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For other uses, see Canterbury (disambiguation).
Location within the British Isles
Location within the British Isles
St Peter's St, Canterbury, from the West Gate, 1993
St Peter's St, Canterbury, from the West Gate, 1993

Canterbury is a cathedral city in the county of Kent in southeast England. Canterbury is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the primate of the Church of England.



Early history

There has been a settlement since prehistoric times. Bronze Age finds, and Neolithic round barrows have been discovered in the area; and before the Roman arrival Durovernum was the most important settlement in Kent.

Canterbury (known in Latin as Durovernum Cantiacorum) became a Roman administrative centre: it lay at the junction of three roads from their ports of Regulbium (Reculver), Dubris (Dover) and Lemanis (Lympne); and it stood on what has become known as Watling Street. The city walls and one of the city gates remain.

The name Canterbury derives from the Old English Cantwarebyrig, meaning "fortress of the men of Kent". The bury element is a form of borough, which has cognates in words and place names in virtually every Indo-European and Semitic language, as well as others. For a fuller explanation, see under borough.

Religious significance

Ruins of Saint Augustine's Abbey
Ruins of Saint Augustine's Abbey

In 596 Pope Gregory the Great, sent St Augustine to convert England to Christianity. This was the first ever papal mission, St Augustine built a priory on the site of the present cathedral precincts in 597 AD. He also built an abbey outside the city walls where he was buried: as were other early archbishops. Though St. Gregory had planned the division of England into two archbishoprics, one at London and one at York, St. Augustine's success at Canterbury explains how the southern archiepiscopal see came to be fixed there instead of at London. The first beginnings of the diocese are told by St. Bede (Hist. Eccl., I, xxxiii). "When Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, assumed the episcopal throne in that royal city, he recovered therein, by the King's assistance, a church which, as he was told, had been constructed by the original labour of Roman believers. This church he consecrated in the name of the Saviour, our God and Lord Jesus Christ, and there he established an habitation for himself and all his successors". The Ancient Diocese of Canterbury was the Mother-Church and Primatial See of All England, from 597 till the death of the last Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Pole, in 1558.

Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury cathedral

In the 16th Century the Church of England split from Rome under Henry VIII. St Augustine's Abbey was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by Henry VIII, although ruins remain. During this time Canterbury became the centre of the new Church of England, although a Catholic shrine remains. At the same time, the ancient religious school was refounded as the King's School.Canterbury Cathedral is the burial place of King Henry IV and of Edward the Black Prince, but is most famous as the scene of the murder of Thomas a Becket in 1170. As a result of this event, Canterbury became a major pilgrimage site, inspiring Geoffrey Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales in 1387. The Hospital of St Thomas was a place of lodging for pilgrims in the city. The city is also associated with the family of Thomas More and was the birthplace of Christopher Marlowe.

Later history

A tour of Canterbury via canal
A tour of Canterbury via canal

The city became a county corporate in 1461.

French Protestant refugees settled in the city during the sixteenth century: here they introduced silk-making

During World War II the city was severely damaged by bombing after it was selected as one of the cities in England to be targeted by the Luftwaffe in the Baedeker Blitz.

In 1944 the city was celebrated by film directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in their film A Canterbury Tale.

Canterbury today is a major city for tourism with Canterbury Cathedral alone attracting 1.2 million visitors in 2001. It still contains many ancient buildings and modern building development within the medieval town centre is strictly regulated. As of 2004 the Whitefriars area is undergoing major redevelopment and the associated archeological research is called the "Big Dig".


  • Population (Census figures):
    • 1801: 9,500
    • 1861: 16,700
    • 1921: 18,900
    • 1961: 30,400
    • 2001: 42,258 Other statistics for 2001 include:
      • Ethnicity: 94% white. No other classification exceeds 2%
      • Area: 23.54 km²
      • Density: 1,795 / km²
        • Figures for 1801-1961 taken from Kent History Illustrated Frank W Jessup [KCC, 1966]


Canterbury (darkest shade) is only part of the City of Canterbury District, in Kent
Canterbury (darkest shade) is only part of the City of Canterbury District, in Kent

The local government district City of Canterbury covers an area some 13 times larger than the city of Canterbury itself, and includes Herne Bay and Whitstable. The city contains the district wards of Barton, Northgate, St Stephens, Westgate and Wincheap, plus part of the University of Kent (which straddles the city boundary) in the otherwise rural Blean Forest ward. Since October 7, 2004 the 5 wards entirely within the city have been represented by 9 Liberal Democrat, 3 Conservative and 2 Labour councillors, out of the total 50 members of the district council.

The south-western end of Canterbury comprises the parish of 'Thanington without', the rest of the city is unparished.

The parliamentary constituency of Canterbury is represented in Parliament by the Conservative MP Julian Brazier, a Shadow Trade Minister.

Canterbury itself is twinned with Reims in France, while the district participates in the Sister Cities programme with links to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, USA, and Vladimir, Russia.



Canterbury has two railway stations, Canterbury West and Canterbury East, the services from these are operated by South Eastern Trains. Canterbury West is served primarily from London Charing Cross with limited services from Victoria as well as by trains to Ramsgate and Margate. Canterbury East is on the service from London Victoria (journey time around 88 minutes) to Dover. The West station was the earliest to be built. It was opened by the South Eastern Railway from Ashford on 6 February 1846; on 13 April the line to Ramsgate was completed. Canterbury East is the more central of the two stations, although it came later, being opened by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway on 9 July 1860.

Canterbury was also the terminus of the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway which was a pioneer line, opened in 1830, and finally closed in 1953. The locomotive which originally worked the line, Invicta, is displayed at the Museum.


Canterbury is by-passed by the main A2 London to Dover Road. It is about 45 miles from the junction with the M25 London orbital motorway, and 61 miles from central London. The other main road through Canterbury is the A28 from Ashford to Ramsgate and Margate.

The hourly National Express coach service to and from Victoria Coach Station, which leaves from the main bus station is typically scheduled to take 110 minutes.

Educational establishments

The city has many students as it is home to several Higher Education institutions and other colleges. The University of Kent at Canterbury stands on a hill about two miles outside the city centre. Chaucer College is an independent graduate college for Japanese students within the campus of the University. Near the University of Kent is the Franciscan International Study Centre [1], a place of study for the worldwide Franciscan Order. Canterbury Christ Church University [2] is located in the city as is one of the campuses of the University College for the Creative Arts. There is also the Further Education institution, Canterbury College.

Independent secondary schools include St Edmund's School, Kent College, and the world's oldest school The King's School.

State secondary schools include The Archbishop's School, the Simon Langton Grammar School for boys and girls, and the voluntary-aided St Anselm's Catholic School.

Sundry information

The Postcode for the Canterbury area is CT.

The telephone area code is 01227.

The city gave its name to a musical genre known as the Canterbury sound or Canterbury scene (a subgenre of Progressive Rock).

The homeless charity the Scrine Foundation is based in Canterbury. Projects included work on the Street Life Theatre.

Some of Canterbury's famous offspring include: Christopher Marlowe, Michael Powell, Orlando Bloom and Rupert Bear.

Canterbury has three World Heritage sites. These are: Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine's Abbey and St. Martin's Church.

External links

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