Canterbury Archeological Trust

Documentary evidence on Burgate
Tim Tatton-Brown


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Burgate Index

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Map of Burgate

The Burgate was one of the major Roman gates in the walls of Canterbury, and though no part of the Roman gate was found before 1988, it is very likely that the Roman gate was a double-arched gate like the Ridingate. This first gate was probably constructed in c. A.D. 270 at about the time when Portus Rutupiae (Richborough), was being turned for the first time into a 'Saxon-shore' fort. The great triumphal arch there was turned into a look-out post with a rampart and triple ditch around it. The Roman street which left the Burgate ran directly to Richborough, which was twelve miles away, and always a port of very great strategic importance to Roman Britain. Even after the end of the Roman period, the harbour there was used by the early Anglo-Saxons, and it was down this road that St Augustine and his small band of monks from Rome came in 597. Within a year they had established a new cathedral just inside the gate to the north, and a new abbey just outside it. The latter was to become the burial place for all the first archbishops and the early Christian Kings of Kent as well as being a great monastic centre, and at this time the Burgate would have been the most important gate in the City walls - hence the name.

The street inside the gate (now Burgate Street) is first documented in A.D. 1002 as Burhstraet and a St Augustine's Abbey charter (dated A.D. 605 but forged in the eleventh century) mentions, 'the way to the Burgate'. By this time, however, the Newingate (later called St George's Gate) had taken over as the most important on the east side of the City.

After the Norman conquest. the Burgate remained an important gate at the centre of a Ward. and it may well have been repaired or rebuilt at this time. By the late twelfth century, Canterbury Cathedral Priory rentals tell us that the gateway projected back inside the City walls (there were properties on either side that were twenty feet in width), and that inside the gate there was a Shambles (i.e. a street market) in the eastern part of Burgate Street. Over the gate itself was the parish church of St. Michael which belonged to Canterbury Cathedral Priory (confirmed in a Bull of Pope Alexander III). The parish of St Michael was a tiny urban parish in the surrounding area, which was densely packed with houses, many of which also belonged to the Cathedral Priory. The Priory rental of 1206 tells us that the properties to the south of the church were waste, possibly because they had been burnt in a fire.

The street immediately outside the gate led past another parish church, St Pauls, to the very large street-market called Longport which belonged to St Augustine's Abbey. This market had been moved southwards by the twelfth century to allow the lay cemetery at the Abbey to be considerably enlarged. As a result, a new cemetery gate was built only a hundred yards or so away facing the Burgate. The main road, which now led to Sandwich, was dog-legged around the cemetery, and this dog-leg has survived to this day. The cemetery gate of the Abbey, which was rebuilt at the end of the fourteenth century, has also survived.

By the end of the Middle Ages the Burgate, or St Michael's gate as it was often now called, was already over twelve hundred years old, and in the late fifteenth century there were plans to totally rebuild the gate. William Somner says that in 1475 the `gate was new builded' With money given by John Franingam, John Nethersole, and Edmund Minot (their names and arms `in large and legible characters' with the arms of the Archbishop were on the outside of the gate. However. though these and other prominent citizens did give money for the rebuilding of the gate, the work was not carried out until the early sixteenth century. John Freningham, who was Mayor in 1462 and 1468, gave 20 in his will `to the repair of St Michael's Gate or the paving of the Bull's Stake' (i.e. the Butter Market area) . Bunce informs us that Edmund Minot was one of the two City chamberlains who died in 1487, and we know from another will of 1505 that John Nethersole also gave 100 mares for the rebuilding of Christ Church Gate, Wills also tell us that by the 1490s St Michael's church had been rebuilt immediately to the north of the gate. This was perhaps done by Canterbury Cathedral Priory after 1492 when they were able to close the whole of the intramural street from St Michael's church to the Northgate, and acquire all the land up to and including the north-eastern City walls. This is also the time when the two large semicircular towers, which still survive between the Burgate and the Queningate, were rebuilt by the Priory, and when St George's Gate was finally being rebuilt.

By 1502 all this work must have been completed, and Bunce tells us that the City accounts mention in this year that 'it is in contemplation to rebuild St Michael's gate.' He also tells us that at this time the famous master-mason, Robert Vertue, was consulted about this. Robert Vertue appears to have had a house nearby in St Paul's parish and only a few years later in 1506 when he died, he was buried at St Augustine's Abbey. In 1502, he was at the height of his powers, and with his brother, William, was involved as master-mason in many of the greatest building projects of the period (Henry VII's chapel at Westminster Abbey, the new nave at Bath Abbey and St George's Chapel, Windsor) . He had also just been paid 100 for building a new tower at the Tower of London, and he may also have been the designer of the Christ Church Gate in Canterbury where work had also just started. Whether the new Burgate, as built, is his design is not known, but it is certainly more than likely that plans he submitted in 1502 would have been used two decades later when the new gate was finally built. Burgate reconstruction

Again it is Bunce's examination of the City accounts that tell us that the gate was rebuilt in 1525, and it is this new gate that was to stand until the later eighteenth century and be depicted in various maps and drawings. The gate itself is an advance on the St George's Gate as it uses red brick in part and has semi-octagonal (rather than semi-circular) towers. The gate was not as high as the Westgate and St George's gate, and though it has crenellations, there are no machicholations. A portcullis is shown on the c. 1640 map of Canterbury, but there appears not to have been a drawbridge. Each tower appears to have had gunports in each storey and over the centre arch were three larger windows with trefoiled heads surrounded by plaques on which were the arms of the main contributors to the work (see above) . Two shields in quatrefoils still survive, rebuilt in to the wall immediately north of the site of the Burgate. The City accounts also mention that in 1542-3 St Michael's Gate was extensively repaired. For this work, nine loads of stone were brought from the very recently dissolved St Augustine's Abbey. The material was free, but two labourers had to be paid for four days for demolishing walls at the Abbey to produce the stone, and another man was paid 13d for carrying the stone.

In 1516 the parish of St Michael had been united with that of St George's, and at the Reformation the church appears to have been demolished. The western tower, however, which was over the very end of Queningate Lane (near where a wooden gate still leads into the garden of one of the Canon's houses in the Precincts) survived until the late seventeenth century.

By the early seventeenth century houses had been built outside Burgate to the north (over the end of the ditch), to be followed later in the century by more houses (with fine jettied gables) on the south side. As with all the other main City gates, the wooden doors of the gate were burnt in 1648 by the Puritans, and then replaced, at Archbishop Juxon's expense, in 1660. These gates were finally removed in 1785. By the eighteenth century there were rope-walks in the ditch between Burgate and St George's gate, and Burgate itself had acquired an upper storey under pitched roofs. In the centre, on the outside, drawings show a large gable and windows in the crenellations.

The gate itself was demolished in three stages. First the middle was knocked out in 1781 as part of the street-widening of the time (five guineas was paid out by the City in 1782 for this) . Then on 11th May 1809 Burghmote allowed an Alderman to take down the south side of Burgate to improve premises belonging to him. Finally the northern tower was demolished in 1822 so that the street could be widened.

See this place today Click on the logo to see this place today.   The information on this page is Copyright © Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd. 1989 Reproduced with permission.
The text and pictures were taken from Canterbury's Archaeology 1987/1988, The 12th Annual Report of Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd.


Peter Collinson Last change: 7th September 2008