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Historic Scenes along the Dover Road


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How, in few words, shall we tell the story of the road to Dover? It is an heroic effort, for along this ancient highway there is more history to the mile than along any other road in England. In point of mileage this is not a lengthy road. From the south side of London Bridge, whence it was measured, the distance is but 70¾ miles. Who, however, is there in these times that would choose exactly to follow from the beginning the route the coaches took! To-day, if the Londoner wishes to go from London by road to Dover, he goes, as a motorist, not wishing to brave the traffic of Southwark and the Old Kent Road, by way of Hyde Park Corner, and thence to Victoria and the Vauxhall Bridge Road, and so by Vauxhall Cross and Ken-nington Oval, Camberwell New Road and the Peck-ham Road, on to the New Cross Road and Blackheath Road. That route may not be historic, but it is convenient. There are better ways, too, for Dover, but they are not the Dover Road.

That, as already indicated, takes you through Southwark along the Borough High Street. Here it was that the old inns were situated, many of them. Among these was the White Hart, in whose yard Mr. Pickwick first saw Sam Weller. That went, long ago; and the sole survivor of the ancient galleried inns there is the George. The yard of this hostelry is exactly typical of that old type of inn; and the house is still a going concern, greatly frequented by the hop-factors from the Hop Exchange on the other side of the street. We must not forget that it was from the Tabard the Canterbury Pilgrims of Chaucer's verse set forth; but although here you yet see a Tabard, it is a modern house.

Let us now pass on, dismissing in a word the Old Kent Road and New Cross, and come into Deptford; thence rising to Blackheath Hill. Blackheath, that lofty table-land, has seen more historic gatherings than most places, from the time of Julius Caesar, through the Wat Tyler troubles in 1381, to the meeting of the joyous citizens of London in May 1660 to greet Charles the Second, the king restored to his own, after the dour period of the Commonwealth. For this way came of necessity all those who, landing at Dover, desired to reach the capital. There was then no choice of roads. You came up, perforce, along the ancient Roman road, the Watling Street. That is why history is so intensely compacted along the Dover Road.

Proceeding along Blackheath, there are wonderful views towards London, down across Greenwich Park, with the world-renowned Greenwich Observatory in the foreground, where Greenwich Castle once stood. Not only historic meetings took place on Black-heath. Here, of old, or a little way on, among the leafy coverts of Shooter's Hill, the highwaymen were instant in season, ready to relieve the traveller of all the wealth he had on him.

Down from this bad eminence you come to Welling, and thence to Crook Log and by and by to Bexley Heath and Crayford. Always there are the tramlines; on to Dartford. Dartford town lies in the bottom of a hole. Need one say that here is the river Dart; more usually called the Darenth? A bridge long since replaced the ford, and the Dover Road crosses it. The ancient church, with grim, unornamental tower, stands here. The tower rightly is grim, for it was built very largely to defend the ford. In those far-off times a hermit tended the ford. A stained-glass little window in the church alludes to him. Here, too, is the tomb of Sir John Spielman, a German who, in the time of Queen Elizabeth, made paper at Dartford. He was our first paper manufacturer.

Up steeply out of Dart ford we come to the heath called Dartford Brent. The new reconstruction of the Roman Watling Street here goes off to the right and rejoins at Strood, forming a by-pass by which, if one will, we may avoid John's Hole. Horn's Cross, Greenhithe, Northfleet, Rosherville, Graves-end, Milton-next-Gravesend, Chalk and Gad's Hill; some twelve miles. In doing this you would cut out a sight of Charles Dickens's house at Gad's Hill, and the very fine view down over Rochester and the Medway valley, in the descent of Coach and Horses Hill to Strood.

Rochester, into which we come from Strood, across the Medway bridge, is much as Dickens knew it: with its narrow street not widened, and the old Bull coaching inn, where Mr. Pickwick and his friends stayed, yet there, on the right. And the "moon-faced" clock of the Corn Exchange is there, too, and the "Nuns' House" and the Six Poor Travellers' almshouse. The cathedral does not smell so musty now as Dickens described it; probably it never did, but in that we are contending with the novelist's privilege. Other Dickensian landmarks are "Jasper's Gateway": the old gatehouse into the cathedral close, and the red brick terrace. "Minor Canon Row." Over all Rochester the Norman keep of Bishop Gundulf's castle keeps watch and ward.

By the long, narrow street we come insensibly into Chatham; still as in the time of Dickens, all soldiers and sailors; and steeply up Chatham Hill we reach the remains of the Jezreelite temple, that vast and hideous building erected by that strange sect founded by a private soldier named White, but styling himself "James Jershom Jezreel." He died in 1885. A sum of 100,000 was expended upon this freak, which was intended to hold 20,000 of the elect, who at the approaching end of the world were to be translated to Heaven. Much of the building has been taken down.

Passing Rainham, we are in a region of orchards of pears, apples, and especially cherries. Truly it is the garden-or at any rate, the market-garden- of Kent. This is the character of the land at New-ington, whose fine church is off to the left. The land falls down gently to the Swale, the creek between the mainland and Sheppey. Passing the hamlet of Key Street, a road goes off to the left for that island. Thus we come into Sittingbourne town, whose interests are in paper pulp and paper-making, and in the manufacture of bricks.

At Milton Regis, on the left, fantastic mountains of imported paper pulp lend a bizarre note to the scenery; and all around are the deep excavations from which has been extracted the brick-earth. Sittingbourne church stands by the wayside. Here across the road in olden times flowed the bubbling brook whence Sittingbourne took its name. It was the " seething-burn." Here, also, was a hermitage, where a hermit solicited alms of pilgrims; and here, too, was Our Lady of the Buttress. The buttress is still here at the eastern end of the church, but the figure of Our Lady is missing from its niche. For over three hundred years pilgrims prayed to it, on their way to and from the shrine of the blessed S. Thomas a Becket at Canterbury, and gave alms to the various hermitages along the road.

Past Bapchild, Green Street and Ospringe we see on the left the beautiful and unusual stone spire of Faversham church. This is the region of that important Kentish industry, the growing of hops. From Ospringe to Canterbury the hop-gardens are a prominent feature of the way. Beyond Preston, where there is a turning on the left for Faversham, the road enters the district of scrub-woods which are all that remain of the former Forest of Blean, and rises lengthily the steep hill of Boughton, at whose very crest stands, paradoxically enough, the village of Boughton-under-Blean. All around are scrub-woods, chiefly thickets of hazels.

In another mile is seen the modern church of Dunkirk, built in 1845, and opposite it is the Red Lion inn. This is a place of some note. At the Red Lion the body of a remarkable man rested at the con elusion of the last rebellion that ever was in England. "Courtenay's Rebellion" was an obscure rising, but it resulted in an armed conflict in these woods, in which thirteen people were killed. The spot is in Bossendon Woods, to the left of the road. The man who styled himself "Sir William Courtenay" was really one John Nichols Thorn, son of an innkeeper at Truro. He appeared first at Canterbury in 1832 as a champion of the downtrodden agricultural labourers and put up for Parliament.

Later he was imprisoned on a charge of perjury in giving evidence in favour of some poor fishermen. On his release he developed religious mania, and claimed to be the Messiah. Many rustics followed and fell down and worshipped him. Roaming the country, they alarmed the authorities, and were bidden stand and surrender. That was at the end of May 1838. Courtenay shot the police sergeant who opposed him, and when the military were rushed out their commander, Lieutenant Bennett, was killed. "Courtenay" himself fell, and several of his followers. He had declared that, if killed, he would rise again; and so strongly did the rustics believe in him that the authorities kept his body at the Red Lion until it was fully evident that this would not happen. Dunkirk church was built and schools erected by way of educating and civilizing the ignorant rural population of these parts.

The three miles on to Harbledown are of a switchback nature; thus identifying this part of the road with the "Bob-up-and-down" of Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims:

Wist ye riot where standeth a little town,
Which that ycleped is Bob-up-and-down,
Under the Blee in Canterbury way.

Coming to Harbledown the pilgrims, at their first sight of Canterbury and the cathedral where lay the "holy blissful martyr," usually fell down upon their knees in an ecstasy of devotion. But there was one last almsgiving to be rendered before they descended to the city, It was at the Hospital of S. Nicholas, at Harbledown, that ancient almshouse with its church, still here. A bedesman would come forth with in one hand an alms-box, and in the other some holy relic to be kissed. It was in the last years before the Reformation that Erasmus and Dean Colet made pilgrimage and came hither. They did it not so much devotionally as from curiosity; and out from the Hospital came the bedesman, who offered an old shoe, alleged to be that of S. Thomas a Becket, to be kissed. Colet was very angry. "Do these asses," he shouted, "expect the old shoes of every good man who ever lived to be kissed?"

Even so early as 1370 there were those who did not greatly believe in the efficacy of the pilgrimage. Such a one was Archbishop Simon of Sudbury, who told some pilgrims he met that their trouble availed nothing. There was in the crowd one who prophesied for this indignity to S. Thomas a terrible death for the archbishop. It was even so. Eleven years later, in the Wat Tyler rebellion, the archbishop, who had taken refuge in the Tower of London, was dragged out and summarily beheaded by the mob His grinning skull is in the church of S. Gregory. Sudbury, Suffolk; his headless body lies buried in the choir of his cathedral.

We enter Canterbury by the ancient suburb of S. Dunstan, past the picturesque Sir John Falstaff inn, and through the great West Gate, built by Simon of Sudbury, and so into the High Street, in which, along Mercery Lane, on the left, is the approach to the cathedral. In the north transept they show the spot where Thomas a. Becket was slain in 1170, and among other notable objects the tomb of the Black Prince, in the Choir. Up the hill to the east is S. Martin's church, the first Christian church built in England at the reintroduction of Christianity in a.d. 569. Canterbury castle keep is, unhappily, a coal bunker of the local gas company.

Up out of Canterbury, and then down to the village of Bridge on the Stour, and up again goes the road to Barham Downs. On the way up, on the right, just the other side of the hedge is "Old England's Hole"; by tradition the place where the Britons made their last stand in the battle with Julius Caesar's army, in 56 b.c. It is one of the "oppida," or circular mound-forts, described by Caesar himself.

Across Barham Downs we come to a fork of roads. To the right, past the Eagle Gates of Broome Park, goes the road to Folkestone; to left is the way to Dover, by the downs, past Lydden; and so to Temple Ewell, Buckland, River and Dover. The last-mentioned, "The Key of England" has taken a prominent part in English history. Its castle has a Norman keep and remains of a Saxon fortress, and within its precincts are a pharos or light tower and a fortress church.


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Pictures for Historic Scenes along the Dover Road

The Swann Inn, Old Kent Road
The Swann Inn, Old Kent Road >>>>
London Bridge to-day, London's great South-East Artery
London Bridge to-day, London's great South-East Artery >>>>
Beyond Dartford, where Roman Road and Modern Speedway part company
Beyond Dartford, where Roman Road and Modern Speedway part company >>>>
Past the Old Church at Dartford, and Bexley Heath
Past the Old Church at Dartford, and Bexley Heath >>>>
Corn Exchange and Clock, Rochester
Corn Exchange and Clock, Rochester >>>>
Green street and Faversham: the Ruined Temple og Jezreelites at Gillingham, and do to Sittingbourne
Green street and Faversham: the Ruined Temple og Jezreelites at Gillingham, and do to Sittingbourne >>>>
Boughton Hill, and the Oast-Houseswhere Kentish Hops are dried
Boughton Hill, and the Oast-Houseswhere Kentish Hops are dried >>>>
Old England's Hole: the Falstaff at Canterbury and Windmill on Barham Downs
Old England's Hole: the Falstaff at Canterbury and Windmill on Barham Downs >>>>
The Gate of England: Dover From the Western Heights, and Lydden
The Gate of England: Dover From the Western Heights, and Lydden >>>>
The Pillared front of Exter's ancient Hall of the Merchant Adventurers
The Pillared front of Exter's ancient Hall of the Merchant Adventurers >>>>

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