Skip to content

At Sandwich

August 31, 2015
by the gentle author

I spent my week away from Spitalfields Life working on the Cries of London book but – before summer ends – I decided to take advantage of the sunny weather yesterday with a trip to Sandwich

“There’s always something going on in Sandwich,” I was reliably informed by the guide who welcomed me to an old stone church, and the evidence was all around us in this ancient borough which has acquired so many layers of history over the last thousand years.

If you prefer your architecture irregular in form and mellow with age, this is your place – for Sandwich is one of England’s least-altered medieval towns. Yet the appeal lies not in how it has been preserved but in how it has changed, since every building has been melded over time to suit the evolving needs of its occupants, and the charismatic blend of timber with stonework and stonework with brickwork is sublime.

As I wandered through the quiet streets, I thought about the paradoxical nature of the guide’s comment since Sandwich unquestionably defines the notion of ‘sleepy town,’ even if that afternoon there was a concert in the grounds of the Lutyens house by the river and a fete at the quay. Yet in a more profound sense this has been a location of ceaseless activity since Roman times.

Contrary to popular opinion, ‘Sandwich’ means ‘a settlement built on the sand.’ First recorded in the seventh century, a thriving port and fishing industry grew up here on a sandbank in the days when the river was wider than it is today and the sea came right up to the town. A defensive wall with gates was built around this wealthy trading post and storm tides sometimes surrounded Sandwich, isolating it from the land. One of the pre-eminent ‘Cinque Ports,’ the fleet here offered nautical military service to the Crown in return for trading without taxation. Thus merchants from Venice brought their goods direct to Sandwich and even the King came to buy exotic luxury imports.

“You can easily get lost in Sandwich,” I was cautioned unexpectedly by the attendant at the Museum as I bought my copy of the Civic guide to study the history. It was an unlikely observation that the attendant uttered, since Sandwich is a tiny place, but let me confirm that you can quickly lose your sense of direction, strolling in the maze of small streets and lanes with names like Holy Ghost Alley, Three Kings Yard and Love Lane. An afternoon can fly away once you begin to study the glorious detail and rich idiosyncrasy of eight hundred years of vernacular architecture that is manifest to behold in Sandwich.

If your imagination is set on fire by winding streets of crooked old houses and ancient worn churches paved with medieval tiles and roofed with spectacular wooden vaults, then Sandwich is the destination for you. You really can lose yourself in it and there is always something going on.

St Peter’s Church

The King’s Lodging

Demon of 1592 on the corner of the Kings Arms

St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s Church

Tower of St Mary’s Church

Mermaid at the corner of Delf St

January 1601

The Delf stream was channelled to bring freshwater to Sandwich in the thirteenth century

Horse Pond Sluice

St Clement’s Church has an eleventh  century Norman tower

In St Clement’s Church

Fisher Gate with the old Customs House on the right

Fourteenth century Fisher Gate

You may like to read about my previous trips beyond Spitalfields at this time of year

At Herne Bay, 2014

A Walk from Shoeburyness to Chalkwell, 2013

A Walk Along the Ridgeway, 2012

At Walton on the Naze, 2011

At Canvey Island, 2010

At Broadstairs, 2009

12 Responses leave one →
  1. August 31, 2015

    Lovely place.

  2. August 31, 2015

    It must be good to escape the busy steets now and again. My father lives in Kent, so I know East Kent and Thanet quite well. Sandwich is a charming old town, with its fine church, good pubs and the wonderful secret garden at the Lutyens’ house.

  3. August 31, 2015

    so much more to see. the quayside, the guildhall and museum. the ropewalk and nature reserve. st barts and the brothers alms houses and church. the white windmill. the toll gate and bridge. a place of endless walks and surprises around every corner.

  4. August 31, 2015

    My favourite GA post of the year. Always. The mini summer break Do love Sandwich, very much a hidden gem and was fortunate enough to get lost in those streets during the Easter break this year.

  5. August 31, 2015

    What a beautiful place – and, of course, heavily affected by refugee Huguenots from France and Flanders during their sixteenth-century migration:

  6. August 31, 2015

    Sandwich is a wonderful place, so full of history and with a wonderful atmosphere, which you have captured here really well. Valerie

  7. August 31, 2015

    The people of Sandwich have been masters of “upcycling” building materials for centuries!

    I love the overhang of the weavers’ front door. (Would be nice to see that design used now!)

    Lots of photos that make one gasp aloud at the beauty–the church roof interior, the clarity of the water and light…

    Glad you had a day away. We all benefitted from your break. Thanks!

  8. Peter Harrison permalink
    August 31, 2015

    Totally brilliant photos of a clearly fascinating place. Thank you so much: broadens one’s horizons!

  9. Clare Ungerson permalink
    August 31, 2015

    I am lucky enough to live in Sandwich, just along the street from the Fisher Gate. I am away from Sandwich at the moment and your excellent photos have made me quite homesick! One of the most notable aspects of Sandwich’s more recent history is that in 1939/40 it was home to 4000 German Jewish men who had been rescued, mostly from concentration camps, by the Anglo Jewish community, and placed in an old First WorldWar camp just on the edge of the town. You can read all about it in my book, published in 2014 by the History Press. It’s called ‘Four Thousand Lives: the rescue of German Jewish men to Britain,1939’.

    Sandwich, it turns out, has a remarkable and generous history with regard to refugees, first to Huguenots and then to Jews.

  10. Jean Gaffin permalink
    August 31, 2015

    Loved this Sandwich piece – very nostalgic as my late parents lived in Margate for many years and a visit to Sandwich was a “must” over many years. The book mentioned in the post above, Four Thousand Lives, is very interesting and one might want to contrast the welcoming attitude of the population of Sandwich to this large camp for 4,000 Jews with the attitudes to those currently fleeting from current wars.

  11. Sonia murray permalink
    September 2, 2015

    Thanks for the memories! Gil and I spent happy hours exploring the town and had tea at, yes, I think it was the Sandwich Weavers, in 1955 or ’56, not long after we married. He was in the USAF at Manston – I grew up at Margate – and we loved visiting the ancient surrounding villages and towns. Walks along the cliffs… Lilac and laburnum in the springtime… We were young and poor, but it truly was the best of times!

  12. Tony Grant permalink
    January 9, 2016

    Your web site is magnificent, I keep coming back for more. I think you would enjoy a visit to Sandwich 8-11 September 2016 Heritage Open Days, I visited last year and was allowed access to two private houses , the garden of another, the Masonic Hall, the United Reformed church and the Guildhall with a very entertaining Town Sargent, and warm welcome from The Mayor and the Lady Mayoress. A really good day out.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS