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The Church of St Martin-le-Grand

The early Kentish monastery of St Martin was probably founded  within the old Roman Saxon-Shore Fort at the end of the  seventh century. Destroyed by Viking raids in the late ninth  century, it is thought that the Canons of St Martins moved to a  new church built within the Anglo-Saxon settlement on Castle  Hill above the town. This church later became the church of St  Mary-in-Castro, but before the Norman Conquest it was almost  certainly the great church built for the canons of St Martins,  whose many estates are mentioned on the first page of the  Domesday Book. At the time of the Norman Conquest the  Castle started to be built on the hilltop, and the canons had to  find a new home in the town below. Building commenced around 1070 at a site on the western side  of the present Market Square. Building work on the church  seems to have stopped at the beginning of the twelfth century  when the nave had only just been started. The canons of St  Martins were subject only to the King and the Pope, and this  was not to the liking of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1130  the King Henry I was finally persuaded to grant the church and  all its estates to the Archbishop and the monks of Canterbury.  The Archbishop originally planned to complete the church and  use it for the new order, but the monks of Canterbury did not  like this , and in 1139 they managed to persuade him to build a  new house just outside Dover which became St Martins Priory. The church, later called St Martin-le-Grand, was eventually  completed to form a large parish church. By the late middle  ages, this church apparently combined under one roof three  parish churches, St Martin, St Nicholas and St John the Baptist.  Within the church itself there were a whole mass of altars and  chapels which are mentioned in various later fifteenth and early  sixteenth century wills. By 1536 St Martin-le-Grand was in very poor condition, and  when the Reformation came a few years later it ceased to be  used for its parish churches. The altars were removed in 1546,  and the eastern part was let by the Corporation for shops and  tenements fronting onto the Market Square. A passageway ran  through the central apse to the enlarged graveyard in the  western part of the church. This graveyard was still in use until  the late nineteenth century, and large fragments of the eastern  part of the church were still incorporated into houses at this  time. Until the Second World War the building line still bulged  out into the Market Square in line with the old church building.   The area was badly damaged in the Second World War and  subsequent excavations have helped to determine the plan of  the church. Some remains of the church can be seen just off  the Market Square behind Barclays Bank.  
St Martin-le-Grand c.1800.  An idealised view of the ruins with the buildings that had grown up around them removed. St Martin-le-Grand c.1830. A view showing the buildings that had grown up around the ruins. A 19th Century plan of the remains of St Martin-le-Grand. Showing how later buildings had incorprated parts of the church structure into their fabric. The Site of St Martin-le-Grand, 1907. The ghost of the eastern end of the church can be seen in the way the buildings curve out into the Market Square. Back to Churches Index