Coordinates: 52°16′37″N 1°37′36″E / 52.27688°N 1.62672°E / 52.27688; 1.62672

Dunwich is located in Suffolk

 Dunwich shown within Suffolk
OS grid reference TM475705
Parish Dunwich
District Suffolk Coastal
Shire county Suffolk
Region East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district IP17
Dialling code 01728
Police Suffolk
Fire Suffolk
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
UK Parliament Suffolk Coastal
List of places: UK • England • Suffolk

Dunwich (pronounced /ˈdʌnɨtʃ/) is a small town in Suffolk, England, within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB.

Dunwich was the capital of East Anglia 1500 years ago but the harbour and most of the town have since disappeared due to coastal erosion. Its decline began in 1286 when a sea surge hit the East Anglian coast, and it was eventually reduced in size to the village it is today. There is a project underway to reveal the 'lost' city with high-tech underwater cameras.[1]



The former leper hospital, Norman window detail

Dunwich is first referred to in the 7th century when St Felix of Burgundy founded the See of East Anglia at Dommoc in 632[citation needed] Years later antiquarians would describe it as being the 'former capital of East Anglia',[2] although this reference is almost certainly a romantic creation as no documents survive from the town's heyday attesting this claim.[citation needed]

The Domesday Book of 1086 describes it as possessing three churches.[3] At this time it had an estimated population of 3000.[4]

In 1286 a large storm swept much of the town into the sea, and the River Dunwich was partly silted up. Residents fought to save the harbour but this too was destroyed by an equally fierce storm in 1328, which also swept away the entire village of Newton, a few miles up the coast.[citation needed] Another large storm in 1347 swept some 400 houses into the sea.

Most of the buildings that were present in the 13th century have disappeared, including all eight churches, and Dunwich is now a small coastal "village", though retaining its status as a town.[citation needed] The remains of a 13th century Franciscan priory (Greyfriars) and the leper hospital of St James can still be seen.[5] A popular local legend says that, at certain tides, church bells can still be heard from beneath the waves.[6]

By the mid-19th century, the population had dwindled to 237 inhabitants and Dunwich was described as a "decayed and disfranchised borough".[7] A new church, St James, was built in 1832, after the last of the old churches, All Saints, which had been without a rector since 1755, was abandoned. All Saints' church fell into the sea between 1904 and 1919, with the last major portion of the tower succumbing on 12 November 1919.[8] In 1971 historian Stuart Bacon located the remains of All Saints' Church a few yards out to sea during a diving exhibition. Two years later in 1973 he also discovered the ruins of St Peter's Church, which was lost to the sea during the 18th century.[citation needed] In 2005 Bacon located what may be the remains of the shipbuilding industry on the site.[9]

As a legacy of its previous significance, the parliamentary constituency of Dunwich retained the right to send two members to Parliament until the Reform Act 1832 and was one of Britain's most notorious rotten boroughs.[10]

Churches and other notable structures

  • St Bartholemew's: one of two 'Domesday' churches, St Bartholemew's is thought to have been lost in the storm of 1328.
  • St Michael's: the other Domesday church situated in the east of the town. It was lost to the sea in the storm of 1328.
  • The Benedictine Cell: the cell was attached to Ely Cathedral and was lost during the storm of 1328.
  • St Anthony's Chapel: lost around 1330.
  • St Leonard's: situated in the north of the town, St Leonard's is thought to have been abandoned soon after the Black Death and was probably lost to the sea soon afterwards.
  • St Nicholas: this was a cruciform building which lay to the south of the city. Lost to the sea soon after the Black Death.
  • St Martin's: built before 1175, it was lost to the sea between 1335 and 1408.
  • St Francis Chapel: standing beside the Dunwich River, the chapel was lost in the 16th century.
  • St Katherine's Chapel: situated in the parish of St John, this was lost in the 16th century.
  • Preceptory of the Knights Templar: the preceptory is thought to have been founded around 1189 and was a circular building not dissimilar to the famous Temple Church in London. When the sheriff of Suffolk and Norfolk took an inventory in 1308 he found the sum of £111 contained in three pouches - a vast sum. In 1322, on the orders of Edward II, all the Templars' land passed to the Knights Hospitallers. Following the dissolution of the Hospitallers in 1562 the Temple was demolished and the foundations washed away during the reign of Charles I.
  • St Peter's: similar in length to the church at nearby Blythburgh, St Peter's was stripped of anything of value as the cliff edge drew nearer. The east gable fell in 1688 and the rest of the building followed in 1697. The parish register survives and is now in the British Library.
  • Blackfriars: Dominican priory situated in the south east of the city. It was founded during the time of Henry III by Roger Holish. By 1385 preparations were made for the Dominicans to move to nearby Blythburgh as the sea front drew nearer, although these were certainly premature as the priory remained active and above sea level until at least the Dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, with the last building recorded as having fallen to the sea in 1717.
  • St John the Baptist: situated beside the market place in the centre of the city, St John's was Dunwich's leading church throughout the Middle Ages. It was a cruciform structure which also contained a chapel dedicated to St Nicholas. In 1510 a pier was erected in an attempt to act as a breakwater from the sea and in 1542 further funds were raised in a bid to save the building, but to no avail and the building was largely demolished before it went over the cliffs. During the demolition the 18th century historian Thomas Gardiner records that a stone was uncovered to reveal the remains of a man on whose breast stood 'two chalices of course metal'. It is possible that the remains may have belonged to a Saxon bishop of Dunwich and that therefore St John's may have been built on the site of the original cathedral.
The ruins of All Saints' Church in Dunwich, here in a postcard of 1904
  • All Saints' Church: last of Dunwich's ancient churches to be lost to the sea, All Saints' was abandoned in the 1750s after it was decided the parishioners could no longer afford the upkeep, although burials occurred in the churchyard until the 1820s. All Saints' reached the cliff's edge in 1904 with the tower falling in 1922.[11] One of the tower buttresses was salvaged, however and now stands in the current Victorian-era St James' Church. One of the last remaining gravestones, dedicated to John Brinkley Easey,[12] fell over the cliff in the early 1990s. A single gravestone still remains (as of 2011) around 15 feet from the cliff edge in memory of Jacob Forster who died in the late 18th Century.
  • Greyfriars: Franciscan priory founded by Richard FitzJohn between 1228 and 1230 but abandoned due to the advancing sea in 1328. It was rebuilt further inland (outside the original city limits) and the ruins survive to this day, the only building from the town's glory days to do so, although the encroaching cliffs are now but a few feet away.

RAF Dunwich

During the Second World War RAF Dunwich was one of the Chain Home Low stations which provided low level radar cover for the central East Anglian coast.[13]

See also


  1. ^ "Underwater city could be revealed". BBC. 14 January 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7187239.stm. Retrieved 1 April 2011. 
  2. ^ Mee, Arthur. The King's England: Suffolk. pp. 124–128. 
  3. ^ Gardner, Thomas (1754). An historical account of Dunwich, antiently a city, now a borough;: Blithburgh, formerly a town of note, now a village; Southwold, once a village, now a town-corporate; with remarks on some places contiguous thereto .... London: Printed for the author, and sold by him at Southwold, in Suffolk; and also by W. Owen, at Homer's Head near Temple-Bar. p. 6. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=mntbAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover. Retrieved 18 November 2010.  (Archived by Oxford University, 6 March 2009).
  4. ^ "Abandoned Communities...Dunwich". Abandonedcommunities.co.uk. http://www.abandonedcommunities.co.uk/page11.html. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  5. ^ "All Saints, Dunwich". SuffolkChurches.co.uk. http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/dunwichas.html. Retrieved 19 November 2010. 
  6. ^ Parker, Rowland (1979). Men of Dunwich: the story of a vanished town. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. p. 10. ISBN 9780030468018. 
  7. ^ Leader, R. (1844). William White History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Suffolk. Sheffield. 
  8. ^ "St James, Dunwich". SuffolkChurches.co.uk. http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/dunwichsj.html. Retrieved 18 November 2010. 
  9. ^ "Low Tide Reveals Lost City Find". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 10 October 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/suffolk/4328172.stm. 
  10. ^ Philbin, J Holladay (1965). Parliamentary Representation 1832 - England and Wales. New Haven: Yale University Press. 
  11. ^ Comfort: The Lost City of Dunwich: Churches and Chapels, pp 99–102
  12. ^ Thomas Hinde: 'The Domesday book: England's heritage, then and now'
  13. ^ "Chain Home Low Stations". 11 Group Stations of the the [sic] Battle of Britain. RAF. 16 February 2005 (last updated). http://www.raf.mod.uk/bob1940/11group.html. Retrieved 1 April 2011. 

Further reading

  • Ancient Dunwich: Suffolk's Lost City, Jean Carter and Stuart Bacon. (Segment, 1975)
  • The Lost City of Dunwich, Nicholas Comfort (Terence Dalton, 1994), ISBN 0-86138-086-X
  • Men of Dunwich, Rowland Parker (Alastair Press, 1978), ISBN 1-870567-85-4
  • A Suffolk Coast Garland, Ernest Read Cooper (London: Heath Cranton Ltd, 1928).
  • Memories of Bygone Dunwich, Ernest Read Cooper (Southwold: F. Jenkins, 1948).
  • The little freemen of Dunwich, Ormonde Pickard
  • "By the North Sea" and Tristram of Lyonesse, Algernon Charles Swinburne, in Major Poems and Selected Prose, Jerome McGann and Charles L. Sligh, eds. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004) 189-202, 206-312.
  • Dunwich: A Tale of the Splendid City, James Bird, 1828.
  • Bernard Cornwell, The Saxon Chronicles, Book 5 - The Burning Land

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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