Because ‘War Horse’ has arrived in the cathedral precincts, I thought I would again draw attention to the ‘100 Years since Armistice’ event that will be taking place on Friday 9 November at Canterbury Christ Church. Details of the talks, music and readings during the day-long programme are available by calling 01227 922994.
Before I come to ‘Maritime Kent though the Ages’ this weekend and the great array of speakers, I thought I would very briefly mention that I attended two of the sessions last Saturday of the University of Kent’s Medieval and Early Modern Studies Summer Festival that featured six speakers from Canterbury Christ Church University.
This has been an excellent week in terms of lectures and conferences. On Wednesday evening, the second of the Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society’s winter programme of lectures took place when Dr Doreen Rosman gave a fascinating talk about Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent.
Jeanette Earl mentioned that she had seen a report in the Independent on Thursday, in which the 60 plus writers of the Historical Writers Association had conducted a poll recently at the Harrogate History Festival concerning the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ English monarchs. According to the writers, the worst was Henry VIII who was condemned as “self-indulgent” and a king who “ruled with little more policy than petulant self-gratification”, while his daughter Elizabeth I was voted the best. Interesting choices and yet again I might argue they show just how good the Tudors remain at capturing the public imagination, whether it is a brooding Thomas Cromwell at Wolf Hall or Elizabeth dancing with Robert Dudley – if you don’t know the latter, a contemporary painting at Penshurst Place will enlighten you. Of the others who were at the wrong end of the poll, Charles I is probably not that much of a surprise, and King John similarly came out poorly in the popularity stakes. John’s inclusion is to be expected considering the focus on Magna Carta this year, and on the subject of anniversaries, I might have expected Henry V to have been somewhere near the top of the ‘best’ considering the next big anniversary this year in that of the Battle of Agincourt. Yet, just as there are some noteworthy Tudor monarchs, their medieval predecessors are actually equally interesting although some may be less well known more generally.
King Henry IV (d.1413) and Queen Joan of Navarre (d.1437)
However for those who come to the Medieval Canterbury Weekend next April 1 – 3, you will get a chance to hear Dan Jones, Helen Castor, David Carpenter and Louise Wilkinson talking about many of the fascinating members of the medieval royals, including those from among the Plantagenets, a highly colourful group of kings, queens and princesses if ever there was. Another royal who will feature, one who spent quite a time as the king-in-waiting but then never actually made it, his son following Edward III instead, is the Black Prince. These royals were complex characters and the Black Prince definitely fits that description, as Michael Jones will discuss on Saturday 2 April. As Prince Edward (the Black Prince name came later) he resides in a fine tomb in Canterbury Cathedral, even though not where he intended, and across the way on the other side of the site of Becket’s shrine is the tomb of Henry IV – who took the throne from the Black Prince’s son Richard II and who definitely did want to be that close to the martyred archbishop’s shrine.
Returning to the poll, it is interesting that Richard III was not mentioned in the report but perhaps Leicester’s activities on his behalf have countered Shakespeare’s image somewhat. Yet if we discount his brother Edward IV, the Lancastrian kings either side: Henry VI and Henry VII may not have been as physically big as Henry VIII but are remarkable and even, perhaps, more controversial. ‘Poor’ Henry VI has in the past been seen as a loser who totally failed to live up to his father’s gigantic reputation as a military commander, and who was more saintly mouse than anything else. However for those who come to hear David Grummitt you will get a more nuanced understanding of his reign and contemporary ideas about kingship. While for those to come to David Starkey’s talk on Henry VII, you will gain insights into an exceedingly interesting personality and a king who can be viewed as sitting uneasily on the cusp of a ‘new’ monarchy.
Thus like their Plantagenet forebears, the Lancastrians (and Yorkist) kings of the 15th century remain fascinating individuals, and the times they lived in are equally remarkable. Indeed the itinerant ‘Fifteenth Century Conference’ will be in Canterbury next week, being based ‘up the hill’ at the University of Kent. A number of royals will be discussed in several of the papers, but equally prominent are senior churchmen such as Archbishop Chichele, Cardinal Beaufort and Cardinal Kemp. Chichele’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral is certainly worth visiting and is an excellent example of the late medieval phenomenon, the transi-tomb where the individual’s effigy is finely dressed on top and devoured by worms below, the skeleton a reminder of what will happen to all. In Chichele’s case he could contemplate his own mortality as he sat opposite his already completed funeral monument. And on that note I will end this week, but just to say that for those of you who are interested in topics outside of kings and queens, the Medieval Weekend has lots of other subjects on offer – from relics and pilgrims, to the Black Death and ‘poxy pigges’, so do check out the webpages at: www.canterbury.ac.uk/medieval-canterbury
Being busy trying to edit the last in the Kent History Project series: Early Medieval Kent, 800–1220, which needs to be finished and off to the publisher by the 1 September this year, I was grateful to a friend who suggested taking a few hours off to watch a cricket match. As a result we watched Kent comfortably beat Hampshire in a 50-overs a side match, although it had looked less comfortable during Hampshire’s opening stand and Kent’s minor batting collapse. It was a very pleasant atmosphere, and walking through the redesigned entrance to accommodate the housing and retail developments that have been built in recent year, it made me think of my research report for Canterbury Archaeological Trust regarding the ‘Bat and Ball’ site as it is designated. Thus as a way of providing something this week, I thought I would draw on a couple of aspects of the site’s history but not the medieval leper hospital, rather the Tudor/Jacobean mansion house that followed it, as happened to so many of Canterbury’s religious houses (and similarly nationwide), and then just a couple of what I think are interesting points about the early cricket ground.
Poor Priests’ map showing St Lawrence house
copyright: Canterbury Cathedral Archives & Library
The ‘death’ of St Lawrence’s hospital was a protracted affair, beginning in 1538 when the hospital site was leased for ninety-nine years to Sir Christopher Hales of Hackington, who may have rented it out to a Canterbury yeoman because Dedyer Tompson styled himself ‘of St Laurence beside Canterbury’ in 1545. At this time a few of the sisters were still there and they were allowed to remain as part of the terms of the agreement, and, indeed, some managed to survive into Elizabeth’s reign, the last having gone or died at some point in the 1560s. Even with the sisters the property attracted considerable interest and there were a number of disputes over who held it in the late 16th century because not only did it comprised a substantial mansion house and subsidiary buildings (barns, stables, a dovehouse, other buildings, orchards and gardens) by this time but the holder also had the St Lawrence Tithery. Being a tithe collector offered rich pickings, especially as the farm land in these Canterbury suburbs was being turned over to the new hop gardens at a time when the demand for beer, and thus hops, was on the increase.
By early in James I’s reign the St Lawrence estate was in the hands of Richard Best, albeit on a lease from the Crown. However we get a really good idea of the estate not from the royal records but from Richard’s probate documents. In 1633 he bequeathed his goods, lands and tenements to his son John, but it is his inventory where we get a far better idea of what this meant regarding the mansion house. Consequently, even though the appraisers may not have mentioned all the rooms in the house, they did list a hall, parlour, study, kitchen, buttery, bakehouse, chamber over the kitchen, a gallery over the parlour, a chamber over the hall, a chamber over the study, a garret over the hall, a barn and podder house. Presumably within the main house on the ground floor were the hall, parlour, study and kitchen, the latter presumably no longer detached, yet still forming a group with the buttery and bakehouse. There were fireplaces in the parlour and study but there is no mention of utensils for fire making in the hall (but there was an iron cradle?). Instead the hall had a plain table and forms, playing tables, a clock and a considerable amount of glassware, perhaps for dining or entertaining. The parlour also seems to have been used for recreation because there was a pair of virginals and six green cushion stools among other things. The study was not just used for the keeping of books, having as well 128 pieces of pewter, much of it old and battered, and a set of scales with weights. The kitchen was well stocked with cooking equipment and utensils, and the buttery and bakehouse were similarly well supplied. The household apparently slept on the first floor. The chamber over the kitchen, that over the study and the gallery over the parlour each had a bedstead and its furniture varying in value between £3 10s and £6 13s 4d. In addition, there were two trundle beds and a servant’s bed in the garret over the hall, but none at all in the chamber over the hall. Several rooms had chests, cupboards and presses, yet only the chamber over the study contained any fire-making equipment. Nevertheless, there would appear to have been enough hearths for the house to have had a forest of chimneys, presumably elegant brick ones that you can still see on late 16th- and 17th-century houses, and can sort-of be seen on the later maps of the St Lawrence estate. There are a number of these in the St Lawrence Tithery collection at the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library, as well as a map of the late Poor Priests’ hospital estate (see above) that came into the hands of the city corporation in Elizabeth’s reign.
