22 AUGUST 1868, Page 12


" A NTIENTLY a City, now a Borough," is the description which Thomas Gardner gives of Dunwich in 1754. The Reform Bill of 1832 robbed it of this title, and now, though still retaining a vestige of municipal institutions, it is nothing more than an insignificant village. Twelve centuries ago it was the chief seat of East-Anglian civilization. It would be difficult to find in England a more striking instance of the effects produced by a cause of which we may still watch the working in many places, a change in the coast-line. At Dunwich, this change has been of a character which, while leaving but few monuments of its past greatness, gives a peculiar tragical interest to its history. The sea, which has ruined Winchilsea by giving it .two miles of valuable land, has simply swallowed up Dunwich. The unfor- tunate place fought against it in vain for nearly seven hundred years. Two or three ruins which have been saved by their inland situation and a few doubtful fragments of masonry which are still to be seen at extreme low tides are all that now remain of it.

Stow's Chronicle tells us of Dunwich that it was "a city sur- rounded with a stone wall, and brazen gates ; that it had fifty-two churches, chapels, religious houses, and hospitals ; a king's palace,. a bishop's seat, a mayor's mansion, and a mint ; as many top- ships as churches, &c., and not fewer wind-mills." Except in the num- ber of churches, &c., this account does not seem to be exaggerated. The first period of the history of the place extends from 630-870. Sigebert, King of the East Angles, made it an episcopal see, and appointed Felix of Burgundy to be the first Bishop. In 673 the diocese was divided. One Bishop resided at Dunwich, with jurisdiction over Suffolk ; another at North Elmham„ to, whom Norfolk was assigned. In 870, on the death of St. Humbert, Bishop of North Elmham, who was martyred by the Danes at the same time with St. Edmund, King of the East Angles, the sees were again united. The continual presence of the invaders on the coast made it expedient to remove the Bishop's seat to a more

inland situation. It was accordingly established at Elmham, was removed from thence to Thetford, and finally in 1094 was settled at Norwich.

For a century and a half after Dunwich had ceased to be a city absolutely nothing is known of its history. When Edward the Con- fessor's survey of the kingdom was made it contained in all three carves of land, twelve bordarii, and one hundred and twenty bur- gesses, and one church, and paid ten pounds. By the time the Con- queror's survey was made the sea had swallowed up one of the carves of land, but the wealth of the town had apparently increased. There were eleven bordarii, twenty-four freemen, each holding forty acres of land, 136 burgesses, and 178 poor. There were now three churches. Its prosperity seems to have culminated in the reigns of Henry II. and Richard I., when it paid a fee-farm rent of 1201. 13s 4d. and 21,000 herrings. It was then a place of some political importance. Its fortifications were sufficiently strong to check the rebel army which in 1173 had overrun the greater part of the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk in the interests of the King's sons, Richard and Geoffrey. Richard indeed seems to have borne a grudge against the town after his accession to the throne, for he fined it a thousand and sixty marks for supplying the enemy with corn. This dislike was naturally a claim to the favour of John, who made the town a free borough, remitted forty pounds of the fee- farm rent (adding the significant reason of damage done by the sea), and dignified the corporation by making its chief officer a mayor. It marks the relative importance of Dunwich as compared

with other towns of Eastern England that it was charged with an aid of 133/. 6s. 8d. to portion Maud, the daughter of Henry II., while the sum levied on Ipswich was 53/. Gs. 8d., and that the fine imposed on it by King Richard was more than five times greater than what was paid either by Ipswich or Yarmouth. The same test shows the decline that had taken place within the next century. Dunwich paid 471. and Ipswich 40/. towards portioning Isabel, daughter of Edward I. Its wealth and population were, however, still considerable. In the twenty-fourth year of Edward I. it sent to the French war eleven ships, which served the King for six months without pay. It suffered some loss in the succeeding reign by a change in the course of the river, which opened a new port two miles further from the town, though this was partially repaired by a royal proclamation which directed that all goods imported into the new harbour should be sold nowhere but at the ancient market-places of Dunwich, under pain of for- feiture. This harbour was choked up in January, 1328, by a violent gale from the north-east. This calamity, added to losses amount- ing to a thousand pounds in money and five hundred lives incur- red in the French war, hastened the decline of the place. In the thirty-first year of Edward III, the fee-farm rent was reduced to 14/. 10s. 9d. The fate of the town was sealed, and all the privileges and reliefs granted by successive Kings from Richard II. to Elizabeth were powerless to avert it.

