Royal Oak under new team

The Royal Oak in Southwark’s Tabard Street

Royal Oak landlords Frank Taylor and John Porteous have left after years of playing a pivotal role in the community by supporting the arts, heritage and Pilgrims’ Way.

The Royal Oak in Southwark’s Tabard Street now starts the new year with a new team.

This is the first pub out of Southwark on the Pilgrims’ Way. Its address may be Tabard  Street but the road is really the start of the original Old Kent Road trod by travellers and pilgrims to Canterbury and the continent. 

The Royal Oak, as  a Harvey’s of Lewes house, is the successor to a pilgrim inn on Tooley Street owned by Lewes Priory.

You can get a pilgrim stamp at the Royal Oak’s bar.

Harvey’s is 2017 and 2018 UK Brewer of the Year.

The new team is headed by Ryan and assistant manager Adam.

Frank is front page news in the London Drinker
Frank (centre) receiving the Greater London Pub of the Year Award ion 2012

Our Lady of Walsingham in Southwark

The statue of Our Lady of Walsingham from the Slipper Chapel in Norfolk is at St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Southwark until Saturday 23 February.

This is a rare event and the accompanying exhibition has much resonance for those interested in the Pilgrims’ Way.

Other centres of pilgrimage are highlighted including Aylesford on the PW.

Also, in a Walsingham painting by Alan Sorrell, can be seen St John Fisher and St Thomas More who we meet on the PW.

For this special occasion, St George’s Cathedral has on show its little ‘Holy House’, or chest, containing the relics of four saints including St Thomas Becket.

St George’s Cathedral is opposite the Imperial War Museum.

Our Lady of Walsingham in St George’s Cathedral on Thursday night
Holy House contains Thomas Becket relic

St Valentine: Southwark is the romantic place to be

John Gower resting on his books in Southwark Cathedral

The best place to be with resonance on St Valentine’s Day must be Southwark Cathedral.

It has the splendid tomb of John Gower who was one of the first, if not the first, to write a love poem associating mating birds with 14 February.

His friend Geoffrey Chaucer, who knew Southwark well, wrote about love and birds in Parlement of Foules but was he inspired by Gower?

It’s not clear who was first.

Chaucer refers to ‘seint valentynes day of the parlement of briddes’ at the very end of The Canterbury Tales.

Appropriately, John Gower in the cathedral is today wearing a lovely red dress.

If you are starting your pilgrimage this morning you should include him in your list of what to look at before leaving Southwark.

But if you are leaving from Winchester Cathedral you could pause as you pass through nearby Hyde Abbey where St Valentine’s head was an attraction for over four hundred years until 1539.

Romantic classics

Tonight’s Valentine’s Piano Recital by candlelight at 7.30pm in Southwark Cathedral includes Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and other romantic classic. Tickets from £15.

OXTED Rector becomes Bishop

Andrew Ramsey, Rector of Oxted on the PW, is today to be made a Bishop.

Oxted in Surrey is on the Winchester to Canterbury PW route but his consecration as bishop takes place at Southwark Cathedral which is the start of the London route.

Oxted means place of the oaks so the parish has given its former rector an oak ramshorn crook as a bishop’s pastoral staff

Dr Ramsey will serve as Bishop of Ramsbury in the Salisbury Diocese.

Yews on the PW

The churchyard at Bentley in Hampshire has a remarkable yew canopy making visitors stoop.

Bentley does not find a place in Tony Hall’s The Immortal Yew book but the one in Ichen Abbas churchyard does.

Tony makes two interesting observations. One is that John Hughes, the last person to be hanged for stealing horse, is buried nearby. This was 1825 and the vicar promised to place his body under the ancient tree.

The other is that the lovely ’12th-century’ Hampshire church is really Victorian. The original may have been built in 1092. But today’s church is fully carpeted.

Hilaire Belloc, who walked the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester in 1899, thought that yew trees were significant markers.

St Thomas Becket

Canterbury Cathedral seen from Archbishop’s Palace

This year St Thomas Becket Day falls at the weekend.

Saturday 29 December, the fifth day of Christmas, is the anniversary of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s murder in 1170.

At Canterbury Cathedral the day begins at 8am with the Eucharist celebrated at the Altar of the Sword’s Point on the martyrdom site.

Festal Holy Communion for the Martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury is at 12.30pm.

At 3.15 pm Plainsong Choral Evensong includes a procession and dramatic readings from TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

Thomas Becket died during the singing of Vespers and this Saturday Vespers is in the crypt at 8pm.

The Thomas Becket Eucharist on Saturday at Southwark Cathedral is at 9.15am, Winchester Cathedral at 9.30am and Rochester Cathedral at 9am.

And of course there are many other celebrations including those at Mottola in Italy and Layana in Spain where Becket is the patron saint.

Meanwhile, at 2.30pm BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting version of The Canterbury Tales supposedly staged by the inhabitants of Ambridge.

A pub sign on the Pilgrims’ Way copied from a Canterbury Cathedral window


St Thomas Becket’s birthday

St Thomas Becket window at Southwark Cathedral

Friday 21 December is St Thomas Becket’s birthday.

He was was baptised Thomas because his birth was on the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle. The naming after Thomas was always a matter of great importance  to the archbishop. 

The apostle is now remembered on 3 July rather than in Advent.

Thomas Becket was  born in Cheapside on  a site now occupied by Mercers’ Hall.

But what year was he born in?

Some historians claim that it was 1118 which would make today the 900th anniversary of the birth. 

But others suggest that it was 1120 which makes 2020 into an even more significant anniversary year.

2020 will be the 850th anniversary of Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170 and the 800th anniversary of the Translation of Thomas Becket’s body from the Canterbury Cathedral crypt to his shrine at the cathedral’s east end.

So it looks as if the key dates during the 2020 anniversary year will be Tuesday 7 July (Translation); Thursday 10 December (last visit to Southwark Cathedral); Monday 21 December (birthday) and Tuesday 29 December (martyrdom).

Canterbury Cathedral and Southwark Cathedral will be announcing special 2020 events shortly. 

Watts Chapel in November

Watts Chapel

The Pilgrims’ Way just misses the centre of Compton in Surrey although it passes the Watts Gallery’s teashop.

But on arriving at the road, and before turning left for the gallery and teashop, you could turn right and walk for about three minutes to the cemetery.

The round cemetery chapel, known as the Watts Chapel, was designed by Mary Watts in 1896 with its Art Nouveau interior added by her in 1901.

She and her husband GF Watts, the Victorian painter and sculptor, lived nearby at what is now the Watts Gallery.

Higher up on the cemetery hill is a cloister also designed by Mrs Watts as she is often known.

November, the month when the dead, began at Watts Chapel on All Souls Day 2 November with Holy Communion at 8am.

Since Remembrance Day there have been poppies on the altar.

Last weekend there was a peaceful scene as people tended graves in the warm sun whilst visitors looked at the memorials in the cloister.

Watts Chapel interior

Shadows in the Watts Cloister

Cloister on the hill

What Henry II really said

New Pitkin book

John Butler’s book on Archbishops of Canterbury is now out.

This is a 112 page Pitkin paperback.

Professor Butler is a Canterbury Cathedral guide and the author of The Quest for Becket’s Bones so the chapter on Thomas Becket is especially interesting.

We know that Henry II probably did not say: “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”

The author says that the King cursed his knights as “a nest of cowards and traitors who had allowed their lord to be treated with contempt by a low born priest”.

This was the outburst which triggered the unauthorised murder of the Archbishop.

The cover picture is a portrait in a medieval window now reproduced as the pub sign at the St Thomas A Becket pub in London’s Old Kent Road.

Another figure familiar to those on the Pilgrims’ Way is Archbishop William Warham. It’s the remnant of his great palace which we visit at Otford.

The book’s portrait of Warham is by Hans Holbein the Younger and is described as the first realistic representation of any Archbishop of Canterbury. His face is captured in 1527 showing the strain of dealing with Henry VIII’s divorce and the coming Reformation.

The Archbishops of Canterbury: A Tale of Church and State by John Butler (Pitkin 12.99).

Old Kent Road murals to be moved

Old Kent Road mural depicting Canterbury pilgrims

Murals in the Old Kent Road will be removed and put in storage if a demolition plan is approved.

The mosaics by Adam Kossowski (1905-1986) were completed in 1965 and  adorn the former North Peckham Civic Centre.

Depicted are people known to have travelled the Roman road to and from Canterbury.

Adam Kossowski’s work is also found at two more places on the Pilgrims’ Way outside the capital.

At Otford in Kent, where the path from Winchester joins the main London way, the stations of the cross inside Holy Trinity Church are by Kossowski.

His most famous murals are at Aylesford Priory  where he continued working on site until 1971 and is buried.

The plan for the Old Kent Road site is to replace the existing three storey building with a mixed use redevelopment

Only the large three panel ceramic mural, which wraps around the recessed ground floor frontage to Old Kent Road and Peckham Park Road, is listed.

This is Adam Kossowski’s only large secular work.

The planning application seeks to eventually install the murals at first floor level facing Old Kent Road in a high rise development. A present they can be viewed at ground level from the street.

Objections should be received by Thursday 15 November.

To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts