Our History

The Parish of High Halstow is a very ancient one.

The name is Saxon and derives from the phrase ‘Holy Place’.
The original church building may well have been built over a previous pagan site.
In the ‘Textus Roffensis’ (c1120), the name is written Hagelstowe, in other records as Halgesto and Agelstrow.  One of the earliest references to the church is a record of a payment for sacramental oils of 9 denarii to Rochester diocese in 1080-6.

The building is of ragstone and at first sight appears entirely a Perpendicular church. There is a clerestoried nave, with south porch and a lean-to south aisle continued as a chapel nearly to the east end. Two large windows with panel tracery are on this side. Wills of 1472 and 1474 refer to new work on the chapel. The south aisle is now partly occupied by the organ which was completely overhauled in 1975. A carved reredos, a memorial to the Longfield family which supplied two Rectors was moved to this position in the 1960’s when the Jacobean communion table was restored, and the sanctuary furnishings simplified.

There is evidence that the Church was remodelled, not rebuilt in the late 15thC. A quoin in the west wall shows that the nave once had no north aisle. The proportions of the Chancel roof also look 13th C, not 15thC. Moreover, the arches from the chancel to the north and south chapels are Circa 1200. The south arch is pointed but unchamfered. The south east respond with angle-shafts and upright leaves on the capitals droop over in a Romanesque way. The north arch is just chamfered and the angle-shafts have moulded bases and capitals so is a little later than its fellow. The chancel arch is 15thC and has a niche of the same period north of it. The nave arcades are early English: three bays with round piers, two hollow chamfers on the arches, and finely moulded undercut caps and bases and corbels east and west. The tower arch is also perpendicular, but the tower itself seems to have been entirely rebuilt in the 18thC. St Margaret’s tower, in contrast to others on the peninsular is short and stocky, ragstone with red brick plinth, buttresses and parapet. Symolldson’s 16th C map and another dated 1719 show and impressive spire but sadly this has not survived. The font is a plain squire bowl on corner shafts linked to the central stem. The shaft mouldings appears to be early 13th C.

The glass in all the windows is plain, apart from the medieval fragments in the north window of what is now the choir vestry. The north aisle is thought to have been once the chapel dedicated to St. James, while the south aisle chapel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Two monumental brasses are mounted on the modern wooden panels of the north west wall. It is said that they were rescued from the local builder’s workshop and were restored to the church in the early part of the last century. The earlier brass is a half-effigy commemorating William Groby who died in 1396 and his son, also William, Rector of the Parish who died in 1399. The second brass dates to 1618 and commemorates a puritan churchman William Palke Minister of High Halstow and his wife, Ann. It is unusual in that he is wearing a Geneva gown and not a vestment of the period, and that his wife’s death was not added to the inscription after her demise. It is also one of only 5 brasses commemorating post reformation clergy.

The church possesses a silver communion cup and paten cover, the gift of the Churchwardens of the period dated 1664. The plate of St. Mary’s Church retained at High Halstow since the Hoo St. Mary’s church was made redundant and the parishes were combined, consists of a cup and paten cover. The former dating to 1573 has the marker’s mark I.C. While the paten is later 1705 and marked E.A. This earlier cup has around 50% more capacity reflecting the pre-reformation practice of the wine being reserved for the clergy only.

The tower contains a ring of six bells with a tenor weighing 9 ¾ cwt (500kg). In the key of Ab it is believed that bells have been rung at High Halstow since the mid 14thC when there were probably four. It is known that there were five bells in 1788 because of the first known peal of doubles was rung here on the 19th November 1788. The five bells were derelict for about 100 years prior to 1983 when a full restoration was carried out and a sixth bell added. A portion of the mediaeval bell frame is preserved in the tower. Full detail of the bells are displayed in the tower. The iron closing ring which was once on the south door, is most unusual and is reputed to be of Saxon origin. It is the shape of a horse’s head and is reminiscent of the Bayeaux tapestry. Sadly for security reasons it has been removed from its original position, although you may see the clear mark on the door where it once stood.

Amongst the choir boy graffiti at the back of the organ is a fascinating drawing of what looks like a WWI bi-plane. The sight of these planes would have been fairly common in the area as there was a RNAS seaplane station at Grain. The first aerial battle that ever took place over British soil happened over the peninsula on Christmas Day 1914 when a German bi-plane on its way to London was engaged by a seaplane from the Grain station.

The people of High Halstow were not just passive watchers of the two world wars but like many other towns and villages, they sent their sons off to war and sadly many of them didn’t return. They are remembered in two stone memorials in the church. Many of the names still live on in the village today through their descendants as well as names Marsh Crescent and Longfield Avenue. One of those who died in the second world war was Squadron Leader Geoffrey Longfield, the son of the Rev. Longfield. The Vicar at the time. By strange coincidence in Allhallows, which is part of the parish, the war memorial has the name 2nd Lt F.R.C Hammond who died in the first world war and was the son of the Vicar of Allhallows.

As you leave the Church there are two other features that may be of interest. The first of these is directly on the left hand side of the path as you leave the porch. It’s a series of six stone graves that some local historians believe is the setting for the opening scene of Dickens’ novel Great Expectations. The grave was wonderfully brick lined in the same shape as the stones on top. Before the houses to the north were built there was a clear view across the marshes to the Thames River where the prison hulks were moored.

If you walk down to Forge Lane just past the Red Dog Public House and walk down the lane a hundred yards or so you will see the entrance to the RSPB Nature Reserve and will have a fine view of both the Thames and the marshes.

The second item of interest is the finely built lychgate on the south entrance. This was erected as a monument to the men of the parish who lost their livers in the service of their country during the first world war. Standing in the front of the gate there is a beautiful view across Hoo peninsula to the River Medway and the Medway Towns.

Originally there were a number of exterior decorations, but they have worn away over the years with just stubs of stone remaining as testimony to the stone masons’ art.

The front door dates from Tudor times. It sis framed by a beautiful ornate Romanesque arch on the outside. However on the inside it is clear that the original door was taller and had a much flatter top.

The Red Dog public house next door is one of the oldest buildings in the village and was once the Parsonage. Today the church building still stands as a lasting monument of the faithfulness of God and the continued witness of his people.  

St Margaret's Church Address

St Margarets Church, Cooling Rd, High Halstow
Rochester ME3 8SA