Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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Report on Steve's trip to Canterbury 28th & 29th May 1999
To misquote Robert Louis Stevenson:- Home is the traveller, home from the hill overlooking Canterbury :)
A wonderful day out !! I drove 200 miles & took two reels of film. I was so kna^H^H^H exhausted I slept most of Saturday so only dropped the films off today (Tue) as it was a bank holiday yesterday. I'll pick them up & get them loaded into the "gallery" ASAP.
I had been working here at the office all night Wednesday / Thursday & only left at about 11am. So a quick dash home across London, a few hours sleep and then a cup of coffee & a shower and I left home at just after 7pm.
I arrived at Canterbury at about 9pm and paused to take the first of MANY photos of the "first sight of the Cathedral". The road in from London leads up to the old West Gate (the one the soldiers marched through - more of that later).
Round the "ring road" and off on the Sandwich road - no, that doesn't mean they supply snacks, it's the road from Canterbury towards the town of Sandwich, the Earl of which gave his name to the two slices of bread with something in the middle.
It was getting dark by then so no chance to appreciate the delightful views, just head down the road to the Red Lion at Wingham - the inn they used as The Hand of Glory. Into the bar, greet mine host, tell him who I was & request a pint of his finest. (Abbot Ale - quite acceptable)
I then asked how long he'd been there, he said about 4 years. So did he know anything about the film they made there in 1943/4 then? Oh yes, says he, quite a lot. So I told him about my "mission" :)
I ordered an evening meal of "local fish" (Dover sole) - OK it had probably got there via Billingsgate in London - and started chatting to anyone who'd listen about the film to see if any of the locals knew anything about it.
Most of the seemed to be under the illusion that it was ALL filmed in and around the inn - poor dears <G> I let them down as gently as I could :)
Some of them however knew quite a few other P&P films when I let the subject drift onto them. In fact one old boy came out with 49th Parallel as soon as I mention the film. They're not as slow as they sometimes pretend, these country folk, said the Londoner :)
I got out a few of the books I'd taken along and over them (and another pint or two) we spent a happy few hours.
They confirmed a few bits & pieces and came out with one revelation, when Bob looks out of his window in the morning, the first time, he waves at someone down on the street below. That was Dick Lucy, the local butcher. You can see the name "Lucy" on the shop. That shop is still there but it's no longer a butchers. It does still have the same metal awning though. One man in the pub said that the way Dick Lucy looked around as if he wasn't sure who was speaking or what was going on wasn't acting !! :)
So off to bed at about midnight. A nice little room (Bob's bedroom with the four poster bed only existed in Denham studio) and a welcome bit of kip.
Up at 8am (shock horror) for breakfast and a look at some of the other upstairs rooms that P&P used as models. Took pictures of Lucy's shop & a few of the Inn from the outside.
Then off on the grand tour by 9am.
First stop was Wickhambreux to visit that lovely old Georgian style house where Thomas Colpeper lived. The film locations book had said that the lady who lived there while they were filming (Elizabeth Montgomery) wasn't too happy about them trampling all over the place. But the people at the inn told me that she still lived there and was a very nice lady. I knocked on the door and a youngish lady answered - certainly too young to be the lady who owned it in '43 so I asked her if Mrs Montgomery was there. She said she was but she wasn't very well today & was in bed. I explained my mission and this lady immediately said she'd go & ask Mrs Montgomery about it. I wandered around the green taking some photos of the exterior (I asked if it was OK) and over the wall into the back. Then the lady came back to the door saying that Mrs Montgomery wasn't able to come down to see me but if I was ever passing again or cared to write to her she'd be delighted to share her memories. She'd written down a few things that she remembered for me - what a lovely lady. I MUST write to her ASAP :)
The house looks onto a classic village green with the church with the square tower (visible in the film) next to it. The stone wall that Alison & Bob look over to see Colpeper scything the grass is still there but there are a row of trees just behind it which blocks the view into the garden.
Anyway - a great first stage to the mission.
Next on the list was Bekesbourne & Howlett's Farm / Zoo. I'd mentioned this to the lady who opened the door & guess what. She was born very near there !! She was too young to remember MP though but did say that they'd put up a plaque to him nearby. (See also later comments) I went to the Zoo (well it's really a Wild Animal Park with wild(ish) beasties roaming free and you drive around in your car. I struck lucky & found the Manager near the entrance so I asked him if he or anyone there knew the place while it was still a farm or if they knew about the plaque. He asked quite a few of the people who work there but none of them knew anything about MP or his plaque. I parked up (outside the wild animal enclosure <G>) and walked a mile or so along the road each way. There were quite a few houses there but no sign of any plaque :(
So off to Fordwich and the old Town Hall.
Oh I forgot to say, I'd bought an A-Z street atlas of Kent which turned out to be very useful in many ways but it does have an odd habit of locating things such as the Town Hall a mile or two away from their true location. It got me to the general area though :)
Now think about the two scenes where the Town Hall is used. First there's the one as Peter, Alison & Bob first arrive and chase the glue man. Then there's the shot after the lecture and they're talking to Esmond Knight in his "Village Idiot" guise. In both of these shots we see the Town Hall from essentially the same angle, we never see all the way around the outside, and there's an arm sticking out that looked like it was for a sign to hang from. Oh yes, both sequences are at night as well :)
So I get there & the first surprise is how little it is. The base of it is only about 30 feet square. Also it backs onto a small river (The Great Stour) so that's why we never see all the way around it. The arm turns out to be a pulley that can be swung out over the river with a block & tackle for lifting boats out !!
Now for the bad news - it's only open on Sundays !! There's a sign outside saying that it's open during summer months from May onwards but didn't mention Sundays only. It was all locked up so I went into the pub across the road and asked. They told me about the Sundays only but confirmed that the ducking stool and old courtroom (with "Love and honour the truth" on) are still there - or were last time any of them went inside :)
That was all to the East of Canterbury so I headed Westward.
First stop was the railway at Selling. Now apparently this was the station they used as Chillingbourne. But it's lost the shelter (booking hall??) where Alison was waiting. In fact it's as bare as any country railway station in this age of post-privatisation unmanned stations (thanks Maggie). I took a few photos though.
So off to Shottenden to try to find the Horton's blacksmith and wheelwright. The trouble is that Shottenden isn't so much a village as an area with an odd collection of farms and cottages in it. I drove around and around and got out & prowled quite a few times but I never saw a living soul to ask and there was no sign of a blacksmith or even a Horton's farm. I tried directory enquiries (from the mobile phone) but they couldn't find anything and I've just checked on EYP (Electronic Yellow Pages). There are only 16 blacksmiths in the whole of kent and none of them are anywhere near Shottenden. There is one firm called BJ Horton & Son in Chilham (near Shottenden) but they're builders. Might be worth dropping them a line though.
[Subsequently found & visited with John Sweet - see report]
Oh well off to Chilham itself for a spot of lunch at one of the many fine pubs there. I avoided the birds of prey in the castle when I saw they called it an "... experience" <G> That usually means they dress up in silly medieval costumes and things like that. Poor birds. No respect for the dignity of a proud falcon.
Anyway Chilham itself is a lovely little place. A very nice pint and a good steak and kidney pie for lunch. Then a walk around the village (up to the top of the hill). There's a very nice village square in front of the castle but it's used as a car park so doesn't look as picturesque as it should :)
[See report from subsequent visit]
Then into Canterbury itself. I parked at the long stay car park by the leisure centre and turned to Roger's invaluable guide to the city :)
> Your Planned visit to Canterbury
> Don't forget that there are locations to see in Canterbury itself -
> there is perhaps a risk you might get distracted in rural Kent and not have
> time to see places in Canterbury!
More by luck than judgement - but that's how I usually operate :) Also striking out in Shottenden meant I was ahead of any schedule I did have.
> -when you arrive in Canterbury, I would head straight for Canterbury WEST
> station, and park there. You can then enter by exactly the same route as Bob
> and Alison did. Notice the corrugated iron covers to the pedestrian
> underpass, where the railway crosses St Dunstan's road- unaltered from the
I was a bit confused by all those roundabouts on the ring road & was lucky to end up as close as I did :)
Anyway it was only a short walk from the car park to the station so I headed that way. No sign of this underpass though. Is it only accessible from the station platform maybe?
Anyway a stroll down Station Road West & right onto St Dunstan's Street and there's the West Gate. I'd already driven past & through it about 10 times on my travels but now I could stop for a closer look.
> As you approach the Westgate Tower (middle of road) you will see the
> famous "House of Agnes" Hotel on the left hand side. You can climb the tower
> for a good view.
No, no sign of any "House of Agnes" Hotel on either side of the road on either side of the gate. When were you last there? :) Or did I walk straight past it?
> By the side of the tower is the old police station where
> Alison and Dennis Price talk to a policeman. The building is now the Kent
> Music School, run by Kent C. C. Education Department.
Yes, found this no trouble. I didn't even have to ask the "silent, pointing policeman" like Peter did :)
> You will see an "Olde English Tea Shoppe" as you enter the High St.
AN?? There are thousands of them :)
> If you go to the far end of
> the High St (past where you turn Left to enter the Cathedral) you will see
> the the area where Alison walked among the bombed ruins (one of the most
> moving scenes of the movie). You will remember that a church clock tower was
> all that was left standing, and it is sill there surrounded by shops, next
> to C&A.;
Yes - it's still there and a lovely sight. I got a great (I hope) photo of the "very good view of the Cathedral" from there with the clock tower in the foreground and just the tips of the Cathedral spires poking up above the shops & offices that now surround it. What was that Betjeman said about "friendly bombs"?? :)
> As you enter Butchery Lane, leading to the Cathedral Close from the
> High Street, (just as a military band did in the movie), you will see The
> Cathedral Gate Restaurant, which is now a very tasteful Pizzaland (only
> United Biscuits PLC could afford to pay the rent demanded by the Dean and
> Chapter for this prime site!).
It's Mercery Lane the band marched down (with the Boots the Chemist sign on the right - still there). No sign of Pizza Hut. Maybe even they couldn't afford the rent. The building's still there but the bottom floor is all closed down. Shame !!
> The impact of the Cathedral as you walk
> through the gate is quite dramatic. Seeing the tombs and memorials for all
> those establishment figures (judges, brigadiers) always reminds me of
> "Blimp" somehow. Look for the cathedral organ, which is not in the same
> position as it is in the movie. (none of the movie was actually shot in the
> cathedral- the movie uses still shots and reconstructions made at Denham
> Studios, as does the hotel in "Chillingbourne") It is a pity that you will
> not be able to hear the Cathedral choir by attending Choral Evensong, but
> this is at 5.30 and clashes with Prof. Christie's lecture.
See later about "none of it shot in the Cathedral" :)
It's a lovely cathedral though. I've become quite a connoisseur of them over the years, I've visited so many. And Cantur is certainly in the top ten :)
> Make sure you
> walk through the cloisters, and under the arch into the courtyard of The
> Kings School (MP describes this walk in his book). The school courtyard is
> open to the public.
I did this, the School (now coeducational, was it just boys in MP's day?) seemed to be just starting or ending a term. There were lots of parents either delivering or collecting their little darlings.
> Exit the other side, past an Excellent remainder bookshop,
Didn't spot that but I did notice that there's an antique camera shop just opposite the School entrance. I nipped in and asked him if it was deliberate. he said he knew that MP had been there but that hadn't affected his taking the shop :)
Well thanks for the notes Roger - very useful and another roll of film used in the City itself.
To gently mock the old travalogues ...
And so we bid farewell to the fine old City of Canterbury
I phoned Ian Christie before I went up to the campus. Now remember I'd only written to him before, we'd never met. I asked him if he had any time to spare for a brief meeting before the lecture. He said he was VERY busy marking exam scripts but told me to call again when I got onto the campus. I did & he said he could do with a cup of tea :) He told me where to get one and said he'd meet me there. I knew what he looked like having seen him on TV programs about P&P but described myself as "the man with the beard and two cups of tea holding a first edition of your book (Arrows of Desire)". Well, now that they've re-released it, my copy is a first edition :)
I'd mentioned our little group to him when I last wrote and he said he'd look in some time. So if your reading this Ian skip forwards a page or two, you'll only blush :) He's a VERY nice man !!
He turned up a few minutes later and I told him all that I'd been up to that day. He was very interested about Mrs Montgomery & The Red Lion. he told me that the man writing the Canterbury Tale book, Paul Tritton, is a local lad so has found a LOT more locations (well I said this was just a "scouting" mission) and is doing a guided tour of them on the 29th August. Ian gave me his phone number so I'll get all the details and let you all know. Ian then revealed that Paul had recently been contacted by the assistant cameraman (Ian didn't remember the name) who'd said that there WAS a shot inside the Cathedral. It's when Peter first enters. We see him look up and the camera then pans up across the vaulted ceiling. That's the real thing !! It was the only shot they managed to get - and that despite being told they couldn't film in there :)
He told me about something or other being dedicated to Micky at Christ Church College on October 15th. Thelma's coming over for it. I'll try & get more details & let you all know.
[The Michael Powell Building - See report]
We only talked for about 10 minutes but covered an amazing amount of ground in that short time. I told him about Jack Cardiff being at Oxford and he said he hoped to be there. We talked about the recent screening of BN at the NFT & I said how it was wonderful to see but you could "almost see the brush strokes on the mountains" We talked about AMOLAD (of course) oh and so much more. He's a really lovely man. - There, I said you'd blush Ian :)
He confirmed that there IS a plaque to Micky somewhere near Bekesbourne but he was away when they put it up so doesn't know exactly where it is. I'll ask the BFI library.
He then had to dash back to his marking & get ready for the lecture but very kindly signed my first edition before he did so - I said he was a very nice man !!
And so into the lecture in the Grimmond Building (named after Joe Grimmond - a Labour MP from a few years back).
The lecture was entitled "Canterbury Films: relating the local to the global in Cinema" and was in a series of open lectures given by Professors from various schools in the University. This was the contribution from the School of Drama, Film and Visual Arts.
Ian was introduced by the Dean who dropped the bombshell that although he'd only been there a while and done some wonderful work in setting up new courses he'd been "poached" by another University. Two chairs in two years - pretty good going.
OK now here I have to remind you that I'm not a "film studies" fan. I think that they often go too deep into things and thus miss the magic - so I sometimes disagree with them but that's life :)
The lecture was quite well attended. It seemed to me (eavesdropping again) that some of them were from local history groups and the like.
He started with a general introduction proposing the idea that whereas we are comfortable with the idea that you can have a story defined by a location we should also consider the idea that a location can be defined by a story, especially with a place so closely associated with one story as Canterbury.
You see what I mean, they get odd ideas these Professors.
No, it was quite interesting really. He'd got a 10 minute piece of film taken in the 1920's of a drive round Canterbury. A documentary by Hungarian refugee George Hoellering (who'd also done a version of Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral) with classic documentary scenes of the Kent countryside followed by a German raid on the city and a sermon from the then Archbishop (Temple).
Of course there was an extract from A Canterbury Tale (1944) which he reminded us was "the most remarkable example of a film so derided at the time because nobody understood what they meant by it. Whereas now everybody seems to understand it today without any trouble." Films don't age - but we mature :) ACT was almost a "message in a bottle" for the future. It was quite modern in it's sense and appreciation of childhood, gender etc.
He then followed this with a few thoughts on what if TV had been around much earlier. Consider Culodden (1964) (TV) or The War Game (1965) two first rate, dramatic TV, documentary style features.
Some of The War Game was filmed in Canterbury it seems. When the Doctor was visiting a patient and the sirens go off, that's "somewhere in Canterbury".
We finished up with quick dips into the 1971 Italian version of A Canterbury Tale by Pier Paulo Pasolini and touching on the references to The Canterbury tales in Se7en (1995).
All in all an interesting lecture although, as I said above I do think these films studies people over analyse to the extent of spoiling one's enjoyment sometimes - but it's good that we're all different:)
We all then partook of a very nice fruit punch and some nibbles and all had a chance to mingle. I was talking to Mrs Dean <G> and mentioned our P&P grouping so she immediately called over someone who was preparing some sort of newsletter for the film school who said it was just the sort of thing she wanted to include, so I left her my business card (with email contact details) and hope to hear from her soon.
> Anyway, that is what I would do if I was planning this trip, but I don't
> suppose you will do any of this!
To quote Bugs Bunny freely "He don't know me very well, do he?" When I get a crazy idea fixed in my head I take it to it's crazy limits.
I'd been working much too hard & needed a day out in the country and that one was exhausting but wonderful.
> I hope you have fine weather and a great day.
I think you "hoped" too hard - it was scorching !! I'm not used to sunshine in such quantities. But it was lovely.
The full gallery of photos taken during the trip is also available.
Other P&P trips