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Kent Online Parish Clerks

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Canterbury Cathedral
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Canterbury Overview Parish

     Canterbury Overview - A View of the City

To view a plan of Canterbury as it was in 1825 click here.  if you are using Internet Explorer hold your mouse over the lower right corner of the image.  In a few minutes a "resize" square will appear.  Click on that square to make the plan larger.  If you are using Firefox, as soon as the image loads your cursor should be replaced with an enlarging eyeglass.  Simply click on the image to make it larger.
Online Parish Clerks for the various parishes within Canterbury are set out on individual parish pages.  See the links at the bottom of this introduction to the individual parish pages for parishes deemed to be part of Canterbury whether inside or outside of the city walls.  On the individual parish pages you will also find links to resources that are specific to a particular parish.
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A city in Kent, and a diocese in Kent and Surrey.  The city partly forms a district of itself, and is partly in the districts of Bridge and Blean.  It stands on Watling Street, the river Stour, and the London and Dover railway, 6 miles south-by-east of Whitstable, and 55 by road, but 65 by railway, east-south-east of London.  Railways go from it in five directions, toward Whitstable, London, Ashford, Dover, and Ramsgate;  and give it communication with all the principal towns in the kingdom.  Its site is a valley, surrounded by hills;  its appearance, as seen from any point, is highly picturesque;  and its environs are diversified, and very pleasant.


Canterbury rose prior to the era of authentic history;  and comes into view as a British town under the name of Dwrhwern.  The Romans made it one of their principal stations;  rebuilt and strengthened it, over nearly the whole area occupied by the modern town;  and called it Durovernum.  The Saxons made it the capital of the kingdom of Kent;  and called it Cantwarabyrig, "the stronghold of the men of Kent."  The arrival of Augustine in 597, followed by the conversion of Ethelbert, gave it consequence as the source of Christianity to England, and as the cradle of the metropolitical see.  The Danes took it in 843, 852, 918, and 1,011;  but were repelled by successively Elfleda and Canute.  It had a castle before the Conquest;  and was called Civitas Cantuariæ at Domesday.It had begun, at the fall of the heptarchy, to be eclipsed by Winchester and London;  and it continued, for ages, to decrease in comparative importance;  but, at the murder of Thomas à Becket in its cathedral in 1170, it burst into celebrity as one of the most notable towns in Europe.  Pilgrims of all ranks, from all parts of Christendom, crowded to its gates;  and the romancers placed it side by side with Cologne and Compostella.  Henry II visited it in 1172, 1179, and 1184;  Richard I, in 1194;  Richard II, in 1389;  and Henry VIII, the emperor Charles V, and the Queen of France, in 1519.  Elizabeth also visited in 1573;  Charles I, in 1625;  and Charles II, in 1660.  Other historical notices will occur in our accounts of the ancient buildings.

Walls and Streets

Walls most probably were built around the town by the Romans;  walls certainly stood around it in the time of the Saxons;  new walls and a ditch were formed in the time of Richard I;  and these were renovated, in 1374-81, by Archbishop Simon of Sudbury.  The area within them has been found to contain many Roman bricks, pavements, vases, lachrymatories, and personal ornaments, at about 6 or 9 feet beneath the surface;  and therefore was occupied by Roman houses.  The walls were 6 feet thick, composed of large masses of chalk, cemented with a strong mortar, and lined and faced with flint;  were surmounted by twenty-one turrets, at equal distances;  and had six gates.  Portions of the walls, with two or three of the turrets, still stand in Broad-street.  The west gate also still stands, contiguous to the river;  and is a noble embattled structure, flanked by two lofty round towers.  The ditch around the walls was original 150 feet wide;  but most of it is now built upon, or converted into gardens.  Part of the present town is without the walls, and much is modern, handsome, and substantial;  but most of it within the walls is ancient.  The High Street presents gabled ends and projecting fronts.  Alleys and lanes toward the cathedral and its precincts look antiquely picturesque.  Mercery Lane, leading off the High Street, was named from the mercery stalls at which pilgrims bought memorials of their visit, and contains some window arches of the "Checquers of the Hope", noted by the lively and laughter-loving Chaucer;  and the first opening west of this lane shows part of the court into which the pilgrims rode.  An inn still standing, called the Red Lion, entertained the ambassadors of Charles V in 1520;  and another ancient but modernized inn, called the Star, in the suburb of St. Dunstan, on the way from the railway station to the centre of the city, was a hostel for pilgrims who arrived after the shutting of the gates at night-fall.  The city within the walls extends about 1/2 a mile from east to west, and somewhat more from north to south;  and has an oval outline.  "No city", remarks Mr. Walcott, "can shew a greater number of churches, monuments, and sites of interest;  and no city has done less to preserve them.  Till within a hundred years, townwalls, gates, towers, and old buildings, stood as in centuries since;  but happily, a better feeling is now prevalent, and the good work of restoration and repair has been begun."

