St James' Church, Cooling, Kent

Address: Main Road, Cooling, Rochester, Kent, ME3 8DG
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Open daily from 10.00am to 4.00pm
Keyholder information, accessibility and facilities

The inspiration for a dramatic Dickens tale

Charles Dickens used the churchyard of St James as his inspiration in the opening chapter of Great Expectations, where the hero Pip meets Magwitch the convict. The site – on the Hoo Peninsula with marshes stretching north to the Thames estuary, is dramatically desolate and bleak in winter, recalling the sinister opening scene in David Lean’s 1946 film of the book.

Here, you can find what have become known as '‘Pip’s Graves’ - the forlorn gravestones of 13 babies that Dickens describes in the chapter as ‘"little stone lozenges each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their [parents’] graves".

Inside, the church is light and spacious. There is a 500-year-old timber door that still swings on its ancient hinges – even though it now leads to a blocked north doorway! Another quirky feature is the 19th-century vestry – its walls are lined from top to bottom with thousands of cockle shells - the emblem of St James.

The monuments in the church walls and floor are a fascinating record of those who once lived here. They include a slab with a brass effigy of Feyth Brook, who died in 1508 and was the wife of Lord Cobham, of nearby Cooling Castle.

Dickens fans should also visit St Mary’s in Higham, the village where the novelist ended his days while writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

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How to find us

To locate this church on a map, click on the 'View on map' link that appears below the address information at the top of the page.

Road directions

6 miles north of Rochester off B2000. Follow St. James Church signs in Cliffe along Cooling Road.

Public transport information

Nearest railway station: Higham (3.3 miles). Bus route number 133

OS Reference No.

TQ 756 759

What’s on & news

News

16/07/14 Wendy Leaney impressed the judges with her skillfully sculpted creation made out of homemade lime and elderflower cordial

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Last year, we welcomed over two million visitors to our churches. If each person donated just £2, this would enable us to keep our churches open, safe and watertight for you and future generations to enjoy.

Close up of a mosaic at St Peter, Northampton

Text code 'OCCT05' to 70070 to donate now (free from all networks).

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Donate by text

Last year, we welcomed over two million visitors to our churches. If each person donated just £2, this would enable us to keep our churches open, safe and watertight for you and future generations to enjoy.

Close up of a mosaic at St Peter, Northampton

Text code 'OCCT05' to 70070 to donate now (free from all networks).

Or use the button below to donate online.

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Donate by text

Last year, we welcomed over two million visitors to our churches. If each person donated just £2, this would enable us to keep our churches open, safe and watertight for you and future generations to enjoy.

Close up of a mosaic at St Peter, Northampton

Text code 'OCCT05' to 70070 to donate now (free from all networks).

Or use the button below to donate online.

Donate online

Useful information

Why not make your visit more enjoyable and informed by finding out more about this church and the CCT before you visit?

You can download a range of publications below including the relevant county guide, and any walk round guides we have for this church.









PDF iconKent County Guide (PDF, 4.7mb)


This free of charge short guide contains details of all the churches CCT cares for in Kent. Printed copies of the county guide are also available at the church.

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All Saints' Church,  Vange, Essex

All Saints' Church, Vange, Essex A simply joyful church London Road, Vange, Basildon, Essex, SS16 4PX
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St Mary's Church,  Burham, Kent

St Mary's Church, Burham, Kent On the pathway of pilgrims Old Church Road, Burham, Rochester, Kent, ME1 3XY
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Upnor Castle Set in tranquil grounds adjoining a riverside village, this rare example of an Elizabethan artillery fort was begun in 1559 and redeveloped in 1599-1601, to protect warships at Chatham dockyards. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/upnor-castle

Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle Strategically placed astride the London Road, guarding an important crossing of the River Medway, this imposing fortress has a complex history of destruction and rebuilding. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/rochester-castle

Donate by text

Last year, we welcomed over two million visitors to our churches. If each person donated just £2, this would enable us to keep our churches open, safe and watertight for you and future generations to enjoy.

Close up of a mosaic at St Peter, Northampton

Text code 'OCCT05' to 70070 to donate now (free from all networks).

Or use the button below to donate online.

Donate online

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Comments

  1. Joella Jan Tyler (11 Aug 2011, 23:29)

    St. James' Church in Cooling, Kent, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful churches in England. In fact, St. James' is our favourite church in England, and we have been there quite a few times thus far.
    Although living 12,000 miles across the seas in Sydney, Australia, we are delighted to be members of The Friends of St. James' Church, (possibly the only Aussie members?), and offer our ongoing prayer support for all the wonderful people involved, and their tireless work and efforts to maintain this ancient and magnificent building.
    We have had many long holidays in England (Britain) over the years, and indeed have spent a lot of time in hundreds of lovely churches throughout the countryside, but St. James' is very special.
    What better than to spend 'quiet-time' in this hallowed and sacred place for a while, then wander in the lovely churchyard, particularly beautiful in the Springtime when resplendent with daffodils and tulips, and the spectacular yew tree, the lilacs, as well as the tiny white daisies growing happily in the grass, lifting their pretty faces to the sunshine.
    Joella and Phil Tyler Sydney, Australia

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Donate by text

Last year, we welcomed over two million visitors to our churches. If each person donated just £2, this would enable us to keep our churches open, safe and watertight for you and future generations to enjoy.

Close up of a mosaic at St Peter, Northampton

Text code 'OCCT05' to 70070 to donate now (free from all networks).

Or use the button below to donate online.

Donate online

Community information for St James' Church, Cooling

 

All our Kent churches are in CCT's South East region.

About the Friends of Cooling Church

Visit the Friends website

Contact telephone: 01634 220204

Contact email: alison@eastboroughlandscapes.co.uk

Useful local links

Visit Kent tourism website

Let’s Visit Kent website - we are very grateful to Let’s Visit for providing our 360 tours of Kent churches (see the 'Image gallery' tab for more details).

Best Places to Visit in Kent website

Kent History website

Kent Family History Society

Kent County Council website history section

Kent Archaeology Society

Kent Historic Churches website

Friends of Kent Churches

List of Kent churches

Kent is in the Diocese of Canterbury

Donate by text

Last year, we welcomed over two million visitors to our churches. If each person donated just £2, this would enable us to keep our churches open, safe and watertight for you and future generations to enjoy.

Close up of a mosaic at St Peter, Northampton

Text code 'OCCT05' to 70070 to donate now (free from all networks).

Or use the button below to donate online.

Donate online

St James' Church, Cooling, Kent

Keyholder

If the access information for this church is listed as ‘Keyholder nearby’, this means that the key is kept by one of our invaluable volunteer 'keyholders', who usually live just a short walk from the church and can give visitors the key; sometimes this is a nearby hotel, pub, library, art gallery or other venue. You will find instructions explaining how to get the key when you arrive at the church.

Disabled access

There is a wheelchair ramp kept behind the door, but visitors with disabilities may need assistance.

Facilities

Due to the historic nature of our buildings, only a very small number of them have heating or running water meaning that they can be cold, and very rarely have toilet facilities. The lighting is usually operated via a 'push button' timer or a motion sensor. We do apologise for any inconvenience the lack of facilities may cause.