"Dunwich is so enveloped in the halo of traditionary splendour that he who ventures to elucidate its history.... must exercise unusual caution, lest he be misled by imaginary light". Alfred Suckling


Bede's history

'He (Felix) received the seat of his bishopric in the city of Dommoc and when he had ruled over the kingdom as bishop for seventeen years he ended his life there in peace. Dommoc usually taken to mean Dunwich'.


Bishopric of Dunwich recorded with a list of bishops to 870, when bishopric moved to North Elmham in Norfolk.

??? Probably pre-1066

First foundation of Blythburgh Priory.

A post Conquest list of benefactors contains names of thirty two Saxon inhabitants of Dunwich

1066-87 Domesday

Edric of Laxfield held Dunwich TRE as one manor. Now Robert Malet holds it. Then 2 carucates of land: now the sea carried off the other one. Then as now 1 plough in demesne. Then 12 borders, now 2, and 24 Frenchmen with 40 acres of land. They render every cusomary due to this manor. Then 120 burgesses, now 236. Poor men, 180 less 2. Then 1 church now 3. They render £4 10s. Altogether it is worth £50 and 60,000 herrings by way of gift, And TRE is rendered £10. Also Robert Vaux holds 1 acre of land, worth 8d. And Norman (Kemp) holds 1 acre, worth 2s 8d and Godric 1 acre, worth 8d. They hold this from Robert Malet. Gilbert Blund holds 80 men from the same Robert and they pay £4 and 8,000 herrings.

Aki, one free man, held Westleton as a manor with 4 carucates of land. Then as now13 villans and 14 borders. Then 4 slaves, now none. Then 3 ploughs in demesne, now none. Then 10 ploughs belonging to the men, now 5. Woodland for 7 pigs, 3 acres of meadow, 3 head of cattle, 20 pigs, 60 sheep. Then as now 24 goats, 2 beehives. Then it was worth 100s, now the same. 1 church with 20 acres, worth 40d. To this manor belong 14 freemen and a half with 103.5 acres. Then 6 ploughs, now 3. Then as now worth 20s. It is 2 leagues and 2 furlongs long and 2 leagues broad. 7.5d in geld.. Robert Blund holds them from Robert Malet. Then as now 1 bordar. Now half a plough, 2 acres of meadow. Then as now worth 16s.

In Strickland Eadric, a free man, held 40 acres. Then as now 1 bordar. Then 1 plough, now none, It is worth 6s 8d. Gilbert Blund holds this from Robert Malet.

In Fordley 2 free men held 24 acrea TRE. Now the same Gilbert holds this from Robert Malet. Then in demesne 1 plough, now none. Then it was worth 10s, now 4s.

The king has in Dunwich this customary due, that two or three will go to the Hundred if they have been duly notified. If they do not do this they are fined 2 ora. If a thief is caught there he will be judged there and he will suffer coporal punishment in Blthburgh: his goods will remain with the lord of Dunwich. TRE there was no money changer there but in Blythburgh.

Wulfsige held Bridge as one manor TRE with 1.5 carucates of land. Then 2 villans and 8 bordars. Then 4 slaves, now 1. Then 4 ploughs in demesne and now 2 and a third could be there. The 2 ploughs beloning to the men, now 1.5 ploughs. Woodland for 8 pigs, 18 acres of meadow, 2 mills, 1 salt pan, 11 pigs and 20 goats. Then it was worth 30s now 40s. 3 acres of land in Dunwich belong to this manor. The soke is Robert Malet's. It is worth 22d. To this manor have been added 4 free men with 60 acres of land. Then 2 ploughs, now 1. It is worth 8s. And Robert de Courson holds with from Roger Bigod. And it is 9 furlongs long and 7 broad. It renders 1.75d to the king's geld. The soke is the king's and the earl's.

In Thorpe, Wulfmaer, 1 free man, held 50 acres as a manor over which the predecessor of William Malet had the commendation and the same William himself was seised. Then as now 1 plough in demesne and 4 bordars and half a plough belonging to the men. Woodland for 12 pigs. Half and acre of meadow. It is worth 16s. Roger Bigod has the soke. To this manor belong 2 acres in Dunwich in the same valuation. Robert Malet has soke over these 2 acres.

St Aethelthryth held Alneterne (in Westleton) as a manor TRE with 2 carucates of land. Then 9 villans, now 7. Then as now 13 bordars. Then as now 1 slave. Then as now 2 ploughs in demesne with 3 ploughs belonging to the men. Half a church with 2 acres. Woodland for 6 pigs, 2 acres of meadow. And 1 horse, 8 head of cattle, 28 sheep, 8 pigs and 16 goats. To this manor belong 80 burgesses of Dunwich and they dwell on 14 acres. Then as now worth 100s.

Æthelthryth (c. 636-23 June 679) is the proper name for the popular Anglo-Saxon saint almost universally known as Etheldreda or by the pet form of Audrey (or variations). She was an East Anglian princess, a Fenland queen and Abbess of Ely in the county of Cambridgeshire.

1173 Pipe Rolls

20 ships sent from Dunwich to Sandwich on behalf of the king ‘for the safe-keeping of the sea’ (earned £27 10s for the town). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandwich,_Kent

Circa 1190
Form of Peace between the Abbey of Leiston and the Burgesses of Dunwich (probably 1193-9).

A summary of the events referred to recorded in the cartulary of Leiston Abbey:

.... some burgesses of Dunwich committed an unspecified ‘violence’ against Leiston Abbey, seemingly involving the church itself, its personel and property, and the town was interdicted on the archbishop’s authority. The ‘best men’ of the town must have maintained their innocence and have been unwilling to go to submit to a church court; however, 8 men of Dunwich bearing letters of ratification from the ‘universitas’ of the town, swore to submit to the law of the church whereupon the interdict was relaxed. The townsmen promised that those responsible should make amends, according to the arbitration of four men nominated by themselves, four by the Abbot, and nine by the archbishop. If those responsible were unwilling or unable to pay for the damage, the universitas would do so from the common chest; furthermore those responsible would swear on the high altar not to repeat their crime and would undergo a penance to be appointed by the abbot or someone sent by the archbishop. All the inhabitants of Dunwich would swear never to lay violent hands on the church and forty of the best of them would also swear at the abbey that they had nothing to do with the affair. The whole universitas would swear to keep faith and fidelity with King Richard and to keep the peace. If any of those responsible should be absent at the time they should give satisfaction in the above manner on their return, or their communion and society would be avoided by the universitas. If others are suspected they should prove their innocence or give satisfaction like the others. Both sites shall promise not to take the law into their own hands in the future but to stand to the arbitration of twelve men from either side. The agreement is made saving the law of the church and the royal dignity. The affray seems to have left no other trace.

Relations between Leiston Abbey and the men of Dunwich especially do not seem to have been good, though two of the deeds in the cartulary record small gifts by burgesses. Bad relations began almost immediately (see above) with what seems to have been an attack on the abbey for which the townsmen were punished. There was more violence a century later one possible reason for dispute being suggested by concerning the right to take toll from ships landing in what was then the harbour of Minsmere between Leiston and Dunwich.

Circa 1190; Bequest to the House of Lepers (founded circa 1150)

'Be it known to all those faithful to Christ that I, Walter de Ribof, for the sake of God and moved by Piety have given – to the church of St James and the House of Lepers of Donewic and to the Chaplain Hubert, who shall minister in that Chapel, for life, and to all Chaplains who succeed him – for the soul of H. de Cressie, and for the salvation of my Soul, and for the salvation of the Souls of my predeceased Friends, my Successors and Heirs

Then follows a detailed account of the land given; all in Brandeston; forty acres and a house; thirteen other small parcels of land; fascinating stuff for anyone writing a history of Brandeston. It goes on :

`and in addition one coomb of wheat each year at Michaelmas, and two loaves from each baking at my house, and from each brewing one sester (two gallons?) of ale, and the tithes of my mills. All the above – along with an annual pension of five shillings and a coomb of wheat annually to the Leprous Brethren – in order that the said Hubert and his successors shall for ever minister as is needful to one leprous brother of Donwic, and likewise to one leper whom I or my heirs shall place in the said chapel we will provide the necessities; moreover, the Leprous Brethren of Donewic shall retain half of the offerings which the leper of my choice may bring with him, and the other half shall belong to the chapel – The Chaplain shall swear to the mother church of Brandeston that he will not be the cause – whereby the said church shall be the loser in tithes, revenue or in any of its rights. But those workers who are fit to take the holy sacrament and do their oblations shall on feast days go to the mother church. When they die they shall be buried in the graveyard of the mother church. For the small tithes and oblations – I have given to the chapel of – the church of Brandeston two pieces of meadow—'

The document was witnessed by fourteen named witnesses, including a prior, an archdeacon, two priests, `and many others.'

1193 Ransom of Richard I

Money to ransom king Richard from German Emperor transported in a fleet of ships drawn from Dunwich, Ipswich and Orford, commanded by William Longchamp, bishop of Ely.


