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History of Canterbury

Canterbury comes from the Old English ‘cantware’ meaning the dwellers of Kent’ with ‘burh’ as a ‘fortified place’; therefore, ‘fortification of the people of Kent’. The Domesday Book records Canterbury as Cantuaria and Iensis.


The Canterbury area has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Lower Paleolithic axes, Neolithic and Bronze Age pots have been found in the area. Canterbury was first recorded as the main settlement of the Celtic tribe, the Cantiaci, who inhabited most of modern day Kent. In the first century AD, the Romans captured the settlement, and named it Durovernum Cantiacorum, meaning 'stronghold of the Cantiaci by the alder grove'. The Romans rebuilt the town, with new streets in a grid pattern, a theatre, a temple, a forum and public baths. In the late third century, to defend against attack from barbarians, the Romans built around the town an earth bank and a wall with seven gates, which enclosed an area of 130 acres. 

After the Romans left Britain in 410 AD, Durovernum Cantiacorum was abandoned, apart from a few farmers, and gradually decayed. Over the next 100 years, an Anglo-Saxon community formed within the city walls, as Jutish refugees arrived, possibly intermarrying with the locals. In 597 AD, Pope Gregory the Great sent 
Augustine with a mission to convert the Britons to Christianity. After the conversion of King Aethelberht, Canterbury, as a Roman town, was chosen by Augustine as the centre for an episcopal See in Kent, and an abbey and cathedral were built. Augustine thus became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. The town's new importance led to its revival, and trades developed in pottery, textiles and leather. By 630 AD, gold coins were being struck at the Canterbury mint. In 672 AD, the Synod of Hertford gave the see of Canterbury authority over the entire English Church.

In 842 and 851,
Canterbury suffered great loss of life during Danish raids. In 978, Archbishop Dunstan re-founded the abbey built by Augustine, and named it St Augustine's Abbey. A second wave of Danish attacks began in 991, and in 1011, the cathedral was burnt and Archbishop Alphege killed. Remembering the destruction caused by the Danes, the inhabitants of Canterbury did not resist William the Conqueror's invasion in 1066. William immediately ordered a wooden motte-and-bailey castle to be built by the Roman city wall. In the early 12th Century, the castle was rebuilt with stone.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, Lanfranc (1070-1077) became the first Norman Archbishop of
Canterbury. He thoroughly rebuilt the ruined Saxon cathedral in a Norman design based heavily on the Abbey of St. Etienne in Caen, of which he had previously been abbot. The new cathedral was dedicated in 1077....more

After the murder of Archbishop 
Thomas Becket at the cathedral in 1170, Canterbury became one of the most notable towns in Europe, as pilgrims from all parts of Christendom came to visit his shrine. 

The Black Death hit
Canterbury in 1348. At 10,000, Canterbury had the 10th largest population in England; by the early 16th century, the population had fallen to 3,000. In 1363, during the Hundred Years' War, a Commission of Inquiry found that disrepair, stone-robbing and ditch-filling had led to the Roman wall becoming eroded. Between 1378 and 1402, the wall was virtually rebuilt, and new wall towers were added. During the Peasants' Revolt, of 1381, the castle and Archbishop's Palace were sacked, and Archbishop Sudbury beheaded in London. In 1413, Henry IV became the only sovereign to be buried at the cathedral. Canterbury was granted a City Charter, in 1448, which gave it a mayor and high sheriff. After 400 years of building, in 1504, the cathedral's main tower, the Bell Harry Tower, was completed.

During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the city's priory, nunnery and three friaries were closed. St Augustine's Abbey, the 14th richest in England at the time, was surrendered to the Crown, and its church and cloister were levelled. The rest of the abbey was dismantled over the next 15 years, with part of the site bring converted to a palace. Thomas Becket's shrine in the Cathedral was demolished and all the gold, silver and jewels removed to the Tower of London. Becket's images, name and feasts were obliterated throughout the kingdom, ending the pilgrimages.

By the 17th century,
Canterbury's population was 5,000; of whom 2,000 were French-speaking Protestant Huguenots, who had begun fleeing persecution and war in the Spanish Netherlands during the mid-16th Century. The Huguenots introduced silk weaving to the city, which by 1676 had outstripped wool weaving.

In 1620, Robert Cushman negotiated the lease of the Mayflower, at 59 Palace Street, for the purpose of transporting the Pilgrims to America.
During the English Civil War in 1647, riots broke out when Canterbury's puritan mayor banned church services on Christmas Day. The rioters' trial the following year led to a Kent revolt against the Parliamentarian forces, contributing to the start of the second phase of the war. However,
Canterbury surrendered peacefully to the Parliamentarians after their victory at the Battle of Maidstone.

By 1770, the castle had come into disrepair, and many parts were demolished during the late 18th century and early 19th century. In 1787, all the gates in the city wall, except for Westgate and the city jail, were demolished, as a result of a commission that found them impeding to new coach travel. By 1820, the city's silk industry had been killed by imported Indian muslins. The 
Canterbury and Whitstable Railway, the world's first passenger railway, was opened in 1830. Between 1830 and 1900, the city's population grew from 15,000 to 24,000. Canterbury Prison was opened, just outside the city limits, in 1808.

During the First World War, a number of barracks and voluntary hospitals were set up around the city, and in 1917, a German bomber crash-landed near Broad Oak Road. During the Second World War, 10,445 bombs were dropped in 135 separate raids destroying 731 homes and 296 other buildings in the city, including the Simon Langton Grammar School, with the death of 115 people. Before the end of the war, architect Charles Holden drew up plans to redevelop the city centre, however, locals were so opposed that the Citizens' Defence Association was formed and swept to power in the 1945 municipal elections. Post-war rebuilding of the city centre eventually began 10 years after the war ended. A ring-road was constructed outside the city walls sometime after, in stages, to alleviate growing traffic problems in the centre, which was later pedestrianised. The biggest expansion to the city occurred in the 1960s, with the arrival of the University of Kent, and Christ Church College. The 1980s saw visits from Pope John Paul II and Queen Elizabeth II, and the beginning of the annual
Canterbury Festival. One of Canterbury's other more famous visitors was Gandhi, who famously helped rebuild part of the damage caused to the cathedral after a lighting storm.