The area around Canterbury was inhabited from the Stone Age through to the Iron Age, when it became a fortified settlement of the Celtic Cantiaci Tribe, who ruled most of Kent. Soon after the Roman invasion in the 1st century CE, it was captured and renamed Durovernum Cantiacorum. Initially fortified, to the south of a River Stour crossing place, the town later became a religious and administrative centre built on a standard grid, with a forum, public baths, theatre and various temples.
When the Romans pulled out around 410 CE, mercenaries were hired to defend the town against Saxon raids, however within decades the Jutes had taken over the area. The town declined, although repopulated by Jutish refugees arriving. In 597 Augustine brought Christianity to the country and converted King Ethelbert, the king of Kent. Ethelbert, whose wife Bertha was already a Christian, awarded Augustine an old Roman church in the town to be used as a Cathedral, and lands to the east of the city walls to build an Abbey, used as his Episcopal see at Canterbury.
Augustine and his companions built a series of three chapels in line, St Pancras Chapel to the east, the Church of St Peter and St Paul to the west, with the Church of St Mary in between. The Abbey, dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, was at that time was the burial place for kings of Kent, and Archbishops of Canterbury. In the early years most of the monks and several abbots were Italians, who followed the order of St Benedict. During the 7th century a King’s School was founded for the higher education of pupils from across England.
Dunstan, Abbot of Glastonbury, who was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 960, reorganised the Abbey. At an unknown date Augustine was canonised, and following this the Abbey at Canterbury became known as St Augustine’s. During the 9th and 10th centuries raids continued, this time by Vikings, and in 1011 the cathedral built by Archbishop Dunstan was badly damaged in a Viking raid. In the mid 11th century, Abbot Wulfric built an octagonal rotunda joining the church of St Peter and St Paul, with the chapel of St Mary.
By the time of the Norman invasion in 1066, the local people were fed up of their town being destroyed so they offered no resistance. Soon after the Battle of Hastings William had three wooden motte and bailey forts built along the road to London, at Dover, Rochester, and Canterbury. It is thought that the original fort at Canterbury was build on what is now known as Dane John’s Mound, a corruption of “dunjon,” French name for a keep. During the 12th century this was replaced by a stone castle to the west of the original. Only the ruined massive keep survives, built of sandstone and flint, it is nearly a hundred feet square, and would probably have been eighty feet high. Within a century it became used as a gaol.
Only a year after the Norman Conquest the Saxon Cathedral was destroyed by fire, and a complete rebuilding was carried out from 1070 under its first Norman archbishop based in Romanesque style, and for the rest of the century further building took place. In 1170 Archbishop Thomas Becket, having had continuous conflict with King Henry II, he was mistakenly killed by Henry’s loyal knights who misunderstood his frustration. In 1174 a fire caused by sparks from the workshop of Lambin Frese the minter damaged the Cathedral, but having acquired celebrity status from holding Becket’s relics as a source of revenue from pilgrims, they had plenty of money for major rebuilding in Gothic design.
The 14th century was a time of destruction and rebuilding. The city walls had fallen into disrepair, partly due to stone robbing, so it was rebuilt including new towers and gates, of which the Westgate, built as an entrance for pilgrims by Archbishop Simon Sudbury, is the only one still standing. The present one, built in 1380, replaced an earlier one thought to have been Roman, which had a church built into its top.
The town was decimated by the Black Death, and during the Peasant’s Revolt both the Castle and the Archbishop’s Palace were pillaged and Archbishop Sudbury was seized at the Tower of London and executed. In 1382 an earthquake knocked down the Campanile and badly damaged the Cathedral, repairs and restoration included the nave and transepts being rebuilt in Perpendicular style. During the 15th century Canterbury was given a city charter, and permission was given to use the Westgate as a Prison, this continued until 1808 when Canterbury prison was opened.
When King Henry Dissolved the Monasteries Canterbury was badly hit. St Augustine’s Abbey, the priory, and friaries all being closed. The Cathedral lost its abbey status, reverting to a College of Canons, and all the treasures from the Cathedral were removed to the Tower of London, and the shrine of Thomas Becket destroyed, thus ending the town’s income from pilgrims.
By the 17th century nearly half of the population of Canterbury were French Huguenots, Protestants who fled from persecution in France. They were to introduce silk weaving to the city, which quickly replaced the wool weaving which was native to the area. In 1647 the Puritan mayor banned the Christmas church service, causing a riot against Parliamentary forces. Cromwell's army burnt all the city's gates to prevent further trouble. These were not replaced until after the Civil War ended.
By the late 18th century the castle had fallen into disrepair, parts of it were demolished, and it was used by the gas works. To facilitate coaches, all the gates except Westgate were removed and the roads widened.
Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh
Statues added to West Front
St Augustine's Abbey Gateway
The Crypt of the Rotunda
Looking Towards the Altar of St Mary's Chapel
The Norman Staircase, King's School
The Pilgrim's Hospital of St Thomas
Don Jon House
House of Lambin Frese
Later Hospital of Poor Priests
The Old Buttermarket
Nero Coffee House
With Tudor Timbering