Monthly Archives: October 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #260: Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey, and St Martin’s Church

Posted by on October 17, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #260: Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey, and St Martin's Church

UNESCO World Heritage Site #260: Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey, and St Martin's Church

From the World Heritage inscription:

Canterbury, in Kent, has been the seat of the spiritual head of the Church of England for almost five centuries. St Martin’s Church, St Augustine’s Abbey and the cathedral are directly and tangibly associated with the history of the introduction of Christianity to the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The influence of the Benedictine abbey of St Augustine was decisive throughout the high Middle Ages in England. The influence of this monastic centre and its scriptorium extended far beyond the boundaries of Kent and Northumbria. Christ Church Cathedral, especially the east sections, is a unique artistic creation. The beauty of its architecture is enhanced by a set of exceptional stained glass windows which constitute the richest collection in the United Kingdom.

Within the urban perimeter of Canterbury, three distinct cultural properties are on the World Heritage List: the modest St Martin’s Church; the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey; and the superb Christ Church Cathedral, a breathtaking mixture of Romanesque and Perpendicular Gothic, where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170. These three monuments are milestones in the religious history of the regions of Great Britain before the Reformation.

St Martin’s Church, to the east, located outside the walls of Roman Durovernum, existed in 597 when the monk Augustine was sent from Rome by Gregory the Great to bring Christianity to the Saxon kingdom of Kent. The church was built for the most part before the 8th century. It undoubtedly includes a Roman structure from the 4th century. Of the church located within the city walls, which St Augustine made his cathedral (probably at the very spot where Christ Church now stands) nothing has been conserved. However, ruins of the abbey are still visible, halfway between St Martin’s Church and the cathedral. The abbey was dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul. In 978 the primitive institution, veritable cradle of Benedictine monasticism in England, was restored following the Scandinavian invasions. The abbey buildings virtually disappeared in their entirety following the dissolution of the Community by Henry VIII in 1538. The Royal Palace that stood in their place was located against the northern side aisle of the nave. It included the gutter wall and a few old portions, but this structure, too, has disappeared.

I’m guessing that most people in the western world have at least heard of Canterbury Cathedral. It was the subject of one of the most well known works of middle english: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. It was the site of the assassination of Thomas Beckett, who was later sainted. It was the location where St. Augustine established the first cathedral in England and it was also a key location in the English Reformation.

I had been to London probably a dozen times and never bothered to take the hour long train trip to Canterbury. I finally got around to visiting, and I am glad I did. Not only is the cathedral worth visiting for its history and architecture, but the town of Canterbury itself is one of the nicest towns in England which I’ve visited. Despite how well known the cathedral is, I never got the impression that the town was touristy.

There are regular trains which run to Canterbury from Paddington and Victoria Stations in London. The trip is approximately 60-90 minutes.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #259: Blaenavon Industrial Landscape

Posted by on October 16, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #259: Blaenavon Industrial Landscape

UNESCO World Heritage Site #259: Blaenavon Industrial Landscape

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Blaenavon landscape constitutes an exceptional illustration in material form of the social and economic structure of 19th-century industry. The area around the Blaenavon ironworks provides an extraordinarily comprehensive picture of the South Wales coal and iron industry in its heyday in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when it was one of the world’s largest iron and steel producers. All the necessary elements can be seen in situ : coal and ore mines, quarries, a primitive railway system, furnaces, the homes of the workers, and the social infrastructure of their community.

From at least 1675, iron ore was extracted on the mountains of Blaenavon. However, the area was virtually unsettled and used only for small-scale iron mining and grazing. In 1788 Thomas Hill, Thomas Hopkins, and Benjamin Pratt built a major new ironworks at Blaenavon, putting into practice the latest technology and organization of the Industrial Revolution in a new and resource-rich setting. By 1789 the ironworks consisted of three blast furnaces using steam power, making it one of the largest in the world.

In 1817 adit mining for iron ore and coal developed on a larger scale, replacing surface scouring, and shaft mines were introduced, with sophisticated drainage, haulage, and ventilation arrangements. Population grew rapidly through the migration of workers from rural areas of Wales, from the industrial Midlands, Ireland, Scotland and rural England. Blaenavon parish, which had been minuscule before the ironworks was built, had grown to 11,452 in 1891. The social development of the area created a thriving urban culture. A rapidly created industrial landscape grew up of iron-ore patches, coal mines, limestone quarries, iron forges, brick works, tram roads, watercourses and workers’ houses, all controlled by the Blaenavon Company, which was reorganized as a joint stock company in 1836.

During the 1840s and 1850s the scattered housing of the workers and the works’ school, church and chapels were complemented by the evolution, on land outside the company’s ownership, of a town with a variety of urban functions. There were three principal clusters of buildings in the area, one around the Ironworks, one along the east-west axis, now King Street, and one around St Peter’s Church.

Relative decline in steelmaking from around the turn of the century permitted the growth of coal production for export. Steel production ceased in 1938, and Big Pit, the last substantial working colliery, closed in 1980. Big Pit is now a museum of coal mining of international significance, and one of only two mining museums in the United Kingdom where visitors can be taken underground. The conservation of Blaenavon Ironworks has contributed to economic regeneration. The town and the surrounding landscape have survived little altered to represent the story of their past.

One of my favorite type of world heritage sites to visit are industrial sites. Sites which preserve and commemorate advancement in industry from the 18th-20th centuries. One of the most important industrial heritage sites in the world is at Blaenavon.

In the 19th Century, southern Wales was the epicenter of the Industrial Revolution. Here you had the two building blocks of early industry: coal and iron.

Within the town on Blaenavon are two preserved facilities: The Blaenavon Ironworks and the Big Pit National Coal Museum.

The Ironworks started business in 1789 and is the world’s best preserved 18th century ironworks. (The ironworks are seen in the photo at the top of the page.) The ironworks are also famous for being the first place where the Bessemer process was used to make steel. It was discovered by Sidney Gilchrist Thomas in Blaenavon and was the foundation for global steel production through the 1960’s.

The Big Pit National Coal Museum is just a short trip up the road from the ironworks. It was a working coal mine through the 1980’s and is one of the most popular museums in the UK. In addition to the surface buildings you can also take a tour underground and it is one of the only places in the UK which does underground tours.

However, the scope of the world heritage site goes beyond the industrial sites in the town of Blaenavon, it also includes many square miles of the surrounding countryside which was influenced by industrial development. This includes everything from iron and coal mines to centuries of medieval ore digs and ponds built during Roman times.

This might be the only world heritage site which preserves a sizable tract of land precisely because of human impact upon it.

Blaenavon can easily be visited by train from any major city in Great Britain. It is currently the only world heritage site in the UK which has a dedicated visitors center. It is also adjacent to the Brecons Beacons National Park, which should also be included to any trip to the region.