting the way he had been received in England. This led to a complaint to the Bishop of Rochester who inhibited the Rev. Blew from performing service for six months.

In July 1851, Rev Blew sold the church to Cardinal Wiseman for £4,000, the Raphael family of Parrock Manor contributing a large part of the purchase price, and the chapel became a Roman Catholic church. The Roman Catholics had formerly, from 1849, worshipped in a 'small brick edifice' in Milton Road near the site of Peacock Street, under the Rev. Riort. Roman Catholicism was introduced into Gravesend by a Polish Franciscan priest, Fr. Gregory Stazievitch, who with a handful of men of his persuasion met in 1842 in a room situated in a court on The Terrace (later at 149 Windmill Street) before building the small chapel in Milton Road dedicated to St. Gregory. The Church of England church was dedicated (although not officially) to 'St. John the Baptist' but the Roman Catholic Church is dedicated to 'St. John the Evangelist'.

A new steeple with saddleback roof was added to the church in 1873 by Goldie and Child, and, in 1840, adjoining premises were secured as a convent and school run by the Sisters of Mercy. In 1955, the convent was removed to more extensive premises at Hillside in Old Road East. Alongside the church an organisation called the Mechanics Institute had its library and lecture room in the early 19th century but this failed for lack of support.

References and further information:

"A Historical Walk Through Gravesend And Northfleet" published by Gravesend Historical Society.


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