The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Saturday, March 12, 2005

'Jam Seges est ubi Troja fuit'-the end of Dunwich

Radulph Agas, wrote in 1789 of the end of Dunwich, the old Capital of East Anglia. What gives his account a vivid immediacy and a sense of tragedy, is that it seems to be an eye-witness account. This does not necessarily mean that the Agas, a deformed and eccentric cartographer from Stoke by Nayland, saw all the events himself, but it would seem that he heard them firsthand, or had contemporary accounts to draw from. Dunwich was such an old port that its name has Celtic roots (meaning 'Deep') and it was once of the same size as London. The site of the old beach is now two or more miles out to sea, and the earlier descriptions talk of a forest on the seaward side and a road to the beach.

Terrible Devastations were made in December 1740. 

The Wind blowing very hard about North-East, with Continuance for several Days, occasioned great Seas, doing much Damage on the Coast during that Time by Inundations breaking down the Banks and overflowing many Marshes, &c. The sad effects thereof were severely felt by Dunwich, when a great Churchyard; and a great Road heretofore leading into the Town from the Key; leaving several naked Wells, Tokens of ancient Buildings, and from Maison Dieu Lane northwards, a continual Scene of Confusion. 

Part of the Old Key, built with stone, lay bare; making Canals cross the Beach, through which the River had Communications with the Sea, to the Hindrance of the People on Foot travelling that Way, for some Days. King's Holm, (alias Leonard's Marsh) heretofore valued at 200 and then at 100 Pounds per Annum, laid under Water and much Shingle and Sand thrown thereon from off the Beach; rendering it ever since of little worth; much of the Pasture and some of their arable Land, destroyed. 

The Sea raged with such Fury, that Cock and Hen Hills (which the preceding Summer were upwards of forty feet high, and in the Winter partly washed away) this Year, had their Heads levell'd with their bases, and the Ground about them so rent and torn, that the Foundation of St Francis's Chapel (which was laid between the said Hills) 'was discovered; where, besides the Ruins of the Walls, were five round Stones near of a Bigness; the Dimensions of one (I took) were four Feet the Diameter, and near two the Thickness. 

There was likewise a Circle of large Stumps of Piles, about twenty-four feet Circumference. The Bounds of the Cemetery were staked; within which the secret Repositories of the Dead were exposed to open View; several Skeletons, on the Ouze, divested of their Coverings; some lying in pretty good Order, others interrupted, and scattered, as the Surges carried them. 

Also a Stone Coffin, wherin were human bones covered with Tiles. Before a Conveniency offered for removing the Coffin, it was broke in two pieces (by the violence of the Sea) which serve now for Steps at each Foot of Deering Bridge. At the same Time, and near the Chapel, the Pipes of an Aqueduct were found; some of Lead, others of gray Earth, like that of some urns. 

On the lowest part of the Chapel's Yard was the Flagg, retaining the old dead Grass; and in several Places, the Impression of the Spade; although it had been (beyond the Memory of the eldest Person in the Town) raised four or five Feet high with made Earth, bearing good Grass, Corn and Turnips; a Crop of the latter then growing thereon, but at that Time was reduced to Beach, over which the Sea plays ever since at high Tides. Between that and Maison Dieu Lane many Roots of Trees were washed bare. 

In November 1739, and some Time in the Winters 1746 and 1749, the Shingle and Sand were so abluted in some Places, by the Vehemence of the Furious waves of the Sea, which, at those Times, overflowed the Beach, that the Foundation of Houses, and the Banks, on each Side of the New Port, and Hummerston's Cut, were exhibited to open View. 

In the Year 1740, as the Men of Dunwich were digging a Trench, near their Old Port, cross the Beach, to make a Watergang to drain their marshes and low Grounds, drowned the preceding Winter, by the Inundation of the Sea which drove prodigious Quantities of Shingle and Sand into the River, filling it in several Places, so that the Water could not disembogue itself they happened on a Stone Wall, cemented exceeding strong, which was part of their Old Key; and near that, on a Well; both which I saw as they were working. 

At which Time several Pieces of old Coins and other Curiosities were found . . . And now this once famous Town or City, of a large Extent, the Buildings fair and many, well peopled, and wealthy; abounding with most Kinds of Merchandises, and the Source of Literature in those parts of the Kingdom; by the irresistablc impetuosity of the merciless sea, and the raging Plague of Fire, with which it hath been visited at sundry Times, is reduced to a narrow Compass; the Buildings few, and most of them mean; but one Church, some Remains of the Grey Friers, Saint James', and Maison Dieu Hospitals, and thirty-five Houses (including them in the Hospitals) are now standing, and about one hundred Souls subsisting; so that some of the Freemen, for Want of a sufficient Number, are obliged to serve or hold more Offices than one; and for the Generality, upon Account of the Stagnation of Trade, are poor and indigent. But the Inhabitants, by their Representatives erecting new Edifices, and repairing others, entertain reviving hopes of becoming once more a flourishing Town. 

The chief Business carried on — at present, is the Fishery in the Bay, where are caught Herrings, Sprats, Soals, Flounders, Plaice, Cods, Haddocks, Whitings, Skeats, &c. whereby seven small Boats are occupied. The great Alterations and Vicissitudes, of late Years, in several parts of Dunwich, are apparently conspicuous by Duck, alias Dukes Street; wherein at the latter End of Q. Ann's Reign, fourteen substantial Dwelling houses, besides Out houses, and Fish offices, were standing; all which are now utterly demolished, and a Bank cast up cross the West Entrance therein, where Middlegate stood, making it an Inclosure, which is now plowed, and the face therof so changed that what was said of the of the once famous City, Troy, may be applied to this Street. 'Jam Seges est ubi Troja fuit'


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