Pilgrim badges at Museum of London

A graphic Becket pilgrim badge

The Museum of London has the country’s largest collection of pilgrim badges and to mark this Becket2020 anniversary year it has put some on display.

The varied pewter badges were the souvenir to be brought back to the capital from Canterbury by pilgrims.

Hundreds of these souvenirs have been recovered from London excavations and mudlarking activity along the Thames.

There is some evidence that once back home pilgrims nailed their badge to a wall or beam as a reminder of their walk of a lifetime.

There are just four cabinets put out for this special year by the museum but each item is accompanied by interesting information.

The label under the bells reads: ‘An Intolerable racket’.

Apparently some tiny bells were sold in London to those setting out.

In 1407 someone complained that the large numbers of pilgrims on the road had become a nuisance ‘what with the noise of their singing…the sound of their piping and with the jangling of their Canterbury bells, and with the barking of dogs after them’.

Admission to the Museum of London is free.

A first hand account of Becket’s murder in the museum.

St Valentine on the Pilgrims’ way

Chest holding St Valentine relics in Vienna Cathedral

Setting out on the Pilgrims’ Way you will find a St Valentine connection at both Winchester and London’s Southwark.

On the edge of Winchester the path passes through the remains of Hyde Abbey where one of the attractions was the head of St Valentine.

The relic was given in 1041 by Jumièges Abbey in Normandy to Queen Emma of Normandy who a year later presented the head to Winchester.

For centuries 14 February was an important date in the Hyde Abbey liturgical calendar.

Hyde Abbey also owned The Tabard Inn in Southwark’s Borough High Street and Professor Andy Kelly of the University of California suggests that a St Valentine’s Day Mass would have been said in the Tabard Inn chapel.

Nearby Southwark Cathedral has the magnificent tomb of John Gower who ghosted some of the Canterbury tales for his friend Geoffrey Chaucer.

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

Which one first wrote of birds choosing mating partners on St Valentine’s Day is a matter of debate.

But Professor Kelly suggests that they were looking to a St Valentine’s Day then observed in Genoa during May.

Queen Emma’s bones survive in one of the chests above the quire in Winchester Cathedral.

John Gower in Southwark Cathedral

Pilgrims’ Way evening at Southwark Cathedral

The Shard, a distant landmark for PW walkers, and Southwark Cathedral’s tower

Southwark Cathedral is having an open evening this Spring for visitors to learn about the Pilgrims’ Way.

This year is the 800th anniversary of St Thomas Becket’s murder and the 850th of his ‘translation’, or his body being moved, to the famous shrine upstairs in Canterbury Cathedral.

It was this shrine which drew thousands to Kent over about 350 years and is again after the Victorians rediscovered the Pilgrims’ Way.

Just three weeks before his death at Christmas 1170 Archbishop Becket came to Southwark. His return home was along what we now call the London to Canterbury Pilgrims’ Way.

The Southwark Cathedral pilgrimage evening, with Gregorian plainsong, candles and incense, is on Friday 6 March.

There will be an illustrated talk at 6pm looking at the route out of Southwark and the main landmarks on the way to Canterbury. Come and learn about it or share your experience.

Afterwards artist Michelle Rumney will be available to discuss her huge Pilgrim artwork which features the road to Canterbury.

For a free ticket to the talk book here.

The cathedral will remain open until 9pm.

The Shard from Shooters Hill eight miles away

Compton and the Pilgrims’ Way

One of the pleasures of walking along the Pilgrims’ Way between Farnham and St Catherine’s village, outside Guildford, is the ‘midway’ stop at Compton.

The walker’s pause here is often to visit the wonderful Watts Gallery Tea Shop with its jumble of china next to the path.

But Compton also has a church with a rare double deck chancel and a very unusual cemetery chapel and cloister.

The Tea Shop is in the former pottery showroom of the artists’ village created by Mary Watts who was responsible for the cemetery buildings.

She had outlived her husband GF Watts by 34 years when she died in 1938 and during this time she developed the pottery using local clay.

A new book Mary Seton Watts and the Compton Pottery by Hilary Calvert and Louise Boreham not only tells her story but reveals her relationship with the Pilgrims’ Way.

In the grounds of Mary’s house, Limnerslease, is a terracotta Pilgrims’ Way cross inscribed: ‘G. F. Watts, O. M. R. A. His Pilgrims Way 1891-1904. By his wish, this cross placed here.’ At the base are pilgrim figures.

The book’s many illustrations include photographs of pilgrim mugs manufactured on site as well as different ceramic pilgrim bottles with delightful designs.

Red clay pendants depict landmarks to come: St Catherine’s Chapel and St Martha’s Hill church.

The book also suggests that in St Nicholas church, at the entry into Guildford, the figure of the saint comes from Compton.

Allow plenty of time if you are pausing for refreshment at Compton.


Cake at Compton Tea Shop
Cemetery cloister at Compton

Measuring at Southwark Cathedral before Lent

Michelle measures two people in Southwark Cathedral

Artist Michelle Rumney was at Southwark Cathedral on Sunday to measure more people for her Lent art installation.

Bishop Peter Price and actor Timothy West were among the many who were measured to be part of the artwork.

