The Port and Haven of

A Trust Port  Managed  by the Sandwich Port and Haven Commissioners under Acts of Parliament


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Timeline of Precedent, Custom & Practice and Statute concerning Navigation on the River Stour  - and its precede’nt at Sandwich being the River Wantsum.

200 BC.  Settlement at the river mouth which was at the head of a creek inlet from the river Wantsum

55 BC.     First landing of Julius Caesar. Believed to be at Gore End at the northern mouth of the River Wantsum.  He invaded with around 10,000 men.  This invasion lasted about a month and had to be abandoned due to his ships suffering damage in a northerly gale.

54 BC.    Caesar returned with a stronger force of men gaining much ground as far as the Thames.  He had to withdraw however due to troubles in Rome’s other possessions.

AD 43  The Romans return under Claudius establishing their gateway fortress at Richborough, staying for the next 400 years.  The island that was to form Sandwich was not yet established.

664/5  First mention of  Sandwich Haven by Eddius Stephanus writing about the life of St Wilfred and how after his consecration to the Bishopric of Northumbria in 664 or 665 on returning from France he landed “Happily and Pleasantly “ in Sandwich Haven.

852     A great army of Pagan’s arrived in Sandwich.  They were defeated by King Aethelwulf and Alchere seizing nine of their ships.  They returned in 853, this time victoriously.

1006   Sandwich attacked by the Danes with a fleet of 94 ships

1009  “Turkill” a Viking spared the town on payment of £3000.

1011   Sandwich again attacked and ravaged.  Archbishop Alphege murdered.

1016   Sandwich is recognised as the most important port in England – as it was at that time.  It was used by King Knut (son of king Swein of Denmark) as a base for his fleet.

1023   Sandwich was gifted to the monks of Christchurch by the Saxon Kings, confirmed by King Canute (Knut) in a Charter.

1164   Archbishop Thomas Becket took an open boat to France, landing at Boulogne.

1170   December 1st  Becket returns to be met by the fishermen and poor of Sandwich.

1194   March 20th   Richard I landed at Sandwich and travelled by foot to Canterbury.

1284   Royal recognition of the Mayor of Sandwich when King Henry III addressed the Mayor and Bailiffs of Sandwich.

1457   Sandwich was attacked by 4,000 Frenchmen from Honfleur in the course of which the Mayor was killed.  Since when all subsequent Mayors have worn black robes in mourning.

1532   King Henry VIII pays his first visit

1539   King Henry VIII again visits for two days during which he inspect the river.

1572   Queen Elizabeth I visits to inspect the river which was silting up.

1755   A petition from the Mayor to The Commons for a bridge over the river.  Four years later the first stone was laid by the Mayor Solomon Ferrier.

1847   2nd June £1000 paid to the town by the promoters of the South Eastern Railway in lieu of lost traffic over the towns bridge by the railway’s Minster to Deal branch.

1914/18  Major port and train ferry constructed at Richborough and Stonar to serve the war effort in France.

1939   First World War accommodation huts known as Richborough Camp were brought into use as a refugee camp for around 3500 Jews.

1942   A German bomb misses the bridge by 5 yards.  No damage done.

1942-45  Richborough port taken over by the Admiralty and renamed HMS Robertson.

Credit in part to the late Maurice Burton  (Grove Ferry Boat Club).

Sandwich History extracts from Edward Hasted.  Published in 1800

Sandwich is situated on the north-east corner of Kent, about 5 miles from the sea, through which the River Stour flows northward into the sea at Shellness - onetime known as Pepperness.  It is one of the principal Cinque Ports.

Sandwich had in ancient time several ‘limbs’ attached to it, known as the ancient members of the port of Sandwich; these were Fordwich, Reculver, Sarre, Stonar, and Deal; but in the later charters, the members mentioned are Fordwich incorporated, and the non-corporated members of Deal, Walmer, Ramsgate, Stonar, Sarre, all in this county.  Brightlingsea, in Essex is a limb of Sandwich where the Mayor Deputy (to Sandwich) is is appointed annually.  Deal, Walmer, and Stonar, have been taken from it. Stonar having been, by a late decision of the court of King's Bench in 1773, adjudged to be within the jurisdiction of the county at large.

