Posted by: madkentdragon | April 1, 2011

Richborough and Reculver Oh and an emperor of Brittania


We’ll leave the genteel town of Sandwich with one final word; the 4th Earl of Sandwich who is credited with inventing the Sandwich was only connected with the town because of the navy anchored there which he commanded. He had wanted to be called the Earl of Portsmouth, so our favourite lunch-time snack could easily have been called the “Portsmouth”! Oh and the Hawaiian Islands were originally called the Sandwich Islands after him!

Richborough fort

Now back to the Wantsum Channel, or rather the river that is all that is left of this large estuary, and you come across Richborough, which was the site of the original landing place of the Romans in 43AD. The Wantsum is silted up here and, like Sandwich it now stands some distance from the sea, although, again similar to Sandwich it was once an important port. The Roman defensive ditches can still be seen, so it’s worth taking a walk round the site, it is estimated that as many as forty thousand Roman troops could have come ashore. Richborough port was mainly used after this as a supply port, with all the equipment and stores being brought through here to keep the army going.

Thus the little town grew and excavation has shown a roman inn (mansio) and other buildings of the area, some of these can be seen as you wander round the site. A triumphal arch was built across the roman road (Watling Street), probably to welcome the Emperor of the time (they were changing almost monthly) as he entered Britain in a triumphal procession, all that remains are the foundations.

Soon the Saxons started to invade and it was from here and Reculver that the Romans would fend off the raids and a largish stone fort was
built, but the commander of the roman fleet did a deal with the pirates taking a cut from their pillaging and when the emperor discovered this, and wanted his head; Carausius declared himself emperor of an independent Britain and ruled for approximately seven years only to be assassinated by one of his ministers who took the throne for himself but only lasted three years before Rome invaded and took the island of Britannia back! Most of the coins found on this site are from this era, which shows there was much coming and going!

When the Romans left at the fall off the Empire, the site became the responsibility of the religious orders and a small church dedicated to St Augustine was built here, the ruins are still visible.

The redundant coal fired power-stations with their cooling towers still standing are now the main connections to the wind farms off the coast to the national grid and these somehow complement the two towers of Reculver at the other end of the Wantsum.

Reculver had a similar history to Richborough, so I won’t bore you with that again, but after the Romans left, the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelbert supposedly built a palace here in the ruins of the fort. But it is known that Egbert granted land for a monastery to commemorate the arrival of St Augustine. He who landed here as a missionary in 597AD at the request of Queen Bertha, wife of King Ethelbert. The church with its twin spires added in the 12th Century was also a landmark and can still be seen today. Of course Augustine then went on to found Canterbury Cathedral – but that’s for another day.

Reculver is now a small hamlet and has suffered from coastal erosion, whilst Richborough added to its coastline, poor old Reculver suffered the opposite fate and the abandoned ruin now stands very near to the cliff edge, two vicarages have headed sea-ward in previous centuries. The reason the church was demolished is that after a new one was built further inland away from the cliffs, the mother of the young parson urged him to ask the congregation to demolish the church! This they did in 1805, but left the two towers as they knew they were used as a navigation aid! At which point Trinity House intervened and in 1810 bought what was left of the poor old church and preserved the towers and put in some sea defences.

The only other claim to fame is that the area off the sea was used by Barnes Wallace as a practice ground for the bouncing bombs and a few years ago four of the proto-types were found and are now on display in Dover Castle.

The area is now a Country Park and caravan park and it is worth popping by for a look.

Next time we’ll cross the Wantsum!
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