In the late 1800s “a large and handsome” church was built at the bottom of Dover High Street, not far from the Town Hall. Its tower, rising to a height of 80 feet, was “a striking feature”, and the whole “an ornament to the town”. When first opened on 7 September 1904, it became a United Reformed Church dedicated to St Columba, revered as a warrior saint, and often invoked for victory in battle.
As well as being a place of worship, St Columba’s was also a focus for the community, and for many years used as a drop-in centre for asylum seekers and refugees in Dover. Work was progressing to convert the church into flats but, sadly, on 22 September 2007, the building caught fire and was severely damaged. Only the ragstone shell has remained these 7 years, like an open wound on the High Street.
Yesterday, as I walked into town, I saw surveyors, yellow-jacketed against the rain, with theodolites, picking their way carefully over rubble. A hunk of rough wood blocking the entrance to the church had been pulled open revealing its fallen, charred remains. I crossed the road and asked what they were doing. They said they were seeing what could be done with the old building. When I asked for who, the surveyor said ‘for a client’ – he wasn’t permitted to tell me more than that.
I spent today in the shop, rubbing down wood-filler on the front door while it was quiet. At home I cook chilli-con-carni, and after recording the Dover Community Radio Sunday news, settle for a quiet evening.