Thursday, 15 September 2011

Under the waters

In terms of rank rottenness, Dunwich would vie with the fictional Dunny-on-the-Wold as the most rotten borough in the British Parliament. By the time of the Reform Act 1832, the bulk of the constituency was underwater, leaving only a tiny village of “44 houses and half a church”

It was a very different Dunwich that received its entitlement to two representatives in Parliament in 1298, and even this was a shrunken, storm-tossed survivor of its medieval glory. At its peak, Dunwich had six parish churches, religious houses for the Grey and Black Friars, a hospital, a shipbuilding yard and port complex and a yearly payment to the Crown of £120 13s 4d and 24,000 herrings.

It was, in short, one of the most important cities, ports and trading centres in England. It was one of the country’s 10 largest cities and arguably the capital of East Anglia. But the angry storm surges of the North Sea could destroy as easily as they brought prosperity. The watery threat had been signalled in the Doomsday Book, which recorded that the town had lost half of its fields to the sea.

But it was a huge, three day long storm in 1286 that signalled the end for Dunwich’s prosperity. The raging sea swept away a large chunk of the town and, most catastrophically, destroyed Dunwich’s natural harbour. Recovery attempts were started -  a prize as rich as Dunwich was not easily abandoned, but these were defeated in an even greater storm of 1328. Dunwich would now begin a long and irreversible journey to decline and destruction.

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