The first origin of the port of Sandwich was owing to the decay of that of Richborough.  It was at first called Lundenwic, from its being the entrance to the port of London, being on the sea coast.  It retained this name until the supplanting of the Saxons by the Danes, when it acquired from its sandy location a new name, being from thenceforward called Sandwic, in old Latin, Sabulovicum, that is, the sandy town, and in process of time, by the change of language, to Sandwich.

Where this town now stands, is supposed, in the time of the Romans, and before the decay of the haven, or Portus Rutupinus, to have been covered with the sea which formed the bay.  Being so large that it is said to have extended far beyond on the one side almost to Ramsgate cliffs, and on the other near five miles in width, over the whole of that flat of land, on which Stonar and Sandwich were afterwards built.  Thence up to the estuary, which then flowed between the Isle of Thanet and the main land of Kent.

During the time of the Saxons, the haven and port of Richborough, became disused.  Sandwich became the usual resort for shipping, and there arose a flourishing harbour from which time the Saxon fleets, as well as those of the Danes, are said by the historians of those times, to sail for the port of Sandwich; and there to lie at different times  No further mention is made of that of Richborough, which becoming decayed, Sandwich became the port of general resort.  

Some while after the establishment of the Saxons in Britain, and the first time that the name of Sandwich being mentioned, and occurring as a port, is in the life of St. Wilfred, Archbishop of York, written by Eddius Stephanus.  Here it is said he and his company, prosper in portum Sandwich, atque suaviter pervenerunt, happily and pleasantly arrived in the harbour of Sandwich, sometime about the year 665, or 666.  This was somewhat more than 200 years after the arrival of the Saxons in Britain. During the time of the Danes in this kingdom, several of their principal transactions took place, and the port became so much frequented, that the author of Queen Emma's life styles considered it the most noted of all the English ports; Sandwich qui est omnium Anglorum portuum famosissimus.

From the origin of the town of Sandwich, the property of it was vested in the several kings who reigned over this country, and continued so till King Ethelred, in the year 979, gave it as the lands of his inheritance to Christ-Church, in Canterbury, free from all secular service and fiscal tribute, except the repelling of invasions, and the repairing of bridges and castles. Then King Canute, having obtained the kingdom, finished the building of this town, and having all parts and places in the realm at his disposal, as coming to the possession of it by conquest, by his charter in the year 1023, restored the port of Sandwich, with the profits of the water of it, on both sides of the stream, for the support of that church, and the sustenance of the monks there.

Soon after this, the town of Sandwich increased greatly in size and inhabitants, and on account of the commodity and use of its haven, and the service done by the shipping belonging to it, was of such size that it was made one of the principal cinque ports.  In King Edward the Confessor's days it contained three hundred and seven houses, and was an hundred within itself.  It continued increasing, as appears by the description of it in the survey of Domesday, taken in the 15th year of the Conqueror's reign, anno 1080, in which it is thus entered, under the title of the lands of the archbishop:

Sandwice lies in its own proper hundred. This borough the archbishop holds, and it is of the clothing of the monks, and yields the like service to the king as Dover; and this the men of that borough testify, that before king Edward gave the same to the Holy Trinity, it paid to the king fifteen pounds. At the time of King Edward's death it was not put to ferme. When the archbishop received it, it paid forty pounds of ferme, and forty thousand herrings to the food of the monks. In the year in which this description was made, Sanuuic paid fifty pounds of ferme, & Herrings as above. In the time of King Edward the Confessor there were three hundred and seven mansions tenanted, now there are seventy six more, that is together three hundred and eighty three.

And under the title of the Bishop of Baieux's lands, and under the description of the manor of Gollesberge:

In Estrei hundred, in Sandunic, the archbishop has thirty two houses, with plats of land belonging to this manor,(viz. Gollesberge) and they pay forty-two shillings and eight pence, and Adeluuold has one yoke, which is worth ten shillings.

These houses, with all the liberties which the bishop of Baieux had in Sandwich, had been given by him to Christ-Church, in Canterbury, and confirmed to it in the year 1075, by his brother the Conqueror.

Afterwards King Henry II. granted to the monks the full enjoyment of all those liberties and customs in Sandwich, which they had in the time of King Henry his grandfather.  That is, the port and toll, and all maritime customs in this port, on both sides of the water, that is, from Eadburgate unto Merksflete, and the small boat to ferry across it, and that no one should have any right there except them and their servants.

The town by these continued privileges, and the advantages it derived from the great resort to the port, increased much in wealth and number of inhabitants.  Notwithstanding, in the year 1217,  King Henry III. great part of the town was burnt by the French, yet the damage seems soon to have been recompensed by the favours bestowed on it by the several kings, in consideration of the services it had continually afforded, in providing shipping to the nation. The first example of royal favour, being shown by the last-mentioned King, was in his 11th year, who not only confirmed the customs before granted, but added the further grant of a market to this town and port.  In his 13th year he granted the custom of taking twopence for each cask of wine received into it.

After which, the prior and convent of Christ-church, in the 18th year of King Edward I. gave up in exchange for other lands elsewhere, to his queen Eleanor, all their rights, possessions, and privileges here, excepting their houses and keys, and a free passage in the Haven, in the small boat, called the vere boat, and free liberty for themselves and their tenants to buy and sell toll free, which the king confirmed that year.  As a favour to the town, he placed the staple for wool in it for some time.

The exception above-mentioned, was afterwards found to be so very prejudicial, as well as inconvenient, that king Edward III. in his 38th year, gave them other lands in Essex, in exchange for all their rights, privileges, and possessions, in this town and port.

During the whole of this period from the time of the conquest, this port continued to be the general rendezvous of the royal fleets, and was constantly visited by the several monarchs, who frequently embarked and returned from France; the consequence of which was, that the town became so flourishing, that it had increased to between eight and nine hundred houses inhabited, divided into three parishes; and there were of good and able mariners, belonging to the navy of it, above the number of 1500; so that when there was occasion at any time, the mayors of it, on the receipt of the King's letters, furnished, at the town's charges, to the seas, fifteen sail of armed ships of war, which were of such continued annoyance to the French, that they in return made it a constant object of their revenge.

Accordingly, in the 16th year of King Henry VI. they landed here and plundered the greatest part of the inhabitants, as they did again in the 35th year of it; but this not answering the whole of their purpose, Charles VIII. King of France sent four thousand men to destroy it entirely, Landing in the night, and after a long and bloody conflict gained possession of the town, and having raised it to the ground with fire, slew the greatest part of the inhabitants; and to add to these misfortunes it was again ransacked by the Earl of Warwick, in the same reign.

To preserve the town from such disasters in future, King Edward IV. Erected new walls, ditched, and fortified it with bulwarks, and gave for the support of them, one hundred pounds yearly out of the customhouse here.  Together with the industry and efforts of the merchants, who frequented this haven, the goodness of which, in any storm or contrary wind when they were in danger from the breakers, or the Goodwin Sands, afforded them a safe retreat restored it again to a flourishing state, insomuch, that before the end of that reign, the clear yearly receipt of the customs here to that king, amounted to above the sum of £17,000.  The town having ninety five ships belonging to it, and above fifteen hundred sailors.

But this sunshine of prosperity lasted no long time afterwards, for in King Henry VII.'s time, the River Stour, or as it was at this place anciently called, the Wantsume, continued to decay so fast, as to leave on each side at low water, a considerable quantity of salts, which induced Cardinal Archbishop Moreton, who had most part of the adjoining lands belonging to his Bishopric, for his own private advantage, to inclose and wall them in, near and about Sarre.  This example was followed from time to time, by several owners of the lands adjoining, by which means the water was deprived of its usual course, and the haven felt the loss of it by a hasty decay. Notwithstanding which, so late as the first year of King Richard III. ships sailed up this Haven as high as Richborough, for that year, as appears by the corporation books of Sandwich, the mayor ordered a Spanish ship, lying on the outside of Richborough, to be removed.

"Leland, who wrote in the reign of Henry VIII. gives the following description of Sandwich, as it was in his time. "Sandwich, on the farther side of the ryver of Sture, is neatly welle walled, where the town stonddeth most in jeopardy of enemies. The residew of the town is diched and mudde waulled. There be yn the town iiii principal gates, iii paroche chyrches, of the which sum suppose that St. Maries was sumtyme a nunnery. Ther is a place of White Freres, and an hospistal withowt the town, fyrst ordened for maryners desesid and hurt. There is a place where monkes of Christ-church did resort, when they were lords of the towne. The caryke that was sonke in the haven, in pope Paulus tyme, did much hurt to the haven and gether a great bank. The grounde self from Sandwich to the heaven, and inward to the land, is caullid Sanded bay".

The sinking of this great ship of pope Paul IV. in the very mouth of the haven, the waters had not their free course as before, from the sand and mud gathering round about it, together with the innings of the lands on each side the stream, had such a fatal effect towards the decay of the Haven, that in the time of King Edward VI. it was in a manner destroyed and lost, and the navy and mariners dwindled to almost nothing.  The houses then inhabited in this town did not exceed two hundred, the inhabitants of which were greatly impoverished; the yearly customs of the town, by reason of the insufficiency of the haven, were so deficient, that there was scarcely enough arising from it to satisfy the customer his fee. This caused two several commissions to be granted, one in the 2nd year of that reign, and another in the 2nd year of Queen Elizabeth to examine the state of the Haven, and make a return of it; in consequence of the first of which, a new cut was begun by one John Rogers.

This was soon left in an unfinished state, though there are evident traces of what was done towards making this canal still remaining on the grounds between the town and Sandowne Castle.  In consequence of the second, other representations and reports were made, one of which was, that the intended cut would be useless, and of no good effect.

Whether these different reports where the occasion that no further progress was made towards this work, and the restoration of this Haven, or the very great expense it was estimated at, and the great difficulty of raising so large a sum, being £10,000 which the Queen at that time could not afford.  So it was, that nothing further was done in it.

The haven being thus abandoned by the Queen, and becoming almost useless, excepting to vessels of small burthen the town itself would before long have become impoverished and fallen into decay had it not been most singularly preserved, and raised again, in some measure, to great wealth and prosperity Consequent of the persecution for religion in Brabant and Flanders, which communicated to all the Protestant parts of Europe, the paper, silk, woollen, and other valuable manufactures of Flanders and France.  Almost peculiar at that time to those countries, and till then, in vain attempted elsewhere; the manufacturers of them came in desperation up to London, and afterwards chose their situations, with great judgment, distributing themselves, with the Queen's licence, through England, so as not to interfere too much with one another. The workers in baize, and flannel in particular, fixed themselves here, at Sandwich, at the mouth of a Haven, by which they might have an easy communication with the metropolis, and other parts of this kingdom.  Affording them like wise an easy export to the continent.

These manufacturers applied accordingly to the Queen, for her protection and licence; for which purpose, in the third year of her reign, she caused letters patent to be passed, directed to the mayor, &c. to give liberty to such of them, as should be approved of by the Archbishop, and Bishop of London, to inhabit here for the purpose of exercising those manufactures which had not been used before in England. These strangers, by their industry and prudent conduct, notwithstanding the obstructions they met with, from the jealousy of the native tradesmen, and the avarice of the corporation, very soon rose to a flourishing condition.

In the 8th year of this reign, anno 1565, it appears by the return, made by the Queen's command, that there were then in this town 420 households, of which 291 were English, and 129 Walloons.  Seven persons were in want of habitations, namely, three merchants, one scrivener, two surgeons, and one master of fence. That there were at that time employed at Sandwich, in the coasting trade, and in the fisheries, nine crayers, from fourteen to twenty-four tons; five boats, from six to ten tons; three hoys, from twenty to forty tons; sailors sixty-two.

The ‘Strangers’ here, in a few years, became much more numerous, insomuch, that in the year 1582, there were three hundred and fifty-one Dutch settlers in Sandwich, who exercised fifty-nine different trades or occupations; and though the Haven still further decayed the trade, populousness, and wealth of the town increased by their means. In this state Sandwich continued till the next reign of King James I. when the customs here amounted to £2,926. per annum; but by that Prince's setting up the company of merchant adventurers, and appropriating to them the trade to Germany, the Low Countries, &c. this place soon fell to decay again, and though the descendants of the Dutch and Walloon manufacturers still remained here, they not long afterwards entirely discontinued those manufactures, they had originally carried forward, and mixed among the rest of the inhabitants, in the exercise of the various occupations used in the town; and thus Sandwich, though it has since increased in the number of its houses and inhabitants, yet having lost its manufactures, the principal part of its trade, it was deprived likewise of that wealth and repute it had derived from them, and in process of time has dwindled down to the same obscurity as other country towns.

