All posts by Leigh Hatts

Elizabeth Line: Fast trains to Lesnes Abbey

Entrance to the new Abbey Wood Station

‘Oh Nice, splendid,’ was the Queen’s reaction when told that the Elizabeth Line will go to Abbey Wood.

Crossrail, to be known as the Elizabeth Line, will be a help for many walking the Pilgrims’ Way in stages.

The eastern end of the Elizabeth Line is Abbey Wood Station which is close to Lesnes Abbey. For many the abbey is the halfway destination on day two out of London.

Trains leaving Abbey Wood will pass through central London within minutes and reach Paddington in under half an hour

The line opens on Tuesday 24 May and will at first operate Monday to Saturday.

Directions from station: Turn right out of the station and go down steps to walk along the shopping street. Go left into Abbey Road, passing under a bridge, and right into New Road. Just after Monks Close (left) turn left into Lesnes Abbey grounds.

Directions from Lesnes Abbey: Leave the abbey grounds by passing Lesnes Abbey Lodge (right) and follow the path ahead to New Road. Go right to turn left into Abbey Road. Pass under the bridge to go right into the shopping street (Wilton Road). At the end either go up the steps or take the lift to the station entrance.

The cloister door leads to the Lodge and cafe.
The famous daffodils have given way to Rhododrenons on the edge of Lesnes Abbey Wood.
The Abbey stamp, depicting the fish of founder Richard de Lucy, is available at the cafe.
Platform signs installed

Lovely Darent Valley posters now available

Eynsford’s viaduct

Arresting posters in the London Transport tradition have been produced to promote travel to PW stations in the Darent Valley.

The posters are by designed by Tim Higginson using scenes by Kit Boyd.

They were commissioned by the Darent Valley Community Rail Partnership which brings together SouthEastern, Thameslink, Community Rail Network, Railtrack and Darent Valley Landscape Partnership Scheme to promote local rail travel.

The Eynsford poster shows the viaduct which pilgrims pass under between the village ford and Lullingstone Castle.

The Shoreham picture owes much to artist Samuel Palmer, who roamed the valley’s countryside at night, and includes a reference to the rabbit he met and drew.

Otford is promoted with a delightful interpretation of the famous view across the only roundabout pond to the church and palace.

Posters are being sold at Bat & Ball Station but to register an interest in buying posters online contact the Partnership.

NOTE: The Partnership decided from its formation to use the name Darent for the valley rather than the more confusing Darenth Valley. The River Darent flows through Otford, Shoreham, Lullingstone and Dartford to join the Thames.

Shoreham Bridge includes Palmer’s rabbit.
Otford’s pond, duck house, church and palace

Canterbury’s Franciscan gardens reopen

A 15th-century doorway to the garden.

Geoffrey Chaucer supposedly started on his pilgrimage on 18 April in 1387.

On the walk into Canterbury from the West Gate to the cathedral you pass his statue.

Opposite is Eastbridge Hospital for pilgrims whose first master was Becket’s nephew Ralph. Today his successor is a Franciscan.

Next to the Hospital, and opposite the Weavers’ House, is an easily missed shop. This is the access to the little-known Franciscan Gardens which have reopened this Easter.

The first Franciscans, or Greyfriars, arrived in Canterbury in 1224, just four years after the Translation of St Thomas to his new shrine in the cathedral and fifteen years after the order had been established by St Francis.

In the centre of the garden and straddling the river is the Greyfriars Chapel built in 1267. It was probably at first another pilgrim dormitory. Today there are second hand books on sale on the ground floor below the chapel.

Upstairs the Anglican Eucharist is celebrated every Wednesday at 11am as the water flows under the little building.

On its south side there is wildflower meadow and on the north, where the chancel of the community’s church stood until 1544, is a ‘symbolic love garden’.

The £6 admission charge is part of fundraising to complete urgent conservation work.

However, during National Lottery Open Week, Monday 21 to Sunday 27 March 2022, entry is free entry to visitors who show a National Lottery ticket or scratchcard at the entrance.

Anglican Franciscans are now in residence and it is hoped that the garden will have further matured for the 800th anniversary of the arrival of the first Franciscans in two years’ time.

Pointed arches supporting the chapel.
Chapel above the river.

The cathedral’s towers seen from the meadow.
The Victorian vinery is awaiting repair when funds allow.
The rarely seen back of Eastbridge Hospital which, like the chapel, spans the river.
Autumn flowers include the Corn Poppy.

Canterbury glass book

The First Miracle Window: Becket’s Earliest Pilgrims in Canterbury Stained Glass by Rachel Koopmans is a new 35 page booklet.

It has beautiful illustrations of the windows made just fifteen years after the murder of Thomas Becket.

The stained glass is found in the ambulatory embracing the Trinity Chapel where the Becket shrine stood.

But the scenes depicted are before this shrine was created in 1220. The pictures are thought almost certainly to be based on the records of Abbot Benedict of Peterborough who had been part of the Canterbury priory community in 1170 and witnessed the first pilgrims arriving a few years later.

There is a sense of crowd comprising of all classes wishing to throng the narrow streets and cathedral crypt. Already the early arrivals are wearing yellow pilgrim purses. One window depicts the queue for pilgrim water.

There is a lovely collection of pilgrim boots looking like Christmas stockings.

Until recently these lights were thought to be maybe Victorian. Such a conclusion was partly because they had been taken out occasionally and slightly altered. Heads were replaced and one even improved as a women’s head.

Leone Seliger, director of the cathedral’s stained glass studio, adds a handy afterthought with a digital correction suggesting how the windows probably appeared when new.

Medieval historian Dr Koopmans is an expert on Becket’s miracles.

You may wish to buy this booklet on arriving at Canterbury. It is light enough to carry and much cheaper when purchased on site than buying by post which almost doubles the price.

The First Miracle Window by Rachel Koopmans is published by Out of the Box Publishing; £6.99.

Good Beer Guide 2022

Notice outside The Market Porter in Southwark

It’s encouraging to know that it has been possible to publish a new Good Beer Guide for 2022 and that it has already sold out.

This year’s highlighted Pilgrims’ Way pubs are on the Southwark-Canterbury leg.

The nearest one to Southwark Cathedral is The Market Porter where on some weekday early mornings you can have ale at breakfast like the early pilgrims.

The Royal Oak in Tabard Street, known the first pub on the Pilgrims’ Way, has ‘a range of beers…unusual for London’ as well as their own Harvey’s.

A surprise is finding a mention for The Bull on top of Shooters Hill which means it must be on the up. It introduced pizzas cooked and served in the garden during the pandemic.

An interesting entry for Rochester is The Coopers Arms dating from 1189 and once part of the cathedral’s monastic estate.

Rochester’s Golden Lion Hotel, a Wetherspoons in the High Street and often very busy, is listed with the added attraction of handy accommodation.

If you approach the last church before Canterbury feeling tired you might find The Eight Bells in London Road tempting. But be warned the only food is Sunday lunch.

The Good Beer Guide (Camra Books; £15.99)

The 2022 cover

Wouldham Church in Medway oil painting

Boats on the Medway, Kent by Geoffrey Baker (Russell-Côtes Art Gallery & Museum)

An oil painting depicting the downstream scene at Wouldham is included an exhibition at the Russell-Côtes Art Gallery & Museum in Bournemouth.

It is the work of Geoffrey Baker (1881–1959) who may have painted the scene, featuring a steam tug and Thames barge, before the Second World War.

The artist was a founder member of the Bournemouth Arts Club which is celebrating its centenary with an exhibition of noted artists associated with its history.

Wouldham, opposite Halling, is on the path to Rochester Cathedral and today the church is seen from the new Peters Bridge river crossing on the way to Aylesford.

A Century of British Art is at the Russell-Côtes Art Gallery in Bournemouth until 6 March; admission £7.50.

Wouldam Church

Betjeman on the Pilgrims’ Way

David Meara’s book on John Betjeman appeared towards the end of last year as we faced renewed Covid restrictions.

A Passion For Places: England Through The eyes of John Betjeman is a book which makes one want to go out and ‘church crawl’ as Betjeman would have described his explorations.

In the foreword Simon Jenkins recalls walking around Southwark with Betjeman.

In what he calls an ‘extended essay’, the author David Meara endeavours to cover all the Poet Laureate’s passion for churches, places and railways.

Church crawling is how Betjeman called his days out looking at churches .

He had so many favourite ones that not all can get a mention in the 96 page paperback but it is interesting see that strong favourites include some on the Pilgrims’ Way which could be called a long church crawl.

The extraordinary St Peter & St Paul at Albury in Surrey was on the original way until 1785 when the road was closed and the village moved.

The ancient Saxon church which has a 15th-century St Christopher wall painting, a chapel remodelled by Pugin and featured in Four Weddings and A Funeral film, may be visited via the gateway at the south end of Albury Street 10am-5pm; winter 3pm.

Kemsing church in Kent associated with St Edith of Wilton was another favourite. Betjeman would have appreciated not just the 13th-century door, worn by pilgrims, but the rood figures by Nina Comper whose work he championed.

Chilham church, another Kentish church, was not only a Betjeman favourite but it is also one of the author’s who has known the building since childhood holidays. For many the village, with its castle, pub and church all in a row, is the last overnight stop before the climax of their pilgrimage.

A Passion for Places: England Through The Eyes of John Betjeman by David Meara (Amberely; £15.99).

Martyrdom of St Thomas 29 December 2021

A candle in Canterbury Cathedral indicates the location of Thomas Becket’s shrine

‘We have the added worship of the Feast of St Thomas of Canterbury on 29 December which gives a special Canterbury climax to our worship before 2022 begins,’ says Dean of Canterbury Robert Willis.

Canterbury Cathedral has announced services for the Feast of St Thomas Becket on Wednesday 29 December.

The 8am Eucharist will be celebrated at the Altar of the Swordpoint on the Martyrdom site in the north transept.

There will also be a said Eucharist at 12.30pm.

The main focus is the candlelit Evensong & procession at 3pm sung by the Lay Clerks. This service, at about the hour of Thomas Becket’s murder, includes ‘medieval chant’ and readings from TS Eliot’s Murder in The Cathedral.

Evensong will be broadcast live on the Cathedral website and YouTube.

Roman Catholic Solemn Vespers in the Cathedral Crypt is at 8pm.

Although in 1899 Hilaire Belloc insisted on walking from Winchester starting on 22 December to reach Canterbury on 29 December this winter festival day was never in Pre-Reformation years a crowded occasion.

The Twelve Days of Christmas was too cold for travel and more a time to stay at home and feast.

Estimates of visitors on each 29 December during the first 300 years following the martyrdom are sometimes as low as sixty.

The bigger day, when crowds filled Canterbury, was on the 7 July Translation in the summer.

Forgotten churches on the Pilgrims’ Way

‘In the shadow of a tall, nine-arched, red brick railway viaduct, a long, thin, green valley extends besides the River Darent in Kent,’ writes Peter Stanford in his new book If These Stones Could Talk.

He is describing the Pilgrims’ Way as it runs south from Dartford to Otford. Thomas Becket came this way in his last weeks before death and Henry VIII as a pilgrim in his earlier years.

Peter is here to find a vital church for his history of Christianity in Britain and Ireland through twenty buildings. In the Darent Valley it is not Eynsford church where the feud between archbishop and king began or even Lullingstone’s lovely ‘church on the lawn’.

It is the building disguised as Lullingstone’s Roman Villa. Appropriately the Pilgrims’ Way passes the door and you can stop to have your passport stamped.

But go deeper inside and you will find evidence of an early church which may have had worshippers in the 4th century. Here is a chapel or a purpose built house church making it the oldest known site of Christian worship in the UK.

The author takes a wider look at Canterbury Cathedral suggesting that it had important saints before Becket’s murder brought greater crowds.

But even more arresting is the chapter on St Martin’s Church at Canterbury. It said to pilgrims arriving at Santiago de Compostela that they should stay awhile to look round rather than just heading home at once.

So pilgrims arriving at Canterbury should stay to walk on for just half a mile up to St Martin’s which is Britain’s oldest church and one of huge resonance.

If These Stones Could Talk offers a sweep of history around interesting places with a handy timeline and good index.

If These Stones Could Talk: The History of Christianity in Britain and Ireland through Twenty Buildings by Peter Stanford (Hodder £20).