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In the centre of Roman Canterbury was the Forum, an open space lined by shops and by the basilica a kind of town hall. The Forum acted as the market place. In Roman Canterbury there were temples. There were also public baths. In Roman times going to the baths was not just a way to keep clean it was also a way to socialise. It was the Roman equivalent of going to the pub.
In Roman Canterbury rich people built houses of stone with mosaic floors. However poor people lived in wood and plaster huts. In the early 3rd century a wall was built around Canterbury. The town flourished for 300 years but in the 4th century Roman civilisation declined.
After the Romans left Britain in 407 AD town life broke down and Canterbury was probably abandoned. There may have been a few farmers living inside the walls and growing crops or raising animals but Canterbury ceased to be a town. Then in 597 AD the Pope sent Augustine with some monks to convert the Saxons. The king of Kent, Ethelbert, was married to a Christian woman which made the task easier. In 598 Augustine and his monks built an abbey outside the walls of the old Roman town. In 602 he rededicated a deserted Roman church in Canterbury. In 603 Canterbury was chosen to be the seat of the first archbishop. Once it was chosen to be his seat the town began to revive. It now had a new importance. Craftsmen came to live in Canterbury. Among them were leather workers. Leather was used to make all kinds of things including gloves, shoes, saddles and bottles. Furthermore wool was woven in Canterbury. By 630 AD there was a mint in Canterbury and silver coins were made there. Goods were brought to Canterbury by water to Fordwich. Goods came from the town of Ipswich and from northern France. By the 9th century Canterbury had grown into abusy little town. It would seem very small to us but settlements were tiny in those days. By the standards of the time Canterbury was a large town. However Canterbury suffered severely when the Danes began raiding England. Because it was close to the eastern shore of England Canterbury was a natural target. It was raided twice, in 842 and 851. Both times many people were killed. In 1011 the Danes returned and laid siege to Canterbury. They captured it after 20 days. They burned the cathedral and most of the houses in Canterbury. They also killed the archbishop.
CANTERBURY IN THE MIDDLE AGES
CANTERBURY IN THE 16TH CENTURY AND 17TH CENTURY
Henry VIII closed the abbey and the 3 friaries in Canterbury. He also put an end to the cult of Thomas Becket. Despite the loss of pilgrims Canterbury remained a large and important town with a population of perhaps 5,000 people in 1600.
Henry's daughter Mary tried to undo her father and brothers reforms and restore the old Catholic religion. She resorted to burning Protestants and many were martyred in Canterbury.
In the late 16th century weavers from what is now Belgium came to Canterbury fleeing from religious persecution. The first arrived in 1567. Many more followed and they boosted the population of Canterbury.
Meanwhile Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury in February 1564. However he was stabbed in Deptford in 1593.
Jesus Hospital (an almshouse) was built in 1599.
At the end of the 17th century the travel writer Celia Fiennes said that Canterbury was a flourishing town. She described it as a noble city with handsome and neat buildings. Most of them were made of brick.
In the 18th century Canterbury dwindled to being a quiet market town although it did have a leather industry and a paper making industry.
In 1787 an act of parliament formed a body of men with powers to pave, clean and light the streets of Canterbury.
In the 1780s the gates of Canterbury (except Westgate) were demolished because they impeded the flow of traffic. Dane John Gardens were laid out in 1790. Also in 1790 a hospital opened in Canterbury.
The railway reached Canterbury in 1830 and an art school opened in 1867.
However during the 19th century Canterbury remained a quiet market town. Its old importance had completely gone as the new industrial towns of the north and midlands mushroomed.
CANTERBURY IN THE 20TH CENTURY
During the 20th Century Canterbury continued to grow slowly. Westgate museum opened in 1906.
Then during the Second World War 115 people were killed in Canterbury by German bombs. The worst raid was in 1942. During it 48 people were killed and part of the town centre was destroyed.
Canterbury University was built in 1962 and a by-pass was built in 1982.
Marlowe Arcade opened in 1985 and the Roman Museum opened in 1994. Furthermore a museum opened in St Augustine's Abbey in 1997. Also in 1997 Canterbury Castle opened to the public.