I don’t suppose this blog about our visit to Kent’s most historical city will rank alongside Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, but hopefully it will show that there is a bit more to Canterbury than just its cathedral.
Admittedly, we didn’t have time to see everything that the city has to offer, but enough to show us why people, other than pilgrims, should make a journey here.
I think it’s fair to say that most people will come here to see the Cathedral, and maybe St. Augustine’s Abbey, but there was a town here before St. Augustine arrived.
The Roman town of Durovernum (“the stronghold amidst alders”) included a protective wall which was probably built around 270 – 280 A.D. This wall continued to be used, with improvements, right through the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods into the Middle Ages, and still surrounds around half of the old city today. Inside this wall is the most interesting part of the city and the focus of this article.
In my previous blog Canterbury Cathedral – A Shortish History, I promised that I would show you around some of the cathedral’s highlights, but before I start, I have to say right from the outset that trying to cover all aspects of a building like this in one visit is nigh on impossible, and not only that, ongoing restoration work always restricts access to somewhere or another, so bearing that in mind, here is a selection of what I saw and worthy of special mention, which of course, is subjective – so here goes.
The main entrance into the cathedral precincts is through Christ Church Gate in the Buttermarket. This Tudor gateway was probably built as a memorial to Arthur Prince of Wales, and according to cathedral records was constructed between 1504 and 1521.
Prince Arthur was Henry VII’s eldest son and destined to become king. In 1501 at the age of fifteen he married Catherine of Aragon but a year later died of an unknown illness. When Henry VIII became king after his father’s death in 1509 he took his brother’s widow as his wife and queen.
Note the Tudor Coats of Arms as you walk under the archway and through the 17th century wooden doors. The original doors and the statue of Christ were destroyed by the Puritans in 1643. The present bronze sculpture of Christ was installed in 1990.
I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve never made a confession in my life – well, not in a church at least, and that’s because I’m not a religious person; but I do have to confess that some time ago I converted from a devout atheist to an agnostic, and by that I mean that I can understand why other people are religious even if I’m not.
One of my passions in life is to try and piece together how life on our planet has evolved. Notice that I didn’t say how life began. I’ll leave that to scientists and theologians to fight over: I would rather concentrate on what we know to have happened in the past, rather than what we think may have happened: I have enough trouble finding out where the pieces fit into this jigsaw as it is without delving any further.
The good news though is that I don’t need a degree in theology or quantum physics to be able to admire buildings like Canterbury Cathedral: It’s not just the magnificent architecture that grabs my attention, it’s the history behind it too, and the reason why I’ve chosen to start my blogs on Canterbury with St. Augustine – the ‘Apostle to the English’.
Wandering up and down the Lawnmarket, you can’t fail to notice the name of Deacon Brodie. There’s Brodie’s Close, the Deacon’s House Café and Deacon Brodie’s Tavern – so who was Deacon Brodie?
He was born William Brodie in 1741, and his father was head (or Deacon) of the Guild of Cabinet Makers. Following in his father’s footsteps he also took over the name of Deacon, but what made (William) Deacon Brodie stand out was his double life, so much so that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a fictional novel based around him.
By day, Brodie was a craftsman and councillor, and by night, a drinker, gambler and thief; Eventually the inevitable happened and he got caught. He was brought to justice, found guilty, and was hanged on October 1st 1788 at the Tolbooth Prison in the High Street.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, if you haven’t already guessed by now, was first published in 1886 and went by the title of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
When the Romans left Britain, Christianity went with them and Anglo Saxon England reverted back to its pagan roots, or at least it did up here in Northumbria.
The Kingdom of Northumbria didn’t even exist until around 604 AD when Æthelfrith combined the two existing kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira, and although these ‘Dark Ages’ are not always easy to follow, we do know that when Æthelfrith was killed in battle his four children were sent to the island of Iona off the West Coast of Scotland.
Iona was in the Kingdom of Dalriada, which covered an area equivalent to parts of today’s Western Scotland and North-Eastern Ireland, and it was to Iona that the Celtic monk Columba came when he was exiled from his native Ireland.
Columba founded a monastery on the island around 563 AD and was made a saint for his work in evangelizing Scotland, and before I go any further, I have to mention the fact that Iona is another extremely spiritual place to come, in much the same way that Lindisfarne is.
Anyone who knows the story about Grace Darling will no doubt want to allow a bit of time after visiting Bamburgh Castle to come and see the Grace Darling Museum.
The location is easy to find as it’s at the top of the village directly opposite St. Aidan’s Church.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Grace Darling I’ll attempt to put into words what this remarkable young woman did to achieve the fame that she so richly deserved.
Grace was born in her grandfather’s cottage (a few doors up from the museum) on 24th November 1815, but after a few weeks was taken to Brownsman Island, one of the Outer Farne Islands, where her father was the lighthouse keeper.
No sooner had William the Conqueror been crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, he was ordering castles to be built all over the country to defend his newly won territory – and Winchester, England’s de facto capital, was one of the first on his list.
Under these circumstances you would think, wouldn’t you, that Winchester would have been razed to the ground, but the truth was, that until the new King could set up his headquarters in London then Winchester still had an important part to play.
William’s Castle was built over the top of the Roman fort that was built to protect Venta Bulgarum, and for over a hundred years after the conquest England was ruled from Winchester Castle.
