On a rather gloomy morning, our party of 35 set out for Kent, fortified by the weather forecast giving us the hope of 6 fine days for our visit. Our first port of call was to meet the Hertford Civic Society for lunch at the old Salisbury Inn in the centre of town. Herford proved to be a mainly Victorian town with some fine buildings. We then continued to our base for the visit, Canterbury.
On a bright Sunday morning we were met at the hotel by Jan Pahl, chair of Canterbury Society and John Walker, chair of the Kent Federation of Amenity Societies, our guides for our morning tour of Canterbury. They took us on a historical tour revealing the importance of the waterways around the City reaching back into the first millennium and old streets around the Cathedral. Canterbury also boasts of an excellent modern theatre, the Marlowe and has 3 universities so has a very young look on its streets. In the afternoon we paid a visit to the home of Winston Churchill, Chartwell, which proved to be well hidden in the Kent countryside. This was a fascinating tribute to the life of Churchill with many points of interest not least the showcases of his official uniforms from the various honorific posts he was awarded during his long and illustrious career.
Monday saw us on our way to the Historic Dockyard at Chatham, a vast site with several warships of various eras together with many exhibitions dealing with many naval events over the years. Our main tour was of the re-enactment/demonstration of rope-making in the 18th century. Also onsite was the old Customs House which is used for the TV series “Call the Midwife”; there was supposed to be a film crew on site the day we visited but we were not needed as extras. After lunch at Chatham, we proceeded to the nearby charming City of Rochester with its extensive medieval Castle and fine buildings, where we were met by members of the Rochester civic Society for our tour. The city was full of independent shops often run by long-established families. Rochester had proved able to keep out many of the modern national chains with their habit of defacing old streets with ugly modern signage; the modern shops were mainly centred in nearby Strood which helped Rochester to retain its character.
The next day, took us to the seaside, where we met the Ramsgate civic Society for a tour of this interesting seaside town. The local society was very active in preservation and one of its recent successes was the rescue of several chalets on the seafront which looked splendid in their recently restored finery. Ramsgate also has close connection with Pugin and we were able to visit a church close to his house which had several features created by him. Again, we moved on after lunch with a short coach ride to Margate to meet the Margate Civic Society for an afternoon tour. Margate had received several million from the Lottery to restore its Victorian theme park, Dreamland, and later was able to build the Turner Contemporary Gallery at the south end of town. I found the building rather undistinguished but that is of course a personal view. One of our rare disappointments was that the gallery was between exhibitions so we were unable to view its collection of Turner paintings.
Wednesday started with a visit to historic Dover Castle. There was an excellent video display of Operation Dynamo, the World War 11 operation to rescue the British army from the beaches at Dunkirk. The castle was a hugely extensive site with many tunnels to explore as well as other displays. After lunch we returned to Canterbury where part of the group decided to stay in Canterbury, mostly so they could view the Abbey ruins and the Cathedral, including attending Evensong and shop. A dozen went to a local vinery, Barnsole Vinery, to have a talk about wine and wine-making and, of course, taste a selection of wines and then buy a not inconsiderable amount to bring home to Chester! The talk was fascinating and it was news that because of climate change, which meant the Perigord was becoming too warm, some major champagne brands, such as Tattinger and Pol Roger, had made substantial investments in Kent wineries; how they will be able to call the product champagne was for the future to decide. In the evening we met for dinner in a medieval hostelry, The Parrot , where Jan Pahl and John Walker joined us for dinner and a good time was had by all to celebrate our last night in Canterbury.
On our last day, we set out on our return to Chester after a hearty breakfast aiming for lunch in Tamworth at the old Globe Inn. I should mention at this juncture we were very well looked after at the Premier Inn in Canterbury which proved to be good base, very close to the town centre with very obliging staff. We were joined for lunch by David Biggs, Chair of Tamworth and District Civic Society (a very young Society only in existence for a couple of years). Tamworth is a very historic town with many features, including the birthplace of Robert Peel. It was also connected to Thomas Guy, who founded Guy’s hospital in London and who built many almshouses in the town. In the town there is also the delightful St Edith’s Saxon Church with many interesting tombs. There is also the old Norman/Medieval Castle which is a considerable size although in parts now well hidden from view.
We returned to Chester amazed how much we had seen – a real packed-programme – and also with a feeling of great gratitude to all the local civic societies who had given us such a friendly welcome and couldn’t do enough to make our visits to their communities enjoyable.