Project Canterbury

St. Augustine's College, Canterbury.

From The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. I (No. III) (September, 1847), pages 81-87.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007


IT has been truly said that the Church of England, in addition to the heavy amount of her home duties, is a debtor, first, to our emigrants and settlers, men of the same tongue, kindred, and faith with ourselves, but who, while they have gone forth to seek by their enterprise and industry for the bread which perishes, are but in too great danger of perishing themselves, from want of a yet more needful aliment; secondly, to the "banished and all but excommunicated population" of our penal colonies; and, thirdly, to upwards of a hundred millions of heathen souls in our East Indian territory, as well as to our other unchristened dependents. Yet, were even all this mighty debt discharged, still her hands would not be free;--in that hour she would stand charged with the yet more tremendous obligation of evangelizing the whole Heathen world which lies external to Christian rule. So long, then, as the earth continues, the demand for Missionaries can never cease. And yet the colleges and schools by which the Church in England is provided with its Clergy are confessedly at this moment inadequate to supply the existing demand for the ministry at home.

Men of all parties admit this to be the truth. And the utter hopelessness of a place of training for missionary labour being found in these, is even yet more obvious. Besides the absolute want of room occasioned by the claims of the Church in England,--besides the expense at present attached to residence at either Oxford or Cambridge,--it cannot he too strongly stated, or too [81/82] constantly kept in mind, that the scheme of English university education, with all its excellences, is not that which is needed for the Missionary. This is no reproach to the system there pursued. Our universities were intended for different objects, and must employ the means adapted to their own peculiar end. Those men, who are to be not only the preachers of Christianity, but in many districts also the founders of civilization, have naturally wants proper to themselves: a knowledge of oriental tongues, or the languages and dialects of the South Seas; familiar acquaintance with the history, mythology, and, in the case of India, with the metaphysical science of heathen nations; some practical skill, to say the least, in the mechanical arts and applied sciences; the calculations of the astronomer and navigator, the practice of medicine and surgery, and the application of chemistry to agriculture;--all these are almost as necessary as sound religious knowledge and earnest zeal; for without them the one may scarcely be available, because the other is at a loss where first to begin its operations.

Until comparatively recently, the training school of the Church Missionary Society at Islington was the only institution in this country intended specially to supply this want, so obvious to ourselves, and so painfully felt by the bishops of the colonial sees. Colonial colleges, it is true, have been established in several quarters; but many a year yet must elapse before a due supply of students can be hoped for in these; and it was in deep feeling of the responsibilities and difficulties which have been enumerated that in 1842, after a circular had been addressed to the masters of the chief Grammar schools of England and Wales, the plan was ultimately adopted of establishing a central missionary college in England.

We believe we are guilty of no breach of confidence in openly connecting the origin of this design, in its present full extent of development, with the respected name of Coleridge. The circular letter to which allusion has just been made is signed by Mr. Edward Coleridge of Eton, and though reference is made to the suggestions of the Bishops of Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania, yet the extracts of letters from the colonial prelates scarcely point to a scheme on so large a scale as has even now been brought to bear. Nor is this surprising. When the plan was first submitted to the chief authorities of the Church at home, while every perception was awake to the excellence, not to say the imperative necessity, of the proposal, fears were still entertained lest the voluntary contributions required for carrying it out might diminish the funds at the disposal of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The responses, however, to a private address, which sketched the plan for a [82/83] collegiate institution intended ultimately to be rendered capable of containing two hundred students, and to commence with fifty, calmed every apprehension on the subject. The archbishops and bishops of the English Church have given their sanction to the foundation; and Bishop Coleridge, himself experienced in the peculiar field of a colonial diocese, has undertaken the office of Warden. The munificence of one individual, A. J. B. Hope, Esq. M.P. bestowed a site, and fixed what we trust, by God's blessing may be, so to speak, the centre of the missionary operations of this country,--the heart from which the life of the Gospel may flow forth to the ends of the world--on a spot hallowed by old and venerable recollections, in the very metropolitical city of Canterbury, and on the site of the old Priory of St. Augustine.

In August, 1845, the sum subscribed for the purpose amounted to 39,000l. In September, 1846, the amount had been increased to 54,000l. irrespective of yearly contributions which at present are promised to the extent of above 500l. per annum. Having stated this, and thus sketched the origin and progress of the plan, we shall first advert to the institution which originally occupied the ground on which St. Augustine's College is now actually erected, and then proceed to give some brief account of the architectural features and arrangements of the college itself.

