Canterbury’s Westgate is the largest surviving city gate in all of England. It is well-known that there was a gate here, in some form, ever since the Norman Conquest; it has been debated whether there was a Roman Gate here also, but archaeologists aren’t sure about that. Originally the Norman gate has a small church located directly above the entrance (the parish church of the Holy Cross). But in 1379 the gate and church were dismantled and rebuilt on a larger scale. The church was moved to side (where it is now located), and the gate’s height was drastically increased. The gate has of two huge drum towers, 60 feet in height, flanking a great entrance, which (barely) accommodates a double-decker bus.
Originally the gate had huge wooden doors, a portcullis, and a drawbridge. Sometime in the 1400s the building was converted to a prison, and the guardrooms were lined with massive timbers. All kinds of prisoners spent time in Westgate, from petty thieves to debtors to religious protestors during the reformation (on both sides, it should be noted). One prisoner, Nicholas Shetterden, was even burned at the stake in 1555 in a nearby field! The city stopped using the gate as a prison about 100 years ago. Since then it’s become a depository for the city archives, and now houses a museum about arms and armoury. Geoffrey Chaucer certainly passed beneath these stones, as this gate marks the end of the London Road and the end of journey for the characters in Canterbury Tales. (It is interesting to note that I work about 2 blocks from the place where the London Road officially starts, and where the people in Chaucer’s books started from!)