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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.
Medieval 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)

The City walls are of Roman origin and more than half the medieval circuit survives. They were remodelled in the late 14th century to enable the use of gunpowder weapons in their defence and in this respect are among the earliest examples in the country.
The Roman town wall of Durovernum was built towards the end of the 3rd century AD and had at least one internal tower. Traces of Roman gates are recorded at Queningate, Riding Gate and Worth Gate and recent archaeological excavations have increased knowledge of the Roman fabric. The medieval wall followed the same alignment, a roughly oval circuit c.3000 yards in circumference. The ditch is mentioned in the Domesday Book and the walls were said to be in reasonable repair in c.1140. Repairs were carried out by the Crown later in the 12th century and again c.1290-1320. In 1363 a commission of enquiry described the walls as mostly fallen through age and the ditches obstructed. Work of renewal began by 1378. Archbishop Sudbury had begun the entire rebuilding of the West Gate in 1380 and in the 1390's work commenced on the towers flanking the River Stour. The master mason/ 'architect', Henry Yevele, is recorded as having a role in the construction of the defences and it may be to him that the use of 'keyhole' gun-ports can be attributed. Newingate/St George's Gate was built in c.1470 and may have imitated the West Gate since it had two circular towers. Many of the wall towers were repaired in the 15th and 16th centuries. Most of the west side of the circuit, however, was demolished in 1648. The River Stour towers and parts of Burgate and St. George's Gate were demolished in 1769-92.
A section of Roman city wall survives to a height of c.16 feet and is capped by a continuous row of intact crenellations. This can be seen in the north wall of the Church of St Mary, Northgate. Standing medieval walling, often to parapet level now exists on the north-east, east and south sides but the ditch has been almost entirely filled in and in parts given over to car parking. There were, according to Hasted (1797-1801), twenty-one mural towers and seventeen of these remain. The towers are predominantly square on the north-east, and half-round to the east and south-east with a battered plinth. They are principally built in flint with ashlar quoins. Most contain key-hole gun-ports, one in each face. The wall-walk passed through the towers at first floor level. The West Gate has twin ashlar-faced drum towers with eighteen 'key-hole' gun-ports on three levels in addition to the traditional defensive measures in the gate passage. The gatehouse remains to full height.
Canterbury City walls are among the best preserved in England even though about one third of the circuit has been demolished. Of particular importance is the survival of a stretch of the Roman city wall to full height. The West Gate has considerable historic value being among the first documented defensive structures in the country to have been designed with the deployment of gunpowder artillery in mind. The 'keyhole' gun-ports are well designed and coordinated. They are of a textbook quality.
The surviving lengths of city wall are generally in good condition. In the 1950's there was a programme of rebuilding a long stretch of wall on the east side which favoured visual effect rather than accuracy. A number of gun-ports were also restored clumsily. The West Gate appears to be in good condition. East of the site of North Gate in St. Radegunds Street there has been a recent exposure of early walling. Some of the towers on this side of the city are also in an un-restored state. (Turner 1971)

A Royal licence to crenellate may have been granted in 1380 March 10 (Click on the date for details of this supposed licence.).

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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:06

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