The city of Canterbury: Situation, names and origin

Pages 1-8

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1800.

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The arms of the City

Is situated in the eastern part of the county of Kent, fifty-six miles distant from London, south-eastward, and sixteen miles from Dover and the sea-shore, (fn. 1) the great high-road from London leading through it. Its geographical situation is in latitude 51 degrees, 17 minutes north, longitude 1 degree, 15 minutes east, from Greenwich observatory. It adjoins westward to the hundred of Westgate, northward to the jurisdiction of Fordwich, and towards the south and east, to the hundred of Bridge and Petham.

It was called by the Romans, Durovernum, either from the British word Dour, which signifies water, or as Camden supposes, from the British Durwhern, a rapid river; both words, however, well adapted to the situation of it. (fn. 2) Bede, and others, call it Dorovernia, and Dorobernia, which is said to be its old name. The Saxons called Kent, Cant-guar-landt, that is, the country of the Kentish men; and this city, Cant-wara byrg, i. e. the Kentish men's city, (fn. 3) a name agreeing with that of Caer, Kent, (the city of Kent) as Nennius and the Britons called it from the Saxon name. The Latinists afterwards modelled it to Cantuaria, and the English to its present name of Canterbury, by which it has been in general called, from about the time of the Norman conquest. (fn. 4)

The origin of the city is said by Jeffry of Monmouth, the author of the British History, to be much older, even than Rome itself; for he writes, that one Rud-hudibras, or Lud-hudibras, a king of the Britons, founded this city almost nine hundred years before our Saviour's incarnation; (fn. 5) but as this writer is exploded, and his story deemed fabulous by most of our antiquaries, and especially by Camden, I shall pass on to more probable evidence, that Canterbury existed at the time the Roman empire first extended itself into Britain, which appears by their continuing the name by which they found it called by the Britons, the Roman Durovernum being, seemingly, no other than the Latin rendering of the British Durwhern; that it existed in the time of the Roman empire here, is plain from the mention of it in the Itinerary of Antoninus, now more than 1500 years old, corroborated by the present remains of those roads leading from two of their noted havens, Dover and Limne, to this city; by their workmanship and materials in the churches, walls, and gates of it; and the number of coins, earthen ware, utensils and tesselated pavements, found from time to time within the city and the near neighbourhood of it. What the general state or condition of it was in the times of either the Britons or Romans, is not known; as there is no history or record to shew it; but no doubt it was then of considerable account; for even at the beginning of the Saxon heptarchy, it was esteemed the head or chief city of the kingdom of Kent, and the king's residence; (fn. 6) thus Venerable Bede calls it the chief city of king Ethelbert. (fn. 7) Another writer stiles it the head of the empire; (fn. 8) and in the close of a charter of Kenulph, king of Mercia, in the year 810, it is dated in the famous city, which of antient name was called Dorovernia. (fn. 9) Canterbury continued the royal residence of king Ethelbert, till about the year 596, when having embraced Christianity by the persuasions of St. Augustine, he gave him his palace here, as a residence for him and his successors, and retired himself to Reculver, where he built another palace for that purpose; but the king continued possessed of the city in demesne, excepting as to that part, and certain privileges, which he had granted to St. Augustine, in which manner the crown afterwards continued possessed of it; (fn. 10) and in king Edward the Confessor's time, though in divers other parts of it, several privileges had been granted to religious as well as lay persons, yet the royalty and chief seignory of it continued in the crown, and did so at the Norman conquest, as appears by the following entry of it in the survey of Domesday, taken in the year 1080, being the 15th year of the Conqueror's reign, in which the state of it, as well in the reign of king Edward as at that time, is thus accurately described:

In Civitate Cantuariæ habuit Rex Edward, 50 & 1 burgens reddentes gablu' & alios 200 & 12. Sup' quos habebat saca' & soca' & 3 molend de 40 sol. modo burgens' gablu' reddentes sunt 19. De 32obs. aliis qui fuerant, sunt vastati 11 in sossato Civitatis. & Archieps ht. ex eis 7. & abb S. Augustini alios 14 p exabio Castelli. & adhunc sunt 200 & 12 burgs. sup quos ht rex saca' & soca' & 3 molend reddt 100 & 8 sol. & theolonium' redd 68. sol. Ibi 8 acræ pti quæ solebant e' e'. legator; regis. mo. reddt de Censu 15 sol. & mille acre silvæ infructuosæ. de qua exeunt 24. solidi' Int totu. T. R. E. valuit 51 lib. & tntd qdo Haimo Vicec. recep & mo' 50 lib. appciat'. Tam' qui ten' bc' reddit 30. lib. arsas & pensatas. & 24. lib ad numeru' Sup h' oma' ht vicecom' 100 & 10 sol.

Duos dom' duor; burgsiu' una' foris alia' int' civitate. qda monachus œccliœ cantuar abstulit. Hœ erant positœ in calle regis.

Burgses habuer' 45. mansur' ext' civitate' de' qbs ipst habet' gablu' & csetud, rex aut' hab saca & soca. Ipst qque' burg' ses habebant de rege 33. acs træ in gilda' sua' Has dom & hanc tra' ten' Rannulf de Colubels. Habet etiam qt. 20. acs træ sup' hæc. quas tenebant burgens' in alodia de rege. Tenet quoq; 5. acs træ juste ptinent uni æccliæ. De his omibz revocat isde Rannuls ad ptectore' epm. Baiocensem.

Radulf de Curbespine ht. 4. mansuras in Civitate quas teuuit quæda' ccubina Heraldi, de quibz' est saca & soca regis. sed usq; ne' non habuit.

Isae Radulf ten alias 11. masuras de epo baioc in ipsa civitate quæ fuer Sbern biga & reddt 11. solid & 2 den & 1 obolu.

Per tota civitate cantuariæ ht. rex saca & soca, excepta tra æccliæ S. Trin & S. Augustini, & Eddevæ reginæ & Alnod Cild & Esber Biga & Siret de Cilleha.

Concordatu est de rectis Callibs quæ habent p. civitate introitu' & exitu' quicunq; in illis forisfecerit, regi emdabit. Similit' de Callibz' rectis extra civitate' usq; ad una leuga' & 3 partrias & 3 pedes. Si qs ergo infra has publicas vias intus civitate, vel' ext' foderit vel palu' fixerit, sequit' illu' pposit regis ubicunq; abierit & emenda' accipiet ad opus regis.

Archieps. calu' niat' forisfactura' in vijs ext civitate' ex utq; parte ubi terra sua e'. Quida pposit Brumann' noe T. R. E. capit c'suetudines de extraneis mercatorib; in tra S. Trinitatis & S. Augustini, Qui postea T. R. W. ante archiepm Lanfranc & epm. Baiocense' recognovit se injuste accepissie & sacramto facto' juravit qd ipsæ æcclæ suas co' suetudines qetas habuer R. E. tepore. Et exinde utraq; æccliæ in sua tra habuer' cosuetud' suas, judicio baronu regis qi placitu tenuer.

Which is: In the city of Canterbury, king Edward has 51 burgesses, (fn. 11) yielding rent; and other two hundred and twelve, on which he had sac and soc; and three mills of forty shillings; now the burgesses yielding rent are nineteen. Of thirty-two others, which were, eleven are destroyed in the ditch of the city, and the archbishop has of them seven, and the abbot of St. Augustine other fourteen, by exchange of the castle, and as yet there are two hundred and twelve burgesses, on which the king has sac and soc, and three mills yielding one hundred and eight shillings, and toll yielding sixty eight shillings. There are eight acres of meadow, (fn. 12) which used to be of the king's officers, now yielding of rent fifteen shillings, and a thousand acres of wood yielding no pannage, from which there is payable twenty-four shillings. In the whole, in the time of king Edward the Confessor, it was worth fifty one pounds, and as much when Hamo the sheriff received it, and now it is valued at fifty pounds, yet he who now has it pays thirty pounds, tried and weighed, and twenty four pounds numbered; of all these the sheriff has one hundrea and ten shillings.

Two houses of two burgesses, one without, the other within the city, a certain monk of the church of Canterbury took away. These were placed in the king's highway.

The burgesses had forty-five mansions without the city, of which they had rent and custom; but the king bad sac and soc. Those burgesses also had of the king thirtythree acres of land in his guild. These houses and this land Ranulf de Columbels holds. He has also four times twenty acres of land more than these, which the burgesses held in fee simple of the king. He holds likewise five acres of land, which of right belong to a certain church; of all these the same Rannulf vouches the bishop of Baieux as his protector.

Radulf de Curbespine has four mansions in the city, which a certain concubine of Herald held, from which there is sac and soc of the king, but to this time he had it not.

The same Radulf holds other eleven mansions of the bishop of Baieux in the city itself, which were Sbern Biga's, (fn. 13) and yield eleven shillings and two-pence and one halfpenny.

Through the whole city of Canterbury the king has sac and soc, except the land of the church of the Holy Trinity, and of St. Augustine, and of queen Eddeve, and of Alnod Cilt, and Esber Biga, and Siret de Cilleha.

It is agreed concerning the highways which have entrance and exit through the city, whoever shall commit an offence in them, shall make a fine to the king; in like manner of the highways without the city, as far as one league, and three perches, and three feet. If any one therefore, within these public ways within the city or without, shall dig or put down a post, the king's reeve shall follow him wherever he shall go, and receive the fine to the king's use.

The archbishop claims forfeitures in the ways without the city on both sides, where the land is his; a certain reeve, named Bruman, in the time of king Edward, took the customs of the foreign merchants in the land of the Holy Trinity, and of St. Augustine, who afterwards, in the time of king William, before archbishop Lanfranc and the bishop of Baieux, acknowledged that he had received them unjustly, and swore upon his oath, that those churches possessed them quietly in the time of king Edward, and from that time both churches had those customs by judgment of the king's barons, who held pleas.

At this time, it appears by the same book, the archbishop had possessions in Canterbury, which are thus entered in it, under the general title of his lands.

In civitate Cantuariæ habet Archieps. 12. burgenses, & 32 mansuras, quas tenent clerici de villa in gilda sua, & reddunt 35. sol. & un mold de 5 sol.

Which is: In the city of Canterbury, the archbishop has twelve burgesses and thirty two mansions, which the clerks of the ville hold in their guild, and they pay thirtyfive shillings, and one mill of five shillings.

It appears by the above record, that the sheriff of the county of Kent was intrusted with and managed the king's interest here, the same as he did the other manors and demesnes of the king, and accounted yearly for the profits of it, (fn. 14) as did afterwards the king's præfects and bailiffs of the city, as will be further noticed hereafter; in which state the city continued, till Henry III. in his 18th year, granted it to the citizens, (fn. 15) to hold to them and their successors for ever, at the yearly rent of sixty pounds in see ferm; (fn. 16) by which tenure it has continued to be held ever since. (fn. 17)


  • 1. The sea at Whitstable comes within six miles of Canterbury.
  • 2. Lhuyd, a natural Briton, says, that Durywhern in his language was plainly aqua ex alneto fluens; but Talbot writes that a Welshman rendered Darvernum to him Dour arguern, quasi aquæ juxta paludem aut Mariscum, and thence he deduces it See Burton on Antoninus, p 185. Leland, in his Itin. vol. vii. append. p. 144, conjectures that the river Stour was in the Britons time called Avona, and that the Romans called this city corruptly Duravennum, for of Dor and Avona, it should rather be called Doravona or Doravonum: of which see more hereafter.
  • 3. Cantwarenaburge. Bede p. 117, edit. Wheeloc. Richard of Cirencester, calls this city, Cantiopolis. See Madox's Firma Burgi. p. 2.
  • 4. Lan barde Per. p. 313. Camden, p. 238. Bat. Somn. p. 1.
  • 5. See Higden's Polyenron. p. 198, 213.
  • 6. Battely's Somner, p. 1.
  • 7. Eccl. Hist. 1. i. c. 25.
  • 8. Matth. Westm. ad an. 596
  • 9. Somner, p. 1.
  • 10. See Madox's Firma Burgi, p. 14.
  • 11. These burgesses seem to have been such as exercised free trade, according to the liberties and privileges granted to them by the king, for which they paid him a gablum, or yearly rent of tribute money, which in process of time became a fee-farm rent, or an annual composition in a stated sum of money.
  • 12. This meadow is now the property of the corporation, and is called the king's mead.
  • 13. Biga, that is, the provider of the king's carriages.
  • 14. When the king was possessed of a city or town in demesne, he had a compleat possession of it, with all its parts and adjuncts. He was lord of the soil, viz. of all the burgage houses, sheds, stalls and buildings erected on it; of the profits, if any, of aldermanries, the herbage and productions of the earth, profits of fairs and markets, pleas and perquisites of courts; in a word, of all issues, profits, and appurtenances of the city or town, which had not been aliened by the king, or his ancestors; for sometimes the crown thought fit to grant some part of it, or some of the profits to private persons, or religious houses, by which means it happened, that the property was divided into parts, and became severed from the corpus civitatis. See Madox's Firma Burgi, p. 14.
  • 15. Before, as well as after this, I find it paying aid as the king's town, viz. anno 14 Henry II. Madox's Exchequer, p. 409 an. I, Johan p. 507, in king Edward I.'s reign, p. 509.
  • 16. That is to say, rendering a yearly rent for ever and the succeeding kings of England and their grantees have been from time to time possessed of it in inheritance, in right of the crown, by the hands of the townsmen for the time being; from the time of such a grant in fee ferm, the crown was esteemed to be possessed of it by way of seignory, and the tenure of the town itself, as well as the particular burgage tenements in it so put to see ferm, was that of burgage. See Madox's Firma Burgi, p. 15, 21.–Anno 4 Ed. I. it appears by the Pat. Rolls, that the liberties of this city, which had been seized into the king's hands, were restored anno 18 Edward I. The king's officers of the exchequer seized the liberties of this town of Canterbury, for not accounting for their rent at the exchequer; ibid. p. 161; and again anno 34 Edward I. See Madox's Excheq. p. 701, 702, 703. In the first year of king Edward I. the citizens of Canterbury were grievously amerced by the justices itin. for the escape of selons out of the churches of Canterbury, during the vacancy of the archbishopric, contrary to former custom. Pat. I Ed. I. ps. 2, m. 18. Prynne, p. 125.
  • 17. King Edward III. in the 29th year of his reign granted 30l. a year, part of this rent to William Condy, for his good services, &c. where of the corporation bought of John Hales, esq. 7l. 10s. in 1532, and the remaining 22l. 10s. they purchased of Thomas Wootton, esq. in 1555. King Edward IV. in the 1st year of his reign, by charter released the city from 16l. 13s. 4d. more of this rent, so that the corporation are now charged in respect of their fee farm rent with 13l. 6s. 8d. only, which their chamberlain pays to the poor of the hospital of St. Nicholas, Harbledown, and the sheriff is annually allowed in the exchequer.