The 20th-century map of Canterbury has to combine both the reconstruction of the inner core of the historic city, which was one third destroyed by World War II bombing raids, and also the enlargement of the city in response to the expansion of population, education, tourism and commerce in the latter part of the century.

A population of 24,899 in 1901 actually fell back over the next three decades to 24,446 in 1931. The First World War (1914-18) had a huge logistical impact on the garrison and in the loss of so many young men so soon after leaving school. By the sound of the guns the western front was not far, Canterbury suffered the terrible human cost but was not physically damaged. The small country town with relatively few industries remained a centre for rural commerce and business ancillary to the reception of visitors (pilgrims) to the Cathedral. This description of Canterbury still applied in the 1950 edition of the Chambers Encyclopaedia, although the dynamic growth of Canterbury arose from the wreckage of the Second World War (1939-45) air raids, most shockingly the Baedeker Raid of June 1st 1942. On recovery from the war the city’s population reached 30,415 in 1961. By the end of the century it had risen to nearly 45,000 and was accelerating.

The maps of late-20th-century Canterbury therefore take in the phenomenal growth of Canterbury as a regional commercial, tourist and educational centre. The bombed part of the centre was twice rebuilt. Housing, schools and businesses were pushed out to new sites as the outskirts were developed. Vacant land pertaining to St Augustine’s College and Barton Manor estate became Canterbury Christ Church University (founded 1962), Barton Court School (from 1945), Canterbury Technical College (from 1947) and the University for Creative Arts (from 1971). (Read more about Canterbury’s universities and its education system.) The abbey ruins have been beautifully enhanced by English Heritage.

Between the 1950s and ‘70s housing, private and public, took over the fields from Northgate to the army barracks and beyond, between the army range of Old Park and the Sturry Road, extending the city’s boundary by 1½ miles NE from the centre. From the time the University of Kent was opened (1965) the slopes of St Stephen’s also became prime housing development land. By the 1990s retail and trading parks set along the A28 axial route had expanded Wincheap and engulfed the Sturry Road. Canterbury became hugely attractive to new residents, students, visitors and retailers. (Read more about planning as the city grew.)

It was also in the 20th century that Canterbury’s maps of earlier centuries were drawn and redrawn. Excavations revealed layer upon layer of Canterbury’s Roman, Saxon and Medieval foundations. The transformational effects of the 20th century were not without their downside. Traffic congestion and air pollution on the incomplete ring road and Sturry Road passed into the 21st as an unresolved challenge. (Read more about Canterbury’s transport and railway infrastructures.)

Throughout the 20th century the Cathedral remained conspicuous and prominent as the major icon of Canterbury and most important pole of attraction. The 15th-century Bell Harry Tower was unchallenged as the city’s tallest structure. The Cathedral, as ever, dramatically dominates views wherever it is approached. Floodlit at night the effect is absolutely stunning.

Return to the homepage for 20th-century Canterbury, or explore Canterbury’s economic growth through the essays on Canterbury’s commerce and industrial heritage, its retail industry and trading estates, or Canterbury as a boom city. You can also learn more about Canterbury’s universities and its education system, and Canterbury has been shaped by other facets of its transport infrastructure and the railway, planning decisions, as well as the significant impact of the Second World War and the disastrous 1909 floods.