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Bradshaw’s Guide

West Gate, Canterbury, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress


In the western suburb. A telegraph station.

The appearance of Canterbury, from whatever part approached, is exquisitely beautiful, and as we enter, symbols of its antiquity stare us in the face everywhere; narrow passages, crazy tenements, with over-hanging windows, peaked gables, and wooden balustrades, jut out on every side. Here and there some formless sculpture of a fractured cherub or grotesque image, peer out from a creaking doorway. Crypts and vaults seem natural to every house, and yet withal, an air of liveliness pervades the town, that renders the contrast truly pleasing and striking. The city lies in a fertile vale, sheltered by gently rising hills, from which streams of excellent water are derived.

When Becket was murdered here, 1170, in the great contest between the civil and ecclesiastical powers, Canterbury became the centre of pilgrimages from all quarters of Christendom to his shrine. Many old timbered houses, and small ancient roughcast churches are seen here; but the noble

Cathedral is the first, object of notice, as it rises above the town. It is a double cross 574 feet long inside, with an east transept of 159 feet, and a west one of 128 feet. The oldest part is the half Norman choir, begun 1174; the nave and west transept finished 1420; the great tower is 235 feet high; the west tower is 130 feet. The west front of the great window is of Richard II.’s time. On one side is a beautiful porch, built as late as 1517. The north-west transept, called the Martyrdom, because Becket was killed there, has a beautifully stained window; the opposite one contains the monuments of Cardinal Langton, and the Duke of Clarence. A decorated screen leads into the choir, with the monuments of Archbishops Kemp, Stratford, Sudbury, &c.; those of Chicheley, Bourchier, and other primates, with Henry IV. and Queen Joan, the Black Prince, and Archbishop Canterbury, &c., are near Trinity Chapel, in the north-east transept. Here stood Becket’s shrine, or the gold chest containing his bones, which Erasmus saw; it shone and sparkled, he says, with rare and precious jewels, the chief of them gifts of kings. During the jubilee of 1420, in an ignorant and superstitious age, as many as 100,000 worshippers crowded to the shrine, expecting to obtain heaven per Thomce sanguinem, by the blood of St. Thomas, whose chief merit was rebellion to his sovereign. The hollows worn by the knees of devotees may be observed in the pavement. In one year their offerings amounted to £954 6s. 3d., while at the Virgin Mary’s altar in the crypt there were only £4 1s. 8d., and at the high (or Christ’s) altar, nothing. The bones were burnt at the Reformation. At the east end of the cathedral is Becket’s crown, a chapel so called, where are monuments of Cardinal Chatillon, &c., and the ancient chair of the primates. Below is a very curious Norman crypt, where the Walloons and the Protestant refugees used to meet for worship.

Near this splendid pile are the cloisters, with 811 coats of arms placed round; the later English chapter house, in which Henry II. did penance in sackcloth, two years after Becket’s death; the Archbishop’s deserted palace; baptistry and treasury; the beautiful gate of the Abbey, under which Augustine was buried; and the new missionary college, founded by H. Hope, Esq., built in the Gothic style, 1849. St. George, St. Paul, Holy Cross, and St. Martin’s churches are among the most ancient — especially the last, which stands outside the town, on the site of the first one built by Augustine, having an ivy-covered tower, and the font in which Etheldred was; baptized. It has been restored lately with great care.

Riding Gate is in Watling Street, on the old road from London, which Chaucer’s pilgrims travelled from the Tabard in Southwark, and put up at Chaucer’s Inn, in Mercery Lane here, of which few traces are left. Close to this gate is the Donjon or Dane John Terrace, a pleasant spot, laid out as a public walk, and which presents a most gay and lively scene when the élite of the neighbourhood assemble here, once weekly, to enjoy their favourite opera airs, skillfully played by the band of the regiment that may be quartered at the barracks. Westgate is near this; and some other portions of the city walls remain.

Canterbury has a Guildhall, sessions house, cavalry and other barracks, with several schools and hospitals. St. Nicholas’s hospital, at Harbledown, was founded by Archbishop Lanfranc in the 11th century. That part of the neighbourhood near the Dover road, is dotted all over with fine scats.

Distances of Places from the Station
To: Miles.
Adisham Down 5
Bekesbourne 3
Beverley Park
Blean Church 2
Bridge 3
Broad Oak Common 2
Broom Park 7
Dene Park 6
Gorsley Wood
Harbledown ¾
Heath Farm
Herne Common 5
Ickham 5
Kingston 5
Lee Park
Littlebourne 4
Mote, The 2
Nackington 4
Riabel Wood 2
South Street
St. Dunstan
St. Stephens
Staple Street
Stone House
Stuppington Farm
Way Street 5
Wingham 6

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Places nearby

  • Kent : Deal

    This town stands close to the sea shore, which is a bold and open beach, being defended from the violence of the waves by an extensive wall of stones and pebbles which the sea has thrown up.

  • Kent : Dover

    This much frequented point of continental embarkation has of late years occupied a prominent position among the watering-places of our island.

  • Kent : Folkestone

    Folkestone is rapidly becoming a much frequented watering place, as well as a favourite point of embarkation to France; the distance to Boulogne is only twenty-seven miles.