Browser does not support script.
Published June 2018
It is 30 years since three buildings in Canterbury were inscribed onto the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Canterbury Cathedral, with its stunning mixture of Romanesque and Perpendicular Gothic architecture; the modest Church of St Martin, the oldest church in England; and the ruins of the Abbey of St Augustine, a reminder of the saint's evangelising role in the Middle Ages. According to UNESCO: “All three buildings are directly and tangibly associated with the history of the introduction of Christianity to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.”
Christ Church is exceptionally proud of its unique connection with the World Heritage Site – the North Holmes Road campus occupies part of the St Augustine's Abbey site dating back some 1,400 years, providing a remarkable link between the University and Canterbury's ancient past.
To celebrate this landmark anniversary, Inspire asked historians from Christ Church and beyond to write contributions on their favourite aspects of Canterbury's rich religious and cultural heritage.
Professor Jackie Eales
Dr Diane Heath
Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh
Dr Martin Watts
Tudor rose detail
In 1636, Canterbury had seven notable taverns with suitably traditional names – the Rose, the Sun, the Bull, the Chequers, the White Hart, the Red Lion and the Saracen's Head. Not only were the taverns well used by locals, they were also welcome sights for travellers since Canterbury lay on one of the key routes from London to the continent. Foreign visitors to the city noted that it was an ancient town that had been important since Roman times and they marvelled at the Cathedral, which was known as one of the finest in Europe. Canterbury was also a parliamentary borough represented by two MPs, as well as the centre of the Church of England.
The city has been visited by nearly every English king and queen, including bad King John and Richard III, but contrary to popular belief, Oliver Cromwell never came to desecrate the Cathedral during the Civil Wars. Elizabeth I did celebrate her 40th birthday here in 1573 and Charles I met his bride Henrietta Maria in Canterbury for the first time in 1625.
Canterbury was a favourite spot for diplomatic meetings and Henry VIII stayed in the city on his way to the Field of Cloth of Gold – a glamorous summit meeting with Francis I of France in 1520. A few months later, Henry entertained his other great rival, the Emperor Charles V, in Canterbury. Some of the Emperor's entourage lodged at the Red Lion, where they feasted on turbot and trout sent to them by the city council. In 1660, Charles II stopped in Canterbury as he rode to London to reclaim his throne. As a mark of the restoration of both the monarchy and the Anglican Church, Charles attended a service in the Cathedral where the Elizabethan prayer book was used for the first time in over a decade.
Celia Fiennes provides us with one of the most engaging accounts of Canterbury by an outsider in this period. She was a distant relative of the explorer Ranulph Fiennes and she was exceptional as a lone female traveller. On her arrival in 1697, Fiennes saw a great number of French people, who were employed in weaving and silk winding. The Protestant Huguenot community had first settled in Canterbury in Elizabeth's reign to escape persecution in France and the Spanish Netherlands. By the early 17th century, they accounted for nearly a quarter of the population of Canterbury and were known for the production of the finest woollen cloths and silks. Fiennes also mentions seeing a paper mill and taking the waters in Canterbury, which she did not like and thought they were like the 'sulpher spa' at Epsom. She described the well here as being 'paved aboute for the Company to stand just at ye head to drinke' with fine walks, seats and music 'to make it acceptable and Comodious to ye Company'.
While it is easy to discover the names of the historic celebrities who have come to Canterbury, there is also a wealth of material in local and national archives about the people who lived here in the Tudor and Stuart period. One of my favourite discoveries is the 1641 Poll Tax return for Canterbury, which lists the heads of households, their parish and the size of their households. It is also a valuable tool for family historians. If you want to trace a Canterbury ancestor, or find the names of the inhabitants who drank in the local taverns, the tax list is available here.
Jackie Eales is Professor of Early Modern History and Director of Research in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Canterbury Christ Church University.
Existing gable end of the brewhouse and bakehouse (outer precinct of St Augustine's Abbey)
Canterbury Christ Church University's North Holmes Road campus was built on one of the most historically and religiously important sites in the city. In 598AD, King Ethelbert of Kent provided land and money to establish a monastery led by St Augustine, who had arrived in England the year before on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Roman Christianity. St Augustine's Abbey, as the site became known, was a thriving centre of piety and learning until it was a victim of Henry VIII's policy of dissolution in 1538. The walls surrounding the campus reflect the original boundary of the Abbey's grounds.
The Abbey was converted into a royal palace for Anne of Cleves, and the red brick additions to the older masonry on the interior wall of the nave ruins are visible traces of this building work. Later royal visitors included Elizabeth I and Charles I; indeed, legend has it that he consummated his marriage with Henrietta Maria there. However, the palace's distance from London meant that royal visits were sporadic and, consequently, it was let to rich nobles throughout the Tudor and early Stuart eras.
