Tuesday, 5 November 2013


In 1629 a man lived in Canterbury called Robert Cushman.  A puritan and married to Sarah Jekel, Robert and his wife were living in Sun Street.  However, this was not the peaceful existence Robert has hoped for.  Being a puritan he had been excommunicated from the Church of England, an awful fate as you were cut off from God and to rub salt into his wounds he had spent time in the dismal cells of the Westgate Towers.  Disillusioned and unhappy with the way Puritans were being treated in England Robert commissioned a ship, a certain ship called the Mayflower.

You may have heard of it.

The negotiations were drawn out and lengthy and Robert managed the deal at a little hostelry located on 59 Palace Street.

This is 59 Palace Street as it looks today.
Chambers is a tiny little restaurant just around the corner from the Cathedral.    There has been a cafe or hostelry on this spot since the 1550's, making it one of the most ancient gossip houses in Canterbury. 

Chambers is so close to the Cathedral that if you are lucky you can get the table upstairs with this view.
It's pretty spectacular and well worth heading upstairs to eat or drink just to see if you can be lucky enough to get the seat.  The Cathedral view isn't the only reason to visit though.  In the little courtyard are these green doors, which, if you are really lucky, will be open when you visit.  It's the Masons yard and it's not accessible to the public at all.  In the 1600's this was where people would have left their horses to be fed and watered whilst they fed and watered themselves in the hostelry.  In fact, under the rules of being located on Cathedral land, if any horses and carriages do come to Chambers they are fairly sure that they would be obliged to offer them hay!
If the doors are open then you will be privileged to see the masons hard at work just as they have been for centuries, sawing and carving the Cathedral stone by hand, stone that is bought in from Caen, France.  This is art in motion, coming to life before your eyes.

Upstairs there is one of the most photographed paintings in Canterbury.  It used to hang outside the shop but was recently bought inside as it is now irreparable.  It shows the Mayflower, the ship that carried the pilgrims to America and the ship whose hire was negotiated in these very premises.  
The building itself is tiny and crooked with slanting floors, low ceilings and a mishmash of furniture.  It still has the feel of Restoration England about it although it has clearly been refurbished numerous times over the centuries.
Inside the unisex toilet upstairs is another piece of history - a monk's bolt hole.  Deep down in the cellar there is a secret stairway which leads up, out and across to the Cathedral grounds and its many hidden tunnels.  During the reign of Henry VIII and during the persecution of the Catholic Church monks used the many secret passages hidden in the bowels of the Cathedral to escape certain death.  It is believed that the doorway in the toilet is linked to the cellar and acted as an escape route out of the hostelry and into town and safety.
So enough history, lets get to the important information - the food and drink!  Chambers serves a blend of British and American food, fully embracing the role it held in the past in shaping America.  I had a peach smoothie and Steve opted for one of the best vanilla milkshakes he has ever tasted.  Both drinks were delicious, smooth, creamy and refreshing.  My smoothie was full of fresh peach pieces and blended with apple juice.
To eat Steve and I both went for the pancake menu.  Steve opted for good old fashioned American pancakes with maple syrup - three huge pancakes that he couldn't quite finish dripping with maple syrup and dusted with icing sugar.  You can see how badly the floor slants by the fact that all the maple syrup is pooling on one side of the plate!
I had pancakes as well but went for smokey pulled pork with hot sauce (great big slices of jalapeno peppers and tender, falling apart pork) with two eggs, sunny side up and yellow, runny yolks with two pancakes and maple syrup.  This was delicious, I could happily eat this for lunch for a week solid!
Portion sizes were enormous and I couldn't quite finish my pancakes either, much as I wanted to!
Chambers is a wonderful little cafe that doesn't seem to get the coverage and publicity it really deserves although I must admit there was a steady stream of customers and it seemed to be particularly popular with tourists and teenagers. 

If you are not in the mood for pancakes then there are cakes and cream teas available, full cooked English breakfasts, burgers (the Elvis Burger with peanut butter looked intriguing) and traditional cafe food as well.  Prices are extremely reasonable and there are so many things to discover inside that it is well worth a visit! 

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