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Mystery water leak at St Peter’s Church in Folkestone

By Matt Leclere

A mysterious leak which has baffled churchgoers for more than 75 years has now been resolved.

Restoration work at St Peter’s Church in Folkestone had to take a hiatus over the last few months to investigate the church spire.

Now restorers have concluded that damage caused by bullet holes in the lead roof was caused when German planes attacked the town in the Second World War.

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Bullet damage from a German attack during the Second World War to the roof and central supporting timber at St Peter’s Church
Bullet damage from a German attack during the Second World War to the roof and central supporting timber at St Peter’s Church

A large crack and split through the support of the church’s fleche added additional costs to the renovation project, funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

During the investigation work, church leaders were initially unclear about what caused the damage to a five-inch oak timber.

Now they know that bullet holes in the roof had splintered the central timber on exit.

A 30mm entry hole pierced the lead roof and splintered the centre timber as it blasted through the fleche.

A 20mm hole was also found, suggesting the damage was caused by German Messerschmitt planes.

The trajectory of the shots – 15 degrees from the pier side – suggests the damage came from a plane coming in off the channel.

At first the experts thought the holes may have been caused by anti-aircraft guns placed to defend the harbour, but the calibre of these guns was usually much larger.

The buildings around the church were damaged several times during the war.

The leak remained a mystery for more than 75 years
The leak remained a mystery for more than 75 years

On one occasion, a bomb exploded in the road outside the church. Historians believe the Germans were either targeting the railway into the harbour – which runs close to the church – or an anti-aircraft placement on the top of the cliffs overlooking the harbour.

The damaged timber will now be supported by a new splint and the old damaged oak timber will remain.

Churchwarden David Wilson said he was amazed the steeple had not fallen down.

He added: “The split in the shaft has meant that the steeple has been moving in high winds and letting the rain in under the lead-work.

“The church roof has been leaking long enough for everyone to believe that it has always leaked.

“It is good to now know the cause and to be to able to rectify it – even if it has taken some 75 years.”

The work has added costs to the restoration of the building, so the church is welcoming extra contributions to help the work progress.

Church records report a raid by Messerschmitt bombers making “a lightning attack in the harbour area” on March 27, 1941, at 9.23am.

St Peter's church
St Peter's church

Church restorers found a section of lead for patching over the bullet holes on each side of the spire.

The church also describes how bombs fell into the road outside the church, fractured a gas main and “inflicted widespread damage on the church, which lost much of its roof and a number of stained glass windows”.

The raid also severely damaged the organ in the south transept.

However, “the basic structure and fabric of the church did not suffer any grievous harm”.

The town and the church also suffered raids later on in the war, but this attack is believed to be the “most likely culprit”.

Pat Catchpole remembers the attacks. “At first it seemed very exciting,” she said.

“But then the planes came from the harbour and were shooting people in the streets. My friend’s house on the corner was blown up.

“St Martin’s convent next to the church was badly shot up. I was then evacuated as it was considered too dangerous for me to stay.

“My grandfather, the vicar, refused to leave his church and stayed throughout the war.”

  • See more about the church at stpetersfolk.church

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