Our next stop was an epic road trip for the day up from Hampshire, round the M25 surrounding London, down towards Kent, and the historic Cathedral City of Canterbury…
Status: Canterbury District, Kent, City, England
Eating & Sleeping: Pret A Manger
Attractions: Canterbury Cathedral, Cathedral Yard, City Walls, Castle Remains, Cobbled Streets, Christchurch Gateway, War Memorial, Dane John Gardens, Dane John Pillar, South African War Memorial, West Gate, Guildhall, The Weavers, Poor Priests Hospital, St Margaret’s Church, City Library & Museum, Eastbridge Hospital, St Peter’s Church, Tower House, Tavern Cottage etc
Our exploration of the city began in a small car park on Castle Street, opposite the “Dane John Gardens”. The Gardens are enclosed on the Southern/Eastern sides by the remains of the medieval City Walls, which once encircled the entire city centre, with eight gates allowing entry to the city. These were the :
West Gate, North Gate, Quenin Gate, Burgate, Newingate, Riding Gate, Worth Gate and the London Gate.
The only one of these to actually survive is the West Gate. We began our tour atop the wall where the Worth Gate once stood, having been blocked up in 1548 after a new street was built. This required a new entrance through the wall, which became the Wincheap Gate. Many of the Gates had been demolished by 1800 as the city expanded around them.
It was the Romans who built the first walls around the city, much of which still survived when the current walls were built, in the late 14th century. The Gates were separated by the walls, which were themselves split up into sections by up to twenty four stone towers.
Being so high up on the fortifications, you are also afforded a commanding view across the city. With no other tall buildings, the Cathedral absolutely dominates the skyline, as the most famous landmark in the whole city.
Following the wall heading East, we reached the “Dane John Mound Pinnacle”, which sits atop an enormous earth mound, connecting the gardens below with the top of the Wall.
The pillar stands as a monument to James Simmons Esquire (1741 – 1807, MP for Canterbury), who was responsible for laying out the Dane John gardens below.
It has also been theorised that the mound itself was part of the Motte surrounding Canterbury Castle in Norman Times.
We followed the walls as far round as the former site of the Riding Gate, before cutting through the Dane John Gardens.
To the left is the South African War Memorial, which pays tribute to all the soldiers from Canterbury who fought and died in the Second Boer War between 1899 – 1902.
To the right is the parks Bandstand, which may have been erected in 1903.
Canterbury City Centre is a stunning maze of tight cobbled streets, shops and so many historic buildings it would take many, many blog posts to document them all.
I took this photo looking up “Butchery Lane”, which illustrates perfectly what an incredibly historic and beautiful place Canterbury is. Almost every building on the street is Listed, most dating back to Medieval Times.
We were bound for the Cathedral, which is accessible through the “Christchurch Gateway”, shown above.
The Gateway was originally intended to commemorate the 1502 marriage between Prince Arthur (1486 – 1502, Eldest son of King Henry VII) and Catherine of Aragon (1584 – 1536, 1st Wife of King Henry VIII). Sadly the Prince died just a few months after construction began, and it wouldn’t be until 1517 that it was finally completed. As a lasting tribute however, above the entrance are a number of Heraldic Shields, in memory of Arthur, along with a statue of Christ in the centre.
This area is known as the Buttermarket, and has been at the heart of the city for the better part of a millennia. At it’s centre is a more recent addition, Canterbury’s War Memorial, erected at the end of World War I in tribute to the city’s fallen.
You do have to pay to pass through the Christchurch Gateway, but the entry price includes access to both the Cathedral Yard, and the Cathedral itself.
It is an incredible building to behold, one of the oldest buildings in Kent, and site of one of the most infamous murders in English Religious History…
The original Church on the site was built in 597, however the present building was created between 1070 – 1077. A large fire badly affected the Cathedral in 1174, and it was largely rebuilt in a new, Gothic style, although one man in particular wouldn’t live to see it…
Four years before the fire, in 1170, Thomas Becket (1120 – 1170, Archbishop of Canterbury since 1162) was murdered in the Cathedral by followers of the then King Henry II. Beckett had an ongoing feud with the King, who uttered the famous line “Who will rid me of his troublesome priest”, and upon hearing this, his followers decided to take action. Becket was later buried in a special tomb in the building.
Much rebuilding work took place in the 1400’s, with a new Nave, and Transepts being constructed, followed by the South West Tower in 1458.
