Kings, Saints & Scholars
Canterbury in the heart of the “Garden of England” encases so much rich history, that even the local King’s School, can boast to be the oldest in the world.
Just under an hour on a train from London and you’ll be immersing yourselves in all that is quintessentially English in the picturesque county of Kent.
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
Some of us may be familiar with Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The stories of pilgrim’s journeys to Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury Cathedral.
The collection is made up of 24 tales, each from an individual’s perspective of their pilgrimage.
Approaching the Cathedral
Our pilgrims would have arrived at the Cathedral via the ‘Bull Stake’, not to go into too much detail here but bulls and baiting were involved. Thankfully it had a name change around 200-years ago to ‘The Buttermarket.’
This delightful square opens out to reveal the stunning Christchurch Gate entrance to Canterbury Cathedral.
Today Buttermarket’s centrepiece is a Canterbury’s war memorial.
There’s been a murder
So this takes us to the Cathedral, culturally the centrepiece of the city and probably the most famous Christian building in England.
Founded in 597, although rebuilt in 1077, the Cathedral is renowned for the shrine of Thomas Becket.
He was murdered in the Cathedral by four of King Henry II’s Knights in 1170.
A sculpture marks the spot where the Archbishop was killed.
Within the beautiful Cathedral is a peaceful cloister, the tomb of King Henry IV & the Black Prince and some eye-catching stained glass windows.
The King’s School
The King’s School, was founded in the same year as the Cathedral and is known to be the oldest continuously operated school in the world.
Within the school grounds are some wonderful old buildings including the schoolhouse dating from 1860 and the Norman staircase dating from the 12th century.
The King’s School in Canterbury was followed, seven years later by the King’s School in Rochester, Kent.
The King’s Mile
Out the school gate and you are now in the heart of The King’s Mile. A collection of intriguing streets and lanes within eyeshot of the ancient cathedral.
There are some fantastic shops and eateries around here, but what may catch your eye is the quaint 17th-century half-timbered, bookshop (on the corner of King St & Palace St) it has a bit of a lean to it (check out the front door).
Then came the French
Just off the King’s Mile is the High Street. Along here are many notable buildings including Beaney House which opened in 1899 and is home to a free museum, art gallery and library (definitely worth a visit).
You’ll also notice the Old Weavers’ House by the bridge over the Great Stour river.
During the 17th century, the French-speaking Protestant Huguenots arrived in the UK fleeing persecution. They introduced silk weaving to the City and soon made up 2,000 of Canterbury’s 5,000 population.
There is still a service, in French, held at the Huguenots chapel in the Cathedral every Sunday at 3:00pm.
If you look further down the High Street you will see the Westgate.
To the Tower
The medieval Westgate, the largest surviving city gate in England, and the last one of Canterbury’s seven city gates remaining.
It was the Romans that originally walled the city around 300 AD.
Although the remains in place today date from much later.
Next to the tower is Westgate Gardens, with the Guildhall, the Tower House and a 200-year old Plane tree within it.
This is a really pleasant garden, and if you are there at the right time of year, you may even be able to enjoy some punting on the river.
To the south of the old town is the ancient Canterbury Castle, built originally of wood by William the Conqueror in motte-and-bailey style.
Then later rebuilt in the early 12th-century of stone, Canterbury Castle was one of three Royal Castles built in Kent in the reign of Henry I (the other two are Rochester and Dover).
Inspired to visit Canterbury?
Tempted to stroll the streets of Canterbury and take in its rich history? would you like to see the famous Cathedral?
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