The sunken city of Dunwich – HeritageDaily

Dunwich, located in Suffolk, England, was an important port and trading center, until storms and coastal erosion engulfed the town, making it today the largest medieval underwater site from Europe.

The first settlements in the area date back to Roman times, with the construction of a late Roman coastal fort and an associated civil settlement project. The few remains found nearby include a Roman burial mound and masonry trawled from the nearby seabed, in addition to Roman material reused for the construction of Greyfriars Monastery and Minsmere Chapel. During this period, four major Roman roads appear to converge on Dunwich, suggesting that it was an important site even in Roman times.

According to the Historia ecclesiastica written by Bede the Venerable, an Anglo-Saxon settlement in Dunmoc (Dommoc is claimed to be an ancient form of Dunwich name, although this is the subject of scientific debate) became the capital of the Angles under King Sigebert in the early 7th century AD. Sigebert gives Felix of Burgundy a “seat” in Dunmoc and establishes the seat of the Anglo-Saxon bishops in the kingdom of East Anglia.

After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 AD, the Book of Domesday, a handwritten recording of the “great study” of England, mentions the title of “Lord of Dunwich” and the lands are granted to William Malet by William the Conqueror.

During the accession of Henry I in 1101, the prosperity of the city led to the confiscation of Dunwich from the Malet family, allowing the charter of annual agricultural royalties to the crown.

Between the 11th and the beginning of the 13th century AD, Dunwich’s economy and population boomed thanks to the development of the sea fishing industry in the North Sea, becoming the 6th most commercial center and trading port. rich from England.

Greyfriars in Dunwich – Image credit: Markus Milligan

The city had extensive trading networks exporting grain, salt, fabrics and wool to ports across Europe, reaching as far north as Iceland. Contemporary accounts describe Dunwich as a “city of good repute abounding with great wealth and various commodities”. At its peak, Dunwich covered an area almost comparable to that of medieval London, with an estimated population of between 3,000 and 5,000.

Dunwich was planned along four main streets – Bridgegate, Middlegate, Gildengate and Southgate – connected to a market square, town hall, mint and at least eighteen ecclesiastical buildings of which two still stand – Greyfriars Monastery and the chapel of St James connected to the hospital for lepers.

In the 13th century AD, a pebble fissure known as the Kingsholme began to partially block the harbor, preventing large merchant ships from using the city as an import / export destination hub. Combined with severe flooding, much of the town’s population began to move away from the coast or completely leave Dunwich, starting the town’s decline.

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St James Chapel connected to Leper Hospital – Image credit: Markus Milligan

Severe coastal storms have eroded the Suffolk coast, causing parts of the town to be displaced (as evidenced by Greyfriars Monastery, which was originally built on the east side of town, but moved to the western edge of town). A national economic crisis and the Black Death in 1348 AD, exacerbated a rapid fall in the city’s economy and abandonment by many residents.

The last blow to Dunwich was probably the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 16th century AD. The loss of income generated by the monastic complexes of Greyfriars, Blackfriars and the Church of the Templars of St Marys, meant that little income was left to maintain the coastal defenses.

Over the following centuries, drift erosion gradually took over the town, eventually wiping out almost all traces of Dunwich from the Suffolk coast. A legacy of its earlier importance, the parliamentary constituency of Dunwich retained the right to send two MPs to Parliament until the reform of the Act of 1832, and was one of Britain’s most notorious rotten boroughs.

In recent years, a study of acoustic imagery from the University of Southampton and the Touching the Tide project have revealed the ruins of churches, wrecks and hundreds of medieval buildings, submerged up to 10 meters under the waves.

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