Public buildings

The guild hall, at the corner of High Street and Guildhall Street was built in 1439, and rebuilt in 1697;  has been exteriorly modernized;  and contains pieces of ancient armour, and some curious portraits.  The court or sessions house is a modern structure, in the suburb of St. Augustine.  The city jail is partly the upper portion of the west gate, partly a contiguous erection of 1826;  and has capacity for 21 male and 4 female prisoners;  but is fit only to be used as a lock-up, and for debtors.  The county jail adjoins the court house, in the suburb of St. Augustine;  is an erection of 1808, on the radiating plan, with the keeper's house and chapel in the centre;  and has capacity for 77 male and 30 female prisoners.  The music hall is in St. Margaret Street.  The theatre is in Guildhall Street;  and was built in 1861.  The royal cavalry barracks were built in 1794, form three sides of a square, and present a striking appearance.  The old infantry barracks were built in 1798, with accommodation for 2,000 men;  formed, for some time, a station for the horse and foot artillery;  and are now to be used for depots of cavalry.  The new infantry barracks were built in 1811.  The keep of the ancient castle stands in Castle Street, adjacent to the site of one of the city gates;  measures 88 feet by 80;  and is now used as a gas work.  The castle was taken, without resistance, in the time of King John, by Louis of France;  became afterwards a prison;  and was notable for the incarceration of Jews.  The mound on which the donjon stood, now called the Dane John, has, along with part of the city walls, been converted into a city mall, 1,130 feet long, laid out in spiral walks and shrubberies, and commanding a grand view of the cathedral.  An adjacent field, outside the walls, was the scene of the martyrdoms in the reign of Mary, and bears the name of Martyrs' field.  The Archbishop's palace, founded in the time of the Saxons, rebuilt by Lanfranc and exended by Hubert Walter and Stephen Langton, stood in Palace Street;  but is now represented by little else than an arched doorway.  This was the scene of the death of the Black prince;  of the prelude of the murder of Thomas a Becket;  of the bridal feast of Edward I;  and of banquets to Henry VIII, Charles V and Elizabeth.  Other public buildings will be noticed in subsequent paragraphs.

Ancient Monasteries

An abbey was founded by St. Augustine, outside the walls, in the eastern suburb of Longport.  It was designed by him mainly as a mausoleum for bishops and kings;  it became the burial place of himself and his successors, and of Ethelbert and his successors;  it possessed much grandeur as an edifice, and great wealth and consequence as a monastery;  it was always regarded as more sacred and important than the cathedral, till the latter outshone it by means of the glory of A'Becket's shrine;  and it competed to the last with the convent of Christ Church in the splendours and fetes of its guest hall.  The buildings of it were greatly injured at the Reformation;  were, some time after, partly converted into a royal palace;  were subsequently given to Lord Woton;  were several times damaged by fire and by flood;  were eventually degraded to the uses of a brewery;  and were purchased, in 1844, by A. J. Beresford Hope, Esq., to give place to a Missionary college.  Richard II and his queen were guests in them, in their original condition;  and Elizabeth, Charles I, Henrietta and Charles II were in them when a palace.  Their guest hall seems to be preserved in the refectory of the Missionary college;  but the only other portions of them which remain are some wall fragments of late Norman character, the cemetery gate built in the time of Richard II, and a superb great gateway built in 1287, flanked by two turrets and embattled.  A ruined chapel, 31 feet by 21, at the north-east angle of the cemetery, was originally Ethelbert's heathen place of worship;  was changed, at his conversion, into a Christian church, dedicated to St. Pancras;  and was rebuilt in 1387.  A Dominican friary, in St. Peter's Street, was founded in the time of Henry III;  and has left considerable remains.  Part of it was formed into private dwellings and a wool house;  part became a Baptist meeting house;  and the refectory, with windows high in the wall, is now a Unitarian chapel, and was noted for the preaching of Defoe.  A Franciscan friary, in the same vicinity, was founded in 1220;  but has disappeared.  Lord Badlesmere, steward of the household to Edward II, and many other men were buried in it.  A priory of St. Gregory, for augustinian black canons, in Northgate Street, was founded by Lanfranc;  but also has disappeared.  A house of the Knights templars stood near the Dominican friary;  and, after the suppression of the Templars, was used by the priests of the Black Prince's chantry.  A Benedictine nunnery, in the eastern suburb, contiguous to Watling Street, about 1/4 of a mile from the city walls, was founded by Archbishop Anselm;  had, for one of its nuns, Elizabeth Barton, the "Maid of Kent", after her removal from Aldington;  and has left some small remains.


