52 Swan St,
West Malling ME19 6JX
There is NO car parking at the church. There are a number of free parking spaces on St Leonard’s Street and Water Lane. Parking in the High Street is limited to two hours during weekdays but there is a large public car park behind Tesco’s in the High Street.
The Ryarsh Lane car park is available after 3pm weekdays and at weekends.
A little further afield there is additional parking in Manor Park Country Park and at West Malling Railway Station.
The histories of the Abbey and Town Malling have been closely entwined for more than 900 years.
In 1090, Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, Monk of Bec Abbey in Normandy – and close ally of William the Conqueror – chose Malling as the site for a convent of Benedictine nuns. It was one of the first post-conquest monasteries for women and the estate was extensive as it included the Manor of Malling and the Manor of East Malling. Just before his death in 1108, Gundulf appointed the French nun, Avicia, as the first abbess.
Malling at the time was a small hamlet but it grew quickly as the Abbey flourished. By the 13th century “Little Malling” had become “Town Malling.” Royal grants gave the nuns rights to weekly markets at which they collected the rent from stalls and annual fairs as well as wood-cutting and pasturage rights in nearby forests. Malling High Street was designed specifically to accommodate these markets.
In the four and half centuries of Benedictine life at the Abbey, major events included a fire in 1190 which destroyed much of the abbey and the town. The Black Death in 1349 reduced the community to four nuns and four novices. Under Henry VIII, the Abbey was confiscated by the Crown on 29th October, 1538. The King’s agents stripped it of its valuables. They removed the lead roofs and bells and sent them to the foundry at the Tower of London to be made into cannon and shot for the war with France.
From 1538 to 1750, the Abbey was owned by a succession of families and the 11th century building fell into disrepair. In 1750, a London banker called Frazer Honeywood built a neo-Gothic mansion and repaired the surviving medieval fabric. A century later, the devout Akers family purchased the property. They restored the Pilgrim Chapel for public worship and later allowed the Gate House to be used as an orphanage.
In 1892, Charlotte Boyd bought the abbey and established the trust which restored it to its original use. And so the present community
of Anglican Benedictine nuns was able to come to Malling Abbey in 1916. Fifty years later, the new Abbey Church was built and consecrated.
Architects Maguire and Murray had already designed a cloister and conventual building for the order when they were commissioned to
produce an abbey church, made possible by a legacy from Marjorie Forbes Close, a leader in the revival of Anglican plainsong, in memory of her mother.
The abbey church (1964-6) is a remarkable modern intervention in the setting of great antiquity, providing an uncompromising yet sympathetic contrast to the grade I medieval abbey. It is set on the site of the crossing of the original abbey church and joined to the surviving transept via the new cloister.
Structurally it is built with concrete block walls, incorporating reinforced concrete ring beams at the top of the walls and drum. Reinforced concrete slab lower roofs are internally board-marked, and clad in pantiles; timber upper roof stained green and blue is tile-clad. The rectangular church space under cylindrical upper drum was likened by Maguire to a `double oast-house’. The movement from
rectangular to cigar-shaped space was more dramatic before an engineering miscalculation forced the later installation of columns to support the upper roof.