Just as a footnote, John Best did not keep the estate, selling it together with the Tithery of St Lawrence to William Rooke, esquire, for £2080. I am going to skip the Rooke family’s residence at St Lawrence and pick up the story again around 1800 when the old mansion house was in a bad state of repair. At some point in the first decade of the 19th century a new house called Nackington House was built and St Lawrence House (except the more modern kitchen apartments) was pulled down and the site grassed over. According to the 1839-tithe map, the field between the house and the Old Dover Road is labelled pasture and that between this field and the junction with Nackington Road is described as arable. Behind the house and 2-acre garden is a 16-acre block of parkland, its southern and eastern boundaries being that of the later cricket field. By the time the tithe map was drawn, the property was owned by Lord Sondes (whose landholdings locally included the Nackington estate) and was occupied by George Mount as part of Winters Farm.
George Mount continued to farm this area even after it started to be used as a cricket ground. From Lord Sondes’ estate records for 1850, a 14-acre block of pasture was known as the cricket field, which suggests that only a few matches were played there and the rest of the time the land was used by Mount for grazing, probably as sheep pasture. Certainly Beverley Cricket Club had begun to play matches at St Lawrence in 1847, but Lord Sondes’ Club is also known to have used Lees Court, where his team played a match against Beverley Cricket Club in 1835.
The St Lawrence Club was formed in 1864 as a consequence of Lord Sondes’ enthusiasm for the game, but it seems the St Lawrence cricket field was still only used for a few games each season. Initially the facilities for players and spectators were basic. However conditions did improve after the club amalgamated with the famous Beverley Kent Club to form the Kent County Cricket Club, the two committees agreeing that St Lawrence would be the county cricket ground. Consequently several improvements were made to the ground in the 1870s, the cost borne by Lord Sondes, as landlord, and the cricket club from its funds. From a picture, published by Barraunds Ltd of London in 1877, the facilities included a number of large tents and a structure that looks like a wooden shed. On one side of the ground is a hedge and there are numerous trees, this parkland atmosphere was noted by contemporaries, the whole area said to be surrounded by hop fields. For the next twenty-five years this arrangement was retained but in 1896 the club purchased the ground and thereafter permanent buildings began to be constructed (prior to this date there had been a thatched wooden shed). A wooden pavilion was built in 1900, three years after the erection of a corrugated iron stand, although many of the structures around the ground were still tents. During the twentieth century, as can still be seen today, there was a considerable building programme, leading to the construction of numerous buildings beyond the boundary rope. As is even more obvious, recently there has been an increasing move to expand the activities available on the site, and even though cricket remains the primary focus, Kent Cricket Club has become a multipurpose venue used by other groups as well as by its staff and members. Such developments have necessarily had a considerable impact on the previously rural nature of the ground, as can be seen when comparing St Lawrence today with photographs of the ground from the late 1940s. Indeed in the last decade such changes have become even more pronounced and as always it is a matter of personal opinion whether this is for the better or not. However from a medievalist’s point of view, the biggest loss has been the missed chance to explore the archaeology of the site of this leper hospital. The limited ‘dig’, led by James Holman of Canterbury Archaeological Trust in this case, having found tantalising glimpses of what seems to have been a relatively prestigious daughter establishment of the great abbey of St Augustine.
To those who have got this far, apologies for the length but it seemed worth taking two ‘snapshots’ in time of this fascinating area of Canterbury. Next week, I promise, it will be shorter!
The last week has brought to light some fascinating discoveries. Firstly it was great to hear about the uncovering of Sandwich’s own copy of the Magna Carta that was unearthed in the town’s collection at Kent History Library Centre by Dr Mark Bateson. Dr Bateson, as an accomplished Latin scholar and archivist, is a great asset to the county’s archive service and thus it is not surprising that he was able to identify this charter even though it is in a poor condition. For as I noted last week literacy and civic record keeping were major features of medieval Cinque Port society and this discovery fits very neatly into the history of developing self-government at Sandwich from the reign of Edward I that Dr Justin Croft discussed in an article in Archaeologia Cantiana (1997).
View from Bell Harry
This fitting together of the pieces of the jigsaw from the archives to provide a better understanding of the past can also be seen in Professor Jackie Eales’ exposition of the career of Elizabeth Elstob (1683–1756), a writer who spent much of her childhood in the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral in the household of her uncle the Rev. Charles Elstob. Her love of learning was apparently fostered by first her mother, then as an orphan by her aunt and uncle, before she joined her brother while he was studying at university and finally at his clerical living in London. As a result she became an expert in French, but far more importantly in Anglo-Saxon which for a woman was a remarkable accomplishment at a time when women’s education was seen as an exceedingly low priority by society. Even though she was justly celebrated during her lifetime, having a considerable number of prominent aristocrats among her patrons, including Robert Harley, the 1st Earl of Oxford (whose collection of manuscripts will be well known to users of the British Library), she was later largely forgotten and thus it is great to hear about Professor Eales’ rehabilitation of her and her pioneering scholastic work on the Anglo-Saxon language – this nation’s mother tongue.