Town finally paid off its long-standing debt to the king of £540.

In the same year burgesses fined £692 13s 4d for ‘exporting corn to the king’s enemies in Flanders.

1199 Charter of liberties signed by King John. States that Dunwic is a free borough. Cost £200, ten hunting horses and 10 goshawks.

Circa 1200

Evidence for 5 parochial churches

St Leonard's church stood on the east side of the town and gave its name to the town’s fair.

St Martin's church was also on the east side of the town.

Both St Leonard’s and St Martin’s founded by the Prior of Eye soon after 1086

St Nicholas's church stood at the south end of the town. The church was destroyed by the sea in about 1355.

St John's church east of the market-place, was the largest and most impressive of the churches, and continued until about 1540 when it was demolished by the parishioners to prevent it falling into the sea.

St Peter's church stood at the north end of the town, near the harbour. It was stripped of lead, timber and bells in 1702.

There are references to three other churches, one or more of which may have been created to replace those claimed by the sea. These are the parish churches of All Saints, St Michael and St Bartholomew.

circa 1200 Cartulary of Blythburgh priory

Grant to the priory by Denis, knight of Dunwich (probably Denis Pod), for a consideration of ten marks, of a messuage in Dunwich with its buildings and appurtenances, which he once held of Bartholomew Kempe, and for which they are to render to John Fresel and his heirs 5d per annum. Late twelfth-early thirteenth century.


In expenses of Richard de Seignes 8c others, for the galleys, to marks. In expenses of the galleys, £26 5s. od. by royal brief.


And receive for repairing three galleys and taking them to Portsmouth, £57.


Confirmation charter of liberties.

'We have granted and – confirmed to the honest men and our burgesses of Dunwich – for their faithful service, a free Borough and-

1. A Guild of Merchants, with a House and other customs, liberties and freedoms to the said Guild belonging-

2. It shall be lawful for them to take Nanna for their debtors (i.e. the right to take goods by distraint for non-payment) and their sureties for all debts due to them-

3. They shall plead in no other place, nor be summoned to plead outside their town, but shall have law and justice ministered to them in their borough-

4. They shall not make any battel (trial by combat?) within or without their town, neither for land, nor robbery nor felony or any other thing except only for the death of a man who is a foreigner-

5. If any – of the said town shall happen to be sued – for any felony – they shall purge and clear themselves by the oath of twenty-four free and lawful men-

6. If any other man's villein or bondman shall come and dwell within the town, and shall hold land in it, and be in the aforesaid Guild and House – for the space of one whole year and a day, he shall not after be taken thence, but shall remain and continue a freeman in the said town.

7. Also we have granted to our said burgesses – Soc and Sac, and Toll and Tame and Infangenthef (Saxon words, already obsolete, relating to judicial rights) and that they and their men, with their chattels and ships and all their goods – shall be discharged and quit from murage (wall-building) lastage (duty on certain cargoes, e.g. herrings) passage (toll on river-crossing) pontage (bridge toll) stallage (market toll) and of and from leve (levy of money) and Danegelt (tax for defence against the Danes) and from Gaywite (forfeiture of goods on failure to pay rent or services) and – all other customs, taxes and exactions by and through all our power and jurisdictions as well within our Realm of England as in all other our lands.

8. They may freely marry their daughters wheresoever they may, can or will, without the licence of anyone. And none shall have the power or authority to marry them except it be with their own good will, neither in the life-time of their parents nor after their death.

9. No one shall have the ward or custody of their sons, daughters or heirs, nor of their lands or goods, except only their own parents or friends, or those to whom they shall assign ward and custody thereof. And that none of their sons or heirs shall be compelled to marry a wife except of his own will.

10 And their widows in their donations and bestowings shall be at their own will and discretion.

11 Our burgesses may freely give or sell or buy whatsoever they have – to any person – and thereof appoint heir whomsoever they shall think fit.

12. Those liberties we have granted – to be had and holden – for ever, well and in peace, freely and quietly, peaceably, fully and honourably with other liberties and free customs and good uses which in their town they have accustomed—.


King John paid £32) 'for 30 ships hired to go from Dunwich to Ireland.' In the same year he paid £5 6s. 8d. for 'four ships from Dunwich to Lynn for carrying corn'; which indicates some inconsistency in the hiring rate.


And in the purchase of masts, booms, yards, straps, sprits, hair-cloth, pikes and ropes for the royal galleys, £41 4s 1d. by royal brief, at the oversight of Nicholas FitzRobert of Dunwich.

And by letters patent of William de Wrotham who received all the above for arming the galleys. And in the carriage of all the above to the sea, and in addition for hair-cloths (hairis) 23s. by the same brief. And he has £47 14s 4d.

The Justiciar, acting for the young King Henry, wrote to his chamberlain :

'We order you to release at once 7 sacks of wool, 3 lasts and 15 "dickers" (150) of hides which the men of Dunwich took of the merchandise of Stephen de Croy and are held at Scarborough, as we have already ordered. You should also distrain on the galliots that they restore the goods at once, and let us hear no further complaint about it.'

This was followed by another letter to Geoffrey de Neville, chamberlain, Robert Wodecock and Laurence de Dunewic, `keepers of the galleys and ships which are at Scardeburg,' ordering restoration of the stolen goods.


A group of Dunwich men – Fitz-Richard, FitzHerbert, FitzWilliam, Godfrey Mod, Umfrey Mowe and Arnulf Hase –sallied forth to Walberswick and set fire to about a dozen houses. Next they went to the manor-house and burnt the chapel and all the ornaments in it. Then they `they dragged a certain image of St John by its neck as far as Dunwich.'

1217, Letter to Westminster from the King of France :

`Our burgesses of Rouen have complained to us that, during the period of our truce many things were taken from them in England, although they did not take part in the war of our dearest faithful son Louis, wherefore we beseech you to cause to be restored to our burgesses at once their goods, lawful proof being given. Otherwise, understand that we shall in no wise tolerate that they lose their goods.'

The letter was passed on to the 'bailiffs and good men of Dunwich' with a covering letter ordering most strictly 'as you value yourselves and all that you possess' that they should restore to Roger FitzMichael of Rouen his missing goods, `which Robert Wodecoc and Vincenius de Dunewic took from him.'


An order concerning 'goods which your mariners of Dunwich took from Stephen de Croy and his associates, subjects of the king of France.' 'We shall distrain on your lands,' said the Justiciar, 'if you do not return the goods or the price thereof’


The barons of the Cinque Ports raided Yarmouth and wrecked the herring-fair, despite the efforts of the guardians, one of whom was Nicholas de Dunewic.


Response to a petition from Dunwich to the King for aid in enclosing their town

`Our honest and faithful men of Dunwich have informed us that the tide of the sea has occupied, and occupies from day to day, a great part of our town of Dunwich and the adjacent land, whereby great loss will result to us and to you unless preventive measures are quickly taken. Therefore we beseech you most earnestly, for love of us and for this our petition, that you render to those honest men speedy aid in this enclosing and embanking, to our honour and commodity as well as yours, that you may have honour and advantage thereby, and we may have reason to reward you with tokens of our goodwill.'


Reiner Fitz-Robert, merchant of Dunwich had a safe-conduct 'in coming to La Rochelle and other ports of Poitou with his merchandise, to buy wine and salt and other goods.'


Dunwich men had 'licence to go freely where they will with ships laden with herrings for trade.'


It 'well pleased the king' that the men of Dunwich should provide him with '40 good ships of their port, well equipped with all kinds of armament, good steersmen and mariners' to be sent to Portsmouth by Michaelmas. When told that he would only get thirty ships, he accepted the reduction, but told them to get those thirty ships ready in time 'that the king may thereby be pleased and commend those men.'


Dunwich supplied one eighth of the fleet which sailed from Portsmouth in May, carrying a few hundred knights and their horses, about four thousand soldiers, and the king's entourage to Poitou.


Findings of an enquiry at Westleton of the mayor of Dunwich, the bailiffs and other leading burgesses, in the presence of the justices to define the rights Dunwich, Blythburgh and Southwold.

`The earl holds his town of Southwold as parcel of the earldom of Gloucester, and Hugh Cressy the elder holds Blythburgh of the king in chief by service of one knight's fee, as granted by Henry II to William de Norwich, and they [i.e. Blythburgh and Southwold] are merchant towns from time immemorial. There is a harbour, and has been since time out of mind, dividing the town of Dunwich on the south and the town of Walberswick, which is a hamlet of the town of Blythburgh, on the north; and it forks on the land of the town of Westleton towards the west. From the entrance of the harbour as far as that fork and so back to the town of Dunwich, the harbour is part of the town of Dunwich, by what authority they know not. All merchants, foreign and others, wishing to put in with ships and boats and anchor in the harbour, i.e. from the entrance as far as the said fork and back from there towards Dunwich (on the other side), must pay 4d. for each anchor fixed in the harbour or in the land of the town; and 4d. to Hugh de Cressy for each anchor fixed in the north of the harbour or elsewhere on the land and soil of Walberswick, and need pay no other anchorage fee.

From the fork of the harbour to Blythburgh is, and always has been, a general hithe of Hugh, of the manor of Blythburgh, and on it the burgesses and men of Dunwich should not make attachments or distraints upon merchants or goods or ships, because the hithe is within the town and soil of Blythburgh, and not within the port and liberty of the town of Dunwich. From the time of the Conquest all merchants, foreign and others, used to come to the said port and hithe and to the said towns of Southwold, Blythburgh and Dunwich with ships and boats, and unload and sell various merchandise and victuals, and then load them again and return, until the burgesses and men of Dunwich maliciously hindered them from coming to the said towns of Southwold and Blythburgh.

And the mayor and burgesses showed no evidence, except the charter of King John, granting certain liberties within their town, which does not give them power to do so.

Those findings were confirmed by royal writ of March 4th. 16 Hen. III (1232), and judgement was given in favour of Earl Gilbert and Sir Hugh.


The king remitted £67 10s. which was owing for rent, and a further £10 promised to him, to help the Dunwich men 'in the strengthening and improvement of their town.'

Curia Regis Roll

Richard FitzAlexander (of Dunwich) successfully claimed from another merchant, Dionys Fitz Ralph and his wife Basilia: ‘ six markes for a certain horse which he sold them; six marks which he pair to Robert de Cressy for a certain pledge; six marks which he invested for them as a shar in a certain ship; and two marks which they owe him for the brakage of a certain ship, whereby he suffered loss to the extent of 100 shillings.


Eighteen galleys stationed at Dunwich seems to have numbered eighteen about a third of what it had been thirty years before.

Dunwich asked to fit out a good ship 'manned by at least 40 good men,' with provisions for forty days, at their own cost, to go 'with the first favourable wind' to Winchelsea. The sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk was ordered to `go in person to the port of Dunwich and other ports in his bailiwick if necessary' to procure ten ships for the transhipment of the king's sister Isabelle from the Orwell for her marriage with the Emperor Frederick.


Two Dunwich ships with cargoes of herrings, masters Richard of Walberswick and Augustine Ball, were wrongly arrested at Portsmouth. Eleven ships were arrested at Hamble by the Southampton bailiffs because the Dunwich men refused to pay customs duty, asserting that their charter exempted them from tolls and dues in every other port.


King Henry demanded of the bailiffs of Dunwich 'five ships armed with balistarii (crossbow-men) as many as possible, and five boats' to be sent to Dover. The sheriff was once more ordered to go in person to Dunwich to order all ships found there capable of carrying '80 casks or more' to `go with the next wind' to Portsmouth.

The constable of Dover was ordered to restore at once to their owners 'three ships of Dunwich laden with salt which the men of Sandwich arrested and plundered at sea.'


The king, at Bordeaux, granted licence for 'the master of a ship called La Biome of Dunwich to cross and put in either at Boston or Lynn, unless he sell the wine in the said ship in some other port before he reaches there.'


'Order to the sheriff that — he shall distrain on all those in the town in whose hands he shall find wool, hides and any other goods contained in a ship of Pevensey which was arrested at Dunwich to restore to Robert FitzReginald and Robert Fitz-Joce, good men of Dunwich, 50 marks, 2 sacks of wool and 40 hides, or the price thereof, which were awarded to them in the king's court for their claim which they made upon the same goods.

1245 (Pat. Roll)

Mandate to justiciar of Ireland to pay Geoffrey de Dunewic 30 marks for the freight of his ship called La Damaysel in coming to the king from Ireland to Gannok (Deganwy, North Wales) and back to Ireland, and for his losses in the long keeping of his ship at Gannock.

1246 (Close Roll)

To the mayor and honest men of Dunwich. This is to inform you that, of the £103 2s. 0d. which you owe us, we have assigned to John FitzWilliam, Andrew FitzAugustine and Gerard FitzRobert £60 for the damages which they incurred with three of their ships wrecked near Gannock in our service. Pay to them, on the oversight of honest men, each his due share.

1250, Close Roll

The king remits to the good men of Dunwich 20 marks which they owe him for tallage, and 10 marks which they had promised, and £47 l0s. of their fee-farm rent due at Michaelmas this year. as an aid towards the moving and re-making of the harbour of his said town. Order to the barons of the Exchequer to give quittance.

Circa 1250;

Maison Dieu (Domus Dei, God's House, Hospital of the Holy Trinity) was established endowed: houses, shops and land within the town, to a rental value of 4s. 6d. The hospital provided accommodation for a master and six resident brethren - also sisters, later. The most cherished possession of Domus Dei was a cross reputed to be a source of miraculous healing power, attracting pilgrims and a source of revenue. It was under the direct patronage of the king, who appointed to the mastership.


'William Helmeth exacted for every ship passing there four pence, and as much for anchorage, without licence from the king'.

Close Rolls

Robert FitzReginald had taken possession of the Maison Dieu and all that it contained, including the cross, and disposed of everything moveable.

1253 Close Roll

'Re the obstruction of a certain port at Dunwich. The king, for the repair of his port and for the stopping-up of a certain port north of Dunwich, gives to his men of that town as aid the fee-farm rent for the term Easter to Michaelmas next. Order to the barons of the Exchequer that the men of Dunwich be quit for that term.

Royal agent sent to Dunwich to commandeer ‘all ships able to carry sixteen horses and all other ships of any kind’.


King’s clerk, John of Suark visited Dunwich to obtain shiops to transport friends of the king to Gascony.

Circa 1255

House of the Grey Friars (Franciscans, 'Friars Minor') was founded by Richard FitzJohn and his wife Alice.

Circa 1255

Sir Roger de Holish founded a house of the Black Friars (Dominicans, 'Friars Preachers')


King Henry III sent word to his steward of the royal forests in Essex that he was to let the Friars Preachers of Dunwich have seven oaks for timber, as a gift of the king.


Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk instructed to go to Dunwich and arrange for the construction of a galley of 565 oars and a barge of 28 oars for the Welsh wars (construction took 2 years for which they received £146 13s 4d).


Reynold Lenfant, citizen of Acre had a cargo worth £70 seized at Dunwich.

A complaint was made by William and Augustine, sons of William FitzJohn, and Augustine FitzAndrew that:

`--as they went from the house of William FitzJohn to return to their own inns in the High Street, Richard, Ralph, John and Philip Brun and their accomplices attacked them with weapons and drawn swords; and when they, to escape death, fled to the church of All Saints of that town, Richard, Edmund, John and Philip followed them with the said arms and drawn swords, attacked them and wounded them, so that they killed the said Edmund and John Brun in self-defence.'

(Patent Roll):

`Robert Fulconis, king's clerk, was appointed to defend Domus Dei of Dunwich, as certain alms intended for the support of the poor there have been withdrawn, so that certain poor are dispersed for lack of maintenance, and through litigation against the wardens thereof, their means are dilapidated; and he is to recover the said goods wherever they may be, in the said town or elsewhere. He is not bound to render an account or reckoning.'


A vessel from Hamburg laden with corn en route to Boston was atacked off Dunwich by Dunwich men. Part of the cargo was stolen, the rest thrown overboard and the vessel damaged.

(Close Roll).
Since the king in the thirty-fifth year of his reign pardoned the good men of Dunwich £76 8s. 4d. which they owed in fines and amercements arising from the last justices' itinerary in the Dunwich area - so that, by the oversight of the then sheriff of Suffolk and the Abbot of Leiston, they might use that money, and other monies of the community, in repairing their port and making a certain cutting for the improvement of the port - inquiry reveals that the work has been done, so let them be quit.

The king’s barge stationed at Dunwich was loaned to Richard Earl of
Gloucester, with all its tackle; order was countermanded, a year later.


June To the King of England by the mayor, council and community of Hamburg

`We beseech your excellency, as we have already done many times, for prompt attention to our humble prayers in the name of God, and justice, that you cause Lucas Scotte and the men of Dunwich to restore to Master Willekin Kranen, our fellow citizen, the goods which they violently and unjustly plundered
from him in your realm. For the said Master Willekin intends to recalls the attorneys by whom he has prosecuted his case for a year and a day as best he can, unless he soon gets help of your royal clemency. Accordingly we would be eternally obliged to you and yours for action in the matter.'

Salomon and Tidman, backed by their associates, 'men and merchants of Richard, King of Almain,' lodged official complaint in Aug. 126o that:
`—they came from their parts with a ship laden with corn, etc.to England and passed by the coast of Dunwich – Luke le Scot, Richard le Scot and many others of Dunwich came with boats and attacked the ship and took a great part of the corn contained in her without measure or price, maltreated the merchants and took the ship into the port of Dunwich and broke it, and sank a great quantity of the remaining corn.'

