Canterbury Cathedral, Lympne and the Kentish Marshlands
Since the last post I have been out and about in Canterbury, Folkestone and Lympne. Paul Bennett, Director of Canterbury Archaeological Trust, and I have been discussing religious houses and pilgrimage with our MA ‘Medieval Canterbury’ option module postgrads from the University of Kent at two recent sessions. During the first of these Paul conducted an in-depth tour of the cathedral precincts, which meant we looked at both the priory and the medieval archiepiscopal buildings.
This is probably my favourite tour of Paul’s because I am always thrilled by the sheer scale and beauty of the great medieval archiepiscopal hall, which can be glimpsed from the surviving stonework in several places. However this came at the end of the visit and we had first looked closely at the great medieval priory, probably one of the best preserved in England. Because Paul and other members of the Trust have been involved in archaeological excavations and building recording of various structures inside the precincts over several decades, Paul has a fantastic fund of knowledge. Consequently he guided the postgrads through the various building phases from the Anglo-Saxon cathedral to the early Tudor Christ Church gate that may have been finished by Becket’s final Jubilee in 1520, or if not then by the following year. Other architectural treasures that Paul discussed were the chapter house and its fantastically intricate roof made of bog oak; the riot of shields and other roof bosses in the great cloister (see image above) and how the different phases of its building can be understood by reference to these; the blocked doorway into what had been the cathedral nave Lady Chapel, and how to understand the different door and gateways both at the west entrance to the great cloister and into the cathedral at the Martyrdom, including the survival of three of what must have been four carved angels that guarded this latter entrance. Paul also highlighted the sheer size of the refectory and dormitory and how this should be understood in terms of Lanfranc’s ambitious building programme, as well as the works of Prior Wibert, so well-known from his water works plan, and the activities of his successors such as Prior Eastry. But he also noted the times of inactivity and inertia, and thus the need to provide a major refurbishment of the monastery in the decades either side of 1400. Among these later builders were Archbishops Sudbury and Chichele, but also one of the most wealthy and influential senior churchmen of the 15th century, Henry Beaufort bishop of Winchester and Henry IV’s half-brother, who was allowed to build a magnificent, state-of-the-art residence with chimneys and other features it what became known as Meister Omers, now part of the Kings School. However Beaufort had little time to enjoy his mansion, dying soon after in 1447.
To complement this guided visit, the seminar this week explored a range of documents from and about the cathedral priory, as well as looking at other religious houses in Canterbury. Among the materials we examined were plans of the precincts and a detailed drawing of the altars, tombs, chapels and other furnishings in the cathedral. From these we discussed the relationship between the predominantly monastic community and the presence of secular priests who served the various late medieval chantries, such as those of the Black Prince, Henry IV and Archbishop Arundel. This led us on to consider the growth of universities, their endowment and how this might be understood in terms of the spiritual economy. Other topics that came up for discussion were the development of choral music, the consequent growth of choir schools and what this meant with regard to education more generally. Moreover that took us into a discussion on the rise in the importance of Lady Chapels, the greater emphasis on Christ’s humanity and the implications of this on individual and communal worship, particularly the role of affective piety. Finally we considered the value placed on pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, and for Canterbury we drew on the 15th-century Custumal of St Thomas in our discussion. As a result the two hours passed exceedingly quickly and next week we shall move on to explore medieval houses and shops in Canterbury.
Keeping with this medieval theme in some ways, on Tuesday I had the privilege to attend the memorial service for Peter Stutchbury at Lympne parish church. The medieval church is next to the castle if you don’t know it and from the churchyard there are commanding views across Romney Marsh to the sea. St Stephen’s is not one of Kent’s large parish churches, but neither is it tiny having a sizeable north aisle and for the memorial service it was completely packed with many standing in any space they could find. Yet for anyone who knew Peter this is probably no surprise because he was a highly intelligent, funny, well-informed and thoroughly nice man, whose astute business sense and knowledge had taken him from running his own businesses to first local government and then the honorary secretaryship of Kent Archaeological Trust. This is where I met Peter, and, as Mike Clinch said, he had been a pivotal member of the team that had steered the Society into the 21st century, a process that had required considerable thought, care and tact. He had also been a great supporter of the educational activities of the Society and had been extremely helpful when it came to arranging conferences, study days and workshops. Some of these have been joint enterprises, and even when he was far from well for the second time he gave considerable support to procuring KAS sponsorship for the Centre’s Medieval Canterbury Weekend. Moreover, as was abundantly obvious from the often humorous and heart-felt tributes he will be very greatly missed by many – one of Kent’s true gentlemen.
Keeping in the same area geographically, I have spent part of the last week going through the final proofs of an article on medieval farming practices in the Kentish marshlands. This will be coming out in February 2016 in a collection of essays called Custom and Commercialisation in English Rural Society: Revisiting Tawney and Postan, edited by J. Bowen and A. Brown for the University of Hertfordshire Press. As the publicity material explains: ‘Inspired by the classic works of Tawney and Postan, this collection of essays examines their relevance to historians today, distinguishing between their contrasting approaches to the pre-industrial economy and exploring the development of agriculture and rural industry; changes in land and property rights; and competition over resources in the English countryside. These case studies further highlight the regional diversity of medieval and early-modern England by focusing on the mixed economies of south-western, western and northern England, and the role of coastal and urban communities within the rural economy.’ Kent is an ideal case study because of the nature of land holding, the prevalence of gavel kind tenure that included such characteristics as partible inheritance, the early importance and role of the peasant land market and the degree of independence possible in terms of farming practices. Being able to draw on materials I had worked on for the Romney Marsh Research Trust, Archaeology South-East and Canterbury Archaeological Trust, as well as further research, meant that I looked at the various marshland areas of Kent. However as a way of going beyond the general it proved useful to focus, at least at the beginning and end of the essay, on the Wodman family of Ivychurch, especially Thomas and his two sons.
Finally this week I’ll end with a couple of notices: the proposed one-day conference on Richborough is moving forward and a date will be announced shortly; we are continuing to distribute flyers for the Medieval Canterbury Weekend and these are available in outlets across Canterbury, Kent and even as far afield as the Welsh borders; and Diane Heath, one of the sessional lecturers in History here who is also involved in promoting the Weekend, has just gained her doctorate – so many congratulations!