Project Canterbury

S. Augustine's, Canterbury: Its Rise, Ruin, and Restoration.

By G. F. Maclear.

London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1888.



A.D. 1538-1848.

I passed their threshold on an August morn;
Alas! the ruined pride of pillars tall,
Of arches that a soaring vault had borne,
Of clustered pier and wreathen capital.

WE thus come to the third period in the history of S. Augustine's, the period of its desolation.

It is a period of desolation, indeed. Not quite at first, but very soon. The greater buildings, the church, the hall, the abbot's kitchen, the dormitory, being covered with lead, were stripped of it at different times. The walls were either demolished for the sake of the sale of the materials, or, being left uncovered, perished by the inclemency of the weather. Sufficient, however, was left for a royal palace for the use of Henry VIII., and in 1540 Lady Anne of Cleves was lodged here on her way from Calais, and highly feasted before she went to meet the King at [28/29] Rochester, and to proceed on her journey to London, which led to her own ruin and that of Cromwell, who was executed on Tower Hill, July 28, 1540.

The reign of Edward VI. completed the havoc, and cartloads of treasure were carried off from the great church, while the domains adjoining the precincts were formed into a park for deer and beasts of chase, and called 'the King's New Park.' In the last year of his reign, 1553, the demolished buildings, we are told, [(1) By G. Nicholls, Surveyor of the Palace, under Sir Thomas Moyle.] lay spread over the ground in heaps of ruins and rubbish, and were sold by degrees, at so much a load, to all the neighbouring places. This rubbish was especially from the great church, the walls of the undercroft, broken gravestones, corbel stones, and the pillars of the church southward, [(2) Hasted's Kent, Folio Edn., iv. 659, 660, n.] as well as of the south aisle.

In the second and third year of Philip and Mary, the site of the Abbey was granted by the Queen to Cardinal Pole, and it seemed for awhile as though the devastation would be stayed. But Mary and the Cardinal died within a few hours of each other in 1558, and with the accession of Elizabeth the old scenes of desecration and destruction were renewed. On July 7, 1564, she granted it to William Lord [29/30] Cobham, and in 1573, having dined at Wingham on her way from Dover, she reached Canterbury, escorted by a magnificent calvacade, and proceeded direct to the Cathedral. Before she dismounted, the head boy of the King's School addressed her in a Latin oration, and after complimenting him she stepped from her horse, and attended the service at the Cathedral. Thence she was escorted by Archbishop Parker and other Bishops through the crowded streets, amidst the cheers of the multitude, to her palace at S. Augustine's. The 7th of September was her birthday, and she was sumptuously entertained in the Archbishop's own palace, and sat on a marble chair under a canopy all glittering with gold, while on her right sat the ambassador from France, with a hundred gentlemen in his train. After the banquet the hall was converted into a ball-room, and to the sound of music nobles and ladies joined in stately dances, and at midnight the Queen returned through throngs of people to S. Augustine's. In 1603 James I. granted the Abbey to Robert Cecil, Viscount Cranbourne, afterwards Earl of Salisbury, at the yearly rent of 20l 13s. 4d. [(1) Hasted's Kent, Folio Edn., iv. 662, n.] From him it passed into the possession of Edward, Lord Wotton of Marley, who at times resided in it, and at his death in 1628 gave it to his widow Margaret for her life. Ten years before, [30/31] King James I. granted letters patent to certain persons therein named, of whose skill and industry he had received due information in discovering, searching, and finding out treasure-trove, plate, jewels, copes, vestments, books, and the like, hid, or supposed to be hid, in abbeys, priories, monasteries, churches, chapels, and other places within the realm. He granted them free and full authority for seven years to exercise this right of search, premising only that they should not enter these abbeys without first compounding with the owners or occupiers, and all mayors and justices were ordered to aid them in the task, and all vicars, curates, and churchwardens to deliver up the keys of the abbeys to them or their deputies. In pursuance of these letters patent the Abbey was searched, and the soil around dug up and overturned.