In 1612, the palace had been let to Edward, Lord Wootton, and, after his death in 1626, his widow Lady Margaret was granted the right to live there for the rest of her life. Lady Wootton's Green, immediately outside the palace and leading towards Canterbury Cathedral, takes its name from her. Lady Wootton was a Catholic, which meant that she was targeted by Parliament's policy of sequestration during the Civil War. This policy legalised the confiscation of goods and estates from all Catholics and anyone supporting Charles I on the grounds that they were responsible for the outbreak of war.
On 27 May 1643, three local men, John Pollyn, Peter Pollyn and George Harrison, arrived at the palace to create an inventory of Lady Wootton's property. They went into 47 rooms, as well as the great park. Among the items they seized that day were 39 beds, 41 tables, 108 chairs, 22 stools, seven cupboards, 19 chests or trunks, 21 rugs or carpets, and 39 paintings. The building ruins on the edge of campus near the Coleridge building used to house Lady Wootton's brewhouse and bakehouse, and these buildings were also ransacked during the raid. From the park, they seized three cows, 127 sheep, six horses, one wagon, two carts and seven bee hives, and they noted the presence of approximately 200 deer. The total value of the goods was £300, four shillings and eight pence, which is the equivalent of approximately £35,000 in today's money. The items were sold piece by piece over a period of seven months.
Although Lady Wootton managed to reclaim her property in 1650, the site was starting to crumble. She wrote multiple petitions to the House of Commons, stating that the walls were falling down and that she didn't have enough money to carry out the necessary repairs. After her death in 1659, the estate passed to her late husband's granddaughter, Lady Anne Hales, but the palace quickly became uninhabitable. An earthquake in 1692 and a storm in 1702 destroyed part of the building, and it was dismantled in 1848.
Canterbury would look very different indeed if the English Civil War hadn't led to the destruction of the palace, so next time you are walking through campus, take a look around and imagine yourself strolling through the elaborate formal gardens and orchards of Lady Wootton's park.
Charlotte Young graduated from Canterbury Christ Church University in 2014 with a first-class History degree and is now a postgraduate researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London.
St Martin's Church
St Martin's Church holds a special place in the history of the establishment of Christianity in England. The original building was built of Roman bricks and of unknown purpose. However, in the late sixth century, it became the chapel of Queen Bertha, a Christian Frankish Princess who had married the local then pagan Saxon overlord King Ethelbert. It was probably Bertha who named the church after St Martin of Tours, an early French saint. She used it for personal prayer and had a retinue to support her, which at one point included a bishop called Liudhard. There is archaeological proof of this as a small golden medalet commemorating Liudhard was found in the churchyard in 1844.
In AD 597, Pope Gregory the Great in Rome chose a monk called Augustine to lead a Christian mission to England. Augustine had been the Abbott of the monastery of St Andrew on the Caelian Hill in Rome. Augustine travelled through France to Normandy. He had many doubts about travelling to what was then seen as the edge of the known world and wished to turn back several times.
He crossed over the channel with his 40 followers to a landing place on the Isle of Thanet, where King Ethelbert came to greet him in the open air. The king allowed him and his monks to travel on to Canterbury. Under the watchful eye of Queen Bertha, Augustine converted the King and 10,000 of his citizens to Christianity. Ethelbert thus consolidated powerful new links with Rome as well as becoming a Christian.
St Martin's Church was the place where the three key figures met to pray over the future of this mission. Augustine asked the King for land inside the city walls to build a new cathedral (which was surrounded by Christ Church Priory – a Benedictine monastery up to the Reformation). He also asked for a large site outside the city walls to the south east of the city to build an abbey. This abbey, also Benedictine at first, was named St Peter and St Paul and later was named after Augustine himself. It became a vital centre of learning (with Canterbury Christ Church University's North Holmes Road campus being sited there today) and the burial site of Kentish Kings and early Archbishops.
Today, St Martins is part of the Canterbury UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Canterbury Cathedral and St Augustine's Abbey. It is mentioned in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, is reputed to be the oldest parish church in continuous use in the English speaking world and is visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. It is where the first archbishop arrived and from where his great mission was launched. The Roman bricks are still there. The Saxons built a massive stone nave in the seventh century to venerate the holy space and it is one of England's oldest surviving public buildings. Its interesting graveyard hosts a marvellous view across the city.
Stained glass window, Cloisters, Canterbury Cathedral
Let's explore the history of Canterbury Cathedral Priory (known as Christ Church Priory, a Benedictine monastery up to the Reformation) through some of the wonderful books that belonged to, and were often written at, the Cathedral between the seventh and the 16th centuries. Naturally, these chosen works reflect the serendipity of manuscript survival but they also highlight key themes: for example, the profusion of Psalters demonstrates the monks' chief task was the performance of the liturgy. This is a narrative of heritage, learning, devotion and martyrdom.
