You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
"Opus listatum" walls of a Roman tower at the Bus Station
Of all the Britons, the inhabitants of Kent, an entirely maritime district, are by far the most civilised, differing but little from the Gallic manner of life.
Julius Caesar - The Gallic Wars - Book V- Loeb Classical Library
Now the first and most ancient mention of our City wall (I conceive) offers itself in King Ethelbert's charter of the site of the Monastery called (from him, for whose sake it was founded, of King Ethelbert) St Augustines (see below) dated Anno Christi 605. The ground thereinset out for that intent being described to lie "sub orientali muro Civitatis Dorobernie" (outside the eastern wall of the City of Durovernum).
William Somner - The Most Accurate History of the Ancient City, and Famous Cathedral of Canterbury, being an exact Description of all the Rarities in that City, Suburbs and Cathedral - 1661
In the 1950s, when a new Bus Station was being built, parts of a tower of the walls of Durovernum were discovered. The Bus Station is situated in the eastern part of the town, not far from St. Augustine's Abbey.
(left) The River Stour at Westgate; (right) Westgate
It is highly probable, that the Romans, at their first
arrival in Britain, found Canterbury a place of consequence; they seem even to have formed a Latin name
for it from the language of the inhabitants; Durovernum (..) being naturally enough
derived from the British Durwhern, signifying the
swift stream which runs by and through it. Cantuaria (a name perhaps of later date) and Canterbury may as easily be derived from the Englih Saxon
Cantwarabyrig, the city of the men of Kent. (..) Westgate (..) is the largest and
best built of any the city has, and though plain, makes
a very handsome appearance, standing between two
lofty and spacious round towers. (..) The gate has also the advantage of standing open to a very long and wide street, being on the road to London.
William Gostling - A Walk in and about the City of Canterbury - 1779
The river Stour was made navigable to this city, by virtue of an Act of Parliament in the reign of King Henry VIII, but the person who undertook it, not meeting with encouragement, and failing in the carrying it on, the locks and sluices are all run to decay, and the citizens are oblig'd to fetch all their heavy goods, either from Fordwich, three miles off, or from Whitstable seven miles off.
Daniel Defoe, A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies - 1724-1727
Medieval walls, approximately on the site of the Roman ones
It is highly probable the Romans found the town fortified with a wall, and full as probable, that if it was not so, when the Romans built gates to it, they also added walls, but few of their remains appear. (..) The present walls are of chalk, faced and lined with flint. (..) The thickness (..) is about six feet, and the parapet and battlements were well coped with mason's work of hard stone, as were the tops and loopholes, of twenty-one square or semicircular towers, built at proper places, to command the ditch, which was 150 feet wide. Gostling
Canterbury Castle (early XIIth century) in the southern part of the walls
Though what we now call the castle has no appearance of Roman antiquity, yet that the Romans had a castle here can hardly be doubted. (..) This must have been the most convenient situation
for the residence of the "Comes Littoris Saxonici", Count
of the Saxon shore, whose particular business it was to
fix garrisons upon the sea coast, in places convenient (to check raids by Saxon pirates, e.g. at Portchester),
and who had the command of 2200 foot and horse for
that purpose, as Mr. Camden (*) says. (..) The present building appears to have been the keep
or donjon of a fortress, within which it stood, (..) like the white tower at
London; and as it is built in much the same style, may be about the same age. Gostling
(*) William Camden (1551-1623) was an English antiquarian and historian and the author of Britannia, a topographical and historical survey of Great Britain and Ireland.
Canterbury Roman Museum: (left) details of a Roman floor mosaic which was excavated in 1945-1946; (right) photos taken at that time
Of Roman remains we have
abundance. For besides gates of their building, to be
taken notice of in the walls, many other memorials of
them are discovered by digging from time to time; as
Mosaic and other pavements, curious earthen ware
and coins innumerable, some preserved in collections,
others sold to the goldsmiths and braziers. Gostling
In 1942, in retaliation for the bombing of the ancient German port cities of Rostock and Lübeck, the German Air Force was ordered to mount spoiling attacks against British cultural sites. Heavy raids were then made on Exeter, Canterbury, Bath and Norwich. In July a bombing in the centre of Canterbury unearthed fragments of a Roman floor mosaic. The site was excavated and the mosaic was dated ca 300. A small archaeological museum was established above it in the basement of a modern building. Unfortunately the mosaic is visible only from a low perspective and through a glass. Another mosaic on display at the museum is shown in the image used as background for this page; it was found in 1868 and it depicts a drinking cup.
