Godmersham: route change

Traffic-free Pilgrims’ Way above Godmersham

Since the publication of Walking The Pilgrims’ Way in 2017 there has been reader and walker feedback as well as ongoing research.

This recently resulted in a welcome change to the path running out of Otford towards Kemsing.

As at Otford, there is a problem of an unpopular busy road at Godmersham.

The present guide points walkers along the very busy A28 main road. There is a pavement but uncared for hedges and vegetation have reduced its width in several places.

This route was chosen in order to enable pilgrims to visit Godmersham Church, which holds a fragment of Becket’s shrine, and is said to have been visited by pilgrims in past times.

It also allows for a good view of Godmersham Park known to Jane Austen.

In addition Donald Maxwell, whose 1932 The Pilgrims’ Way in Kent booklet ran to fourteen editions, thought that pilgrims would have stayed near the River Stour.

But today walkers cannot see the river let alone cool their feet in it as Maxwell suggests. They are on a main road opened in the 19th century and not the nearby lost lane which might have been used.

However, Ordnance Survey holds that the Pilgrims’ Way runs along the ridge above Godmersham long marking the way as Supposed Pilgrims’ Road. This line was supported by Hilaire Belloc who published The Old Road in 1904.

He wrote: “We looked through the mist, down the hollow glen towards the valley between walls of trees. We thought, perhaps, that a dim mark in the haze far off was the tower of the Cathedral–we could not be sure.”

He was right although it’s hard to see without a camera zoom or binoculars. The spot where this is possible on a clear day has been marked with a board erected in 2015 by St Martin-in-the-Fields Church which organises an annual pilgrimage using this route .

This possible glimpse does not at all spoil that famous ‘first view’ at Harbledown.

The case for the higher path at Godmersham, which is already part of the North Downs Way, is so strong that it already has a PW waymark. Recent surface improvement means that this path is no longer muddy for long periods.

So the higher NDW path will be adopted as the PW in future but with a diversion for those who wish to see the Jane Austen house which features on the ten pound bank note and the church.

Soakham Farm to Chilham: new directions

Follow existing directions from Boughton Aluph to Soakham Farm where the way runs downhill and through the farmyard.

Where the concrete ends keep forward to a hidden gate. A track treble bends and turns uphill before bearing left. On approaching a usually open gate (and passing an easily missed waymarked path to the right) keep forward as the path continues to climb steeply up towards Soakham Downs. Briefly there is a magnificent view to the left.

The path bends to the right to run along the edge of King’s Wood (right). In season there will be game on the path. Go through a high deer gate to reach a junction. Go right and at a fork, with Pilgrims’ Way sign, bear left. Keep to the main track as it gently descends and go left again at another fork as the way curves steeply left and right. Now the path is on a high wooded bank.

Just beyond a junction with a footpath (left) there is a NDW stone. After 0.25 miles there is a board (right) indicating a very brief view (half right) of Canterbury Cathedral. Almost 0.5 miles further on there is an original low wall deer fence.

[Only to see Godmersham Park and its church go through the gate (left) and follow the path downhill. At the bottom crosspaths, with a view of the mansion, go left for Chilham or to visit the church continue ahead between hedges, bear right for the main gateway and go right along the road for the church.

GODMERSHAM PARK mansion, featured on the £10 bank note, was built in 1732 and inherited by Jane Austen’s brother Edward Knight (with Chawton manor; see Stage 2.) Jane visited often from 1794 to 1813 and here worked on Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, which feature Godmersham, and Emma. The church has a stone plaque thought to have been part of Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury.]

The PW continues ahead. At a T-junction go right on a path which runs downhill to meet Mountain Street. This wooded lane from Godmersham Park (right beyond the high gateway) to Chilham is an old road to Canterbury running just below the “Supposed Pilgrims’ Road” which entered Chilham via the Castle. Turn left on the rough and narrow Mountain Street which becomes metalled after another junction. Beyond a hamlet there is the castle wall (left) which when built in 1728 caused the road to be again slightly diverted. A gate (left) and then a brief railing give a glimpse of the castle and lake. Keep forward at a junction past Elephant House (left) and up School Hill to the hilltop village. Opposite, at the Chilham Castle gate, is a modern sculpture of pilgrims.

The PW runs across The Square and past the White Horse Inn into the churchyard.

Medieval Southwark revealed

McDonald’s in Tooley Street occupies the site of the Prior of Christ Church Canterbury inn.

It is known that for centuries the Bishop of Winchester had a residence in Southwark. The ruin of the great hall is in Clink Street.

Winchester Walk, opposite the present Southwark Cathedral west end, is the old palace entrance with Winchester Square being the surviving courtyard.

But where were the other houses known to pilgrims?

The answer can be found on the new Medieval London map showing the Borough as it was in the late 13th century.

Most great monasteries around the country owned a house in the capital which was not only handy for the abbot or prior when travelling but could also accommodate other travellers.

Winchester Cathedral’s Benedictine monks had their inn handily next door to their Bishop’s palace in what is now Borough Market.

Winchester’s Hyde Abbey maintained The Tabard in today’s Talbot Yard off Borough High Street from where Geoffrey Chaucer had his pilgrims set out.

Canterbury Cathedral‘s inn was in nearby Tooley Street on the site now occupied by McDonald’s.

The map’s main feature is the City of London so we can examine Westcheap, now Cheapside, where St Thomas Becket was born. By the 1390s that site had become the ‘Church of St Thomas’. It is now Mercers’ Hall.

The back of the map includes useful description of Southwark by Martha Carlin who supplied the information for the mapping of the south bank.

Caroline Barron, who is involved in preparations for next year’s Becket 2020 celebrations, contributes a section on St Thomas.

There is also a translation of an account by William FitzStephen, who witnessed Becket’s murder, of life in London around 1170.

The new map includes Southwark around London Bridge’s south end.

Come and be measured

The Lent installation will be in front of the Great Screen at the east end of Southwark Cathedral.

Some church candles were once made to the height of a deceased person being remembered. Sometimes they were the same height of a living person needing our prayers.

Candles representing pilgrims, the dead and others will form just part next year’s Lent art installation being created by Michelle Rumney for Southwark Cathedral.

Lent starts on Wednesday 26 February 2020 and lasts for six weeks until Easter in April.

2020 is the 850th anniversary of St Thomas Becket’s martyrdom and so the work will explore the idea of pilgrimage and the pilgrim route to Canterbury.

Michelle is starting now measuring people with string so she can weave hundreds of lengths into her installation.

“I’d love everyone who feels they have a special connection with Southwark in any way to be part of this if they’d like to be – to actually be part of the artwork,” says Michelle.

The first measuring day in Southwark Cathedral is Sunday 17 November when Michelle will be available to meet people between the Choral Eucharist at 11am and Evensong at 3pm.

She will also stay on after Evensong until 5.45 to continue measuring from head to toe anyone who wishes to be part of the artwork.

There will be another Measuring Day at the Cathedral in the New Year on Sunday 12 January.

The backdrop to the artwork will be the 500 year old great screen which features images of figures associated with the Southwark to Canterbury pilgrimage including St Thomas, St Swithun, John Gower, Cardinal Beaufort and Bishop Richard Fox.

Murder in the Cathedral at SoutHwark Cathedral

Jasper Britton as Archbishop Becket when the Knights arrive (photo: Richard Hubert Smith)

TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is being performed by Scena Mundi theatre company at Southwark Cathedral this week and two more performances are due next Tuesday and Wednesday.

This is the story of St Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170 at Canterbury. Staging a production at Southwark has resonance for the Archbishop visited the then priory church just two weeks before his dramatic death in his own cathedral.

The 850th anniversary falls next year and this new production will be touring as part of Becket 2020. First stop after Southwark is Guildford Cathedral on Thursday 14 November.

Jasper Britton, who began his stage career at the Old Vic and plays Becket, has commented on the resonance of Southwark Cathedral as the stage although he laments that the once resident cat Doorkins Magnificat cat is not part of this production.