I learnt about Elizabeth Elstob at Professor Eales’ lecture on Wednesday evening to Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society and this inter-relationship between town and gown is a vital part of the Centre for Research in Kent History and Archaeology’s activities. Moreover this is a two-way process, because questions and comments from members of the audience drew out, for example, the importance of clerical links to several prominent Huguenot families within the Canterbury precincts under the later Stuart monarchs. Several members of this audience were similarly present at another meeting of city and university, although this time ‘up the hill’ at Kent’s Medieval and Early Modern Studies research seminar. Again past members of the cathedral community featured heavily, but this time as the protagonists in what has come to be known as the Prebendaries’ Plot of the early 1540s. This plot by the religious conservatives to oust Archbishop Cranmer is especially interesting for the wealth of material uncovered in the Archbishop’s subsequent investigations, which highlighted the polarised nature of the cathedral community between the conservatives and the radicals. Furthermore, such divisions were equally visible across the Canterbury diocese, particularly in certain ‘hotspots’ such as Lenham and surrounding parishes, Sandwich and its immediate hinterland and a cluster of Canterbury parishes. I’ll select just one example to give you a flavour of this religious turbulence and it concerns the activities of Alderman John Toftes in his home parish of St Mary Northgate. This church that once spanned Canterbury’s Northgate (or at least what remains of it) is now owned by Kings and some of you may have attended plays there. The drama involving John Toftes may have been equally riveting for his audience because he was said, by the conservative witnesses, to have read in the church ‘openly and with lowde voice’ the Bible (in English) to several women, including his wife and the local midwife. Presumably the Bible in question was Henry VIII’s and Cranmer’s ‘Great Bible’ that all parishes had been directed to purchase, and because this would have been the responsibility of the churchwardens rather than the incumbent, Toftes and his fellow reformers were in a sense able to taunt the deeply conservative vicar through their possession and use of the Bible in the nave – lay space within the church.
All three of these examples for this week would seem to highlight just how interesting history ‘from below’ can be. Although much is made of the grand history of kings and queens on TV, in books and on history courses, and I’m not decrying its worth, there are other ways of exploring a society’s history, as Michael Wood to a degree did in his account of Shakespeare’s mother last night. And speaking for myself I would want to extend this further, to men such as John Toftes and even further down the social scale to Thomas Makeblyth, a Canterbury barber, whose commitment to ‘Protestantism’ was so strong that he was prepared to risk censure from his fellow parishioners by refusing to process carrying a palm on Palm Sunday and instead read the Bible, and then the following Sunday again refused to process and went into a corner. Even though these men will not feature in the ‘New Developments in Kent History’ conference at Christ Church next month, their counterparts in early modern Kent will be there, men who objected to paying tithes to lay farmers or who sought to get an education for their sons so that they could make a good living in the changing times of Tudor England.
In a week that has seen the final two TV programmes on a year in the life of Canterbury Cathedral, it seems appropriate to mention another event that will similarly shine a spotlight on the city of Canterbury as well as its cathedral.
The Black Prince’s effigy at Canterbury Cathedral
Prince Edward, the Black Prince: an enigmatic figure – tall, well-built, handsome; personally brave, chivalric; a sound military tactician and natural leader; genuinely pious; generous to his friends and yet a stern landlord and today his conduct on campaign can be construed as nothing short of criminal (G. Corrigan, A Great and Glorious Adventure. A Military History of the Hundred Years War (2013), pp. 142-3.
For if the history of Canterbury Cathedral is indeed the history of England, as was said by the commentator, then its medieval past might be envisaged as its golden age, when the international renown of St Thomas Becket’s cult well and truly put Canterbury on the map in medieval Christendom. So with this in mind, I thought I would mention the Centre’s Canterbury History Weekend ‘Exploring the Middle Ages’ that will take place on 1–3 April 2016. This event, staged in conjunction with Canterbury Cathedral, will take place at Canterbury Christ Church University and the Cathedral Lodge, and amongst a splendid array of speakers will be Professors Michelle Brown and Richard Gameson, and acclaimed historians Helen Castor and Ian Mortimer. As a consequence participants will be able to hear lectures on a diverse range of medieval topics, including manuscript treasures, warfare (the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses) and the early Tudors, and there will also be a number of guided visits on offer to include a special exhibition at the cathedral library. Preparations for this event are well under way and it is envisaged that tickets will be available on-line through the University’s website in April 2015, so do watch this space because more information will be forthcoming early next year.