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

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.

To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts