Historic Canterbury UK

A flourishing Roman town once stood beneath the streets of modern Canterbury. The town became covered because people used to build on the rubble of previous houses, shops and cellars, and on the rubbish dumped in yards and gardens, raising the level of the modern town.

I was interested in checking out the Roman Museum in Butchery Lane.

The story of the museum began in 1868, when workmen digging trenches for a new drainage system, unearthed a beautifully preserved Roman floor mosaic.

Fast forward to the aftermath of the second world war, when archaeologists, while excavating beneath cellars and shops, discovered an under-floor heating system, wall paintings and a dazzling mosaic corridor. The site was no longer an isolated floor mosaic but the remains of a very large and  very costly Roman town house.

The museum was built around it and, along with encompassing these remains, tells the history of Canterbury from before the Romans invaded through until now.

The settlement originally had the Celtic name of Durovernon, spread out on either side of the River Stour crossing.

An artist’s impression of the Iron Age settlement on the site of Canterbury before the Roman invasion.

The Romans arrived around AD 70 and stayed until around AD 410. You can tell by this artist’s impression that it would have been a pretty substantial town.

The theatre (the semi-circular building in the centre) was rebuilt to this larger size around AD 220, and seated 3000 people.

People living in the town included all the normal craftsmen, shopkeepers, labourers and servants, and professionals such as doctors, teachers, magistrates, etc. Allowing for the military and visiting traders, it would have been a very busy and vibrant place.

Wealthy households, as this one was, had servants to prepare and cook meals in the kitchen (culina), located near the dining room.

Roman custom was for diners to recline on couches set around a central low table. They ate mostly with their fingers, the food having been cut up by the servants, which seems to me inordinately lazy.

A Roman dining room.

Here’s a couple of Roman recipes, if anyone’s into recipes.

Roman women loved their jewellery. The pins were made of bone and used for keeping elaborate hairstyles in place.

Wealthy Roman woman having her hair styled by a servant.
Roman sandals, the dark ones made with ancient leather, unearthed in the excavations.

This is an actual fast food bar, opening out onto the street. The food for sale would have been meat, seafood, bread and sauces. Better than Macca’s, I’d say. Drink was wine, local beer and mead.

Roman soldier in full regalia.



Marble tombstone of  six-year-old Publia Valeria Maxima, set up by her parents. The inscription reads: “May the earth lie lightly on thee.”





Terrible damage was caused to the city during the war. I find it amazing, though, how many magnificent cathedrals escaped the worst of it. It’s as if they were being looked after.



It’s a terrific museum and this only scrapes the surface. In fact, I feel like the whole city is a museum. With what’s still underneath waiting to be discovered, you’re actually walking on history.

6 thoughts on “Historic Canterbury UK

  1. Need to put that on the ever increasing list – your blog provides plenty of suggestions.
    If you like mosaics you would love the Roman pavements at Villa dell Cassale, Piazza Armerina in central Sicily. Truly breath taking.


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