Henry II, the first Plantagenet king, built a stone keep to house the royal treasury and the Domesday Book, and Henry III, who was born at Winchester Castle and only 9 years old when he became king in 1216, added the Great Hall between 1222 and 1235.
Taking a Boat trip down to Greenwich has to be one of the best days out in London, but unless you know exactly what you want to do when you get there, it’s worth dropping into the excellent Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre first before dashing off like a headless chicken.
If you’re anything like me, a day in Greenwich will be nowhere near enough, but for the purposes of expediency, I’m going to start my virtual tour of the town at the Old Royal Naval College, which the visitor centre is part of.
Greenwich has an exceptional maritime history, and next to the visitor centre is the Old Brewery, which used to supply sailors of the Royal Hospital for Seamen with their daily allowance of 4 pints of beer, but which now serves people like you and me, and although I suggested coming to the visitor centre first, I’m also suggesting that you leave the Old Brewery bar to last – otherwise you might not end up going anywhere.
On the West Walk of Salisbury’s Cathedral Close is the former home of British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath.
The house is open to the public, and although its history goes back long before ‘Ted’ Heath moved here in 1985, there’s only really one reason that people come here to visit, and that’s to see where Sir Edward Heath KG MBE spent some of the happiest moments of his life.
From a fairly ordinary background, Ted managed to make himself an extraordinary life. He worked his way through university into the corridors of power and eventually to leader of the Conservative party, a post he held from 1965 until 1975.
In 1970 he became Prime Minister and for the next four years struggled to contain the demands of the trade unions, curtail The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the aspirations of Margaret Thatcher – although he did manage to take Britain into the European Economic Community in 1973.
He probably won’t be remembered as one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers, but he had many attributes, and even though my politics were different to his, I always thought of him as a warm and compassionate human being. Talking to the volunteers around the house I don’t think I was alone in thinking that.
Looking back, I think that maybe his political views weren’t conservative enough for his fellow party members, and not far enough to the left to embrace the working population.
People often mention how clear the light is in West Cornwall, and I would be the first to agree that there’s a clarity here that isn’t found everywhere.
This attracted artists from far and wide, and the St. Ives colony became so well known that it became a magnet for even more artists.
I would argue though that artists came here not just for the quality of light, but also for the quality of life as well, and one of those artists was Barbara Hepworth, a sculptor, who was born in Wakefield in 1903.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to come knocking on your door with the latest edition of the Watchtower: This article is about the clarity of light that has brought artists to West Cornwall for years.
I’m no artist, and before you start to snigger, I mean I can’t paint or draw, which is why I’ve got the utmost admiration for those that can.
I do believe that the quality of the light in West Cornwall is special, but I also believe that artists have beat a path to St. Ives for the quality of life as well.
I mean, let’s be honest, would you prefer to be working in an office or on the factory floor all day, to dabbling with a paint brush on the harbourside in between visits to the Sloop? I thought not.
I don’t think they make a vast fortune mind you, but then again, I don’t think they worry about the money side of it too much either. My philosophy about life is somewhat similar – but unfortunately, I’m no good at painting the bathroom door let alone a nice atmospheric seascape.
Painting en plein air became fashionable in Cornwall back in the 1880s with Falmouth, Newlyn and St. Ives setting up their own individual artist colonies.
Some of the more renowned artists, such as Ben Nicholson were encouraged by Alfred Wallis, a retired seaman who didn’t start painting until he was in his seventies. A man of very little personal wealth he used all sorts of bits and pieces to paint on. Although he died a pauper in 1942 his legend lives on and his old home still stands in Back Road West which has a plaque on the wall outside.
The St. Ives School of Painting opened up in 1938 just a few doors away in the Porthmeor Studios and is still going strong today.
The National Trust owns several properties in South Devon and they all have something to commend them, but I think my favourite has to be Coleton Fishacre.
It’s a bit out of the way, but that’s one of the attractions of this estate that includes a magnificent garden that sweeps down to the sea and a house that evokes the bygone jazz age of the 1920s.
The man behind the creation of Coleton Fishacre was Rupert D’Oyly Carte, whose father, Richard, was the producer of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic operas.
Rupert, who incidentally was also the inspiration for P.G Wodehouses’s Rupert Psmith, inherited the family business including the Savoy Hotel and Claridge’s in London.
It was on a sailing trip between Brixham and Dartmouth with his wife Dorothy, that he saw the potential of the valley above Pudcombe Cove for building a home on the coast.
It’s not difficult to see why they chose this spot, and in 1923 he set about building Coleton Fishacre which took three years to finish.
Dartmouth, without doubt, is one of my favourite Devon towns: A picturesque setting, old buildings, and a fascinating maritime history combine together to make this one of the gems of South Devon.
Lying along the western bank of the River Dart just before it reaches the sea, Dartmouth owes its very existence to the river. Primitive settlements were set up along the muddy banks as far back as Celtic times, but land reclamation over the centuries have seen the town develop into how it looks today.
During that time the deep natural harbour has seen many comings and goings: The 12th cent saw ships leave here for the Crusades, and Henry II’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine saw a lucrative wine trade flourish with Bordeaux, but the most influential person in Dartmouth’s history was a local man by the name of John Hawley.