We begin with the St Augustine's Gospels, which predate Canterbury Cathedral as they were written in the sixth century. Given to St Augustine by Pope Gregory the Great, the images are suffused with warm tones of terracotta and link seventh-century Canterbury to the culture of Mediterranean Late Antiquity. Classical Christian civilisation links recur in the Byzantine and Italian elements in the design of a set of Gospels called Codex Aureus, probably made in Canterbury c750. It has alternate plain and glorious purple folios written in gold ink to emulate splendid imperial manuscripts. The book has ninth-century Anglo-Saxon marginalia stating that it was stolen in a Viking raid and some hundred years later was ransomed and restored to the Cathedral.
St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury from 959-988, encouraged the Christ Church brethren to produce splendid liturgical books, such as the beautiful Bosworth Psalter. This book contained new continental hymns for Benedictine monks, an indication that the Cathedral brethren were now regular monks rather than secular clergy. The frequent Viking raids of this time culminated in the sack of Canterbury and martyrdom of Archbishop St Alphege in 1011. Later in the 11th century, the Norman Conquest was followed at Christ Church by a disastrous fire in 1067 and the appointment of the first Norman Archbishop, Lanfranc, in 1070, followed by his pupil Anselm in 1093. Both archbishops led ambitious programmes of monastic renewal and education linked to book production, some in Eadmer's distinctive 'prickly' script, the forerunner of Gothic lettering.
St Anselm's own works were collected into a single impressive volume, now Oxford Bodleian Library 271, in around 1114. However, the manuscript that sums up 12th-century Canterbury is the Canterbury Psalter. Dated to c1160, this is a tri-lingual psalter in exquisite Romanesque style. It contains a unique plan of the Priory (Abbot Wibert's Waterworks Drawing) and a scribal portrait of Eadwine 'prince of scribes'. This book reveals how the Priory looked, thought, prayed and sang in the days of Anselm and of Becket. Becket's martyrdom in 1170 led to floods of pilgrims drawn by reports of miracles, while another calamitous fire 1174 inspired ambitious rebuilding.
Two early 13th-century Christ Church psalters form a contrast: the Little Canterbury Psalter Paris (BnF MS lat. 770) in sombre shades gave an oblique critique of John's kingship, while the Ashmole Psalter boasts a much more positive, warmly coloured decorative pattern, and was possibly a gift from St Augustine's Abbey to Christ Church monks returning from exile during John's reign.
The 14th-century Obit Book (BL Arundel 68) records the day and month (but not the year) when monks and others connected to the Cathedral died. This book includes a fine decorated initial featuring the crest of their wealthy patroness, Lady Joan de Mohun. In the 15th century, John Stone's Chronicle reveals the monks' lives during the Wars of the Roses. Finally, on the cusp of the 16th century, Thomas Wade, another Cathedral monk, wrote a verse Life of Thomas Becket , proof of the liveliness of Becket's cult. This theme of martyrdom is made more poignant by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's signature on its first page, yet another martyred Archbishop of Canterbury.
Dr Diane Heath is a research fellow in the Centre for Kent History and Heritage at Canterbury Christ Church University.
The Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr, Eastbridge
Coming from the Latin 'hospitium' – hospitality – there were at least nine hospitals and almshouses in and around Canterbury during the Middle Ages. These quasi-religious houses varied considerably in size, wealth and patronage, one of the greatest differences being who was accommodated and for how long – from the overnight stay for poor pilgrims at St Thomas's, Eastbridge, to most of the brother's or sister's adult life, for example at either St John's or St Nicholas' hospitals. Additionally, who was housed at a hospital often altered during the Middle Ages, those in authority adjusting to changing economic, demographic and political circumstances. In broad terms, it became increasingly necessary for those entering as a brother or sister to pay a fee of some kind, whether monetary or in the form of land or other assets.
The earliest of these hospitals, St John's Hospital, Northgate (for 30 men and 30 women who were poor and infirm) and St Nicholas's Hospital at Harbledown (similar numbers of lepers) were founded around 1084 by Archbishop Lanfranc and are probably the oldest hospitals in England. The youngest of Canterbury's medieval almshouses were established in the early 16th century, one in St Peter's Lane administered by the neighbouring churchwardens and another for poor, probably elderly, women in cottages by the city wall donated by the parish priest at Holy Cross.
