Planners versus anti-Planners

After the war fierce controversy raged over plans for the redevelopment of the city centre. In 1945 the distinguished architect, Charles Holden, whose most famous building is the University of London’s Senate House, was commissioned to put forward an all-encompassing plan for Canterbury. Holden’s master plan proposed an inner ring road to take traffic out of the High Street, a Civic Way through the bombed area to link the Cathedral to new civic buildings to be built in the Dane John Gardens, transport hubs and a new shopping centre. Holden said he did not want to destroy the heritage of the past but in “the city of the future” to enhance Canterbury’s heritage for the future.

However, this meant clearing more old buildings, widening narrow streets and reorganising public spaces, with the general application of reinforced concrete. Holden’s scheme was opposed by an alliance of residents and business owners who formed the Canterbury Citizens’ Defence Association (CCDA). Victory for the CCDA anti-planners in the municipal elections of November 1945 meant that no coherent scheme was carried through.

A compromise plan of 1948 removed the ring road to outside the city walls, where later as a dual carriageway it was built but never completed as a full circuit. Some parts of the Holden plan which were realised can be seen, for instance in the transformation of Rose lane from a narrow lane to a broad boulevard which Holden intended to be the central section of his “Civic Way”. As no plan was fully implemented, Canterbury has been left as it is found today, a mix of partially implemented plans. Since local government reorganisation in 1974, greater sensitivity has been shown, one excellent result being the pedestrianisation of the city centre.

The building and rebuilding of the bombed city centre

The structures built in the 1950s and 1960s were at best mediocre and at worst a disgrace. The Burgate, the first street to be rebuilt, was an exception successfully retaining its historical character and interest. The poor post-war developments, particularly in the Longmarket, St George’s Tower area and Whitefriars were demolished and rebuilt in the 1990s.

Butchery Lane is now a wonderful example of how well the heritage of the past and present can be successfully brought together. One side of the historic lane survived the bombing intact while the other side was destroyed. The medieval timber framed buildings with jettied upper storeys to the west side are enhanced and echoed by the assortment of features of the modern Longmarket centre built to the historic street line to the redeveloped east side. Butchery Lane consequently frames one of the most delightful views of the Cathedral’s Bell Harry Tower.

The new Longmarket, comprising shops and a first-floor terrace courtyard, successfully combines traditional and modern features. The plan was criticised as a bad case of film-set phoney medieval-looking facades, but the outcome, with the provision of the underground Roman Museum is more successful than was feared. The Longmarket terrace affords views of the Cathedral and the attractive plaza area meets a need for public space, affording a view of the full length of the historic thoroughfare through the Parade, High Street and St Peter’s street to the Westgate Towers and the distant hill top vista beyond.

The Whitefriars, formerly the site of an Augustinian friary and later the Simon Langton Grammar Schools, though criticised for being oversized, is a model commercial centre of its kind. The bus and coach hub serves well where it was built on the only site in the city centre immediately adjacent to the primary retail development. A well concealed multi-storey car park replaced the 1960s monstrosity, built in the aptly named “brutalist” style. The Whitefriars incorporates residential apartments and has successfully created a new public square where the outline of archaeological excavations is etched into the paving.

Smaller scale developments in former bomb sites.

The 1980s Regency development in Castle Way, the Templars in St Dunstan’s and the former Wool Store and attractive riverside restaurant, built in flint, stone, brick and weatherboarding adjacent to the Sudbury Tower, are successful rebuilds.

St Dunstan’s Street is one of the finest streets in Canterbury. For centuries the principal entrance to the city by the West Gate Towers which stand at the southern end, many of the buildings are of historic and architectural interest. The Second World War however left bomb sites to either side of the railway crossing which bisects the street. At the junction of St Dunstan’s Street and Station Road West a corner had been a museum and swimming bath in a timber framed building. A local builder, Walter Cozens, had dismantled and moved the entire structure from Upper Bridge Street to St Dunstan’s in 1908. Destroyed in the bombing raids the site was filled by a petrol filling station and motor bike shop. On demolition of the garage a new Sainsbury’s Local, wrapped around by student residential accommodation, now rounds off the corner. At the junction with Roper Road a National Tyre Depot was built in the 1960s where before the war a terrace of four houses and an individual villa had stood. This site is now retirement housing known as Abbots Lodge. Both redevelopments have replaced negative post war features with buildings in style and character with the historic mix of residential buildings, shops and businesses of the street.

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 how Canterbury has been shaped by other facets of its transport infrastructure and the railway, as well as the significant impact of the Second World War.