In 1625, Charles I. arrived at Canterbury, and having met his bride, Henrietta Maria, at Dover, brought her to S. Augustine's, and there kept his honeymoon before his journey to the metropolis. Five years afterwards, 1630, Thomas, Lord Wotton, who had succeeded to the possession of the Abbey, died, and gave it with its adjoining lands and [31/32] appurtenances to his wife, Mary, who resided in it during the Great Rebellion. Twice her residence was plundered and a great portion of her effects were taken away and sold by order of the State, and one large picture of the Passion of Christ was publicly burnt by order of the mayor. [(1) Hasted, Folio Edn., iv. 662, n.] She died the same year as the Protector, 1658, and from her the place retained the name of Lady Wotton's Palace,' and the space before it is even now called 'Lady Wotton's Green.' Her youngest daughter, Anne, married Sir Edward Hales, and he thus became possessed of the estate, together with the grounds called the Old Park and the North Holmes adjoining. While he was in possession the Restoration took place, and Charles II. lodged here on his passage through the city, and was entertained with all due honour. During the days of William and Mary, of Anne, and the succeeding Georgian period, men cared less and less for a spot which had once been hallowed by the labours of the earliest pioneers of Christian civilisation in England, the scene of desolation spread more and more, and church and cloister, kitchen and refectory, shared in the common ruin. While the Declaration of American Independence was being declared, and Pitt was Prime Minister, and England was engaged in her struggle with Napoleon Bonaparte, and Wellington was winning his victories, the place sank lower and lower. At the commencement of the Victorian Era, in 1837, [32/33] the entire circuit of the magnificent pile of ancient buildings had well-nigh totally disappeared, save the Gateway of Abbot Fyndon, the Abbot's Private Chapel, and the Guesten Hall. A remonstrance from abroad had alone saved these relics, and Æthelbert's Tower, which had survived the general crash, was, with the assistance of two cannon, levelled with the ground on the 24th of October, 1822. At this time the state of desecration of the once sacred building was truly lamentable. The principal apartments adjoining the gateway were converted into an alehouse; the gateway itself into a brewery, the steam of which defaced and spoilt the beautiful paintings over it. The great court-yard was turned into a bowling-green, the chapel and aisle of the church on the north side into a fives court, and the great room over the gateway, the state bedchamber of the Abbey and the Palace, became first a cockpit, and then a cooling-vat. The condition of things was strikingly illustrated by a picture exhibited two years ago in the Academy. [(1) By the well-known artist, Sidney Cooper, Esq., R.A.] Cattle and pigs are represented feeding as in a farm-yard just before the entrance, and everything betokens a ruin well-nigh as complete as that of Shiloh, scarcely a stone standing of the once venerable pile. It is still more vividly brought before us by [33/34] a bill now preserved in the College Library and dated 1836. It runs as follows:--


(Late of Canterbury Theatre),

Begs most respectfully to inform the Inhabitants of Canterbury and its vicinity, that the above Gardens will open under his direction,






And trusts the entertainments will give that satisfaction, and meet with the support, it will be his study to deserve. The beauty of the Gardens are (sic) known to all, and their appearance will be highly imposing when





Will take place in the Spacious Orchestra erected in the Gardens, for which

(Of the Theatres Royal, Covent Garden and Drury Lane), and

(Late of Royal Gardens, Vauxhall),




And will be opened to the Public without Extra Charge, and for which


Mr. STANMORE is making arrangements with numerous performers for






MR. FENWICK, the Celebrated Artist in FIREWORKS,
Who will have the honor of Firing during the Season,
of which due notice will be given.


One Shilling each Person; Children under Twelve years of age, Half price.

Gardens open at half-past Seven; Performance to commence at Eight.

[36] Such was the state of things when a letter appeared on the 13th of September, 1843, in the English Churchman. It was to the following effect:--

On a bright September morning two pilgrims set forward on their journey towards the ancient and holy city of Canterbury, which they reached in time for the Matin service in that glorious fane. Ushered into the sacred choir by the venerable verger, their spirits were solemnized and refreshed by the holy worship, and prepared to contemplate with awe and veneration that stupendous monument of the piety and skill of the saints of old. Enraptured with the wondrous spectacle, but mourning over the desolation of the Chapter House and Cloister, which are now a receptacle for blocks of wood, they turned their steps towards S. Martin's, that sacred spot so full of holy interest, as the seed-plot of that rich harvest which filled England with her gorgeous temples.

'Proceeding from thence to the ruins of S. Augustine's Abbey, they were disgusted and horrified at the scene of sordid, revolting profanity and desecration which presented itself. These hallowed and time-honoured ruins are now converted into a brewery, pot-house, and billiard-room. Those walls which once resounded with solemn chant and swelling anthem, now re-echo the wild, fiendish revelries of the bacchanalian, or the maddening curses of the gamester. Wearied and heart-stricken, they turned from the sickening spectacle, not, however, without a feeling of satisfaction on learning that God's righteous retribution was about to bring the property to the hammer.

[37] 'May His grace incline the hearts of His servants in the Cathedral of Canterbury, to rescue this inheritance of their forefathers from the hands of the heathen desolates, or dispose some pious and wealthy Catholic to purchase and restore the sacred edifice.--September 13, 1843.'

The writer of this letter, the well-known Robert Brett, of Stoke Newington, records, that while he was surveying the scene before him, he made inquiries of a very old man, who was struck with his interest in the place, and said, 'The place is going to be sold; it's always changing hands, for God Almighty don't seem to prosper anybody who has it.' [(1) See Twenty-five Years at S. Augustine's College, by the Rev. Canon Bailey, p. 25.] But Robert Brett could not have divined, when he thus wrote to the English Churchman, what great weights were to hang on this slender wire.

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