Like most religious buildings at the time, the Cathedral had begun life as a Monastery, so upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530’s, it became a Cathedral, instead of an Abbey.
In 1834, the original North West Tower was taken down, having already lost it’s spire in 1705. A matching replica of the South West Tower was built in it’s place.
Canterbury Cathedral is also notable as the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the English Church, established by King Henry VIII. Even prior to that, Canterbury was the English seat of the Pope’s representative from Rome.
Inside the Cathedral is an incredible place to explore, the detailing is exquisite! It is certainly worth a visit should you have time.
Moving out into the rest of the city to explore the maze of streets, we took a stroll down “Guildhall Street”. Like the rest of the city, there is a lovely variety of architecture, from Victorian Shop Fronts to old stone structures.
On the right hand side you can see a building which now houses a Debenhams Store, which was originally built as a Congregational Church in 1876.
Directly to the right, between the Church and the darker building on the far right, is another building, just the width of the dark blue doors at it’s base. This was a Preparatory School which opened around 1901, in a former Music Warehouse.
We moved through to the “High Street”, which contains some of the cities most interesting and varied buildings, starting with the Public Library & Museum of 1897.
Designed by A. H. Campbell, the building starts off as traditional Victorian Redbrick on the ground floor, with a Mock Elizabethan looking first floor. The Library was originally known as the “Beaney Institute”, named after Dr James George Beaney (1828 – 1891, English Surgeon from the City) who left some money in his will to build the institute. It contained a local Museum, Art Gallery and a Free Library. The name lives on, as the joint building has been titled the “Beaney House of Art & Knowledge”.
Moving to the South side of the Street, a few doors down, we found the stunning “Eastbridge Hospital”, dedicated to Thomas Becket, who was later made a Saint. Many pilgrims came from far and wide to pay tribute to Becket, and the hospital provided a place for them to stay in the city, starting around 1176.
Once the pilgrimage ended when the reformation was instigated by Henry VIII and Canterbury ceased to be an Abbey, the Hospital was used to care for the poor, with twelve beds available A School was also set up for local children, eventually only closing in 1879.
Today the Hospital is still in use, as housing for the cities elderly.
Almost opposite the Hospital is the river “Great Stour”, which flows underneath the High Street via the “King’s Bridge”, the current version of which was built in 1734, and widened in 1769.
On West Bank of the river is the “Old Weavers” Pub, a beautiful timber framed house, the modern incarnation of which was built in 1500, on older foundations which may go back as far as the 12th century.
The name Weavers comes from the Flemish & Huguenot Weavers who fled mainland Europe in the 16th century, and settled in Canterbury. One famous example of their persecution was the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day, on 24th August 1572 when the Catholics in Paris, France massacred the cities Huguenots. “The Weavers” became a place for them to practice their trade, amongst others, which greatly improved the local economy, with more products to sell.
The Weavers had moved out by the 19th Century, when a new pub called the “Golden Lion” took over much of the building, which was originally split into three parts. Aside from a short period in the 20th Century when a new Weaving School also opened here, it has been a Pub ever since, along with a few restaurants. It has to be one of Canterburys most famous buildings, in an incredible location, with the River Stour at it’s base.
I genuinely love this street, as it is such an incredible collection of historic buildings, that I would happily camp out and just walk up and down every day for a week!
Continuing West towards the limit of what was once the city Walls, we found the Church of St Peter, nestled behind an old Timber Framed 16th Century shop.
The Church is almost as old as the Cathedral itself, with the nave at it’s heart dating back to the 12th century. It is surrounded by a 15th century exterior, and of course the rest of the city which has grown up around it. Access to the Church is through a small set of Gates which barely fit into the busy High Street.
We were en route to the West Gate Tower, which as I mentioned earlier, is the only remaining example of the cities original eight entry gates. The wall on either side of it has sadly long gone, but the Gate itself is in very good condition, considering it was built in 1380. It was also supposedly the place where public executions were held centuries ago.
Passing through the gate, we reached the Great Stour River on the far side. This was the second time we had crossed the river, as on it’s approach into the city centre it splits in two, following two separate channels through the city, and merging together again on the other side.
The Gate is accompanied by the Church of the Holy Cross (shown right), built in 1381, roughly the same time as the Gate. It would have been directly behind the Wall, which backed onto the River as a double defence. The Church operated until 1973, when it was converted for use as the city Guildhall. City Council meetings are regularly held here.
