Our Parish history, written by local historian and parishioner Miss Sheila Whitehead, has now been published. You can obtain a copy through the parish office.
Here is a summary of our parish history, which was published in our Consecration Service booklet, is reproduced here by permission of Sheila Whitehead.
“Something of great constancy”
There may have been a Christian presence in Dartford even before the Emperor Constantine proclaimed the “Peace of the Church” in 313.
The Anglo-Saxon invaders imposed a new paganism, but with the coming of St Augustine and his band of Benedictine monks in 597 the Kingdom of Kent was rapidly re-converted. There was a Saxon church by the ford before 742. Dartford was a royal domain and before the Norman Conquest there were also three chapels, one perhaps belonging to a convent. In St Anselm’s time, Gundulf, his friend and fellow Benedictine, rebuilt the church and in the thirteenth century it was extended to accommodate the pilgrims breaking their journey to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury.
A Commandery of the Knights Hospitaller, known locally as St John’s Jerusalem, was founded at Sutton-at-Hone in 1199, with provision for thirteen sick men. In 1346 Edward III founded the Priory of Our Lady and St Margaret, Virgin, the only house of Dominican nuns in England, a haven of peace and spirituality much loved by the townspeople.
Under Henry VIII several of the nuns had brothers who were martyred for their faith and after the Dissolution they themselves endured great suffering in exile for fifty years, with only a brief respite under Mary Tudor. There were still a few Catholics in Dartford in penal times, when the Mass was proscribed and even harbouring a priest was punished by death. Bishop Challoner visited the little group here in 1742 in secret.
Even when Catholic Emancipation came in 1829, hostility to Catholics was extreme in Kent – it was known as Kentish Fire – and in Dartford it was notorious. There were Irish people living here by then and a Capuchin friar from Piedmont, Father Maurice of Cossato, opened a Catholic Mission at St Ronan’s, East Hill, in 1851. He founded the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Greenhithe and its school in 1863, and from there in 1865 he opened the first St Anselm’s Chapel and School in Hythe Street, and later the first Post-Reformation Catholic churches, each with a school, in Erith and Northfleet. Once the St Anselm’s Mission was well established, it was handed over to the care of diocesan priests. Father Edmund Buckley gave us a purpose-built church in 1887, itself replaced by Father James Wallace, who built the church in Spital Street in 1900. It was always much too small, and in 1975 the fourth St Anselm’s was built by Father Coleburt and opened by Archbishop Cowderoy on October 30th that year. Mass for our Silver Jubilee was celebrated by Father W.D.Saunders on October 30th 2000 in the evening, quietly, and on the next anniversary, we welcomed Archbishop Bowen to dedicate the Church.
The contribution made to the Mission by the Presentation Brothers, who built up the Catholic community on Temple Hill, from which the new parish of St Vincent’s emerged in 1982; the pioneering work of the Sisters of St Ursula and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, Mother of Mercy; the help given by the Southwark Travelling Mission, which enabled us to open St George’s Church in South Darenth; and the dedication of all our priests over the past hundred and fifty years, can only inspire deep gratitude. Today, Christian Churches of all denominations here in Dartford and everywhere are praying and working together for the spread of the gospel of peace and the “chain of brotherhood” of all mankind which Pope John Paul II has challenged us to create.
Click here to read a tribute to Fr. Albert Coleburt, parish priest of Dartford from 1950 until 1987.