History of the Church

After the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century under King Henry VIII the Catholic Faith in Canterbury all but disappeared. Precious little is known of those years except for those who suffered and died for their faith: Saint John Stone and the Oaten Hill Martyrs, Blessed Edward Campion, Blessed Christopher Buxton, Blessed Robert Wilcox and Blessed Robert Widmerpool. 


The Catholic Mission in Canterbury was re-established about 1750 and dates back to the Hales family who lived at St Stephen’s, Hackington, a village to the north west of the city. Sir Edward, third Baronet Hales, was a good friend of King James II and tried to help him escape when, at the “Glorious Revolution” in 1688, William of Orange was invited over by the Whig Party in Parliament to take over the country as King William III. Edward became a Catholic just as his friend James was, and undoubtedly Holy Mass was celebrated from time to time at Place House, as the old Tudor mansion which he had bought was called. Certainly, when his great-grandson, Edward, became the fifth Baronet in 1744 and moved into Place House – rebuilt in 1769 as Hales Place – Mass and Divine Worship were held there without interruption until 1923. From 1855, when Mary Ann Wood gave the house at 60, Burgate Street (now 59, Burgate), for the use of “a priest in the city of Canterbury”, Catholic worship started once again in the city. At first, the missionary priest struggled to provide Mass facilities by celebrating in his house, and then by building extensions to the house as chapels. It was the arrival of Father Richard Power, whose dynamic enthusiasm enabled both the church and a new parish school to be built, that established St Thomas’ Catholic Mission on a firm footing in Canterbury. 

The Church of St Thomas of Canterbury was built in 1874/75, and was opened on Tuesday, 13th April, 1875, with Cardinal Manning preaching the first sermon. The architect was John Green Hall, a local man who had designed other churches in Canterbury.