Relic-making and the supplying of the wants of pilgrims were the only trade in the Romish times.  Silk weaving was introduced by refugee Walloons and French protestants after the Reformation.  This flourished for a period;  but gave place to the manufacture of cotton and silk;  and that also has ceased.  Some trade in wool is now carried on;  but the chief source of industry is the export of agricultural produce, especially hops.  Markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday;  and a fair on 11 October.  The city has a head post office, a money order office and a savings bank, two railway stations with telegraph, two banking offices, and several good inns;  and publishes seven weekly newspapers.  Races are run in April and August, over an uneven course of two miles, on Barnham downs.

The District

The registration district contains the parishes of All Saints, St. Mildred, St. Alphage, St. Mary Northgate, St. Andrew and St. Mary Bredman, St. George the Martyr, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Margaret, St. Martin, St. Paul, St. Mary Bredin and St. Peter, part of the parish of Holy Cross, and the extra-parochial places of St. John's Hospital precincts, Old Castle precincts, Eastbridge Hospital precincts, Black Prince's Chantry precincts, and Whitefriars' House.  The return for St. Paul's parish includes Longport, which is a borough under the old common law division of the county, and St. Augustine's abbey precinct, the precise limits of which are not known.  Acres of the district, 3,121.  Poor rates in 1866, £6,986.  Population in 1861, 16,643.  Houses, 2,919.  Marriages in 1866, 164;  births 487 - of which 25 were illegitimate;  deaths, 399 - of which 118 were at ages under 5 years and 11 at ages above 85.  Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 1,548;  births, 3,980;  deaths, 3,517.

The places of worship in 1851 were 13 of the Church of England, with 4,886 sittings;  1 of Independents, with 650 sittings;  3 of Baptists, of 670 sittings;  1 of Quakers, with 125 sittings;  1 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 1,100 sittings;  1 of Primitive Methodists with 500 sittings;  1 of Lady Huntingdon's Connexion, with 275 sittings;  and 1 of Jews with 53 sittings.  The schools were 8 public day schools, with 1,292 scholars;  44 private day schools, with 867 scholars;   and 10 Sunday schools, with 1,044 scholars.

The Borough

The city includes all the registration district, also parts of Holy Cross, Nackington, Thanington, Patrixbourne, Littlebourne, and Fordwich parishes in the district of Bridge;  also Archbishop's Palace and Christchurch precincts, Staplegate and St. Gregory villes, and parts of St. Dunstan and Hackington parishes in the district of Blean.  It is a seat of sessions, a place of elections, the head of an excise collection, and a head quarters of militia.  It received municipal privileges from Henry II, and an incorporation charter from Henry VI;  is governed by a mayor, a sheriff, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors;  and sends two members to parliament.  Real property, £51,590.  Direct taxes, £11,498.  Electors in 1861, 1,837.  Population in 1841, 15,435;  in 1861, 21,324.  Houses, 3,908.  The city gives the title of Viscount to the Manners-Suttons.  Gostling and Somner, the antiquaries, Dean Neville, Dr. Linacre, Aphra Behn, Marlowe, Richard the great Earl of Cork, and Lord Tenterden were natives.


The livings within the city are the rectory of All Saints, with the rectories of St. Mary in the Castle and St. Mildred;  the rectory of St. Alphage, with the vicarage of St. Mary Northgate;  the rectory of St. Andrew, with the rectory of St. Mary Bredman;  the vicarage of St. Dunstan;  the rectory of St. George the Martyr, with the rectory of St. Mary Magdalene;  the vicarage of St. Gregory the Great;  the rectory of St. Margaret;  the rectory of St. Martin, with the vicarage of St. Paul;  the vicarage of St. Mary Bredin;  and the rectory of St. Peter, with the vicarage of Holy Cross, Canterbury;  and all are in the diocese of Canterbury.  Value of All Saints, £150;  of St. Alphage, £150 with a habitable glebe house;  of St. Andrew, £203 with a habitable glebe house;  of St. Dunstan, £120;  of St. Peter, £120 with a habitable glebe house;  of St. George the Martyr, £140 with a habitable glebe house;  of St. Gregory the Great, not reported;  of St. Margaret, £120 with a habitable glebe house;  of St. Martin, £300;  of St. Mary Bredin, £149 with a habitable glebe house.  Patron of All Saints, the Lord Chancellor;  of St. Alphege, St. Dunstan, and St. Gregory the Great, the Archbishop of Canterbury;  of St. Andrew, the Archbishop for two turns, and the Dean and Chapter for one;  of St. George the Martyr, the Dean and Chapter;  of St. Margaret, the Archdeacon;  of St. Martin and St. Peter, the Archbishop and the Dean and Chapter alternately;  of St. Mary Bredin, the Rev. H. Lee Warner.

St. Mildred's church occupies the site of a previous church;  is partly later English;  consists of three aisles and three chancels, with a square tower;  includes Roman bricks in its walls;  and contains monuments of the Attwoods, the Cranmers, and others.

St. Alphage's church, in Palace Street, is of considerable antiquity;  consists of two aisles and two chancels, with a square tower;  and has some curious epitaphs.

St. Andrew's church superseded a previous one about 1763;  is a brick structure;  and consists of two aisles and a chancel, with a steeple.

St. Mary Bredman's church shows Norman features;  and has a monument of Herne, the historian of Reculver.

St. Dunstan's church, without the walls, is a modernized ancient structure, with Norman features;  consists of two aisles, a small western chancel, and two large eastern ones, with western tower and contiguous half-circular tower;  and contains a piscine, a font, an ancient chantry, and the burial vault of the Ropers, with the head of Sir Thomas More.  A brick gateway nearly opposite, now part of a brewery, is a remnant of the Ropers' manorhouse, where Margaret, the learned daughter of Sir Thomas More, spent her married life.

St. George's church is a modernized, ancient Norman structure;  consists of two chancels and two aisles, with a square tower and a narrow turret;  and contains an ancient octagonal font and a brass of 1531.

St. Mary Magdalene's church, in Burgate Street, shows Norman features, of the earliest Norman time;  has a tower, added in 1503;  and contains a fine, old, octangular, Norman font.

St. Gregory's church without the walls, beyond Broad Street, is a modern edifice in the early English style, by Scott.

St. Margaret's church, in St. Margaret's Street, has suffered much from mutilation;  was partially restored in 1831;  consists of three chancels and three aisles, with a square tower;  and contains a monument of Somner, the city historian.

St. Martin's church, without the walls, on a hill, with a fine view, about 1/2 a mile from the cathedral, was originally the oratory of Queen Bertha;  became the first church or cathedral of St. Augustine, and afterwards the church of a resident suffragan bishop;  is a small rough-cast edifice, rebuilt at a remote date on the site of the original church, and including portions of that church's walls, with Roman bricks and fragments of Roman mortar;  was recently well restored, at the expense of the Hon. Daniel Finch, auditor of the cathedral;  has modern stained glass windows, with subjects of its early history;  and contains a large Norman font, traditionally alleged to have been that in which Ethelbert was baptized.  Byzantine and Merovingian looped coins have been found in the churchyard.

St. Paul's church is early English;  comprises two chancels and two aisles, with a rudely formed square tower;  and contains a very curious pillared font, and a tomb of Admiral Rooke.

St. Mary Bredin's church was originally Norman;  was rebuilt in 1867, at a cost of £4,000;  and is in the early English style, of flint with dressings of Bath stone.

St. Peter's church, at the corner of St. Peter's lane, has very thick walls, curious square columns, and an old square font.

Holy Cross church, close to Westgate, was rebuilt about 1381;  and consists of three aisles, and a chancel, with a square tower.  A suite of Carmelite conventual buildings, comprising church, convent, and farm offices, after designs by Pugin, on a site of thirty acres, within a high brick wall enclosure, to cost £34,354 for the buildings alone, was contracted for in 1863 by Miss Hales, proprietress of Hales Place estate, (on which the Royal Agricultural Society of England held their show in 1860,) to be erected on her own grounds and at her own expense.

Schools & Hospitals

The King's school, already incidentally mentioned, was founded by Henry VIII, for the education of 50 scholars from all parts of the kingdom;  and has about 24 scholarships or exhibitions in Cambridge university.  A portion of its old buildings which still stood was taken down in 1863, to give place to new erections.  The blue-coat school was founded by the city corporation out of a gift by Queen Elizabeth of an hospital and its lands;  clothes, maintains, and educates 16 boys;  and has an income of £475.  The grey-coat school educates 30 boys and 30 girls;  and is supported chiefly by the dean and chapter.  St. Augustine's missionary college, at St. Augustine's abbey, was incorporated in 1848;  consists of warden, sub-warden, and six fellows;  trains young men for the service of the Church of England in the distant dependencies of the empire;  possesses endowments and exhibitions from a number of different benefactors;  and forms a quadrangle, including hall, chapel, library, cloisters, and corridor, in the monastic style, by Butterfield.  The philosophical institution, in Guildhall-street, was built by subscription, in 1826;  is an ornamental edifice, with Ionic portico;  and contains a museum with some interesting collections.

Eastbridge hospital was founded either by Lanfranc or by A'Becket, originally to receive "wayfaring and hurt men";  maintains inmates, and gives out-door relief;  is connected with a school for 20 children, founded by Whitgift;  and has an income of £512.  St. John's hospital was founded by Lanfranc;  was recently restored;  includes an ancient, arched, wooden gateway;  and has an income of £485.  Harbledown hospital also was founded by Lanfranc;  possesses still its original chapel;  and has an income of £280.  Jesus' hospital was founded in 1595, by Sir John Boys, for persons above 55 years of age;  and has an income of £618.  Maynard's hospital was founded in the time of Henry II;  and has an income of £2,144.  Cogan's hospital, for clergymen's widows, was founded in 1657;  and has an income of £248.  Hackington hospital has £26;  Smith's alms-houses, £260;  Harris's, £68.  The Kent and Canterbury infirmary contains accommodation for about 200 patients;  and is liberally supported by annual subscriptions.  The total amount of endowed charities is £4,899.

The Diocese

Canterbury, at once as a bishopric, as an archbishopric, and as the metropolitan see of England, dates from St. Augustine.  Among its prelates were Dunstan, Theodore, Lanfranc, Anselm, Pascal II, A'Becket, Langton, Bradwardine, Langham, Chichele, Warham, Cranmer, Pole, Parker, Whitgift, Laud, Sancroft, Wake, Tillotson, Tenison, Secker, Sutton, and Howley.  The archbishop ranks as first peer of the realm, next to the royal family;  and places the crown on the sovereign's head, at a coronation.  His seats are Lambeth Palace and Addington park;  and his income is £15,000.  His archiepiscopal jurisdiction extends over twenty suffragan bishops;  and includes all Wales, and all England except the six northern counties.

The diocese includes all Kent, except the parish of Charlton, Lee, Lewisham, Greenwich, Woolwich, Eltham, Plumstead, Deptford St. Nicholas, part of Deptford St. Paul, and the city and deanery of Rochester.  It includes likewise the part of Surrey comprising the parishes of Addington and Croydon, and the district of Lambeth Palace.  Its population, in 1861, was 474,603, inhabiting 88,073 houses.  It is divided into the archdeaconries of Canterbury and Maidstone.  The chapter includes a dean with £2,000 a year, two archdeacons, six canons, and six minor canons.  Eight deaneries are comprised in each of the two archdeaconries;  and from eleven to thirty-one livings are in each deanery.1

1 John Marius Wilson, comp.  The Imperial Gazatteer of England and Wales. (London, England: A. Fullerton & Co., 1870).