The oldest remaining parts of St Michael’s church date from around 1200. It is the only remaining church within the old town walls. In the 16th century it was referred to as tanquam matrici ecclesie (mother church). After a period of decline when the fabric had become unsafe, the south aisle was rebuilt in 1748. From 1841 the Rectors embraced Anglo-Catholicism and this influence is seen in the remodelling and redecoration of the church which followed and included the addition of a chancel in 1878 and stained glass windows by Henry Holiday in the 1880s.
The modern period is represented by the sculpture of St Michael the Archangel on the tower which dates from 1976 and the east window from 1987.
Notable monuments include those of the knight John de Warenne, Sir Nicholas Pelham who repelled a French expeditionary force, geologist Gideon Mantell and militant pacifist Fr Kenneth Rawlings. The parish records include the marriage of the radical Thomas Paine.
The tower which dates from around 1200 and the adjacent west wall are all that remains of the original church building.The dedication to St Michael is thought to derive from an early connection with South Malling where a Saxon monastery and College of St Michael were established and the church may have been founded by an early Archbishop of Canterbury. Some antiquarians believe that it was instituted as the church of the castle, and the use of the expression tanquam matrici ecclesie (mother church) in the 16th century does seem to imply that St Michael’s held a position of seniority in the town, or indeed more widely.
The arcade of octagonal piers separating the south aisle from the nave were built in the 14th century. By the time of the Reformation (16th century) St Michael’s was in a deplorable condition. Other churches within the walls of the town were lost but St Michael’s survived. The fortunes of St Michael’s suffered another serious setback during the Puritan revolution (1640-1660) and even after the Restoration (1660) the citizens of the town remained predominantly Dissenters so that the church continued to decline.
Over the next few years the work of beautification continued with several stained glass windows by Henry Holiday, the stone reredos (ornamental screen covering the wall at the back of the altar) by J L Pearson, and the re-opening of the 15th century doorway which today forms the principal entrance to the church from the courtyard. Church House to the west was built in 1881 to serve for church functions and the Sunday School. It incorporates the Town Clock which overhangs the High Street.