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St James, Cooling

A visit to St James’ church, in its desolate position, with marshes stretching north to the Thames estuary, recalls the sinister atmosphere of the opening pages of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. The churchyard is believed to be the setting for the first encounter of his hero Pip with the convict Magwitch. In the churchyard lie the pathetic tombs of 13 babies. They are known as Pip’s Graves, from the description Dickens gives of ‘little stone lozenges each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their [parents’] graves’. The church, which dates from the late 13th century, is impressively spacious inside. Very fine wall arcades enclose stone seats in the chancel. This stonework is a wonderful piece of carving and a survival of Early English craftsmanship. Of the same date are the six rather primitive wooden benches in the nave. The other benches are Victorian, though clearly influenced by the mediaeval examples. The monuments in the church walls and floor are a fascinating record of those who once lived here. They include a slab with a brass effigy of a lady Feyth Brook, who died in 1508 and was the wife of Lord Cobham, of nearby Cooling Castle. The tiny 19th century vestry to the south of the chancel is unique. It is lined with thousands of cockle shells, the emblem of St James, patron saint of the church.


Dedication: St James

Address: St James' Church, Main Road, Cooling, Rochester, Kent, ME3 8DG

Click here for map

Opening hours: Open daily
Parking facilities: Yes
Toilet facilities: No
Accessibility issues: Ramp behind door, needs helper

OS Ref no: TQ 756 759
Directions: 6m N of Rochester off B2000
Transport: Lay-by on north side of church. Do not park on west side as this restricts busy lane.

Nearby attractions: Upnor Castle (EH) Rochester Castle (EH) and Cathedral, Guildhall Museum