19 AUGUST 1865, Page 10


A VERY curious chapter of early English history lies written 11 in stone at the eastern corner of Kent, along the flat shore -facing the so-called Small Downs. Though now a dull and dreary shore, enlivened only by a few fishing-boats, and here and there a skiff carrying venturesome excursionists from Ramsgate to Deal and Nilralmer Castle, it was once—full eighteen centuries ago—the most animated place on the English coast. Then, when the Isle of 'fhanet was a real island, and ships could sail right through Kent from the Channel into the mouth of the Thames, the Remans justly considered this inlet of the sea the gate of fair Britannia, and were not slow there to plant their sword. The Portus Rutu- pinws, so celebrated during the period of Roman domination, ex- tended over all that tract of marsh land stretching from Weimer on one side to near the cliffs of Ramsgate on the other, and form- ing a commodious harbour of about five miles in width, styled by Ammianus "stationer,' Britannia, tranquillam." To defend this mag- nificent harbour, large enough to accommodate the whole navy of Rome, the great conquerors erected about A.D. 50 a strong fortress on a hilly elevation, which like a promontory sprang forth in the mid- dle of the waves. Around the fortress grew up a large Roman city, spoken of by Ptolemy, Antonini's, and Tacitus. Every vestige of this city has long since disappeared, but a goodly piece of the fort is still standing erect, under and amidst the graves of sixty gene- rations of men. The shrieking locomotive of the South-Eastern Railway rushes along at the very foot and almost through the mighty ruins, and dwellers at Ramsgate and Deal can see them from their windows, if they have leisure to lift their eyes from tea and shrimps. But there are few who seem to care for what was once known as Rutupium, and now goes by the name of Rich- borough Castle. As a rule, sea-side excursionists and watering- place visitors seem to prefer the sight of English shrimps to that of Roman ruins.

Leaving the cliffs of Ramsgate in the direction of Pegwell Bay, the eye is at once attracted towards a confused mass of masonry, partly overgrown with ivy, standing on a 1411, a mile or two to the south. Getting nearer to it, across a swamp intersected by numerous ditches, which bears evident traces of having been the bed of the sea in time not very remote, the dim outline gradually gains in clearness, till at last, on climbing an elevation of about sixty or seventy feet, we suddenly find ourselves in the midst of a ruin unique in aspect, and of astounding proportions. It is a ruin such as is not to be found in any other part of England at the present day. Walls from twenty to thirty feet in height, and no less than ten feet thick, inclose a regular parallelogram of about six acres in extent, the whole of which is now used as a cornfield. The corn grows luxuriously within the old Roman castle, drawing nourishment, very likely, from the decaying skulls of the conquerors of the world which lie buried beneath. Still more luxuriously grows the ivy which covers the grand old heap of ruins from base to top. Removing bits of the ivy we find legions of snails between it and the massive Roman wall. The snails have made numerous holes in the compact limestone, all above an inch deep, proving, as expert antiquarians tell us, that they have been there more than a thousand years. It seems that the saliva of snails contains a slight acid, sufficient to sink a hole of this depth in the course of ten centuries. We do not know what most to admire, the wonderful energy of the men of Rome who built these walls two thousand years ago, or that of the snails, who do not think a thousand years too much to make holes in them an inch deep ! But we have no doubt the snails will be the conquerors in the end.

There is a splendid prospect from the top of the north wall of the ancient castrum, still some thirty feet high and about 500 feet long. Here, almost in a glance, the eye may take in a piece, and a not inconsiderable one, of English history for the last eighteen centuries. There came Aulus Plautius, A.D. 47, and stormed this hill on which we now stand, and posted on it some of his guards to fight King Arviragus and the barbarians. Soon after there arose the castrum, and around it the city of Rutupium, a combined Portsmouth and Brighton. Not only was there an excellent harbour, but there were excellent oysters, well known to Juvenal :— " llutupinove edits tenth,

Ostrea."4 Thus Rutupium flourished as long as the Romans were there, and even a good while after. The Saxon Kings, too, liked the place, and built themselves a fine palace among the thick walls where now the corn is growing luxuriantly, and the snails are sitting under the ivy, engaged in the slow work of tunnelling. King Ethelbert here received St. Augustine and tidings of the Gospel- of Christ, in the year 596; and alter him several more Saxon Kings sat in the hall at Rutupium, corrupted by this time, accord- ing to Bade, into Reptacester. Sa it went on till towards the end of the seventh century, when the sea began gradually retreat- ing from the walls of the Roman castram and city. Thereupon the Saxon Kings ceased to inhabit the place, and many of the in- habitants likewise fled, while nearly all that were left fell under the fury of Swayn, A.D. 990. The Dane put every man and woman to the sword, and razed the walls of the city, but was not strong enough, in all his Viking fury, to break the walls of the Roman castrum. There they stand now, as they stood a thousand years ago, in wind and rain and storm, unhurt by the elements, and unhurt even by the destroying hand of man. About the middle of last century, when the harbour of Ramsgate was being built, the contractors tried hard to get " material " from the big walls, but found the work too tough. It was easier, they discovered, to cut the solid rock than the masonry put together by Roman hands ; so they desisted, and the owners thereupon turned the castrum into a cornfield. In the course of centuries the ownership of the old city and regal residence —of no more value to unromantic landlords than any other piece of ground—passed through many hands. Forming originally part of the inheritance of the Veres, Earls of Oxford, it was alienated from that family in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and became the property of a Mr. Gaunt. The Gaunts sold it to one Thurbarne, whose daughter brought it as a marriage portion to a Mr. Rivett, who, not liking the look of the old walls, disposed of all the lands to the Farrer family, who again disposed of them to one Peter Fector, of Dover. In the last deed of conveyance the grand old heap of ruins is thus described :—

" And also all those walls and ruins of the ancient Castle of Rutupium, now known by the name of Richborow Castle, with the site of the ancient port and city of Rutupium.."

Whether the ancient port and city of Rutupium still belong to Peter Fector of Dover, or not, we are unable to say. But we should not be at all surprised to read some day in the Times an advertisement announcing that the estate once belonging to the Emperor Claudius, and subsequently to King Ethelbert, and other distinguished and highly respectable persons, was "to be let or sold."—"Applicatioas to Moses Abraham and Son."

About a mile and a half south of Rutupium, or Richbarough

Castle, lies the old Cinque Port of Sandwich, a walk to which, straight from the Roman city, is not without interest. Sandwich is the continuation of Rutupium, for where the history of the one place ceases that of the other begins. When the sea commenced retreating from the old Roman city many of the inhabitants, wisely considering that it was not in their power to retain the waves, determined to follow them. They accordingly fixed upon a dry spot, close to the new shore, at the commencement of the Roman Watling Street, and building there a town, called it Sandwic —the termination " wic " signifying an inlet or cove. The new city, very favourably situated for commercial purposes, soon prospered greatly ; so much so, indeed, that the Danes took the trouble of plundering and partly burning it A.D. 852. It rose again before long, and was again ransacked by Sea:, King Attlaf in 993, and a third time A.D. 1006. The Danish sea, cx, • Sen 1V., T. 244'. kings each time got rich booty, and began liking Sandwich so well that they made it the permanent station of their fleets. On Canute's accession to the throne of England he increased the place, conferring upon it at the same time important privileges, which added so much to its prosperity that a writer of the eleventh century calls it the most celebrated of all the ports of England—"Sandwic qui eat omnium portuum famosissimus." So it continued for about three hundred years, when the sea, no respecter of persons as of cities, began to retreat from Sandwich as it had retreated from Rutupium. At the commencement of the fifteenth century the sands had nearly silted up the harbour, and what was left of a navigable channel in the current of the river Stour was destroyed not long after by a singular accident. Sand- wich was always full of priests and monks, the greater part of the land in and around the town belonging to the convent of Christ- church, Panterbury, one of the richest communities of this eccle- siastical region. As a matter of course, there were frequent embas- sies to and from Rome, and on one occasion the Pope, Paul IV., sent his biggest ship to Sandwich as a mark of particular respect. The ship—Leland calls it a " caryke"—proved un- manageable when nearing the harbour —probably the Pontiff's lieges were bad sailors ; at any rate the big vessel sank right in the midst of the only bit of navigable channel that was left, and completely blocked it up. It was in vain that the monks of Canterbury said prayers day and night ; the " caryke " refused to move, and kept sticking in the mud. There it sticks to this day. A Dutchman in the reign of Queen Mary, offered to lift the big ship by some clever contrivance of his own, but the monks would not let him ; suspected him in fact of heresy, and drove him away ignominiously. The town, having now no harbour, and being cut off from all communication with the sea, would in all likelihood have sunk at once to utter decay, but for the advent of a body of these very heretics so much hated by the priests. The religious persecution in the Netherlands having driven over to England a large number of workers in serges, baizea, and flannel, Queen Elizabeth gave orders that a body of them, numbering four hundred and six, should settle at Sandwich. They did -establish themselves accordingly, and when Her Majesty visited the town in 1572 they showed that they were in a flourishing con- dition by offering her a fine gold cup, and a splendid dinner, " wheare she was very merrye, and did este of dyvers di.sshes without any assaye, and caused carten to be reserved for her and -carried to her lodginge." This visit of Queen Elizabeth is about the last thing English history has to tell about the old Cinque Port and borough of Sandwich. Notwithstanding its Royal patronage and weaving industry the place sank into gradual decay, until it was reduced to its present state of insignificance. Were it not for that genial member of the Montagu family who invented the world-famous stratifications of bread and ham, the name Sand- wich would be utterly unknown at the present moment. As it is, Sandwich cannot be forgotten as long as there are sandwiches.

A promenade through the streets of Sandwich completes the chapter of English history commencing at the neighbouring Eutapitun. Unlike the latter, Sandwich has no massive ruins to show, with cornfields among them, but it has plenty of grass. Grass in fact is growing in every street, at every door-step, nay, at the very tops of the houses. The castle, which Falconbridge once defended against Edward IV., is utterly gone, its founda- tions overgrown with grass, and even the walls of the town have crumbled to pieces and been changed into grass-plots. There never was such another city under grass—a very Herculaneum hidden in herbs, instead of lava and ashes. But from out this -wealth of green leaves there peep an uncommon number of churches and other ecclesiastical structures, telling the tale of that -old connection of the town with the monks of Canterbury. There are St. Clement's Church, and St. Mary's Church, and St. Peter's Church, each of them large enough to hold the entire population -of Sandwich ; and besides them there are St. John's Hospital, and St. Thomas's Hospital, and St. Bartholomew's Hospital, big enough, between them, to shelter all the Sandwichiana, dead and alive, born within the last five hundred years. Truly the monks of Canterbury Christ Church were not idle here at the commencement .of Watling Street, and but for that fatal " caryke " of Paul IV. might have proved the everlasting benefactors of the old Cinque Port. However, the Pope's big ship, and the orthodox unwilling- ness of getting it pulled from the mad by a non-believer in the Pope, spoilt it all, and in consequence the poor old Cinque Port is now lying high and dry onshore, two miles from the sea, overgrown with grass. The Sandwichians nevertheless are still proud of the ancient motto of their borough, engraven on the common seal, —" Qui servare gregem coeli solet indico regent."