St James' Church, Cooling, Kent

Main Road, Rochester, Kent, ME3 8DG
How to find us | Access information
Opening times:
Closed whilst we work on making your visit ‘Covid Secure’
  • Overview
  • Map
  • What's nearby
  • Feedback

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 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 nineteenth-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.


  • Access information
    There is a wheelchair ramp kept behind the door, but visitors with disabilities may need assistance. Two steps down into church.
  • Facilities & Hire
    Due to the historic nature of our buildings, only a very small number have heating, running water or toilet facilities. The lighting is usually operated via a 'push button' timer or a motion sensor. 
  • Directions
    Six miles north of Rochester off B2000. Follow St. James Church signs in Cliffe along Cooling Road.
  • Transport

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

  • History & Further Information

    Why not make your visit more enjoyable and informed by finding out more about this church 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.

    Kent County Guide 2012

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

  • Community information

    The Friends of Cooling Church

    The Friends assist The Churches Conservation Trust in caring for the church, organising events and raising funds for the building's upkeep.


    Useful local links: