Conservators visit Canterbury

Clive Rowley, tour guide, with Rye Conservation Society members

Members of the Rye Conservation Society were given a guided tour of Canterbury city centre last Wednesday May 25.  Leading one of two groups was Clive Bowley, for many years the senior conservation officer for the city. He pointed up vividly the problems of introducing new architectural forms into the fabric of an ancient town, which like Rye has extant fortifications around a medieval core.

The Marlow Theatre next to its older neighbour
The Marlow Theatre next to its older neighbour

Canterbury with its great cathedral was not only a place of pilgrimage with a full complement of shops and hostelries.  It was also a centre of the wool trade which brought industrial enterprise into the heart of the town, unlike Rye which depended upon its port and fishing fleet for giving employment. This gave a tremendous contrast of architectural styles. We saw town wall bastions converted to residential homes, wool-stores and the site of the world’s first passenger railway built in 1830. We could not fail to see also the silhouette of the Marlowe Theatre which opened in 2011. Clad in a grey shroud, it is still excitingly modern and challenging on first view, but seen against the city roofscape it is out of harmony with its surroundings, especially seen together with the cathedral towers.

The city planners have achieved some successful developments to be sure, but the plans recently approved for the replacement of the dilapidated Slatters Hotel are castigated by the Canterbury Conservation Society as totally out of scale. A representative claimed that the proposed building demonstrates a disregard of local opinion, being motivated solely by financial interests.

We visited the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, the city’s central museum, library and art gallery. The Grade II listed building opened in 1899 at the height of the Arts and Crafts movement. It had been donated to the city by a Dr Beaney, who made a fortune in Australia, rumoured to result from the sale of quack medicines. He was duly rewarded by being appointed mayor of his native city!  It appears incongruous in its setting on the High Street, but has considerable charm compared with its modern extension at the rear.

After a welcome break in a local tea-shop, we repaired to the cathedral for Evensong, a wonderfully calm and uplifting conclusion to our visit.  The Society’s next event open to members and non-members will be the Annual Garden Party on Sunday July 3 at Little Orchard House, 2:30 – 5 pm.


Photo: Jim Wood


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