Charing is a small picturesque village in Kent, with many historic buildings. It is situated at the foot of the North Downs and stands on the ancient road, the Pilgrims’ Way. The village was once a busy stopping place for pilgrims travelling from Winchester to Canterbury, as Canterbury would have been only one day’s walk away. Today, the main A20 London to Folkestone road cuts through the village. The name Charing is thought to be derived from ‘Ceorra’, a local Anglo-Saxon chief. The buildings in the High Street are mostly white weather-boarded, brick and tile, with some exposed timber frames.
In 765, Egbert II, King of Kent, gave Charing to the Church of Canterbury. Being on the main Pilgrim route to Canterbury, the Archbishops built a residence here in the 14th century. It remained in their possession until 1545, when King Henry VIII took it from Archbishop Cranmer.
St. Peter and St. Paul Church is at the east end of the Market Place, which is a short lane off the High Street. The nave and chancel date from the early 13th century. The tower is high and typically Kentish. Following a serious fire in 1590, the medieval timber tower was rebuilt in stone. In the 18th century, elegant houses were built in Charing and two turnpike roads were constructed and they shared the High Street. Coaching inns were established. The Swan, once a coaching inn, is now Elizabethan Court residential apartments. The coaching inns declined in importance with the arrival of the railway in Charing in 1884.
The most famous building in Charing is the Archbishop’s Palace, also known as Charing Palace. It was an ancient possession of the Archbishop of Canterbury and can be seen behind a high flint wall which encloses the extensive grounds, just before the village church. The building is really a grand manor house appropriate for an archbishop. It was transformed into a farmhouse three hundred years ago and remains a private residence. On the south side of the courtyard, are numbers 1 and 2 Palace Cottages, the gatehouse and porter’s lodge. The Archbishop’s Palace is of particular personal interest to me, as my brother-in-law, Anthony Stratford, is a descendant of Archbishop John de Stratford, who built the 14th century gatehouse, through which the Palace may be seen today. John de Stratford was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. It is not known for certain the year of his birth, but is believed to be between 1270 and 1290. In 1330, he became chancellor to Edward III and for the next ten years, was the King’s most prominent adviser. He held the position of chancellor again from 1335 to 1337 and also in 1340. John de Stratford became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1333 and died in 1348. He is buried in Canterbury Cathedral near the High Altar. His tomb bears a sculptured effigy. John de Stratford spent much of his money on Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, where William Shakespeare is buried. His brother, Robert de Stratford was the Bishop of Chichester. In 1329 and 1332, John de Stratford, when he was Bishop of Winchester, was involved with Christine Carpenter, The Anchoress of Shere. She was in a cell in St. James’ Church, Shere, Surrey, but decided to leave and then asked to be readmitted so that she could die in the cell in Shere.
Although the Palace has been in private ownership for hundreds of years, by tradition, the Archbishop of Canterbury is allowed to enrobe at the Palace when visiting Charing church.