Text by William Urry (1948)
Canterbury was surrounded by a wall in Roman times.
Traces survive here and there. A fragment of the Roman Queningate
can be seen in the city wall opposite St. Augustine's Great Gate,
and further up, nearer Burgate, the Roman foundation of the wall
The walls are mentioned in several Anglo-Saxon documents.
In 1011 the Danes succeeded in breaking into the city, slaughtering
the inhabitants, and tossing them over the walls.
It has not yet been established whether the Roman
and Saxon walls ran altogether on the same line as the later medieval
walls, but about 1100 A.D. the city fortifications included the
same area as they did to the end of the 18th century.
There were six gates in use in medieval times:-Northgate,
and Westgate. Later another came into
existence, Wincheap Gate. The walls
were frequently rebuilt and reconstructed but never called upon
to withstand any real siege after 1011, though the city represented
an important strongpoint in the system of national defence.
The Royal government was always attentive to the
condition of Canterbury's walls, and whenever they started to
become ruinous a peremptory note from the Crown would order their
The continuation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales tells
how when the Pilgrims reached Canterbury the Knight took his son,
the Squire, to view the City Walls.
Round 1800 wholesale destruction of the city's historical
monuments was allowed to start, due mainly to street-widening
programmes, and before it was arrested by an awakening interest
a century ago in medieval antiquities, five of the city gates
and half of the walls had gone.
The length of the wall was 1.5 miles. It was strengthened
by 21 Watch Towers, most of which survive, though embedded in
houses. Half of the wall itself still exists, the best visible
stretches being at the Dane John and Broad Street. Much of the
City Ditch is now built upon. This process was far advanced by
the 17th century when it was lamented that the military value
of the wall was thus nullified. Even in the 12th century a certain
amount of squatting in the Ditch had taken place.