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)

St Edith’ s Well at Kemsing

Flowers on the well last year

If passing through Kemsing in Kent between this weekend and St Edith’s Day Monday 16 September you may find flowers next to St Edith’s Well.

On Sunday afternoon 8 September there will be devotions by the well at 3:30pm followed by Vespers in the church at 4pm.

The Vespers of St Edith will premiere new settings of the Latin texts of psalms and canticles by composer Angus McPhee in memory of local artist Mary Tyler.

St Edith’s hymn and the Magnificat will be sung in English.

Edith, born and raised at Kemsing, was sister of St Edward the Martyr and Ethelred the Unready. Her sister-in-law was Queen Emma whose remains are in Winchester Cathedral.

Kemsing is just beyond Otford which is best reached on the also ancient quiet lower path starting in Otford churchyard.

The path from Otford to Kemsing used again by pilgrims

Becket 2020 at Southwark

Tour opening at Southwark Cathedral

Next year 2020 is the 850 anniversary of Archbishop Thomas Becket’s murder in Canterbury Cathedral.

St Thomas was killed in his cathedral during Christmas week 1170.

Just two weeks earlier the Archbishop had visited Southwark Cathedral, then a priory, and spent the night next door at the Bishop of Winchester’s house.

Thomas already knew Southwark well having been born over the river in Cheapside and often crossed London Bridge for the road south.

Southwark Cathedral, where many today start their Canterbury pilgrimage, will begin its Becket 2020 programme in November this year with performances of Scena Mundi Theatre Company’s production of Murder in the Cathedral by TS Eliot.

The opening night is on Monday 4 November.

TS Eliot knew Southwark Cathedral which he visited in 1957 for the opening of the Shakespeare Festival.

Booking (£10-£45) now open at Experience Tickets.

The first edition of the text published for the premiere in Canterbury Cathedral in June 1935

St Bartholomew’s Day

St Bartholomew’s Church at Otford where the PW runs along the side side

How has the weather been this month on your walk to Canterbury?

St Bartholomew’s Day is Saturday 24 August which is forty days after St Swithun’s Day.

An old saying claims that if it rains on 15 July it will rain for 40 days but if it’s fine it will be dry for forty days.

You will find a St Bartholomew’s church at Hyde Abbey as the Pilgrims’ Way leaves Winchester and at Otford in Kent where the two branches of the Pilgrims’ Way come together.

St Bartholomew is one of the Apostles and his relics are on an island in Rome’s River Tiber. An arm was for a long time at Canterbury Cathedral having been given by Queen Emma whose own remains are in one of the newly restored chests in Winchester Cathedral.

To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts