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At Sandwich

September 9, 2021
by the gentle author



“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

13 Responses leave one →
  1. John Epstein permalink
    September 9, 2021

    Absolutely wonderful and evocative photographic tour. Wish I’d been there with you! Thanks as ever for showing your devoted readers so many unexpected corners of your world.

  2. September 9, 2021

    What a beautiful place Sandwich is!! I love the old buildings and also the house with the tiny little garden next to and the one with the river running alongside it. I wish I could fly to the UK and go and visit it. It seems like the ideal perfect England village, and the buildings are just so old and seem untouched. I wonder if their bathrooms and kitchens have been renovated into newer ones?? Thanks for the wonderful photographs.

  3. September 9, 2021

    This is my England as I have come to love it and will love it forever!

    Love & Peace

  4. Clare Ungerson permalink
    September 9, 2021

    Thank you for visiting my lovely home town. I am so lucky to live here. It is a place, as you say, full of paradoxes, not least its proximity to some very different coastal towns like Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate. We are a strange outpost here, full of posh golfers in the summer!

  5. Bernie permalink
    September 9, 2021

    Once again I can only say how very much I appreciate your eye-opening postings! When I lived in the South of England Sandwich never made it to the list of places to be visited and a visit is now far too late for me to contemplate, so your post provides can irreplaceable glimpse. Would that it were not so!

  6. Peter Hart permalink
    September 9, 2021

    Beautiful old town. Wonderful brickwork. Thank you.

  7. Howard Davies permalink
    September 9, 2021

    Simply delightful. Sandwich has vaguely been on my list of places in Kent to visit, but now along with Gravesend (courtesy of the blog earlier this week) they will both be priority destinations and visited soon. Very effective mix of colour and black and white photographs. Thank you for sharing these day trips.

  8. September 9, 2021

    Ah, my beloved Sandwich where I spent most of my childhoo! I could have been your guide to those twisting alleywas by the age of seven – kids were allowed out to play then, and we roamed the streets and green spaces every day. It really hasn’t changed much since the 1950s and when I occasionally revisit, I can instantly find my way round and recognise landmarks. The ‘Lutyens house’ was ‘The Salutation’, owned by Lord and Lady Byng, and we would be invited to posh birthday parties and garden fetes.

  9. September 9, 2021

    Wonderful 16th demon . Very interesting village. The England tourists don’t know. As usual, thank you, dear G.A.

  10. David Gooding permalink
    September 9, 2021

    Sandwich had never been on my list of must see places, but it is NOW!

  11. paul loften permalink
    September 9, 2021

    Thank you for these stunning photos and also a tour of this most beautiful place. To be honest as a life long East Londoner I dont know if I would be totally happy living in such sedate surroundings.
    I am always remined of the experience of my parents who moved away from the hustle and bustle of Stoke Newington after my father retired in 1981. Looking back I think they would have have been much happier to continue to live in the place where they lived all their lives and knew people in the local streets to stop and have a chat with .

  12. September 10, 2021

    Thank you for sharing such an amazing little place with us. I think this deserves a visit from me at the earliest possible opportunity

  13. September 11, 2021

    A lovely place to visit.

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