In Medieval times your body (or dead body) could be measured from head to toe with a length of string which would used to make a candle . It would then be lit as prayers were said for your recovery or eternal soul.

This practice was called Measuring to the Saint and Michelle Rumney is using it as inspiration to create the installation.

2020 is St Thomas Becket anniversary year and so the Lent 2020 artwork will explore the idea of pilgrimage and the routes that connect us through the centuries.

The strings will be used in the installation covering the Southwark Cathedral great screen from Ash Wednesday 25 February until Good Friday.

Michelle Rumney gathering the string in Southwark Cathedral

Pilgrim Measuring day at Southwark Cathedral

Michelle Rumney with string ready to measure a visitor in Southwark Cathedral

Pilgrims and intending Canterbury pilgrims are being invited to drop in at Southwark Cathedral on Sunday.

‘Measuring the saint’ is an old custom involving making a candle to the height of a particular saint.

The saint in question this time is St Thomas of Canterbury, better known as Thomas Becket, whose 850th anniversary of martyrdom is being marked this year.

Church candles were sometimes made to the height of a deceased person being remembered or a living person needing our prayers.

Michelle Rumney is measuring people with string so she can weave hundreds of lengths into her Lent installation in Southwark Cathedral. Its theme will be the Pilgrims’ Way from Southwark to Canterbury.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was measured last week.

Next Sunday 12 January Michelle will be back at Southwark Cathedral between 12 noon and 3pm to measure anyone who wants to participate.

“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.

So far Michelle has collected 257 lengths of string but needs a further opportunities to measure in order to be able to represent the full 86 miles from Southwark to Canterbury.

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

Lent starts at the end of February and lasts for six weeks until Easter in April.

St Thomas Becket visited Southwark Cathedral just three weeks before his murder in Canterbury. His route back to Canterbury is the present Pilgrims’ Way followed by pilgrims and made famous by Chaucer.

Michelle Rumney measuring Southwark Succentor Rachel Young



Bishops Finger is PW’s ale

The Daily Telegraph today carries an obituary for Bobby Neame whose name is associated with Bishop’s Finger ale.

It is appropriate that the Pilgrims’ Way has its own ale since St Thomas Becket is the patron of the Brewers’ Company.

Bishops Finger ale takes its name from the finger-shaped signposts pointing pilgrims the way to Canterbury and the tomb of Thomas Becket.

It is one of the UK’s oldest bottled beers and holds EU Protected Geographical Indication.

Bobby Neame joined the board of his Kentish family firm Shepherd Neame in 1957 and the following year Bishop’s Finger was launched.

Since 1958 it has been brewed by the head brewer of Shepherd Neame on a Friday using 100% natural ingredients: Kentish hops, barley, and the artesian mineral water.

Beer expert Roger Protz says that Bobby Neame hit back at cheap imports by exporting his strong Bishops Finger to Calais and other parts of Northern France where it became a cult beer.

Pub in Canterbury

The Bishop’s Finger pub on the approach to Canterbury’s West Gate


The Bishops Finger pub in Canterbury is on the Pilgrims’ Way between St Dunstan’s Church and the West Gate.

The 17th-century building had long been a pub when Shepherd Neame changed the name to The Bishops Finger in 1968.

At first the sign depicted a bishop raising his finger but last year this was replaced by the more appropriate picture showing pilgrims and a fingerpost.

Another Bishops Finger pub can be found in London’s Smithfield where Shepherd Neame renamed the Rutland Arms in 1981. Today it has the same sign as Canterbury.

The Bishop’s Finger pub sign
Detail from the Canterbury pub sign with the finger post showing Canterbury and Southwark
A drink on the Pilgrims’ Way

29 Dec 2019 at Canterbury

Site of Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury Cathedral

Sunday 29 December is St Thomas of Canterbury Day when the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket during Christmas 1170 is remembered.

It will be a low-key day as this year it is a Sunday when most churches are keeping Holy Family Sunday or First Sunday of Christmas.

At Canterbury Cathedral there is evensong at 3.15pm when the service includes a procession to the Martyrdom for a liturgical reading of lines from TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. The service ends in the crypt.

Thomas Becket was murdered during Vespers in the late afternoon and Solemn Vespers will be sung in the crypt at 8pm.

Next year, a leap year, the 850th anniversary will fall on a Tuesday and be widely marked especially at Canterbury.

Part of 12th-century pilgrim chapel for sale

The outline of a chapel window in the building

Part of the 12th-century St Lawrence Chapel on the PW at Upper Halling near the River Medway is for sale.

The chapel dates from just after Thomas Becket’s death and had a chaplain until 1547.

After the Reformation, when Henry VIII banned pilgrimage to Canterbury, the chapel was used by drovers and other travellers for overnight accommodation.

in the 19th century, having been a wheelwright’s, it was converted into housing and is now known as Chapel Houses.

The building is similar in size to St Benedict’s Chapel at nearby Paddlesworth which is also associated with pilgrims but is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust and open daily.

The ‘quirky cottage’ at Upper Halling is being marketed by Mann estate agent whose pictures show an interesting interior.

Should we be crowdfunding to buy it and return part of the ancient chapel to being a pilgrim staging post?

St Lawrence Chapel is now a row of cottages

To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts