Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Milton Church, Gravesend - Porcupines and Masons!

I have been living in Gravesend for just over ten years now and a few weeks ago I was walking into town with the family when we noticed that they were holding a coffee morning for the local Ellenor Lions Hospice at the St Peter & St Paul Church (also known as Milton Church) and decided to call in.

We must have walked past the church at least a hundred times before and without giving it a second thought.

The decorated side gate in East Milton Road erected in 1950 depicts the striking, if somewhat surreal, Coat of Arms of Gravesend under the Charter of 1568 depicting a porcupine steering a boat with five hooded rowers (or possibly monks).

By way of explanation, the porcupine is thought to be a mark of respect to Sir Henry Sidney of Penshurst Place near Tonbridge.
The Sidneys were granted Penshurst Place by King Henry VIII's son Edward VI - they had been respected Royal courtiers for many years.
Sir Henry used the porcupine in his coat of arms. It would appear, however, that he in turn took the use of the porcupine in his coat of arms from King Louis XII of France.
The porcupine was deemed to be a symbol of invincibility.

I was a bit puzzled to see a porcupine featuring on the coat of arms as I thought they only came from North America and therefore wouldn't have been known to Europeans in the 1400's

I decided to do some digging and after lots of trawling through the internet I came up with the answer to the mystery!
It would appear that porcupines do indeed live in the wild in Italy as well as North Africa.

The French fought several battles in Northern Italy during the reign of King Louis XII and it is therefore concievable that they would have come across porcupines on their travels.
In fact the word porcupine does derive from the French "porc d'epine" meaning thorny or spined pig.

By the way, did you know a group of porcupines is called a prickle? (groan)

The boat and rowers symbolise Gravesend's important position on the River Thames. Oarsmen from Gravesend had the rights to ferry passengers to and from London and across the River to Essex.

If you follow the path leading from the side gate to the church you will come across an interesting grave stone...

At first glance you may imply from the skull and crossed bones that it is in some way connected with piracy.

It is in fact a masonic gravestone. Apart from the skull and crossed bones it shows other masonic symbols including the letter G (top centre), the chequered floor, the sun, a square and compass.

The letter G represents God, the Supreme Being and Architect of the Universe and also stands for geometry.

Unfortunately the inscription on the gravestone is very worn - not really surprising when it dates back to about 1760.

There has been a church on the site at Milton since Saxon times although the present day church "only" dates back to the 14th century.

More posts you may enjoy....


  1. I really enjoyed this post. Great information for someone not familiar with the UK. I will definitely add you to my blogs to follow.

  2. This is really interesting, Glen; thanks for drawing my attention to your blog.

  3. Hi Yolande & Anastasia F-B - thanks very much for your kind comments. They are much appreciated!


  4. Hi there nice blog, of especial interst as I hope to move to Northfleet soon.

    I particularly like the find of a Masonic gravestone! Just for info the Skull and Bones symbol is also used in Freemasonry but in its usual meaning as "memento mori" ie a reminder that death is a certainty that comes to us all and that we should do as much good as we can while we are still living. Pirates used it in the same way that it was used on poison bottles for centuries, as in will cause death.

    Any way I will try to keep coming back to your blog for local info.
    Thanks Mike

  5. Thanks for your comment Mike and the background information. There are a lot of interesting things to see in and around Gravesend and Northfleet. I have written quite a few posts about the local area - just have a look on Gravesend and Northfleet in my tag cloud.


  6. v interesting..i was born close by at chalk but these days live in melbourne australia,but i remember seeing that church gate being built!.my grandparents ran a shop in denton and much later on in my early 20s i ran the same shop for several years with my wife..........regards len.

  7. Here's where it comes from the expression "church mouse". I do not think that the grave is Masonic, there is a division of hell and paradise, skull and bones are hell, and compass, right angle, the book and the light is heaven. In the middle is a star over the "abyss", the image of the parable of Lazarus in Abraham's bosom.