THE TOWN OF SANDWICH was first incorporated by King Edward III. by the name of mayor, jurats and commonaltie of the town and port of Sandwich, before which they were privileged by the name of barons, as they were at that time, with all such liberties as they had had granted to them by king Edward the Confessor,

The mayor is chosen annually, by the mayor, jurats, and commonalty, at a common assembly, in the Guildhall; he carriers a black wand in his hand, as a badge of his office, the same as the mayor of Fordwich, a member of this port, probably for some delinquency committed by the mayor of this place; for all the other ports, and their members corporate, bear white ones. There are at present twelve jurats, exclusive of the mayor, who are chosen out of the common-councilmen, by the whole body corporate. There is a steward and a recorder, usually a barrister at law, who is appointed at a court of record, and a town clerk appointed for life, a deputy recorder to hold his office, during the pleasure of the recorder; the mayor, deputy mayor, jurats, recorder, and deputy recorder, are justices of the peace. There is a land and water treasurer, two sergeants at mace, with other inferior officers, necessary for carrying forward the business of the corporation, which last-mentioned officers are elected annually.

The arms of the town and port of Sandwich, are those of the cinque ports, viz. Per pale, gules and azure, three demi lions, passant guardant, or, conjoined in pale, to as many bulks of ships, argent.

A court of requests, for the recovery of small debts in Sandwich, and the neighbouring parishes, was established here by an act in 1786; all fines and forfeitures, not appropriated by the act, belong to the corporation.

THE LIBERTIES of the corporation were perambulated by Sir Stephen de Penchester, warden of the cinque ports, at the latter end of King Henry III.'s reign, who came hither, and was attended for this purpose, by the mayor and commonalty, collected together by the sound of the common horn.

THE TOWN OF SANDWICH is five miles from Deal, over the Sandowns, by the horse road, and about seven miles by the coach road, through Ham and Finglesham; twelve miles from Dover and Canterbury; six miles from Ramsgate, and nine miles from Margate. It was first built, as it should seem, on a point of land, left by the retiring waters of the Portus Rutupinus, and now extends along the southern shore of the River Stour, which from hence to the sea is called Sandwich Haven  The town communicates with Stonar and the Isle of Thanet, by means of a bridge, which drew up for the benefit of the masts of a ships passing through it, having been first built by an Act in 1755, and again lately rebuilt with great improvements,being converted into a swing bridge.

The town was formerly divided into eight wards, for the purpose of defence, in each of which were two constables; but from the year 1437, there have been twelve wards or districts, over each of which a jurat presides, nominating his constable and deputy constable. There are three parishes in Sandwich, and it is said there were formerly four churches in it, though now but three; St. James s church, which stood in the western part of the town having been desecrated in King Edward VI.'s reign. The present three churches are, St. Mary's, St. Peter's, and St. Clement's church.

The first 2000 years

Top picture:  Barge at The Quay unloading cargo.

Bottom picture:  View upriver towards the swing bridge.

With recognition to

 ‘Britain from Above’.

Sandwich - the first 2000 years

Haig Camp under construction

Top of page

With acknowledgement to the

 Royal Engineers

Chart of The Downs and Pegwell Bay drawn up by ships Pilots in around 1800

2000 years - an awful long time in our time scales.  The Romans and Saxons at that time were far too busy keeping warm, dry and as well fed as they could manage to consider how the future might unfold.

Below is a time line of human habitational evolution that shows just how much has changed.  As recently as the middle of the last century Sandwich Quay and Esso Wharf were in regular commercial use, but by 1980 this had all ceased with the only commercial traffic being barges of oil landed at Richborough Wharf for use by the Power Station.  Itself now just a memory, in favour of eco power generation.  With the loss of commercial traffic the river remains as busy as ever but now with people taking their leisure upon the river.  In excess of 160 craft of widely varying size in fact which includes those moored near Richborough Castle - outside the area of the SP&HC - many of whom are live-aboards.

The future then is one of leisure!

The river below Fordwich