Today

The Archbishop’s Palace complex covers an area of some 4.5 acres, in the heart of the village of Charing in Kent. Charing is one of a line of settlements lying below the scarp of the North Downs where the spring line emerges from the chalk.

The whole site is designated a scheduled monument by Historic England (NHLE 1011028).

Charing Palace Site Plan

Key: 1=Archbishop’s Apartments; 2=Great Hall; 3=Western Lodgings; 4= Eastern Court; 5=Paddock

The farmhouse, barn, western range and the buildings in the south range of the complex are separately listed Grade 1:

  • NHLE 1070756 – Palace Farmhouse (Former Archbishop’s Apartments)
  • NHLE 1185861 – Barn (Former Great Hall)
  • NHLE 1186008 – Outhouse to west of Palace Farmhouse (Western Range)
  • NHLE 1070757 – Palace Cottages and remains of gatehouse adjoining

Grade 1 buildings are regarded as being of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important; nationally only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade 1 – to have four located within its complex underscores the Palace’s extraordinary significance to England’s cultural heritage.

The ground beneath the listed buildings is scheduled and a Grade 2 listed wall surrounds the whole site.

The Palace is included on Historic England’s Heritage At Risk Register. The former Great Hall and Western Range are designated Priority A (at immediate risk of further rapid deterioration or loss of fabric with no solution agreed) while the listed farmhouse is at Priority C (subject to slow decay with no solution agreed).

Another building preservation charity, the Spitalfields Trust, owns and has developed part of the southern lodging range, and has an option to purchase the remainder of the Palace complex.

Spitalfields have a 40-year track history in restoring endangered historic buildings and putting them into private ownership.

Our vision for giving the Palace a sustainable future by making it a self-sustaining centre for education, culture, leisure and enterprise, with open access, differs from theirs.

We have been in discussion with them since October 2016 and they are monitoring our Trust’s progress with interest.

At present Spitalfields have expressed reservations over working with us, as they prefer the flexibility offered by working independently and have not to date undertaken a restoration project in partnership with another organisation.

However, should we prove successful in convincing them of our ability to raise sufficient funds and of our capacity and capability to make our vision a reality they have expressed a willingness to reconsider their position.

We believe that we have compatible skill sets to theirs and should it prove possible we would wish to work with Spitalfields Trust.

For further information on how our two approaches differ and the nature of our relationship with Spitalfields Trust please see Q&A in this section of the website.

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Structures and Potential

A timber built manor house on the site of the present palace was reputedly a favorite residence of Archbishop Thomas Becket.

However, of the buildings of the palace’s first 400 years, nothing remains – the present stone buildings dating from the 13th and early 14th centuries.

The earliest structures are possibly a large ruined two-storey chamber and the fragmentary remains of a chapel of the late 13th century, both adjacent to the surviving private apartments, which were rebuilt in the early 14th century.

The palace was entered through a large gateway leading into an outer court. Above the gate and forming two of its sides were the southern and western lodging ranges built to accommodate the officials and servants of the archbishop and his visitors. These include both a fine private chamber fit for someone of importance and what appear to be two dormitories with large communal latrines attached.

The Southern Range

The Spitalfields Historic Buildings Preservation Trust has acquired the majority of the southern range, which includes the ruined former gatehouse and a part that had subsequently been converted into a cottage, and is in the process of restoring these for use as private accommodation. These buildings do not form part of our project.

Archbishop’s Apartments & Chapel

At the back of the court are the private apartments of the archbishop with large chambers and the chapel, originally entered through a porch. At around 1500, the stone structure of the private apartments was updated by the addition of a brick storey.

Archbishop’s Apartments & Chapel

We are exploring options that include creating residential accommodation or craft studios, workshops and small offices here.

The Great Hall

To the right of the court, and initially quite separate from the private apartments, is the great hall, entered through a handsome porch.

It is one of the largest surviving halls of its period in Kent and was originally spanned by a great timber roof, twice the current height, and lit by fine tracery windows, one of which survives.

Much modified over time and since the 18th century put to farm use as a barn, the structure that remains only hints at its former grandeur but has the potential to reveal much more through its restoration.

Charing Palace - The Great Hall

We are exploring options that include creating a community centre here, which may include a visitor and learning centre.

The Western Range

Much of the 14th century structure of the western lodging range has been lost or masked through its later conversion to agricultural purposes.

Charing Palace - Lodgings Plan

We are exploring options that include restoring much of its lost volume and creating a hostelry or workspaces here.

The Eastern Court

Beyond the hall to the east was a second court, which housed the kitchens and other services, an area later turned to farm purposes.

We are exploring options that include creating a visitor and learning centre here, telling the Charing Palace story, or craft studios, workshops and small offices.

The Paddock

To the north of the built structures and covering half of the site area is what is now a grassed paddock offering unobstructed views to the North Downs above.

In a small area to the west of the paddock that is currently not considered of archaeological significance we envisage building up to three new-build houses that might be sold to enable other works on the site or kept as holiday accommodation to support the continuing sustainability of the site. Elsewhere the paddock would include community gardens and act as a venue for occasional events.

Next: DISCOVERY

Main images: Courtesy Harold Trill and Bruce Vigar
Site Plans: © Drury McPherson Partnership, Thomas Ford + Partners and Historic England