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 – so 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 Historic Buildings Trust, has already acquired and developed a cottage and ruinous Gatehouse in the former Southern Lodging Range and has an option in place with the current owner to purchase the remainder of the Palace complex.

Spitalfields’ business model is one of restoring endangered historic buildings and once complete to sell them on into private ownership, using the return on any sale to fund future projects.

Our vision of giving the Palace’s restored former Great Hall a sustainable future by making it a self-sustaining centre for education, culture, leisure and recreation differs from theirs in that we believe such an important complex of buildings should offer at least some open access to the public.

We have been in discussion with Spitalfields Trust and other key stakeholders, Historic England and Ashford Borough Council, since October 2016.

To date Spitalfields have declined to work with us, preferring the flexibility offered by working independently, and have never before undertaken a restoration project in partnership with another organisation. They have, however, from the outset of our discussions expressed openness to reconsider their position should we be able to make a convincing case that our vision is financially and technically achievable.

With this as our aim, we have now undertaken two studies, financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Architectural Heritage Fund, to assess the financial viability of our vision and provide us with a clear route map for how it might best be achieved. With both of these now completed, and the viability and feasibility of our vision confirmed, we remain optimistic that we can yet convince Spitalfields to reconsider their position.

Copies of these two studies will shortly be available to view and download from ‘Key Documents’ in the Our Trust section of this website.

For further information concerning 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 their 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

These buildings do not form part of our project.

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 pursuing options that include creating a hub of community facilities in a ‘building within a a building’ designed to highlight aspects of the Great Hall’s architectural development, to include flexible, multi-purpose public spaces, visitor facilities and learning centre telling the story of the Palace complex throughout its 1200-year history.

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

These buildings do not form part of our project.

The Eastern Court

Beyond the Great 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 further visitor and learning centre facilities here, supporting tourism and recreational opportunities in the area and telling the Charing Palace story.

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 an area to the eastern side of the Paddock, in line with the north-south axis to the western side of the Great Hall, we propose to create community gardens and a venue for recreation and cultural events.

In addition this site would provide vehicular access from Pett Lane to the north of the Palace complex together with green parking for the facilities located in the Great Hall and Eastern Court.

Next: DISCOVERY

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