According to the authority of Dugdale, (Monasticon, tom. i. p. 23.) the site of the monastery was assigned to Augustine, in the year of our Lord 605, by Ethelbert, King of Kent. It was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles, and was under the Benedictine rule. Here, too, both Ethelbert and Augustine appointed the burying-place of themselves and their successors. There was also within the monastic precincts a large cemetery, since permanently desecrated, and now partly occupied by the buildings and enclosure of the county hospital; in this, however, for a time more fortunate than the abbatic precincts themselves, which have only now been rescued from the worst of profanation. But previous to the building of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, a smaller chapel was consecrated to St. Pancras. This fact is curious, because this was the temple of the idol worship of Ethelbert, and is said by Dugdale to have been the first church consecrated in England by Augustine. Its walls are yet standing, and have considerable quantities of very early bricks in them. Its length was only thirty feet.

The privileges and revenues of the monastery were great. In the reign of Richard II. its territory amounted to 11,682 acres of land; and this prosperity continued till its suppression in the reign of Henry VIII. which took place A. D. 1539, when its revenues were upwards of 1,400l.

[84] The front of the monastic building, which again forms the front of the present college, looks westward, and extended from north to south some 250 feet. At either end of this frontage were two striking gateways, both of which remain to the present day. The northern one is said to have been built about 1287, was then the entrance to the monastery, and is now again restored to its office of a portal tower. It is in the best and richest style of the period. The southern gave access to the cemetery, and is assigned to the latter part of the reign of Richard II. According to the engraving given by Dugdale, the eastern side of the quadrangle was occupied by the refectory or dining-hall of the monks, and a high square tower, "vulgo dicta turris Ethelberti," eastward from which again extended a larger and later church, said to have been built about 1307. Of the church there are but small remains, though the north aisle was standing in the time of Charles I.; and unfortunately an apparently needless alarm was caused some little time since by the fall of a portion of Ethelbert's tower, and then the greater portion of it was in consequence taken down, nothing being left but the gateways, and a portion of the wall. This is the more to be regretted, as it was not improbably one of the oldest parts of the building that remained.

The usual causes of decay have here all contributed to the destruction of the venerable abbey. At its suppression many of the buildings belonging to it, including the church, were stripped of their leaden roofs, after which the walls were either destroyed by wanton violence, or left to perish by degrees. Still, though thus partially dismantled, sufficient was left for Henry to convert to a palace for his own use, though whether he ever actually resided there does not appear. But that it was still maintained in some state is evident, from the report of the royal surveyor in the time of Edward VI. for the cost of repair of the king's apartments; while the same record also shows that the buildings even then in ruins covered no inconsiderable space of ground, and were disposed of from time to time by the load, in the neighbourhood. This accounts for the total demolition of the old church, for the "rubbish" so removed includes ashlar stone, broken window frames, small marble pillars, the south aisle, and the pillars of the church southward.

In one of her progresses, Queen Elizabeth held her court in this palace for many days; and here too, Charles I. consummated his marriage with Henrietta of France. It then passed by grant to the family of the Woottons, and for a time was known as Lady Wootton's palace; and from their hands the property passed into those of the late Sir Edward Hales, Bart. At last the desecration was most complete and fearful--a public-house [84/85] occupied a portion of the site, while the enclosure, once solemnly dedicated to God's honour and service, and now again recovered to its sacred purpose, was filled by the skittle-ground, the bowling-green, and the drinking-booth; and the profane song, and gamester's oath were heard in the courts of the house of prayer. May we not be thankful that this is at an end, even independently of the blessings which we trust will flow from its new dedication to the service of Christ's Church!

As has been already said, the entrance to the present college is through the ancient gate tower. The west front (and indeed so are the fronts of the buildings in general) is faced with flints, with stone finishing at the angles, and about the middle of this front appears the west window of the chapel. On entering, one cannot but be struck with the perfectly academical and ecclesiastical character of the plan. Nearly three sides of a quadrangle, that is the western, northern, and half the eastern sides, are, so far as the external design is concerned, completed. On the left or northern side is the range of building appropriated to the residence of the students, and running nearly east and west. This is elevated on a terrace, and has a long low cloister of the early decorated style below. Along one side of the cloister, and on each side of the passage at its ends, and in the gallery above, are apartments for fifty young men. The rooms are fitted with every regard to necessary comfort, combined with the utmost frugality of living. Each room is divided by a partition so as to form a recess, which is the sleeping-place, leaving the remaining space for a study; and it appears to us that for all purposes just space sufficient has been allotted, and no more. Indeed, if ever the plan lately mooted of having a new Hall at Oxford, with a view to a considerably diminished scale of expenditure, should be brought to bear, we can conceive no arrangements more perfectly adapted to the purpose than those of St. Augustine's, where the expense, be it remembered, is calculated not to exceed 35l. per annum to each pupil.

