It’s been a while since my work has taken me somewhere with new photographic opportunities but that changed on Sunday, when five and a half hours behind the wheel brought me to Canterbury, home of the Anglican Church, and the site where the first Christian Mission to Britain was established in the 6th Century.
On a day when the news was full of Nigel Farage’s damage limitation in which he seemed to be saying “I’m not racist, I just don’t want Romanians and other Eastern and Southern Europeans flooding our country” it was ironic that I was in a location so linked to English tradition, yet established as a result of a missionary from Rome.
Strolling around the city I was reminded very much of York, with medieval defensive walls and gateways pierced by modern traffic flows, literally shambolic streets, a peppering of churches and a dominant cathedral. The clue that I was not so far north was in the building materials; York’s architecture lacks the flint that is commonplace here. (Is it mere coincidence that these two cities each have an Anglican Archbishop?)
I delight in walking streets that are full of stories and surprising views, where old public houses have not yet been abandoned (Britain’s oldest brewery is not so far away after all) and where modern branding is subservient to preservation, though for much of Canterbury that preservation is long overdue. The castle, the cathedral, St Augustine’s monastery and King’s School (possibly the country’s first) all have their share of crumbling masonry at hand.
There are some strange juxtapositions too; the magnificent Cathedral Gate amongst some upmarket retail and cafe options, the large artwork Bulkhead alongside the Dominican Priory where the Canterbury Pilgrims rested after their journey, the lodge opposite the cathedral and, amongst the historic riches, the modernity of the Marlowe Theatre.
A bronze representing the Canterbury-born playwright sits in genial pose by the river (which seems incongruous given his violent death) gazing upon the Theatre that now bears his name. Much of the riverside has a suitably timeless feel; London’s Globe Theatre would perhaps sit here more comfortably than it does in the shadow of Tate Modern, but Kit Marlowe is denied such a view. He is condemned to the right angles, the glass, the steel, the concrete of modern functionality.
I’m sure The Marlowe is a great venue, but sitting here, with a gaudy van parked outside extolling a pantomime starring an actress from Eastenders; I can’t help but feel that we’ve failed the man who penned Tamburlaine the Great.
There is one other character in my tale who remains unmentioned thus far; Thomas Becket, whose murder here in the 12th Century spawned the pilgrimages that brought wealth to Canterbury and, through Chaucer’s imaginings, literary wealth to generations to follow. Henry II’s enmity with his former friend Becket supposedly lead to the plea “Who will rid me of the troublesome priest?”
Made me think of Farage once again.