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Canterbury City Wall

In the civil parish of Canterbury.
In the historic county of Kent.
Modern Authority of Kent.
1974 county of Kent.

OS Map Grid Reference: TR145574
Latitude 51.28142° Longitude 1.07567°

Canterbury City Wall has been described as a certain Urban Defence.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Wall built along line of the roman wall. Rebuilt in stone from 1370's, more than half the circuit survives with bastions with early gunports and the West gate also survives. Murage granted in 1378, 1379, 1385, 1399 and 1402.

Westgate is the largest surviving city gate in England. There was a gate here at the time of the Norman Conquest. Whether there was a Roman Gate or not is still a subject of doubt; it is not clear if the settlement in those days extended as far as Westgate, though the latest deductions by the archaeologists move them to accept the existence of a Roman Westgate on this site. The early gate had over it a little parish church, that of Holy Cross. In 1379, both church and gate were taken down, the church being rebuilt in its present situation adjacent to the gate, which was reconstructed by Simon of Sudbury, the Archbishop who met his death at the hands of the revolted peasants when they occupied London in 1381. It consists of two huge drum towers, 60 feet in height, flanking a great entrance, which even nowadays is large enough to accommodate the biggest double-decker bus. The entrance was originally protected by wooden doors, a portcullis and a draw-bridge. As a mark of gratitude the Mayor and Corporation were wont to go to pray at Sudbury's tomb in the Cathedral every year, except when they were quarrelling with the monks, when they held the service under the arch of Westgate itself. In 1450, the Mayor and Citizens captured the rebel known as Bluebeard the Hermit, and handed him over to King Henry VI, who executed him and sent his head back to Canterbury as a souvenir of the episode, to be stuck on Westgate. From the 15th century the gate became the City prison. Some centuries back the guardrooms, used as cells, were lined with massive timbering, and the portcullis was formed into the top of the condemned cell erected in the main chamber over the roadway. (Urry, 1948)
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Sources of information, references and further reading
  • Websites (Gatehouse is not responsible for the content of external websites.)
  • Books
    • Salter, Mike, 2013, Medieval Walled Towns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 39-43
      Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 45, 308, 312
      Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Late Medieval Siege: 1200-1500 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 137
      Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus) passim
      Salter, Mike, 2000, The Castles of Kent (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 23
      Bragard, P., Termote, J. and Williams, J., 1999, Walking the walls: historic town defences in Kent, Côte d'Opale and West Flanders (Maidstone: Kent County Council) p. 18-22
      Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 111-13
      Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 92-116 (plan) online copy
      King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 239
      Frere, S.S., Stow, S. and Bennett, P., 1982, The Archaeology of Canterbury Vol. 2, Excavations on the Roman and Medieval Defences of Canterbury (Maidstone: Kent Archaeological Society for the Canterbury Archaeological Trust)
      Barley, M.W., 1975, 'Town Defences in England and Wales after 1066' in Barley (ed) The plans and topography of medieval towns in England and Wales (CBA Research Report 14) p. 57-71 plan p. 6 download/view online
      Turner, H.L., 1971, Town Defences in England and Wales (London) p. 148-54
      O'Neil, B.H.St.J., 1960, Castles and Cannon: A Study of Early Artillery Fortifications in England (Oxford: Claredon Press) p. 7, 12, 19-20, 38-9, plates 4, 6, 10
      Urry, Wm, 1948, Canterbury Mayoral Quincentenary
      Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co) p. 204-5
      Gould, I. Chalkley, 1908, in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Kent Vol. 1 p. 403-4 online copy
      Sands, Harold, 1907, 'Some Kentish Castles' in Ditchfield and Clinch, Memorials of Old Kent (London) p. 212-4 online copy
      Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 302-3 online copy
      Hasted, Edward, 1800, The history and topographical survey of the county of Kent Vol. 11 p. 69-74 online transcription, 74-78 online transcription
      Grose, Francis, 1785 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 3 p. 5-7, 113-14, 120 online copy
  • Periodical Articles
    • Pratt, S., 2009, 'Two 'new' town gates, Roman buildings and an Anglo-Saxon sanctuary at St Mildred's Tannery, Canterbury' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 129 p. 225-38 esp. 235
      Creighton, Oliver, 2006, ''Castles of Communities': Medieval Town Defences in England; Wales and Gascony' Château Gaillard Vol. 22 p. 75-86
      Selkirk, A., 1981, 'Canterbury' Current Archaeology Vol. 7.9 p. 269-75
      Kenyon, J.R., 1981 'Early Artillery Fortifications in England and Wales: a Preliminary Survey and Re-appraisal' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 138 p. 207-8
      Tatton-Brown, T., 1981, 'Building recording: West Gate, Canterbury' Annual Report 1980-81, Canterbury Archaeological Trust p. 14, 16
      Tatton-Brown, T., 1978-80, 'Canterbury' Current Archaeology Vol. 6 p. 78-82
      Tatton-Brown, T., 1976, 'Excavations in 1976 by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust: 16 Pound Lane, Canterbury' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 92 p. 241-41
      1973, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 17 p. 169 download copy
      1970, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 14 p. 182 download copy
      Millard, 1969, Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 84 p. 252-3 (on the ditch)
      1960, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 4 p. 149 download copy
      Livett, 1933, Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 45 p. 92-114
      Home, G., 1929, 'Canterbury walls (RAI meeting)' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 86 p. 243, 270-2, 275-8 online copy
  • Guidebooks
    • Elder, J., 2003, City Wall Trail (Canterbury: Canterbury City Council)
      Buckingham, C., 1980, The City Gates of Canterbury (Thomas Becket Books)
  • Primary (Medieval documents or transcriptions of such documents - This section is far from complete and the secondary sources should be consulted for full references.)
    • Strachey, J. (ed), 1767-83, Rotuli Parliamentorum; ut et petitiones, et placita in Parliamento (London: Record Commission) Vol. 3 p. 53 (superseded by Given-Wilson, C. (ed), 2005, The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England Access via PROME (subscription required))
      Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1891-1916, Calendar of Patent Rolls (1381-1385) p. 555; (1385-1389) p. 103; CPR (1396-1399) p. 592; CPR (1401-1405) p. 118; CPR (1405-1408) p. 85 (murage grants); (1377-1381) p. 274 (writ to take stonemasons for wall); (1408-1413) p. 104 (licence to buy property to aid maintenance of walls) online copies via

      See the Gatehouse murage pages for full details of murage grants, petitions and other such.
  • Antiquarian (Histories and accounts from late medieval and early modern writers)
    • Somner, Wm, 1640, The Antiquities of Canterbury; or a Survey of that ancient Citie, with the Suburbs and Cathedral
      Speed, John, 1611-12, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain online copy)
      Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 246, 253, 259
      Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1909, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 4 p. 59 online copy
      Celia Fiennes, 1888, Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary (London: Field and Tuer, The Leadenhall Press) Vision of Britain online transcription
  • Other sources: Theses; 'grey' literature; in-house reports; unpublished works; etc.
    • English Heritage, 2014, Heritage at Risk Register 2014 South East (London: English Heritage) p. 41 online copy
      English Heritage, 2013, Heritage at Risk Register 2013 South East (London: English Heritage) p. 39 online copy
      English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 South East (London: English Heritage) p. 51 online copy
      English Heritage, 2011, Heritage at Risk Register 2011 South East (London: English Heritage) p. 47 online copy
      English Heritage, 2010, Heritage at Risk Register 2010 South East (London: English Heritage) p. 43 online copy
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Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
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*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of, the described site.
This record last updated on Saturday, November 15, 2014

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