There are many reasons for visiting the City of Canterbury: Gill and I went on a walking tour of Canterbury Cathedral and precincts and a historic river tour while my uncle Keith worshipped at the hallowed grounds of Kent County Cricket. We did visit the cricket grounds at the end of the day when we went to meet up with Keith but he was disgusted that we “didn’t even want to watch a ball being bowled”.
Gill and I had both visited Canterbury before but it was a very long time time ago. So we decided to learn more about the history and architecture through a 90 minute guided walking tour of Canterbury Cathedral and its precincts. We meet our guide in Butter Market Square and first have a tour around the area with its original named streets such as Mercery Lane, Butchery Lane. We see the historic Cathedral Gate Hotel; medieval jettied buildings where the upper floors project outwards past the floor below to increase space in the building without affecting the street (there are stories of people passing items through windows to neighbours in nearby buildings); the City Arms Inn bearing the King’s coat of arms (and with amazing original beams inside); and the Sun Fire Office bearing the metal sun disc that was indicative of early fire insurance.
We arrive back at Butter Market Square where Christ Church Gate was built as a grand entry gate into the cathedral precinct in 1517. The gate is covered with elaborately carved and decorated heraldic symbols and coats of arms commemorating Arthur, Prince of Wales, the elder brother of King Henry VIII. There is a huge brass figure of Christ above the arch that is a modern replacement for a medieval statue badly damaged during the Civil War, when Oliver Cromwell’s troops used it for target practice.
The Canterbury area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with evidence of paleolithic, neolithic, Bronze Age, Celtic and Roman settlements there. The cathedral’s history began in 597AD when Augustine, a monk sent by Pope Gregory the Great, arrived as a missionary to the Anglo-Saxons. After Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the cathedral in 1170, Canterbury became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Europe. This pilgrimage provided the framework for Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century collection of stories, The Canterbury Tales.
The cathedral has been destroyed by fire several times through its history and completely rebuilt, altered and added onto many times. It now is an interesting conglomerate of styles, with a Romanesque crypt dating back to the 11th century, a 12th century early Gothic Quire and a 14th century Perpendicular Nave. There are beautiful medieval stained glass windows that illustrate royal connections, bible stories and miracles and stories associated with Thomas Becket.
As well as the cathedral there are lots of other historical buildings in the cathedral precinct. We see the ruins of a medieval abbey and priory with a herb garden where the monk’s dormitories were, along with the cloisters and chapter house where the monks would have undertaken the day to day running of the cathedral and priory. A shadowed passage leads from the cathedral to Green Court, where the King’s School (the oldest school in England) is located. This passage is known as the Dark Entry, and it is said to be haunted by the ghost of Nell Cook, a cook who, according to the stories, was buried alive beneath Dark Entry after murdering her employer, a cathedral canon. Anyone who sees her ghost is purported to be fated to die soon afterwards (we didn’t see her).
We exit out of the cathedral precinct through the Mint Yard Gate and then walk along King’s Mile, a collection of streets nestling beneath the spires of Canterbury’s ancient Cathedral and alongside the King’s School – “a taste of real Canterbury”. The ‘independent quarter’ includes historic Sun Street, Palace Street, Guildhall Street, Orange Street, named after William of Orange, The Borough, and Northgate, formerly a gate to the walled city. Along the way we see Conquest House where the four Knights Templar were said to have met on 29th December 1170, before going on to assassinate Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral; and the 17th Century crooked house (aka Sir John Boys House) that is reputedly mentioned in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.
After our walking tour we head rapidly along High Street past the fabulously named Beaney House of Art and Knowledge to where our guide had recommended a Historical River Tour on the Great Stour River. The tour starts outside the Old Weavers House at King’s Bridge and goes first to a small Franciscan island known as The Greyfriars, that is home to a 13th century chapel which spans the river, and beautiful gardens. Then we come back under the 12th century Eastbridge Hospital and the King’s Bridge (1134), continuing down river past industrial buildings from the medieval period, including The Old Weavers House, The Kings Mill, and the Cromwellian iron forge. We continue past the Dominican priories which were built by the Blackfriars in the 14th century, and ends up in a peaceful garden area, that was the site of the old Abbots Mill in the city. On the way we also pass more a more modern arts precinct including the Marlowe Theatre.
We head back to the King’s Mile area for a late lunch and exploration, the wander out the old West Gate of the city to enjoy the WestGate Gardens along the banks of the river before we make our way to the Kent County Cricket Ground to meet up with Keith and his cricketing mates who have been enjoying the final match of the season.
Visit to England September 2016:
South East England
Knole House & Knole Park
Penshurst Place & Gardens
City of Canterbury & Canterbury Cathedral
Hinchley Wood, Surrey
Hampton Court Palace
London to Greenwich Village
London Walking Tour