On the eastern side of the quadrangle, and occupying the site assigned by Dugdale to the ancient refectory, stands the library. This is, indeed, raised on the foundation of the refectory, and corresponds with it in size. The dimensions are seventy-eight feet by forty. The windows are decorated and exceedingly light and beautiful; and the cases will be so arranged at right angles to the side wall as to give a separate compartment or recess at each window, similar to those in the Bodleian at Oxford. For a new institution the college is peculiarly fortunate in possessing, a considerable collection of books to form the foundation of its library. The bulk of Bishop Horne's library has been bestowed on St. Augustine's, and thus returned to [85/86] Canterbury, of which he once was Dean, and other benefactions in this kind have also been received. The entrance is at the southern end by a handsome vestibule and steps, in this differing from the ancient refectory, which was approached through a proaulium at the north-western angle. The roof of the library is hardly yet cleared of scaffold, so that the design is not distinguishable, but apparently is of oak, and corresponds in age with the remainder of the room. We must not, however, leave this part of the edifice without noticing the singularly beautiful crypt or undercroft below. The groining of this, supported by slender shafts, and formed of brick vaulting upon stone ribs, is both in form and colour, particularly striking. The red brick with great judgment is to be left of its natural colour, and time will but improve the general effect. Eventually this is to be appropriated to the purposes of a museum; at present it will be employed for lecture-rooms, no other provision for which has yet been made.

The remainder of the east side, and the whole of the south of the quadrangle, as yet is vacant, except a few masses of ruins, among which is the remnant of Ethelbert's Tower. And on the west, we come first to the rooms of the subwarden and four fellows, then to the warden's house, all of which are in keeping with the rest of the design. The chapel then crosses the line of building on this side, projecting inwards and therefore towards the east into the quadrangle. Then follows the hall, which is plainly but handsomely fitted with oak, and measures sixty foot by twenty-four. The kitchen and buttery are below, and these all abut against the entrance tower, so that we have now completed our circuit of the buildings.

The western wall was the one in best preservation, and probably this face of the building presents the strongest resemblance to the original design. The general style of this part is early English. The plate in Dugdale shows a gable, where the west end of the chapel appears, to which we must now return. Access to the chapel and hall is obtained by the same staircase; and below the latter, as well as the library, there is a crypt as yet unappropriated to any peculiar purpose. The west window of the chapel is a triple lancet, of which form of window recognizable remains were found in the wall. The east window is of a later date, early decorated. We should be disposed as a matter of taste to object to the east window being thus later than the west; but the position of the chapel which we have described above, rendered it absolutely imperative that the greatest part of the light should be obtained from the chancel end. It will be obvious that no side lights could be obtained in the body of the chapel from the other buildings abutting against it, and [86/87] it is only where it projects beyond these in the chancel, and in the ante-chapel that other windows could be placed. Even as it is, we fear it may be found dark in winter. The lights are all fitted with stained glass by Williment, good both in colour and design. The floor is paved with encaustic tiles, the pattern of which, about the communion table, is relieved by some blue, as well as the two more ordinary colours. The stall-work, roof, and screen are all of oak, and very good. The roof externally is surmounted by a double bell gable. The only error, however, which seems to have been committed, is to be found in this the most sacred part of the whole edifice. It is no fault of style, no violation of architectural taste or ecclesiastical feeling to which we allude; but simply a little foresight has, as we think, been wanting. The chapel itself is calculated to afford sixty-four sittings, the ante-chapel but sixteen; and for the present state of the college of course this affords ample accommodation; but we hope, and the pastors of the Church under whose management it has arisen, hope ultimately for a fourfold increase. And for two hundred or even one hundred students, the chapel would be utterly inadequate. To enlarge it, hemmed in as it is, would be impossible, and the only alternative is that another must be built at a vast additional cost, much of which might have been avoided had another spot been chosen for its erection, while the present beautiful little building must become practically almost useless; for we trust the collegiate system will never be violated, so as to admit of divided public worship. Warden, fellows, students, all should meet in the same house of prayer, and soon by God's blessing may they do so! And may the prayers which shall there be daily offered be heard to the blessing of our Church both at home and abroad! So shall the college of St. Augustine's in all ways do its work; so may we hope to see it flourishing and increasing. May it be not only increased but followed by the erection of other kindred foundations for the training of a ministry needed bitterly by our English as well as our Colonial population.

Some delay, but it is hoped not of many months, must yet take place before it can be opened. Meanwhile, and ever, we commit it to the prayers of our readers, as one of the most hopeful efforts which this country has seen for the maintenance and extension of the Church.

Project Canterbury