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Article by Neill Barston | 18th May 2019

History At The Heart Of A Modern-Day Canterbury

Whether you’re a first-time visitor to historic Canterbury, or more familiar with the city, there’s plenty to see, do and enjoy in its thriving and vibrant streets and quarters. Here, we take an inspiring trip back in time looking at some of area’s key sites that have all been placed in the spotlight by Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society over the decades.

The Buttermarket

As the city’s historical and archeological society explains, the Buttermarket site, which includes the striking Christchurch Gate entrance to the Cathedral in central Canterbury, has undergone a significant transformation over the past 500 years. It had, until the 17th century, been known as the bull stake, which had cruelly been used to tie bulls up to be baited by dogs. Subsequently, in 1664 John Somner, brother of writer William Somner, funded a market hall with a theatre on the site. Much later, in the 1890s, a memorial to local playwright Christopher Marlowe in the form of a female muse was installed. The area today remains a key attraction for tourists as they make their way to the cathedral, and perhaps take in the Old Buttermarket pub, which has had an inn for more than 500 years on the site.

Palace Street

One of the most intriguing locations near Canterbury Cathedral is Palace Street, which has its own special footnote in history. The street is particularly notable for several examples of corner decorative figures known as corbels, which in many instances date back centuries, and are thought to have warded off evil spirits or disease. Among its array of striking timber framed Tudor buildings lies Conquest House – which is said to have a close connection with the knights who were sent on the orders of King Henry II to dispatch Thomas Becket. These days, the property has been smartly revamped into artists’ studios highlighting some of the area’s most impressive creative talent. The area is now part of what is known as the King’s Mile, and renowned for its boutique and independent stores which have undergone a revival in recent years.


One of the oldest city street names in Canterbury is thought to be Burgate (meaning gate of the borough), which dates from the Saxon era. There was once a church, St Michael’s, above the original gate, which is said to have once had the heads of executed traitors placed upon it. The original structure, including its towers, fell into disrepair through the centuries and was finally dismantled in 1822.  Today, if you are pretty eagle-eyed, you can spot a few stones from the original gate at number 3 Burgate, with the street now home to a number of independent stores.

Beer Cart Lane

As its name suggests, Beer Cart Lane, opposite the former heritage centre (now closed, but previously the site of a 12th century Poor Priests’ hospital), once had a brewery on the corner that was much frequented on account of the fact that before water treatment works operated within the city, it was considered by many to be cleaner than general water supplies. According to Canterbury Archaeological Trust, there have been a number of intriguing historical finds in the street – including a 5th century burial with an iron knife and alloy copper bangles, and copper alloy keys. As for the present day, one of Beer Cart Lane’s star attractions is The Ambrette Restaurant, which has gained a Michelin star for its inventive cuisine, along with The Chaucer Bookshop, Bang & Olufsen and more.

Canterbury Castle

Aside from the city’s dramatic walls, Canterbury Castle is regarded as one of the most striking landmarks of the area’s defences. Dating between the 11th and 12th centuries it became a county prison and like many fortifications has undergone something of a chequered history. It was attacked during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1380 and later passed into private hands. It went on to become a coke fuel store, before finally being bought by Canterbury City Council as a heritage monument in 1928. Until recently, it was still possible to wander the site, but access has now been restricted for safety reasons.

The Friars

With Canterbury’s ancient Roman roots, the area is a potential treasure trove of antiquity that will only continue to throw up more amazing sites as fresh archeological activity uncovers gems dating from 2,000 years ago. If you were to visit the area of what is now the street known as The Friars back under Roman occupation, you would have seen a particularly notable town house. Specialist teams excavated the site in 2010, though much of the surrounding area was marshland near the River Stour in ancient times. Today, the multi-million revamp of The Marlowe Theatre attracts some of the finest names of stage and screen, with visitors attending from across the region and further afield for shows during the Canterbury Festival.

King’s Bridge

The King’s Bridge in Canterbury is among the city’s most scenic central spots, originally taking its name from the King’s mill. It is notable for its nearby buildings, including ‘The Weavers’ and Eastbridge Hospital, with the stretch of water proving a particular draw for tourists. The location has become renowned for the city’s highly popular water tours, which started up again last month, and are an ideal way to see the city. It’s a tradition dating back to the 1930’s, and has seen some stiff competition over the years between rival tour operators keen to make their mark. With friendly, knowledgeable guides, it’s possible to learn a huge amount about the history of the area in less than an hour, and tours are well recommended for both residents and tourists to the county.