Record keeping was an important part of managing a hospital, and a considerable collection of charters, mainly from the early 13th century, survives for St Thomas's Hospital. These show that Hamo de Crevequer, an aristocrat who held an estate in Blean among other lands, was a major benefactor. His example was followed by his mother and other family members, as well as by his Blean tenants, and other donors were men and women from Canterbury. Archbishop Stratford issued new rules in 1342: 12 beds for the pilgrims and they were to be looked after by an honest, elderly woman, who received 4d daily to cover their needs.
Among the records produced at St Lawrence's were three very similar early 15th-century registers. They contain details about the hospital's foundation in 1137 by Abbot Hugh of St Augustine's Abbey, copies of hospital charters, a rental and the hospital's regulations, with a shortened version of the rules in English. Initially the hospital community comprised 12 brothers and sisters with a clerk and chaplain, but by the later Middle Ages there were more sisters than brothers.
Sisters were also more numerous at St James's Hospital, located close to the city's boundary at Hollow Lane, Wincheap. Few records survive from this hospital's archive, a problem also encountered at St John's and St Nicholas' hospitals (their archives lost in the 1942 bombing of Canterbury) and Maynard's Hospital (records lost in 1666 during the Great Fire of London). However, for all these hospitals, visitation records by the Church authorities and wills provide insights about their late medieval history. For example, William Reede (1493), a brother at St John's, bequeathed a penny to each brother and sister there, and the request that at his burial, month's mind and anniversary the brothers and sisters would feast on bread, cheese and ale as laid down in the hospital's rules to commemorate him.
Unlike elsewhere in England, most Canterbury hospitals survived Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. Under the later Tudors, St Lawrence's and St James's (leper hospitals) disappeared and became gentry residences, and the Poor Priests' Hospital became the city's bridewell or workhouse after the civic authorities bought it back from Elizabeth I's government. Yet today, the three archiepiscopal hospitals (Eastbridge, St John's and St Nicholas's) and Maynard's are still providing accommodation in much the same way as Lanfranc and his medieval successors envisaged over 900 years ago.
Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh is Principal Research Fellow in the Centre for Kent History and Heritage at Canterbury Christ Church University.
St Gregory's Church, now home to the University's Centre for Music
Canterbury's modern history as a military city began with the large-scale development of barracks during the Napoleonic wars. This development was concentrated in the Northgate area. As a result of further reorganisation, a new parish in eastern Canterbury was formed, with a new church, St Gregory's in North Holmes Road. Between 1852 and 1976, St Gregory's was the parish church for one of the poorest communities in Canterbury. In its present life as a university music centre, the Church remains home to the Great War Memorial to members of the parish, who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The memorial contains 144 names of the fallen and 123 records, consisting of 122 men and one woman, have been discovered and researched. Two names on the memorial stand out: Ethel Parker, the lone woman commemorated in St Gregory's, and Edward Mannock VC, the famous fighter pilot. Ethel Frances Mary Parker, 21, daughter of William Parker of 6, East Street, Sturry Road, was killed while serving as a waitress with the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps in Abbeville. She was lost together with eight female colleagues, during an air raid on the night of 29 May 1918 when their shelter received a direct hit.
The poor nature of the parish of St Gregory is reflected in the fact that over 70 of the deceased came from a household that participated in unskilled, casual and/or domestic labour. Some families suffered more than others: for example, the Birch's of East Street, Sturry Road, lost two sons, William, 30 and Fredrick, 20, on 11 July 1915 and 6 April 1917 respectively. Both were in France with the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment. Two other families also lost two sons. Thomas, the eldest son of Thomas and Edith Gibbs of Military Road, was a pre-war regular soldier in the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards who was killed on 5 November 1914, during the first battle of Ypres. His younger brother, 19-year-old William, of the East Surrey's, succumbed to his wounds on 15 May 1919. Albert and Mary Powell of Spring Lane, Sturry Road, lost their bachelor son Frederick on 14 March 1916, and their married son Bertie on 18 April 1918. The greatest loss, however, was borne by Alfred and Sarah Lemar, 2, North Holmes Road, who lost three sons between 7 April 1917 and 21 March 1918. Two, 30 year old Frederick and 21 year old David, were lost in France when serving with the London Irish Rifles. Their eldest son, Thomas, aged 33, died on the North-West frontier in India. Together with two surviving younger brothers, they had all worked as gardeners, with their father, before the war*.
These sacrifices are representative of the city's and nation's human loss in the first total war of the 20th century, and demonstrate the overwhelming effect of the war on so many families and individuals.
*Information taken from the 1911 Census and Army Service and Medal records at the National Archives).
Dr Martin Watts is Senior Lecturer in Modern History and Principal Research Fellow in the Centre for Kent History and Heritage at Canterbury Christ Church University.
University Switchboard: +44 (0)1227 767700
University Switchboard:+44 (0)1227 767700
© 2022 Canterbury Christ Church University
Last edited: 25/02/2020 10:38:00