Harbledown is a village to the west of Canterbury, Kent in England, now contiguous with the city, although still a separate village. It forms part of the civil parish of Harbledown and Rough Common. The High Street is a conservation area with many fascinating colloquial buildings either side of a sharp climb towards the city. There is also a good Georgian terrace on the south side.
The Parish Church of St. Michael and All Angels is compact and attractive but more significant is the Hospital of St. Nicholas: this is now an Almshouse with a range of cottages for elderly people. Formerly, it was a leper hospital whose inmates supported themselves by displaying a slipper that had been worn by St. Thomas Becket; passing pilgrims would leave a donation for the privilege of seeing it. As you enter the Hospital of St. Nicholas a plaque reads:
“This ancient Hospital of St. Nicholas Harbledown was founded by Archbishop Lanfranc c. 1084 for the relief of Lepers. On the disappearance of Leprosy from England Lanfranc’s foundation gradually developed into the Almshouses of today. The main door of the church is kept locked for security reasons but the interior of the building can be seen by appointment with the Sub Prior. Visitors are invited to walk in the grounds of the Hospital.”
The much despised Richard Culmer was once minister of the parish.
It is said that Henry II of England walked barefoot through Harbledown on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, in repentance for his mistaken involvement in the murder of Thomas Becket. Thus the area was dubbed ‘hobble down’, becoming ‘Harbledown’.
However, the name ‘Harbledown’ is more likely to be the medieval village of ‘Bobbe-up-and-doun’, which is where Chaucer and his pilgrims rested on the way to Canterbury. It was so-called because the road was of poor quality and would ‘bob up and down’. Later this became Harbledown.