Historic cathedral city in Kent, southeast England, on the River Stour, 100 km/62 mi southeast of London; population (2001) 135,300. The city is the centre of the Anglican community and seat of the archbishop of Canterbury. It is a popular tourist destination. Paper, paper products, and electrical goods are manufactured here. The public sector is the biggest employer in the city, largely due to the presence of two universities (Canterbury Christ Church University College (1962) and the University of Kent at Canterbury (1965)), a further education college, and an art college.
History Canterbury was the site of the Roman town Durovernum Cantiacorum. Situated on Watling Street, the Roman road between Dover and London, it was an important fortress and military station. Damage caused by World War II bombing raids and subsequent demolition revealed numerous Roman building works, including baths, streets, walls, and theatres. It is believed that a settlement was maintained from Roman times until the Saxon period, and in the 6th century the town, which was then known as Cantwarabyrig, was the capital of Ethelbert, king of Kent. St Augustine, sent from Rome to convert England to Christianity, was welcomed by him in Canterbury in 597. The shrine of English archbishop and politician St Thomas à Becket, who was murdered in the cathedral, was an important centre of pilgrimage until the Reformation.
Features Canterbury Cathedral (1070), St Augustine's Abbey (598), and St Martin's Church together form a World Heritage site. The Roman Museum, opened in 1994, displays Roman artefacts recovered from the area. Excavations in the city centre unearthed the walls of the medieval Whitefriars friary church and Roman remains.
St Augustine's Abbey St Augustine founded a Benedictine monastery here in 598, later named St Augustine's Abbey. The ruins include 7th-century walling, and part of the site is occupied by the King's School, founded by Henry VIII in 1541.
Canterbury Cathedral St Augustine first established Christ Church on the site in 603, but the foundations of the present cathedral were laid by Lanfranc, the Italian archbishop of Canterbury from 1070; subsequent additions range from the Norman to the Perpendicular style. The shrine of St Thomas à Becket was destroyed at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries; there is a plaque on the floor marking the place where he is thought to have been martyred in 1170. The cathedral includes fine medieval stained glass and the largest Norman crypt in Britain. It contains the tombs of Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince), and Henry IV. In 1993 excavations revealed the foundations of an Anglo-Saxon cathedral, 20 cm/6 in below the floor laid in 1786.
Churches St Martin's, one of the oldest churches in England still in use, is built partly of Roman brick and tile; St Augustine reputedly baptized King Ethelbert in its font. St Dunstan's Church houses the burial vault of the Roper family, which contains the head of English politician and author Thomas More, given to his daughter, Margaret Roper, after his execution.
Other features Canterbury suffered extensive damage during World War II bombing raids, and much of the city has been redeveloped. However, many 17th- and 18th-century buildings remain and there are ruins of a Norman keep. Greyfriars is a 13th-century building spanning the River Stour; Canterbury Environment Centre is located in a converted medieval church. West Gate, the only surviving gate in the city walls, contains a museum. The 14th-century Poor Priests' Hospital now houses the Museum of Canterbury's Heritage; exhibits include an engine built by the English engineer George Stephenson which was used on the Canterbury–Whitstable railway from 1830. The history of the weaving industry, introduced by the Walloon and Huguenot refugees who settled in Canterbury in large numbers, is illustrated in the ‘Weavers’, half-timbered houses overlooking the river. Other features include the Beaney Institute, housing the Royal Museum and Art Gallery; Dane John Gardens, laid out in the late 18th century on an ancient artificial mound in the late 18th century; and Eastbridge Hospital, founded in 1190 for poor pilgrims.
Literary associations The poet Geoffrey Chaucer visited the city between 1360 and 1361 and wrote the Canterbury Tales about a group of pilgrims on their way to visit the shrine of St Thomas à Becket. The city was the birthplace of the poet and dramatist Christopher Marlowe, and Richard Barham, author of The Ingoldsby Legends. Mary Tourtel, the English cartoonist who created the comic-strip character Rupert Bear, and British novelist Joseph Conrad are buried here. The writer Somerset Maugham was educated at the King's School.