The Marlowe Society
02 October 2010

First Sites

Marlowe Literary Walk Launched in Canterbury

Christopher Marlowe received some long overdue publicity in Canterbury at the end of September with the launch of the first ever Marlowe Literary Walk around the city of his birth. The 3 mile circular route guides the walker through the poet's life and times whilst visiting many of the key historic sites in Canterbury.

The walk has been developed by Explore Kent, a part of Kent County Council (KCC) responsible for promoting walking, cycling, horse riding and the parks in the county, and has been produced in conjunction with Kent Libraries and Archives. Despite being Canterbury's most eminent author and poet, Marlowe has generally received little attention or promotion on the part of the city's tourist authorities. A recent visit by a Society member to the Canterbury Tourist Office found they had no material at all on Marlowe. The city's theatre is named in honour of the famous dramatist, but rarely puts on his plays. And even "Kitty" Marlowe, the statue commissioned in his memory, has had a troubled existence down the years! It is therefore very welcome to find Marlowe's life and works being promoted by this walk, and it is very much hoped that it will raise interest in our Elizabethan poet, as well as adding to the rich appeal of Canterbury as a historic city.

The literary walk, entitled Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury, is available as a 12-page leaflet that guides the walker on a leisurely stroll around some of the most interesting sites in Canterbury, starting with the remains of the church of St George the Martyr on St George's Street where Marlowe was baptised on 26 February 1564, and ending at Mercery Lane where he was charged with assaulting William Corkine in September 1592. In between, the walker is taken around 9 other specific sites of interest, including the King's School (where Marlowe was a scholar), St Alphege's Church (the city's initial refuge for Huguenots fleeing France after the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre), the Marlowe Theatre and Memorial, Stour Street (where Marlowe signed Katherine Benchkin's will in 1586) and the so-called Queen Elizabeth's Guest Chamber in the High Street, which records the monarch's visit to Canterbury in 1573 (during which she celebrated her 40th birthday). Although the walk and accompanying leaflet are designed to act primarily as a self-guide, Explore Kent indicate that there may from time to time be organised walks led by official Canterbury Tourist Guides (keep an eye on the Explore Kent website for news of such events).

The Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury Walk was launched on Saturday 25th September with a special event to which those contributing to the project were invited. This combined a visit to the Canterbury Cathedral Archives followed by the walk itself, led by Emeritus Professor of History from the University of Kent, David Birmingham, acting as the Official Guide. To thank the Marlowe Society for their help in producing the Literary Walk, Explore Kent kindly offered three places to Society members to join the party of luminaries at the launch from Kent County Council, Canterbury Cathedral and Explore Kent. We were also joined by Peter Wales, who was Marlowe Society Chairman when the project began, and who had kindly agreed to speak at the launch.

Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury - A Circular Walk published by Explore Kent

After an introduction by Stuart Bligh, Archives and Local History Services Manager for KCC, in which he thanked all those who had contributed to the success of the project, Peter gave a short speech highlighting the relative lack of publicity given to Marlowe in his home town down the years. Mark Bateson from the Canterbury Cathedral Archives completed the schedule of speakers by introducing a number of artefacts from the archive which had been put on display for the group's benefit. This proved a fascinating talk which underlined the invaluable research work carried out by the late Dr William Urry into the Marlowe family history. The artefacts included Marlowe's only extant signature on the afore-mentioned will of Katherine Benchkin, and the pages from the town sergeant's plea book recording details of the Corkine case between which Dr Urry found a pressed rosebud over 350 years later. After a chance to peruse these documents at some length, the party were taken out through the Cathedral precincts to begin the guided walk at St. George's Church.

The printed Guide for the walk is an impressive production, and one that squeezes in a surprising number of details from Marlowe's life given the limited space. As well as covering Marlowe's family background, baptism, education and recorded events in Canterbury (such as the Corkine fracas), the guide also manages to weave in the key events in Marlowe's later life away from Canterbury, such as his work as a government agent, the Baines accusations, and his arrest in May 1593. An epilogue to the guided tour also summarises the subsequent events in Deptford, and makes mention of the view of some that Marlowe survived and went on to write the works of Shakespeare (including a quote from Sonnet 74).

The Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury literary walk Guide should now be available in various outlets in Canterbury such as the Tourist Office, but is also available for download from the Explore Kent Website as well as our own Marlowe Society Website. The Society's particular thanks go to Michelle Giles from KCC Libraries and Archives, who was instrumental in instigating and coordinating the project, and who also organised the launch event.