Dr William Sankey – Camden Crescent and St Mary’s Church

Camden Crescent Home of Dr Sankey

Camden Crescent Home of Dr Sankey

Dr William Sankey, in the Dover history books, is correctly credited with the building, the style and the quality of the houses of Camden Crescent. He also suggested that the crescent should be named after the Marquis of Camden, then Lord Lieutenant of the Kent. The Marquis was a member of the Harbour Board in 1840, the time Camden Crescent was laid.

For centuries, the land on which Camden Crescent is built, had been part of Dover’s foreshore where herrings were hung to dry and there was a ropewalk nearby. The river Dour was, as it still is, between the Crescent and the town and to cross it locals used Buggins Bridge. This was a drawbridge similar to those seen in the Netherlands today; the stonework was quarried from St Martin le Grand Church that once stood near Market Square. In 1800, New Bridge was opened. Strong, wide and static, it made the foreshore more accessible and Steriker Finnis had his large timber yard nearby.

Dr Sankey, as he was always referred to, was born in Eythorne and trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. During the Peninsula Wars (1807-1814), he was an Army surgeon attached to the Rifle Brigade. There he distinguished himself and the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) mentioned him in despatches.

Yorke Family Home re-drawn by Lynn Candace Sencicle

Yorke Family Home re-drawn by Lynn Candace Sencicle

Following the war, Dr Sankey set up practice in the house formerly owned by the Yorke Family on Snargate Street, at the bottom of present day York Street. The house was large with extensive grounds running part way up the sea side of Adrian Street. Dr Sankey was successful from the outset as, ‘little bits of out-of-the way-knowledge picked up abroad, as well as innate sympathy with the sick…’ made him very popular.

Marrying Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Thompson, a former Mayor of Dover, in 1819, they had eight children, but only four survived to adulthood. Their son, Arthur Henry qualified at St Bartholomew’s Hospital when was he 21, but died a year later of tuberculosis. One of their daughters, Susanna, was the mother of Dover historian, Mary Horsley.

In 1830, Dr Sankey was a member of the Paving Commission and following the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, was elected as a Conservative member of the council, representing the Pier Ward. However, at the next election, in 1840, he lost his seat possibly due to a journalist, using the nom-de-plume ‘Paul Pry’, advising Dr Sankey to, ‘Stay at home and pay attention to your wife and children and less to a young woman you keep Above the Wall. You old sinner!’ Above the Wall was the area at the rear of Dr Sankey’s home in Snargate Street.

At the time, Dr Sankey had commissioned the building of Camden Crescent and moved into No 1 on completion. The Crescent was, from the outset, considered a showpiece. It was at No 7 that Cuthbert Ottaway, the first Captain of England’s football squad and son of a doctor and former mayor, was born. Number 10 Camden Crescent was once the temporary residence of Charles Dickens (1812-1870), but that section of the Crescent was badly damaged during World War II and subsequently demolished.

Always a stalwart of St Mary’s Church, 1842 saw Dr Sankey’s friend the Reverend, later Canon, John Puckle elected vicar. St Mary’s had undergone a major refurbishment in 1820, but according to Sir Stephen Glynne, it was too small for the congregation and ‘… many frightful windows inserted. A most unsightly effect is also produced by the addition of a new slate roof along the whole length of the north aisle.’ Therefore, when the Rev Puckle arrived, there was talk of demolishing St Mary’s and moving the congregation to Christ Church, which once stood on Folkestone Road.

Rev. Puckle suggested totally restoring St Mary’s Church and Dr Sankey championed this cause. They proposed that the church should be enlarged to hold 1,750 people, by the addition of an apse. Also a clerestory to heighten the Church and the provision of a special gallery, over the south aisle, for the Mayor and Corporation.

St Mary's Church - Commemoration of refurbishment 1843

St Mary’s Church – Commemoration of refurbishment 1843

The plan was opposed on the grounds of cost but by assiduous persuasion, a compromise was reached. £1,600 was to be provided from the church rate if Rev Puckle and Dr Sankey raised the balance of £3,000. Elizabeth Sankey was particularly instrumental in organising fund raising events and work on the restoration started in 1843.

Unfortunately, it quickly became evident that the foundations of the pillars were being undermined by the graves under the flagstones. In fact, it was only a matter of time before St Mary’s Church would fall down! Thus, it was necessary to exhume all the remains of former parishioners and re-bury them elsewhere. The Norman arcades were also dismantled and rebuilt on a stable foundation. While this was under way, the remains of a Roman bathhouse were discovered and a coffin containing what was first thought to be the remains of King Stephen. However, although he had died in Dover he was buried in Faversham.

During the restoration of St Mary’s services were held in the Maison Dieu and Dr Sankey‘s daughter, Susannah married John William Horsley.

In August 1861, the Officers of the 1st Battalion of the 60th Rifles erected the Rifles Monument close to Dr Sankey’s home. It is dedicated to their comrades who fell in the Indian Mutiny of 1857-9. Dr Sankey, who early in his career was attached to Rifle Brigade, was the main instigator for the location of the monument.

St Mary's Church from the south-east.

St Mary’s Church from the south-east

Reconsecration of St Mary’s took place in October 1844. That year Dr Sankey was made an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and was elected Alderman. He retired from the council in 1850 by which time he was considered a ‘grand old man of Dover.’

By 1864, his health failing, Dr Sankey had taken a partner. In that year the National Provincial Bank, recognising that the commercial hub of the town was moving away from Snargate Street, acquired the plot of ground next to Dr Sankey’s house. The fine frontage of Dr Sankey’s house inspired the Bank to have a building with architectural features worthy of the area – New Bridge House. Dr Sankey died on 5 March 1866 and was buried, besides his ancestors, in East Langdon. His wife Elizabeth sold their house to the National Provincial Bank who used it as the manager’s residence.


  • Dover Mercury: 6th & 13 January 2011

About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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