In 1962 an important Roman silver hoard was found during road works at Longmarket, only yards away from the Roman floor mosaic. Some items were finely engraved with figures or inscriptions. The hoard included also some coins, one of which was minted in 402, at the time of Emperor Honorius, when the Roman legions were about to be withdrawn from Britain. It is thought that the treasure was hid by a silversmith because it contained three silver ingots. Unlike other silver luxury objects found in Britain, e.g. the Corbridge Lanx, those at Canterbury might have been made locally.
Canterbury Roman Museum: (left-above) pre-Roman coins (see other pre-Roman coins in the introductory page); (left-below) silver spoons from the Canterbury Treasure; (right) other exhibits
The museum houses also some Gallo-Belgic staters (coins named after a Greek word meaning weight). They are thought to be the first type of coin ever to circulate in Britain. They were made in northern France or Belgium in the Ist century BC and they show that the horse had a prominent place in Gaulish symbolism.
(left) A signpost of Via Francigena; (centre) façade of St. Martin's; (right) early XXth century Saxon-like tombstones in the churchyard
Canterbury was the starting point of Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrim route to Rome across France.
This church is not seen from the road; (..) it stands on the side of the hill named from it, about a quarter and half quarter of a mile from the wall of the city. This and another church, where our cathedral now stands, are supposed to have been built by the Christians of the Roman soldiery, in the second century, at the time of Lucius (*), the first Christian King, who lived in 182, so that it is looked on as one of the oldest structures of that kind, still in constant use now in the kingdom. Gostling
(*) Lucius is a legendary Christian King of Britain. Gostling says he lived in 182, so not much after the death of Emperor Lucius Verus; the myth of Lucius and of the Christian soldiers most likely originated from the works of Tertullian, a Christian author of the late IInd century. He wrote that Lucius Verus did not persecute the Christians and he claimed that the miracle of the rain which is depicted on Colonna Antonina in Rome was due to the prayers of Christian soldiers in the army of Marcus Aurelius, Lucius' brother.
St. Martin's southern wall with the presumable entrance to the church in the VIth century and Roman bricks (see also some other Roman bricks in the walls of St. Peter's in the introductory page)
Indeed, nothing appears in the materials or architecture, to
contradict this opinion, for its walls seem to have been
built (those of the chancel at least) entirely of Roman
brick, and the structure is the most simple that is possible. Gostling
St Martin's Church, the ruins of St Augustine's Abbey and Christ Church Cathedral together reflect milestones in the history of Christianity in Britain. They reflect in tangible form the reintroduction of Christianity to southern Britain by St Augustine (St. Augustine of Canterbury, not to be confused with St. Augustine of Hippo), commencing at St Martin's Church where Queen Bertha already worshipped, and leading to the conversion of King Ethelbert.
From the UNESCO synthesis of the universal value of Canterbury which in 1988 was included in the World Heritage List.
The Chaucer Bookshop
Mercery-lane, is an old and narrow street, but well situated for trade. Great part of this lane seems formerly to have been
built for large inns. One part of the Chequer, where
Chaucer and his fellow pilgrims are said to have lodged, takes up almost half the west side of it. Gostling
Canterbury was also the final point of pilgrim routes from London and Winchester. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together from London to Canterbury, provides an insight into these pilgrimages at the end of the XIVth century.
St. Augustine's Abbey: overall view: in the foreground the ruin of St. Peter and Paul's, a Norman church which incorporated an Anglo-Saxon one, and behind it the tombs of the first Bishops of Canterbury. The high brick wall was part of a XVIth century royal palace
Mr. Somner says, Augustine the monk, the apostle of the English, obtained from Ethelbert,
the first christian King of Kent, a certain piece of
ground, on which, with the King's help, he built this
abbey, and dedicated it to St. Peter and St Paul, but
St. Dunstan afterwards dedicated it anew; to the honour of those apostles, and of St. Augustine, in the
year 978, and from thence it was called St. Augustine's. (..) At the dissolution, King Henry VIII. seized this as a palace for himself. (..) In 1573, Queen Elizabeth kept her court here,
in a roya] progress; she attended divine service at the cathedral every Sunday, during her stay at Canterbury,
and was magnificently entertained, with all her attendants, and a great concourse of other company, by Archbishop Parker, on her birth-day, kept at his palace. Gostling
During the XVIIIth century the palace was abandoned and the whole area fell into ruin.
