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History of Romney Marsh, Kent

By Edited Jun 20, 2016 0 0

Romney Marsh is an ancient area of Kent but it's clear, wide-open skies and peace and quiet hiding past of constant unheaval and change.

Geological Formation

The 100 square miles of mainly marsh and farm-land that make up Romney Marsh today didn't exist 5000 years ago and disguise a geography reshaped countless times in the last 1000 years as man and nature have fought a constant battle.

The region was originally a series of salty lagoons making up  a large bay between what is now Rye and Folkestone. The lagoons dried out - largely as a result of the activities of man to reclaim land but also down to coastal storms and the changing path of rivers - leaving marsh lands and shingle banks that make the area so distinctive today.

In the last 1000 years the shape of the East Kent shoreline has changed considerably. The scale of these changes can be seen on the its effects on nearby towns and villages. In the early middle ages a series of huge storms in the Channel resulted in several major ports and the homes, business and people of the area being lost completely in floods or becoming stranded miles inland. The ancient and hugely important port of Winchelsea - the then 3rd largest port in England behind only London and Southampton - disappeared completely under the sea (so important was Winchelsea as a port to the realm that Edward I  issued orders for the town to rebuilt the town - higher up and further inland - in a bid to regain the lost revenue of the port).  Smaller towns such as Broomhill - near the current village of Camber - vanished completely under the waves during the same storms.

Further geological change has occurred more recently as a result of work at Dungeness for the nuclear power station. Each year, roughly 30,000 cubic metres of shingle are shifted from one side of the point on which the nuclear power stations sit to the other side to as a defense against flooding and compensate for the natural drift of the shingle banks.

Human inhabitation

Archeological evidence shows human activity on the Marshes dating to the Bronze age - starting roughly 2000 BCE. The Roman's established several bases in the area working the sea-water lagoons for salt. The Romans were also the first to drain some of the land, building sea-walls and drainage ditches that still mark much of the landscape and are maintained today.

In the first century BC, small settlements grew up on sandy islands across the Marshes. Several of these grew into villages and by the time of the Doomsday Book in 1086AD the villages of New Romney, Lydd and Dymchurch had becoming small towns.

With close proximity to the coast and continental Europe, these villages became large trade centres with New Romney in particular becoming a key English port. The huge storms Channel in the middle ages (notably in 1250AD and 1287AD ) caused huge damage to many of the these towns or disrupted the flow of rivers, on which they based, leaving them miles in-land and significantly reducing their use as trading ports.  The economies and importance of these towns fell over later centuries.

Smuggling

No mention of Romney Marsh would be complete without reference to its past as a smugglers paradise. With some of the closest towns and villages to France, on the coast and with miles of isolated beaches and fields, the Romany Marshes made an ideal base from which smugglers operated. It's even thought smuggling first started on the Marshes.

Wool, tea and brandy were regularly smuggled across the Channel and in such quantities that by the 17th Century the Government imposed the death penalty for smuggling wool. This did little to put off would be smugglers however who stood to make vast fortunes from their trade and attracted the support of the local population - particularly Lydd. In one famous incident, the residents of the town turned out to free two smugglers who had been captured and imprisioned in a public house and fought a battle with customs officers to free the men.

Today, Romney Marsh and its towns remain remarkably unspoilt - many buildings, particularly the churches and pubs are as they were hundreds of years ago - and provide a welcome break for holiday makers wanting quiet countryside and seaside breaks.

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