The 'good men of Dunwich' protested to the king:
'An inquisition lately made in Dunwich between Tedeman and Salomon of Hamburg – and Luke le Escot of Dunwich concerning an offence by Luke – was at fault as regards the amount of damages and in other respects also, because it was made by those hostile to the said good men of Dunwich, and by such as ought not to have made such an inquiry, and it was contrary to their charter of liberties—'

March 1261

The mayor of Hamburg was informed that Salomon and Tidman had received full satisfaction by judgement of the court, and was told to release any goods of English merchants which had been seized in reprisal.

1261 Liberate Roll

`Brief to the mayor and bailiffs of Dunwich to deck [cooperire] the king's galley there out of the debts due to the king from the men of the town, the cost to be certified by lawful men.'

Received £132 1 is. 8d., and acknowledged receipt before the justices.

All the debts of Dunwich were deferred.


Dunwich fleet voyage to Gascony for wine- resulted in twenty-three of them being seized and held in Bordeaux for almost a year.


Richard Scott granted right of 'free warren' in his demesne lands in Minsmere, Westleton, Middleton, Fordley, Walpole and Dunwich.

Close Roll

'To the bailiffs and good men of Dunwich. Remund de Ripell, merchant of our good cousin the Count of Picardy, lately came into your port with a ship laden with wine. You, on the excuse of the disturbances in the realm, took 28 tuns of wine from the ship and kept them. Give it back, and let him and his men go free.'

Circa 1267

`They say that the present Earl Marshal [Roger Bigot]] came with a multitude of armed men, knights and foot-soldiers, and attacked the king's town of Dunwich, so that no one coming to the town with corn or other foodstuffs could enter it; and the said earl sent ships and barges equipped with arms and men to invade the town by water; and hindered the merchants of the king for six days; and took certain of the townsmen and imprisoned them at Kelsale; and carried off goods, jewels and other property of certain citizens of the town; and did other outrages there in the neighbourhood, in breach of the king's peace and to the hurt and serious damage of the said citizens; whereupon King Henry eventually, upon the complaint of the townsmen, sent a letter to the earl exorting him in faith and friendship – that he should cause to be amended the said gross offences – and cause to be restored what had been stolen; but the earl completely ignored that order, and at present keeps for himself the greater part of the said goods.'


The king wrote to John de Vallibus, deputy-justiciar, as follows:

`Wishing at the instance of our honest men of Dunwich to show special favour to Roger FitzJohn of Dunwich, whom you took and imprisoned, we order you that, if Roger finds you twelve good and lawful men of that town to stand surety that he will appear before us next Easter to answer the charge against him, then you are to release him on bail.'


'for the serious losses suffered by our faithful men of Dunwich', they were pardoned four years rent, which amounted to £190.


Report of the sheriff reported to the Chancellor.

I hastened to Dunwich as fast as I could, as you ordered – And indeed that devil William FitzJohn was come there again. Night and day he escaped me, so that I could not make distraint for the debt owed to the king. I found the clerk who could scarcely fulfil the king's requirements, and I asked him how much he had received from the town. He said he had spent some of it, and his lord had had some, for which he would not answer without consulting his lord. I asked for the accounts. He said that, if I wanted them, I had better seek his lord [i.e. FitzJohn] at Norwich. When my mes- senger arrived there, he found this William FitzJohn w arranged his accounts to suit himself, so that nothing was settled of £150.

—When I had been in the town for a fair while, and had made arrangements for the collecting of the debt, and though that all was in good order, I left the town – on account of my illness, and left my attorneys to carry out my orders.

Three days later, they came to hold a session in the king's name at the Guildhall [a le tolhous] and do other things which I told them to do. There came William FitzJohn and John Fitzjoce. They had fully thirty armed men prepared for a fray. They told my men that they were of the king's party, and feloniously flung them to the ground, beat them, threw filth at them, and perilously wounded them, so that with difficulty they escaped into the church [that would be St. John's] and robbed them of documents of the king, and of the accounts which the keeper sent me such as they were, and three rings of gold, and part of the fines-money which they had in a purse, and many other things which the bearer of this letter will tell you by word of mouth.

So I beg you, dear sir, your lordship – be advised now that never was there so great a matter as that which must now be dealt with to raise the condition of the king, and that of the poor people on whom they batten – If speedy aid be not applied, no foreigner will dare to come here, and the townsmen with their merchandise will go to another port, and not come back here, they say.

And because you, sir, told me that I should treat them kindly, I did all I could, and nothing came of it, for fairness and courtesy will never avail here – Sire, I am too small to take charge of such malicious people. If I do not have other help – I am convinced that the king will be the loser by my fault – And those townsfolk who are peace-loving, when they see their enemies armed, dare not do anything against them, so much do they fear that vengeance will be exacted on them, because so many have often escaped.