St. Augustine's Abbey: tombs of the first Archbishops of Canterbury
The old monastery of all, with the church there, dedicated to St. Augustine, and in the porch of which St. Augustine himself, with the six bishops above mention'd lye buried, stands at, or rather stood at a distance, and the ruins of it shew the place sufficiently. Defoe
Mr. Somner ascribes the situation of it without the city walls to its being designed by the King and the Archbishop, as a place of sepulture for them and their successors. By very ancient custom (e.g. along Via Appia), the sepulchres of the dead were placed by the sides of the highways. (..) Accordingly, the cemetery here was on the straight road from our Burgate to Richborough. Gostling
At Canterbury the cathedral was eclipsed by the Abbey of S. Augustine, where the bones of the Roman missionary lay, till the murder of Becket (in 1170) happened as a blessing in disguise to give the monks of Christchurch the most illustrious saint of the Middle Ages.
Thomas Graham Jackson - Gothic Architecture in France, England and Italy - 1915
The only visible remains of Augustine's first church which was built soon after 597, is the porch of St. Gregory (the Pope who sent the monk to England), which held the tomb of Augustine and of three archbishops who succeeded him. Another porch held the tombs of the early kings of Kent, including Ethelbert who gave Augustine this land. The area was excavated in 1921-1922.
St. Augustine's Abbey: crypt of Abbot Wulfric II (1050)
In the VIIth century a church dedicated to St. Mary was built to the east of Augustine's original church. Wulric II, one of the last Anglo-Saxon abbots,
added a circular building known as rotunda to link the two churches together. The rotunda stood two or three storeys high above the crypt. Its construction was perhaps stopped after the Norman conquest in 1066 and it was demolished with the other Anglo-Saxon buildings around 1072. It was excavated in 1914-15.
(The ruins) reflect the successive architectural responses to Canterbury's developing role as focus of the Church in England - adaptation of Roman buildings, the development of Anglo-Saxon building in mortared brick and stone, and the flowering of Romanesque and Gothic styles in addition to the development under St Augustine and the monks from Rome, of early Benedictine monasticism, which spread from its cradle in Canterbury throughout Britain and had a profound impact on English society. UNESCO
St. Augustine's Abbey: remains of the Norman Church behind the crypt of Abbot Wulfric II; you may wish to see the ruins of St. Botolph's Priory at Colchester, another Norman building
Between 1072 and 1100 the Normans built a church similar in size to the Cathedral.
If the riches of this monastery were very great, so were its privileges, and the rank and authority of the Abbot, who was exempt from the Archbishop's jurisdiction, and subject only to the Pope. He wore the mitre, and other ornaments of a Bishop, had a vote in parliament as a Baron, and, for many years, allowance of mintage and coinage of money, in right of his Abbacy. He took such state upon him, that when, on his election, he was to receive the benediction of the Archbishop, he would not wait on him for it, but the Archbishop was to go to him. (..) At the dissolution, the revenues of this monastery were valued at 1412l. 4s. 7d. Gostling
(left) The Old Weavers Houses; (right) a branch of the River Stour adjoining The Old Weavers Houses
The city will scarce bear being call'd populous, were it not for two or three thousand French Protestants, which, including men, women and children, they say there are in it, and yet they tell me the number of these decreases daily.
The employment of those refugees was chiefly broad silk weaving; but that trade was so decay'd before the first Act for Prohibiting the Wearing of East India Silks pass'd, that there were not twenty broad looms left in the city, of near three hundred, that had formerly been there; upon the passing that Act, the trade reviv'd again and the number of master workmen encreased, and the masters encreased; and the masters which were there before, encreasing their works also, the town fill'd again, and a great many looms were employ'd; but after this by the encroaching of the printed callicoes, chints, &c. and the prevailing of the smuggling trade as above, the silk trade decay'd a second time. Defoe
Move to page two and see Canterbury Christ Church Cathedral.
Plan of this section:
Aquae Sulis (Bath Spa)
Isca Augusta (Caerleon)
Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester) and nearby Fishbourne Palace
Portus Adurni (Portchester)
Venta Belgarum (Winchester)
Verulamium (St. Albans)
Roman Villas on Vectis (Isle of Wight)
Roman Villa of Lullingstone
Roman Villa of Bignor
Roman Villas in Dorset/Somerset