The arrival of Augustine on the shores of Kent in 597 had far-reaching consequences for the geography of the Church in Britain. Not only did it establish Canterbury as the seat of an archbishop, later to become ‘Primate of All England’, but it ensured that Kent was the only county with two cathedrals, after Justin founded a second at Rochester in 604.
The creation of an early infrastructure to support Augustine’s mission was important, and rather remarkably survives in part at Canterbury. However, it is the renewal of these churches after the Norman Conquest that is most striking from an architectural perspective. Kent boasts the richest collection of Romanesque churches – and castles – to survive in England. These run from Gundulf’s great tower at Rochester – designed to control the Medway river crossing on Watling Street – to Henry II’s magnificent remodelling of Dover Castle, designed to dominate the northern end of the short sea crossing to France. The later phases of the post-Conquest reconstruction are wonderfully caught in Anselm’s crypt, in the nave of Rochester Cathedral, and in the parish churches of Sandwich, New Romney, and St Nicholas at Wade.
The second of the tour’s themes is concerned with the type of architecture that developed from the second half of the twelfth century onwards. Following a catastrophic fire in the eastern parts of Canterbury cathedral in 1174 the opportunity presented itself for a dramatically new type of church interior – one that invested in architectural colour and combined slender supports, polished stone and stained glass. The impact of this new Anglo-French Gothic choir and shrine chapel was immense, the working out of which one can see at Rochester and Hythe. Indeed, English architecture was never the same again.
Finally, there is one area where a significant amount of late Gothic building survives – Romney Marsh. What is remarkable here is that no one church looks like any other. In most regions the tendency is for churches to cluster in stylistic families. Romney Marsh is different, and a great feature of the medieval Kent itinerary.
Rochester, Sandwich. The tour leaves Rochester railway station at 1.30pm. We begin with Rochester Cathedral, whose extravagant late Romanesque nave and austere choir stand in perfect juxtaposition, followed by the mighty keep of Rochester Castle. Overnight Sandwich.
Sandwich, Dover. Leisurely morning in Sandwich, a famously well-preserved town and the perfect setting in which to explore the dispositions of a former medieval port. Afternoon drive to Dover, to concentrate on the amazing group of buildings enclosed within the castle – including a former Roman lighthouse, late Anglo-Saxon Minster and Henry II’s magnificent keep.
Hythe, Lydd, Rye, Brookland, New Romney. The perfect opportunity for a day on Romney Marsh beginning with its grandest monument – St Leonard’s Hythe – and moving on to All Saints at Lydd, a church that juxtaposes one of the most spectacular of Kent’s perpendicular west towers with elements of the Romano-British basilica that preceded it. After a break for lunch in Rye, the afternoon will bring us gently back across the northern half of the Marsh – past Brookland’s freestanding belfry and lead font to the breathtaking ambition of New Romney.
Canterbury, Wingham. Morning devoted to Canterbury Cathedral, starting with Lanfranc’s early Norman cathedral and Anselm’s ‘glorious choir’, and diversifying via the epoch-making early Gothic Choir and Trinity Chapel to the little-visited monastic precinct. The afternoon opens with St Augustine’s Abbey, a multi-church monastery originally founded by Augustine himself, before walking up to the tiny early Anglo-Saxon church of St Martin. Return to Sandwich via the splendid parish church at Wingham.
St Nicholas at Wade, Cobham. Morning visits to the lovely ragstone and flint church of St Nicholas at Wade and the stunning manorial church and college at Cobham – home to the most extensive set of in-situ medieval brasses to survive in England. The tour ends at Rochester station by 2.00pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £1,520. Single occupancy: £1,800.
Hotel accommodation; private coach throughout; breakfasts, 3 dinners with wine; all admissions; all tips; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
The Bell Hotel, Sandwich: A 19th-century building beside the quay, in the historic town centre. This informal, relaxed hotel has been renovated in muted colours and offers excellent service. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
This tour involves quite a lot of getting on and off coaches and standing. There are steps in the castles and uneven surfaces. It should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Average distance by coach per day: 51 miles.
Are you fit enough to join the tour?
Between 10 and 22 participants.