The conduit house which supplied water to St Augustine’s Abbey should have been the first stop on the Whitley Pump tour of Canterbury, but there were so many other attractions and we almost didn’t find it.
The conduit house is on King’s Park, a residential street, to the east of St Augustine’s Abbey. It collected water from surrounding springs. The house no longer has a roof, which an artist’s impression shows as a conical structure, but the walls can still be seen.
Like the Whitley Conduit at the top of Reading’s Highgrove Street, the St Augustine’s water supply continued to be used for centuries. In Canterbury’s case, it supplied a local brewery until the nineteenth century.
The most interesting artefact in St Augustine’s abbey museum is a section of lead piping used to bring the monk’s water supply from the conduit house to the cloister fountain.
A piece of now long-lost lead piping was also found in Reading when a saw-pit was being dug at Mr Blandy’s Wharf on the north side the Kennet, to the east of High Bridge, in the mid-eighteenth century. The pipe led towards the Abbey in one direction and south across the river in the other [ref 1].
St Augustine’s was a much older foundation than Reading Abbey, with a very impressive pedigree, but the post dissolution history has many parallels with that of Reading Abbey.
As in Reading, the St Augustine’s abbot’s lodgings were used as royal accommodation. King Henry VIII converted them for use as a palace for his wife Anne of Cleves and although apparently she never stayed there, Queen Elizabeth I and King Charles I did.
A hospital and a prison were built on the south side of the site at the turn of the nineteenth century. Alexander James Beresford Hope purchased the site in 1844 and a missionary college was built there. The buildings are now part of The King’s School.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, excavations revealed full extent of St Augustine’s abbey which lay beneath the romantic ruins.
St Augustine’s conduit house in Canterbury is about 100 miles from the Whitley Conduit.
- English Heritage Conduit House & St Augustine’s Abbey
- The fate of the Whitley Conduit
- St Augustine’s College
- Reading Abbey Quarter
- John Man, The history and antiquities, ancient and modern of the Borough of Reading, in the county of Berks, p254.