Jasper is the son of veteran actor Tony Britton. The herald is played by Isaac Deayton, son of actor and broadcaster Angus.

See London SE1 for review.

Tickets for Southwark Cathedral performances on Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 November at 7.30pm are available from Experience Tickets.

Three of the Women of Canterbury at Southwark (photo: Richard Hubert Smith)

Newman plaque on PW

Plaque at 59 High Street in Alton

Today in the church calendar is Blessed John Henry Newman’s ‘optional memorial’.

Next year it will be St John Henry Newman’s Day because this coming Sunday he is to be declared a saint by Pope Francis during an open air Mass in Rome.

Newman is England’s first post-Reformation saint.

He has left us his popular hymns Lead, Kindly Light and Praise to the Holiest in the Height.

People associate him most with Oxford where he was an Anglican and Birmingham where he was a Roman Catholic.

But first he was a teenager in Alton.

His father John was a failed banker and in 1816 the family had to give up their London and country houses and move to Hampshire.

In Alton he managed a brewery but this also failed.

His son had become an Evangelical on arrival in Alton aged 15. The following year he went up to Oxford and so was away in term time.

Two hundred years after student John Henry Newman finally left the town he is being declared a saint.

The Newman house is at 59 High Street, on the Pilgrims’ Way (and recently occupied by estate agents Gascoigne-Pees). It is marked with a blue plaque.

If you are walking from Chawton to Alton look out for the plaque on the right opposite Alton Pharmacy.

Newman, like St Thomas Becket, was born in the City of London.

Isle of Man stamps depicting Cardinal Newman issued in 2010.

Harvest Thanksgiving on Pilgrims’ Way

Many church along the Pilgrims’ Way are preparing to observe harvest thanksgiving, or Harvest Festival, this Sunday.

Winchester Cathedral gathers local produce.

Lisa Burn-Hunter has created a giant bee above Winchester Cathedral’s west door.
Hop arches in Chilham Church.
Mouse on harvest sheaf at St Dunstan’s Church, last church before Canterbury city.

Hops under Canterbury Cathedral’s pulpit.

The Mystery of St Thomas’s relics

As we approach Becket 2020 year a book is being published which will change what many look at on arrival in Canterbury.

When pilgrims enter Canterbury Cathedral now they go to the Trinity Chapel behind St Augustine’s Chair to see the site of St Thomas Becket’s shrine.

A single candle burns in the centre of the vast empty space.

To find any relics one must go to St Thomas of Canterbury Church in nearby Burgate where three bones removed when the shrine was completed in 1220 are displayed.

The Relics of Thomas Becket: A True-life Mystery by John Butler does not mention the surviving relics outside the cathedral but it does look very closely at two locations in the cathedral crypt.

Under slabs of stone lifted in recent times may lie the main remains of Thomas Becket removed from his shrine just before its destruction on the orders of Henry VIII.

The story of the search is fascinating as is the reminder of the events of September 1538 when first Canterbury’s St Thomas shrine was torn down just a few days before Winchester’s St Swithun shrine was destroyed.

The author reminds us that many believe St Swithun to lie hidden somewhere in his cathedral. But at Canterbury there are already several clues as to the possible whereabouts of St Thomas.

So now the crypt must be added to the shrine and martyrdom sites for that first visit to Canterbury Cathedral at the end of the long walk.

The book, launched last week at Canterbury Cathedral for publication in January, is a 72 page large paperback published by Pitkin at £12.99. Early copies are available now from the Cathedral Shop at a special price of £9.99.

Following Keats from the Mecure Winchester

The Pilgrims’ Way passes a barn (right) at the end of a wall at Hyde Abbey.

A group of history enthusiasts met on Sunday night outside the Mecure hotel in Winchester.

This is where, in an earlier building, John Keats stayed two hundred years ago.

On Sunday afternoon 19 September he walked out into the countryside before writing his his poem To Autumn.

At lunchtime some of us had heard the poem’s bicentenary marked on Radio 4’s World This Weekend with Edward Stourton walking to St Cross.

