Map of Wincheap c 1870
An Ancient wine market?
Wincheap has been described by local historian Paul Crampton as “an architecturally fascinating thoroughfare”. It has been an established suburb of Canterbury since the 13th century and, at its wider part, used to support a thriving market. Its name is derived from the Saxon “Wenchiappe”, which was possibly an ancient wine market or perhaps a waggon market. A timber market is also known to have existed, and an annual cherry fair was held on Wincheap Green (now the Wincheap roundabout) until the early 19th century. Much earlier, Wincheap was used by the Romans as a route to the iron workings of the Weald. There are a number of Roman cemeteries in the area around what was Wincheap Gate and the Gordon Road area.
Wincheap still boasts many fine examples of architecture from the 15th century onwards. These include:
Pubs: The Maiden’s Head was a Wealden Hall and also incorporates the remains of a 16th century market hall, while The King’s Head is an outstanding 15th century timber-framed building.
- Restaurants and hotels: The Jalsha Restaurant at 74 Wincheap is a fine example of a 17th century double fronted house with a panelled door and carved corbells. Further out, the Thanington Hotel with its large garden opposite (now the Wincheap playground) is a testament to Wincheap’s prosperity in the 18th century.
Residential buildings: Wincheap has a wonderful variety of architectural styles from many different eras, including 15th century timber-framed buildings, 17th, 18th, and 19th century terraces, and some fine town houses. In the1960s houses were built to fill the gaps made by bomb damage and the closure of the railway.
Terraced housing: Paul Crampton points out that many old terraced houses in the main part of the city succumbed to bulldozers in the early postwar years, and he notes that Wincheap – by contrast – largely escaped this fate, and thus retains interesting examples of terraced housing from the late 17th century onwards which have been lost elsewhere.
Wincheap as a thoroughfare
In addition to its residential, business, and trading functions, Wincheap has since ancient times been a major thoroughfare – probably originating as an ancient trackway alongside the floodplain of the River Stour. It has always been thought of as a busy road: older residents remember complaints about the charabancs of trippers going to Margate in the summer, while others recall the bellowing of the cows from Chartham being driven to market (and not in motorized vehicles) – twice a week. But congestion is all relative. Many not-so-old residents can still remember playing in the street as children, and even fairly recently one could see people washing their cars in the street at weekends – a practice that would now require nerves of steel and suicidal tendencies. Over the past ten years or so, Wincheap has become incapable of sustaining its function as a thoroughfare. Residents now complain of their front rooms being plunged into darkness by massive container trucks in tailbacks outside their windows. It is impossible to cross the road at almost any time without using one of the signalled crossings; unimaginable damage is being done to Wincheap’s older buildings by a lethal combination of traffic-induced pollution and vibration.
Further related reading
Clive Church’s excellent “Thanington – An Introductory History” can be downloaded here: