The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas (a) Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on Tuesday 29th December, 1170 (by knights acting on what they had interpreted as an instruction from the King, Henry II). The site became an important one of pilgrimage throughout the later Middle Ages (the penitent Henry making the journey barefoot in 1174, the year after Thomas was made a saint). The practice of pilgrimage ceased after the Reformation and Dissolution under Henry VIII in the sixteenth century, but may be said to have resumed in later centuries. Research published by the Chaucer Society in the nineteenth century suggests that the route taken by pilgrims from London to Canterbury ran more less along the line of the old Roman road of Watling Street – or its modern equivalent, the A2 – through Dartford, Rochester and Faversham (note in this context that Rochester is mentioned in the Monk’s prologue, Sittingbourne in the Wife of Bath’s prologue, and Boughton-under-Blean, which is near Faversham, in the Canon Yeoman’s prologue, in “The Canterbury Tales”). Further research from this time suggests that the journey along this – sixty-mile or so – route would probably have taken four days, with overnight stops at each of the three aforementioned towns (where suitable accommodation was available). I follow in the pilgrims’ tracks …
From Rochester, the old Roman road of Watling Street continues to run ESE along the northern edge of the North Downs to Faversham (and beyond). There is an alternative pedestrian route from Chatham to Sittingbourne by way of Gillingham and Upchurch.
Rainham was evidently founded in Saxon times, being mentioned in a charter of 811. Rainham Church (St Margaret of Antioch) was originally built at least as long ago as Norman times, and subsequently rebuilt in the Gothic style in the later Medieval (thirteenth through fifteenth centuries). It contains some fine Medieval wall paintings.
Newington was founded in Roman times, and refounded in Saxon times, its name translating from Old English as “new town”.
Newington Church (St Mary the Virgin) was originally built in the eleventh century.
Newington Manor dates back to the fifteenth.
Key Street was a small village, originally founded in the Medieval period, that has been essentially entirely lost to redevelopment.
Sittingbourne was probably originally founded in pre-Roman times, and grew considerably in size after the Roman conquest, on account of its proximity to the main road of Watling Street, and also to an important port on the Swale (Milton Regis). It then grew further in the Middle Ages, again on account of its proximity to Watling Street, which had by then become the main pilgrimage route from London to Canterbury.
By the thirteenth century Sittingbourne Church (St Michael) had been built, as had no fewer than thirteen hostelries on the High Street, to serve the needs of passing pilgrims.
The surviving Red Lion dates back in part to the fifteenth century.
Luddenham was probably originally founded in Saxon times, and is mentioned – albeit as Cildresham – in the Norman Domesday Book of 1086, at which time the manor was owned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent.
Luddenham Church (St Mary) was originally built in the twelfth century.
Luddenham Court Farm dates in part to the fifteenth.
Stone Chapel (also known as Our Lady of Elwarton) is a ruined Saxon to Medieval church on the outskirts of Ospringe. Uniquely in England, it incorporates into its design an older Roman mausoleum that may originally have stood outside the Roman settlement of Durolevum (see under Faversham below).
Ospringe, now essentially part of Faversham, was once an entirely separate settlement, probably dating back to the Saxon period (being mentioned in the Norman Domesday Book of 1086).
Ospringe Church (St Peter and St Paul) dates back in part to the Norman period.
The Maison Dieu, a religious house and charitable hospital and hostel open to passing pilgrims, dates back to the thirteenth century (it was commissioned by Henry III in 1234). Sir John Pulteney, who went on to become the Lord Mayor of London in 1330-1331 and 1333, was once the Lord of the Manor of Ospringe.
Faversham is thought to have been originally founded in pre-Roman times, and may have been the site of the “lost” settlement of Durolevum, mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary, in Roman times. It was known as Favreshant in Saxon times.
Faversham Abbey was founded here in 1148 by King Stephen, and it was dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1538 (some of the masonry being taken to Calais, then an English possession), to reinforce its defences. After the dissolution, much of the abbey property was demolished, and its lands passed to Sir Thomas Cheney, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
However, the former abbey and now parish church of St Mary of Charity, still survives, although in modified form, as does the abbey gate-house and adjoining guest-house (Arden’s House), on Abbey Street, and some of the abbey farm buildings, dating to the fifteenth century.
Abbey Street itself has been described as “the finest medieval street in southeast England”.
(*) Stephen was buried here with his consort Matilda, but their bodies were apparently later thrown into Faversham Creek! According to local legend, they were then retrieved and reburied in an empty tomb in the church of St Mary!