On the far side of the River, outside what was once the city boundary, lies the “Tavern Cottage” (centre, in white). This beautiful timber building was built in the 16th century as the “Old Cock Inn”.
Returning to the city centre side of the River, we entered the Westgate Gardens, which line the riverside. One of it’s most prominent buildings is “Tower House”. Whilst not as historic as some of the other buildings around it (19th Century), it has one particular feature that makes it interesting.
If you look at the back of the picture you can see a large turreted tower attached to the side of the house. This is actually one of the original 14th Century Towers that formed part of the City Walls, and indeed when you look at it from above, it does line up with the West Gate.
Google maps helps give you a fascinating perspective of the city, as you can instantly see the line of the original Walls in a rough circle around the entire city centre. This is made up of (as far as I can tell) St Peter’s Place, Rheims Way, Pin Hill, Upper & Lower Bridge Street, Broad Street and Pound Lane, most of which form a ring road, with the latter two branching back towards the start point. I have marked the line of the existing sections of wall at the bottom, the Cathedral in the centre and the West Gate at the top. Even without the line, the paths of the roads make it immediately obvious.
Anyway, leaving the Gardens behind us, we cut through to come out on Stour Street, where we found another of the old Hospitals, also known as Almshouses.
This one is known as the “Poor Priests Hospital”, founded by a man named Alexander, the son of a local Minter, who owned the building. He converted it for the use of the old and poor priests of the city. The complex grew from the original house, and by 1575 it contained a School, the Poorhouse the Priests would have inhabited, and a clinic to look after the tenants.
It continued in this vein until 1987, when the Museum previously in the Beaney Library was moved here. Its pays particular attention to Mary Tourtel (1874 – 1948, Writer from Canterbury) who famously created Rupert the Bear in 1920, and you can still visit her house on Ivy Lane.
We ended up back on the high street, heading back in the general direction of the car. We passed down “St Margaret’s Street”, which, much like the High Street, is a warren of historic structures from various centuries.
The Tower of the Cathedral is visible in the background, high above the slightly smaller “Church of St Margaret” we were stood next to, shown to the left. It’s another of the cities beautiful old Parish Churches, with foundations from the 12th century, and the main fabric from the 15th. In 1850 Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880 – 1960, Architect of Liverpool Cathedral) undertook a major restoration of the building, just one of hundreds of Churches across the UK he helped restore.
After the Blitz hit Canterbury in the 1940’s, the Church closed until 1958, when it briefly reopened for around 20 years. After that the Institute for the Deaf & Dumb of Canterbury took up residence. Today it contains a new visitor experience called “Canterbury Tales” which you can find out more about on their official website here.
Almost the entire portion of the city within what was once the old City Walls has retained its historic charm. Even as we got further out towards the very edge of the centre, along Castle Street, the Georgian/Victorian brick houses showed how the city had expanded over the years.
The age of the houses around here is incredible, and very much akin to streets you would find in central London. The house in the darker brick at the far end of the street was built in the 1700’s, in Georgian times.
Our final stop was back in the Car Park we had arrived in. From here we got a good view of the remains of Canterbury Castle, or more specifically, what was once the Castle Keep.
The original wooden Castle was built in Norman Times, on what was at the time the main route between Dover & London, used by William the Conqueror after his victory in 1066. Various other Castles were constructed along the route, to protect him as he travelled.
By 1135 the Keep we see today had been crafted out of Stone, and would later become the City Gaol (Jail). Despite the city growing up around it over the centuries, it survived in reasonable condition, although after its acquisition by a Gas Company around 1817 the top of the Keep was demolished. Eventually passing into the care of the local Council, it is now a prominent tourist attraction.
So ended our tour of one of England’s most historic cities, and we have talked about what is probably only a small fraction of its medieval core. Canterbury would make a great base for exploring the rest of Kent, and is certainly worth a few days on it’s own for you to explore.
There are great transport links in the region, with the A2 which crisscrosses the city linking to the M2, heading North West towards the M25 (London Outer Ring Road), whilst the A2 South East takes you to the Port of Dover.
There are two train stations in the city, Canterbury West (site of the worlds first ever regular passenger service), and Canterbury East. Trains can take you into central London, Dover for the Continent, as well as Chatham and Rochester.
Speaking of Rochester, that was our next stop. Another historic city a few miles away on the River Medway, it officially lost City Status in 1998 due to a technicality…