An enemy stronger than charters and proclamations had been at work. The original church of St. Felix had been lost at a very

early date. A carve of land had been swallowed up, as we have seen, some time about the middle of the eleventh century. For the next 150 years the invasions of the sea seem to have ceased. In

the reign of John, as we have seen, they bad recommenced. But the fourteenth century was especially fatal to the town. The churches of St. Michael and St. Bartholomew were swallowed up before

1331. The last institution to St. Martin's was in 1335; the last to St. Nicholas' in 1352. The church of St. Leonard was lost about the same time. In 1350 "a great part of the town and upwards of 400 houses which paid rent to the fee farm, with certain shops and windmills, were devoured by the sea." Nearly a century of repose seems to have followed. But in 1540 the inhabitants were compelled to take down the Church of St. John Baptist, which was by this time on the edge of the cliff. The chapels of St. Anthony, St. Francis, and St. Katharine were overthrown in the same century. In 1570 the town "suffered incredible damage." Of its state in 1587 we have an authentic memorial in a plan which bears that date. A dotted line, which represents "the present cliff," shows more than three-fourths of the houses and buildings of the town to have been submerged by that time. In 1677 "the sea reached the market-place, when the townsmen sold the lead of the cross." In 1702 St. Peter's Church was dismantled ; within a few years from that time both the town ball and the gaol were lost. In 1766 All Saints, the last survivor of many churches, in which, when Gardner wrote, ser- vice was performed once a fortnight in summer and once a month in winter, was dismantled. For sixty-four years after this there was no service at all. In 1830 a new church was erected within the precincts of the ancient Hospital of St. James. It is a remark-

able instance of change that Dunwich, the first bishopric of East Anglia, is now a perpetual curacy of 50/. a year, of which 10/. is contributed by Queen Anne's bounty, the remainder by the owner of the land. St. James's was a hospital of which the foundation dates from before the reign of Richard I., for a master and certain leprous brethren and sisters. Some remains of the church, of small extent, but interesting, are still to be seen. The architecture is Norman. Gardner mentions some other .ruins which he supposes to have been an attached chapel ; these are not now to be seen. The

Maison Dieu was another hospital for certain poor. All that is left of it is the name, which is still given to a lane and certain

fields, and a small revenue enjoyed by a few alinsmen. The most important relic of antiquity that Dunwich possesses is the wall that marks the precincts of the monastery of Grey Friars or Franciscans.

The great western gate contains some fine workmanship. In the niche on one side there stood within the memory of living men a figure which has now been destroyed. The enclosure measures about seven acres. In the middle are the remains of some of the

monastery buildings. Among these the apartments of the prior and the refectory are pointed out, but the identification seems doubtful. In Gardner's time "the standing remains were converted into a

good tenement, and a hall, with apartments, where affairs of the corporation are transacted, and a gaol, having an east front built (of late years) with brick, affording a handsome prospect." This

has disappeared. Of the neighbouring monastery of the Domi- nicans, or Black Friars, nothing remains. The Temple, afterwards the property of the Hospitallers of St. John, has also perished entirely. It is marked as existing in the map of 1587.

Modern Dunwich, which at the last census contained 240 inhabitants and 1,400 acres of laud (these yearly diminished, it is said), has turned itself entirely away from the sea, and occupies the landward slope of the cliffs. There are still some huts on the beach, and a few small fishing-boats. Gardner says that there were seven in his time. The present writer saw two. The place, however, now seems likely to earn a decent livelihood out of its former greatness. Sometimes more than forty or fifty parties will visit it in a day. On the strength of this custom a handsome inn is being built. There is no reason indeed why Dun wich should not share in the new prosperity which, within the last century, has visited an old neighbour and rival, Southwold. A bracing air which, in summer at least, the neighbouring marshes do not injure, an open sea with a coast of which the curves are singularly graceful, with an immense extent of picturesque common inland, would combine to make it a very pleasant watering-place. The desire for six weeks of change is felt every year by larger numbers, and the power of paying for it seems to increase with equal rapidity. Nothing could be more desirable than that new abodes should be found for the multitudes who now crowd to suffocation seine twenty or thirty sea-coast towns, and so carry with them not a few of the evils which they are seeking to escape. Dunwich, we have said, was one of the rotten boroughs that were disfranchised by the first Reform Bill. It had returned two members to Parliament since the twenty-sixth year of Edward I., with only one important interval, from the seventeenth of Edward IV. to the thirty-third of Henry VIII. Only one name of any

distinction, as far as we have observed, occurs in the list, that of Roger North, who was returned in 1688. In 1747 we find the name of Miles Barne. This family now owns nearly the whole of the parish. It illustrates the change which has taken place in the distribution of political power that Dunwich, instead of its two members, has now but three county votes, a number which the new Reform Bill seems likely to increase to five.

The most striking event in its recent history is the lawsuit which its bailiffs carried on seine forty years ago with the corpora- tion of Southwold about a puncheon of whisky which had been stranded on the shore. They are said to have secured the whisky at a cost of a thousand pounds.

Dunwich may be best approached from Southwold, from which it is distant about five miles. The nearest railway station is Darsham, on the Ipswich and Yarmouth branch of the Great Eastern Railway.