The History of the Canterbury Society

Screenshot 2014-08-08 16.25.25The Canterbury Society was established in 1961 by residents of the City who were dismayed at the way Canterbury was being developed. In the aftermath of the war, the city authorities rebuilt the bombed areas of the city in a misguided interpretation of the modernist style which was wholly unsympathetic to the historic quarters. Planners decreed that much of the old city was irredeemably decayed and needed to be demolished to make way for new housing and a new road system. A significant proportion of the city was lost. In response to this, the Canterbury Society set itself the mission:

To encourage a lively and practical interest in the City of Canterbury and its surroundings; to help to preserve all that is of merit in its architecture and character; to protect the beauty of the City and its environment; and to do all that is possible to ensure a future development worthy of the City’s great traditions and long history’.

In the early years, the Society opposed the Council’s plans to carve new roads through the historic centre, to site multi-storey car parks within the City wall and to demolish historic buildings – sometimes successfully, other times not. The Canterbury Society also proposed what was radical thinking at the time such as pedestrianization of the city centre and an opening up of the River Stour for recreational access.

Through persistence and patience, in planning enquiries, public meetings and letters to the press, the Canterbury Society offered alternative solutions to problems of urban slums, expanding use of cars and the need for commercial development that eventually swayed opinion in favour of a conservation-based approach to planning that became the norm in the City by the1970s. The wealth of historic buildings that remain today, the network of riverside walks and the greening of Bingley Island owe no small part to the Canterbury Society’s efforts in the difficult post-war period.

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As the original members of the Canterbury Society began to age, the organization became increasingly moribund, and in the mid-1990s was finally wound up for good. However, the issues which inspired the original Canterbury Society did not go away. As the population of the city grew, the universities expanded and car usage increased still further, the material infrastructure of the city came continued to come under stress. By the late 2000s, rising anxiety about these problems and the realization that there was no was no civic group with a mandate to represent the city as a whole, prompted a number of concerned residents to re-launch the Canterbury Society.

Under the leadership of Jan Pahl, the organization is again a solid fixture on the Canterbury scene, with a large and expanding membership. By holding regular public meetings, lobbying local officials, talking to the press, launching policy proposals and responding to planning applications and formal consultations, the Canterbury Society is making a significant difference to the life of the city. It has been played a major role in shaping the debate on issues such as transport, housing and heritage. Its Vision for the Future of Canterbury has been adopted as a working document by the Council’s Canterbury Area Member’s Panel. And its campaign to address the democratic deficit in the city will precipitate a fundamental change in the way the Council operates. In the background to this, the Canterbury Society has quietly enhanced the environment of the city by means of its litter clearing, river cleaning and ongoing gardening projects.

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