St Mary Magdalen Tower

Burgate Street

All that remains of the parish church of St Mary Magdalen is the tower in Burgate standing close to the city’s Roman Catholic church, the lower courses of the original church now forming a low garden wall (Image 1).  The church had 12th century origins, and the surviving perpendicular gothic tower was built around 1500.  The writer Richard Harris Barham was baptised here in 1788.  The church closed for worship in 1866 and demolition of all but the tower took place in 1871.  The parish united with that of St Georges – but war damage to that church has left us with two old parishes having no church but two towers between them.  The font was removed to River (near Dover), the arcades went to St George’s, and the bells seem to have left for Madagascar!

What to see:

  • Two plaques on the outside walls of the tower giving basic history and dates – one also notes the baptism of Richard Harris Barham here in 1788 (Image 2)
  • The memorial to John Whitfield housed behind glass in the tower and floodlit at night – a remarkable Canterbury benefactor who claimed to have invented the fire engine (Image 3 and 4)
  • The wooden door to the ringing chamber which still survives beside the faint traces of a spiral stair case.

Access:  Free public access but the Whitfield memorial is behind fixed glass window

Sources:  Tatton-Brown (1994) in Arch Cant; also notes by Rev David L. Cawley – see