• For more information, visit canterbury-archaeology.org.uk

The Vineyard Garden Centre
Come along to The Vineyard Garden Centre and take a look at our range of perennial plants, vegetable plants, bedding and patio plants to make your garden beautiful this year. We have hanging baskets, shrubs and trees and don’t forget our cafe that makes homemade cakes.
• Elham Valley Vineyard, Elham Valley Road, Breach, Barham, Canterbury CT4 6LN, call 01227 831052 or visit vineyardgardencentre.co.uk

Justin Richardson
Looking for a finishing touch to an outfit for a wedding or equally special occasion? At Justin Richardson’s Sun Street Gallery you will find a personal service and beautiful jewellery to suit every budget. If time doesn’t allow you to commission a bespoke piece unique to you, choose from an exquisite collection of traditional and contemporary jewellery, from guest designers as well as a selection of Justin’s own pieces, made in the on-site workshop.
• 23 Sun Street, Canterbury CT1 2HX, call 01227 471693, email justin@justinrichardson.co.uk or visit justinrichardson.co.uk

Westgate Hall
Discover Westgate Hall, a unique community, meeting, event and conference space in the heart of Canterbury, available to hire. On Saturday 22nd June, join us for The inaugural Canterbury Wine Festival celebrating Kent’s award-winning wines at Westgate Hall, sponsored by Burgess Hodgson and Girlings. For tickets, visit http://bit.ly/CWF220619 
• Westgate Hall, Westgate Hall Road, Canterbury CT1 2BT, call 01227 634886, email info@westgatehall.org or visit westgatehall.org

Cafe St Pierre
Celebrating 23 years in business, the family-run cafe near Westgate Towers with its friendly atmosphere offers generously-filled, innovative baguettes, quiches, salads, cakes and pastries, plus excellent coffee, not forgetting the typical French Petit Dejeuner, served until noon. Open seven days a week 8am-6pm (Sunday 9am-5.30pm), with outdoor seating at the rear and a takeaway service. 
• 41 St Peter’s Street, Canterbury CT1 2BG or call 01227 456791.

The Vineyard in the Valley Cafe
Come along for a Vineyard breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea. All our food is homemade using homegrown and locally-sourced produce. You can also purchase our own sparkling wine now available online at elhamvalleyvineyard.com. Don’t forget to pop into our garden centre where you can buy everything you need for your garden. 
• Elham Valley Road, Breach, Barham, Canterbury CT4 6LN or call 01227 831266.

Arts, music & more

Like many areas of Canterbury, Dane John Gardens has a fascinating history behind it – including its name, which stems from the Norman word, Donjon, which means fortified mound. As Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society notes, the Romans first built a wall for the city to incorporate an ancient mound. It was the Normans who later built their first castle there, although the existing castle site to the west replaced it.

Dane John Gardens has been in public ownership since the 19th century and plays host to a broad range of public events, including the City Sound Project in the Park, happening between 4th-5th May. This free showcase was devised to meet a clear gap for a summer music festival – which has been somewhat missing in the area since the demise of the much-appreciated Lounge on the Farm which ceased several years ago.

• Visit cspinthepark.com

Shakespeare Festival

As Benjamin Chamberlain, organiser of Canterbury’s Shakespeare Festival explains, he founded it as a means of providing a new source of theatre for the community. Having started the event back in 2015, it has gathered momentum in the city, staging a range of works that started from its original two productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. The festival returns to Canterbury this July.
• Visit canterburyshakespeare.co.uk

St Edmund’s Festival

In addition, the city is due to be spoilt even further this June with some sizzling summer as part of St Edmund’s On the Hill Music Festival. The event features headliner Curtis Stigers or visit stedmunds.org.uk

Certax Accounting
At Certax Accounting, we believe in tax planning in a proactive way. We have a strong team of qualified and experienced accountants and book-keepers offering self-assessment, VAT (MTD compliant), payroll, accounts and corporation tax returns and CIS returns. We offer unlimited phone support and meetings with fixed and pre-agreed fees. New clients can benefit from a free tax review and initial meeting. We work to ensure guidance on profitability maximisation, raising business finance and compliance.
• Contact the Canterbury office at Certax House, 34B Simmonds Road, Canterbury CT1 3RA, call 01227 806101 or visit certax.co.uk

Located in Roper Road, we at Clark’s are proud to offer clients old and new the innovative Amtico One design. Utilising the latest touch screen technology, Clark’s now boast the most comprehensive display of Amtico products in Canterbury – meaning that selecting and designing your new and truly unique Amtico floor has never been easier. Amtico One is a vote of confidence and all the reassurance customers need when selecting one of the most beautiful, trusted and toughest floor surfaces available.
• 12 Roper Road, Canterbury CT2 7EH, call 01227 788588, or visit clarkscanterbury.com

The Chair
Now’s the perfect time to discover the secret walled terrace garden at The Chair, Canterbury’s premier salon, located in the historic King’s Mile, while you enjoy the many hair and beauty treatments on offer. Using only the most luxurious products, book an appointment with The Chair’s passionate stylists to update your hair with a fresh new cut to complement your new season’s look. This month’s offer: Monday-Friday during May, 50% off a cut and blowdry with graduate stylists.
• 2-4 The Borough, Canterbury CT1 2DR, call 01227 455545, visit the-chair.co.uk or email appointments@the-chair.co.uk

The large and small dragonfly pendants from 925 are great for the spring and summer and there are matching earrings too.
• 57 Palace Street, the King’s Mile, Canterbury CT1 2DY, visit 925-silver.co.uk


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