But we were on a Hyde 900 organised walk where it was being suggested that in 1819 Keats had been walking the start of the Pilgrims’ Way. His St Cross walk was maybe a regular route on other days.

First we followed Charles Ball’s 1818 Winchester walks book which Keats had read. It took us to the remains of Hyde Abbey which in 1819 was Hyde Farm with several thatched barns. These may be the ‘thatch-eves‘.

On Twitter Anna Mercer had just recalled Susan Wolfson’s claim that Keats was a “cat person”. We were delighted to meet two on leaving the Abbey.

Then we were on the Pilgrims’s Way, or St Swithun’s Way as it is known in Winchester, which follows Nuns Walk. We walked past blackberries and over conkers alongside one of Itchen braids hinted at by ‘river sallows‘. On a bridge we batted aside ‘small gnats‘.

To the right were water meadows where sheep were once reared in large numbers – the ‘full-grown lambs‘.

To the left was the Abbey’s former farm Abbots Barton and its stone barn. Crab apples, or ‘apples‘, were cascading from one side.

Was Keats trying the first mile or so of the Pilgrims’ Way before his death in Rome two years later?

Starting a pilgrimage from Winchester now has a new resonance.

Walkers on Sunday look at Hyde gateway which was thatched and partly used as a barn in 1819.

A friendly cat in Saxon Road thinks about following us.

A cottage at Abbots Barton Farm.

Barn at Abbotts Barton where crab apples cascade from side.

The Hyde 900 annual King Alfred weekend is at the end of October. Saturday 26 October is King Alfred Day in the calendar and Alfred was buried at Hyde Abbey.

Is Keats’ poem on Pilgrims’ Way and not at St Cross?

Winchester Cathedral: Which way did Keats go?

Two hundred years ago today John Keats wrote his poem called To Autumn.

It was written on Sunday 19 September 1819 in Winchester about Winchester which for years has promoted a Keats Walk along the River Itchen from Winchester College to St Cross.

New research suggests that his walk was not to the south but along the first mile or so of the Pilgrims’ Way (waymarked St Swithun’s Way) between Hyde Abbey and Abbott’s Barton.

Here “Keats saw barns, apple orchards and stubble fields,” says Hyde 900 which is promoting a guided walk along Nuns Walk on Sunday evening.

Keats makes no mention of the Pilgrims’ Way by name although earlier he had seen other stretches by moonlight.

However, Keats does start his poem in the manner of Chaucer using the word season which appears in the prologue to The Canterbury Tales. Keats knew Southwark and its Chaucer association having lodged as a student in St Thomas Street round the corner from The Tabard Inn.

On Sunday the walk leader will be referring to Charles Ball’s 1818 guide book to Hyde. The event is part of Winchester heritage week.

To Autumn by John Keats 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

William Blake and the Pilgrims’ way

William Blak’e 1810 Canterbury Tales print

The William Blake exhibition opening at Tate Britain today has a reminder of the artist’s interest in the Pilgrims’ Way.

He started thinking about Chaucer’s characters in The Canterbury Tales in about 1806. However he was peeved when his friend Thomas Stothard allegedly stole his idea by signing deal with a publisher for a pilgrims’ painting.

Blake completed his own Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims painting in 1808 and issued it as a print in 1810.

Southwark’s Tabard Inn is depicted as having a gothic gateway. In the background there is the suggestion of St Dunstan-in-the-East towering above the other London city churches which would have been seen by Blake although not of course Chaucer.

The depiction of the characters can only have come from a close reading of the Tales.

Later Blake was to spend long periods at Shoreham in Kent which is on the Pilgrims’ Way out of London. He stayed with fellow artist Samuel Palmer who lived at Water House where the ancient pilgrim path passes the door.

William Blake is at Tate Britain daily until 2 February; £18 (conc £17).

Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims print by William Blake at Tate Britain

The pilgrims, with Chaucer at the back, leave The Tabard Inn in Southwark’s Borough High Street (detail from Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims print by William Blake at Tate Britain)

To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts