Tag Archives: Shooters Hill

A Latter-Day Pilgrimage from London to Canterbury contd. – Shooters Hill to Dartford

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 …

Shrewsbury Tumulus

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On the brow of Shooters Hill, just under half a mile north of the water tower, and accessed by way of Shrewsbury Lane and Plum Lane,  is a Bronze Age burial mound known as the Shrewsbury Tumulus.  It is the only  one of a number of tumuli discovered in the 1930s to survive.

Watling Street

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From Shooters Hill, the old Roman road of Watling Street runs essentially due ESE through Welling, Bexleyheath and Crayford to Dartford (and beyond).

Lesnes Abbey

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A couple of miles north of the road as it approaches Welling, and accessed by way of the Green Chain Walk,  are the ruins of Lesnes Abbey.

Lesnes Abbey  was founded by one Richard de Luci, Chief Justiciar to Henry II, in 1178, and dedicated by him to St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr, possibly as penance for his, Richard’s – indirect – involvement in Thomas Becket’s murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.  The first abbot, William, was consecrated in 1179, the by-then canon Richard de Luci dying that same year and being buried in the Chapter House.  The abbey was originally an Augustinian foundation, but under the second abbot, Fulc’s incumbency between 1187-1208 adopted the Rule of Arrouaise.  It always struggled financially to meet its running costs, which included those of maintaining its  river walls and draining its marshy  land-holdings, and, in consequence, its  buildings  began to fall into disrepair in the fourteenth century.  The abbey was eventually closed down by Cardinal Wolsey  in 1524, in other words some years before the Dissolution of the Monasteries beginning in 1536.  Most of its buildings were at least partially pulled down in the sixteenth century (some of the salvaged stone being used in the construction of Hall Place in Bexley), although the former Abbot’s Lodgings survived intact and in use until the nineteenth.  Only picturesque ruins remain today.

Welling

Welling was first recorded in 1361 as Wellyngs, alluding  either to the Willing family, who owned land here in the fourteenth century, or to the presence of springs here.

East Wickham

Around half a mile north of the road as it passes through Welling, and accessed by way of Upper Wickham Lane, is East Wickham, first recorded in 1240 as Wikam, meaning, in Old English, homestead (ham) associated with a vicus, or  earlier Romano-British settlement (wic).

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What is now the Greek Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour was formerly a chapel of ease attached to the church of St Nicholas in Plumstead.  It is believed to have been built in the thirteenth century.

Bexley

Around  a mile south of the road as it passes between Bexleyheath and Crayford, and accessed by way of the A220, is Bexley, first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 814 as Byxlea, from the  Old English byxe, meaning box tree,  and leah, meaning clearing.  From the ninth century until the Reformation of the sixteenth, it was a manor of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  In the “Domesday Book” of 1086, Bexley Village was recorded as home to three (?water) mills (?on the River Cray, a tributary of the Thames), as well as a church.

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The church, St Mary, with its striking octagonal shingled  tower, was originally built at least as long ago as the eleventh  century, although “each generation since has left its visible mark on the fabric”. The present nave, chancel and west tower were built toward the  end of the twelfth century.  The north aisle was added in the thirteenth century, and extended to accommodate a Lady Chapel at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth.  The whole fabric of the church was  restored in the late nineteenth century.

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Among the many memorials in the church are them are an unusual “Hunting Horn” brass one, believed  to be to Henry Castilayn (d. 1407); another brass  one,  to John Shelley of Hall Place (d. 1441) and his wife Joan; and a highly decorated carved stone  one,   to Sir John Champneys (d. 1556) of Hall Place, a successful member of the Skinners’ Company and sometime Lord Mayor of the City of London, and his second  wife Meriell.

Hall Place, on the eastern outskirts of the village, was originally built in stone – salvaged from Lesnes Abbey – in 1537 by  the aforementioned Sir John Champneys (probably on the site of earlier, thirteenth- and fourteenth- houses respectively owned by the de Aula and Shelley families).    It was subsequently extended in brick in 1649-66 by Sir Robert Austen, who had bought  it from Sir John Champneys grand-son Richard in 1649.

Crayford

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Crayford was first recorded as Crecganford in the  Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, as the site of  a battle that took place in 457 between Germanic invaders and native Britons.  The name alludes to a crossing-point on the River Cray (a tributary of the Thames), which had been in existence since earlier  times (the “lost” Roman settlement of Noviomagus may have been here). The early settlement grew   in the Medieval period, and began to become industrialised in the post-Medieval.

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The church of St Paulinus was probably originally built in timber in the Saxon period, being mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 (”the archbishop himself holds Erhede and there is a church”).   It was subsequently rebuilt in stone in the Norman period and style at the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries (nave and chancel).  And extended in the later Medieval English Gothic style in the early thirteenth century (south aisle); in the Decorated style at the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth (second nave); and in the Perpendicular style in the fifteenth (tower).

Dartford

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Dartford takes its name from a ford over the River Darent, present at least as long ago as Roman times (there was also extensive settlement along the Darent in Roman times).  The present town is thought to have been founded in Saxon times, and is mentioned in the Norman Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, as belonging to the King (though by the twelfth century it had entered the possession of the Knights Templar).

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It became an important waypoint for pilgrims en route to Canterbury and the continent in the later Middle Ages.   Pilgrims stayed in The Bell (One Bell Corner), The Bull (Royal Victoria and Bull) or  The Bull’s Head (Bull’s Head Yard) on the High Street.

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Holy Trinity Church was originally built in the ninth century, and  rebuilt in the late eleventh, around 1080, by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester.  It was then extended in the late twelfth to early thirteenth centuries, and in 1235 hosted the proxy wedding of King Henry III’s sister Isabella and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.  Later, Henry V gave thanks here for his victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

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The fine painting of St George and the Dragon dates to 1470.

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Dartford Priory, England’s only Dominican convent, was founded here in 1346.  After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, the site became that of a Tudor manor house, where King Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, lived for a while after her divorce, and where Queen Elizabeth I stayed twice.   The  gate-house to the manor still survives.

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Dominican and Franciscan hospitals were also founded here in the fourteenth century.

A Latter-Day Pilgrimage from London to Canterbury – London to Shooters Hill

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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 …

City of London

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Thomas Becket was born on Cheapside  in the City of London in circa 1120, the son of Gilbert, a merchant of Norman ancestry, and Matilda.  He was educated at Merton Priory, and later at one of the  grammar schools    in London, possibly St Paul’s, before entering the church, and eventually rising to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162.

There is a chapel dedicated to him inside the Mercers’ Livery Company Hall at the corner of Cheapside and Ironmonger Lane.

London Bridge

“Old” London Bridge was rebuilt, by Peter, chaplain of St Mary Colechurch, in 1176-1209, and stood until 1831 (an alcove still survives in the grounds of Guy’s  Hospital).

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There were scores of buildings on it then, including a chapel dedicated to St Thomas (depicted in a stained glass window in the church of St Magus the Martyr).

Southwark

Southwark was first recorded as “Sudwerca” in the “Domesday Book” of 1086, taking its name from the Old English “suth”, and “weorc”, meaning defensive work or fort, in reference to the Roman defences south of the river.  It  was unaffected by the Great Fire of London in 1666, the southward progress of which across the river was halted at a gap in the buildings on London Bridge that formed a natural firebreak.  However, it suffered its own Great Fire in 1676.

Historically, Southwark was a so-called “liberty”, free of many  of the regulations governing life in the City across the river.  Over time it  became one of the poor places in which it, the rich City, attempted to locate  – and forget – some of its more “undesirable” buildings (including prisons such as the Clink, King’s Bench, Marshalsea and White Lion), industries (including tanning) and activities (including – in the numerous “stews” – prostitution, animal-baiting, and the performance of stage plays, all of which attracted large and unruly crowds).

Southwark Cathedral

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What is now Southwark Cathedral was originally founded as a nunnery in 606, becoming the priory of St Mary Overie in 1106, the  parish church of St Saviour  following the Dissolution in 1540, and Southwark Cathedral and the Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie in 1905.  Being over  the “rie” or river, the church was undamaged in the Great Fire, and also survived the bombing of the Blitz.  Some elements of the present structure are survivors  from the  twelfth century building, although most are from the thirteenth or early fifteenth rebuilds following fires in 1212 and 1390 (the former of which, incidentally, reportedly killed 3000 people).  The interior contains  many memorials, including a wooden effigy of a knight buried in around 1275, and the tomb of Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), who was responsible for the translation of the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible.

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What was St Mary’s re-established its  public infirmary as St Thomas’s Hospital in the early thirteenth century (the hospital later relocated to Lambeth).

Winchester  Palace

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On nearby Clink Street are the remains of Winchester Palace (and also the site of the Clink Prison).  The palace was originally built in the twelfth century by King Stephen’s brother Henry de Blois, the Bishop of Winchester (at this time, Southwark was in the Diocese of Winchester).  It was subsequently rebuilt in the late thirteenth to fourteenth century, and remained in use until the time of the Civil War in the seventeenth, when it was portioned off.  It was substantially destroyed by a fire in the nineteenth century, with only parts of the Great Hall surviving to this day.  The Great Hall dates to the twelfth century, circa 1144; the “Rose Window” to the fourteenth (and possibly to the Bishopric of William of Wykeham, circa 1367-98).

Borough High Street

Borough  was first recorded as “Southwarke borrow” in 1559, taking its name from the Old English  “burh”.  Borough High Street is  part of, and was once known as,  Stane Street, the Roman road to the south, and Borough Market was first established in the thirteenth century.

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Famously, there were some  fifty  inns and other drinking establishments on and around Borough High Street at the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, including the “Tabard” and  “White Hart”, which were known to and written about by Chaucer and Shakespeare.  They all survived that fire, although many were burnt down in the  Great Fire of Southwark in 1676.  The “Tabard” and the “White Hart” were later rebuilt, but  no longer stand, having been demolished in the late nineteenth century.   The “George”, originally built sometime before 1542, was also rebuilt after the Great Fire of Southwark, in 1677, as a galleried inn, and still stands.

Crossbones Graveyard

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Just off Borough High Street, at the corner of  Union Street and Redcross Way, is the unconsecrated burial ground known as the “Crossbones Graveyard”.  Here from Medieval times were interred the “Outcast Dead”, including the “Winchester Geese”, which is to say women who worked as prostitutes in brothels or “stews” licensed by the Bishops of Winchester.  An “Ordinance for the Governance of the Stews” was  issued  by King Henry II in 1161.

Tabard Street

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The church of St George the Martyr, at the corner  of Borough High Street and Tabard Street, was originally built in the twelfth century,  and rebuilt in the fourteenth (and again in the eighteenth, in the Neo-Classical style).  Henry V was met here by the Aldermen and Mayor of London upon his triumphal return from the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

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Old Kent Road

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The “Thomas a Becket” public house on the Old Kent Road stands on the site of the “St Thomas a Watering”, alluded to as follows in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”:

“And forth we rode a little more than pace

Unto the watering of St Thomas … ”

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A little further east is the former North Peckham Civic Centre, featuring a fine mosaic mural by Adam Kossowski depicting, among other things, that very scene.

Deptford

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Deptford was first recorded as “Depeford” in 1293, taking name from the Old English “deop”, meaning deep, and “ford” (across the Ravensbourne).  The church of St Nicholas was originally built at least as long ago as the twelfth century, and  subsequently rebuilt in the fourteenth, and again in the late seventeenth, in 1697, only to be badly damaged during the Blitz.  The fourteenth-century tower still stands.  Christopher Marlowe is buried in the churchyard.

Blackheath

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Extraordinarily, in the Middle Ages, no fewer than three rebel armies gathered on the high windswept at the top of  Blackheath Hill preparatory to marching on London: the first under Wat Tyler during the  “Peasants’ Revolt”, in 1381; the second under Jack Cade, in 1450; and the third under Michael Joseph and Thomas Flamank  during the “Cornish Revolt”, in 1497.

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Shooters Hill

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Shooters Hill is one of the highest points in, and  at the outermost  edge of, London, and commands fine  views of the city to the west …

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… and of the open countryside of Kent to the east.