Dear Sir, please commend me to your lord – I assure you that I am most unhappy that you have had so many complaints about my service, but honestly, sire, it is not my fault.

1274 Fine Rolls

The temporary Keeper of the Town was ordered ‘to assess and let to the best advantage to trusty men all empty sites in the town, and to certify to the king the names of the tenants'.


Remission of a further £200 of town debts


The town's fee-farm rent (Royal tax) was reduced to £65 a year.

circa 1286

Disappearance of land and property in ferocious storms

1287 Patent Roll

`Commission to Richard de Boyland and William de Pakenham [knights of the shire], upon complaints made by the mayor and bailiffs of Dunwich, to inquire into the contempts committed by these mariners of Dunwich, viz. Robert Sparrow, Robert le Poer, John Joce, John le Barewer, Geoffrey Codun, Edmund Codun, Geoffrey Fykett, Richard Morebred, Robert de Eyse, William de Southwold, William le Official, John le Palmer, William Totepeny, Geoffrey Blackat, John Fike, William de la More, William Belamey, Valentine Richman, Richard Ille, Nicholas Honeman and Andrew Terry, in entering into a conspiracy whereby they have taken their oaths not to permit the court of the said mayor and bailiffs to be held, the king's dues from themselves to be levied, or execution of the king's writs and judgements of the king's courts to be carried out; in levyint to their own use fines imposed upon the burgesses by Alomon de Roff and his fellow justices last in eyre in Suffolk, and in not permitting the peace there to be kept by the mayor and bailiffs. All persons found guilty to be guarded by the sheriff to appear before the king a fortnight after Martinmas’.

1289 (Patent Roll).

Safe-conduct for five years for Richard Fitz-John, burgess of Dunwich, who has been long in the king's service, trading in divers parts.'

circa 1294 Leiston abbey cartulary

(i ) The king and Thomas Wilpyn, bailiff of Dunwich: (ii ) Nicholas abbot of Leiston, Ric’ de Ellingham, Walter de Glanveyle, Roger de Bocking, Adam del Chirche, John del Chirche, John de Ryk’, John Curteys and John Sparke. In or after 1294

A writ of venire facias ordering sheriff of Suffolk to bring to the exchequer at Westminster on the quindene of Trinity, ii and Robert de Wllingham, John de Eye, Seman de Elmswell, Walter de Kyndale, Hohn Geffrey, Walter Hunde, Denis Sutere, Robert syke, Seman Kempe, Roger Sparke, Thomas Brodheye,William son of Stephen and Adam Skyle, to show why, when Thomas Wilpyn, as bailiff of Dunwich, seized certain goods,, chattels and merchandise of the abbot by way of toll and custom and put them in a sure place in the town of Dunwich, they attacked him with force and arms, beat and wounded and ill-treated him, carrying off the said goods and chattels, and performing other enormities in contempt of the king, to the damage of the said Thomas, and in breach of the peace.

1300 Patent Roll

‘Commission to William Carleton and William Howard to hear and settle a complaint by the burgesses of Dunwich that, previously they, in conjunction with men of the adjoining parts, stopped up a port at Southwold by the order of King Henry III [this was the 1250 operation] and afterwards that port was in great part reopened by an inundation of the sea, whereby merchants preferred to put in and take their goods there rather than to Dunwich, and traded and paid toll there, to the loss of the said burgesses of Dunwich, and on their complaint the king [Edward I] commanded the sheriff of Suffolk to inquire into the matter and to close the port again by distraint of the adjoining tenants, and whereas the said burgesses have by the king's command applied £2000 to the closing thereof—'

-yet some persons have come by night and reopened that port, and have broken down certain cuaseways put within that port to strengthen the obstruction thereof, whereby the water course leading to Dunwich is impeded, so that merchants cannot come up to Dunwich as they were wont to do’

The sea then overtook a third part of the town, and so enfeebled the haven by storm and tempest that it closes up once or twice every year.

'The people of the said town incur grievous charges each year in opening the said haven.' They could not supply the king with ships for his wars. They had recently spent more han £l 000 'in his service' – meaning in their own service – and they were impoverished. The king ought to see to it that the men of Walberswick and Southwold were made to bear their share of the cost of keeping Dunwich as a port, the same as his predecessors had done, they said.

1304 Petition to Parliament:

Petition of the men of Dunwich asking that the king should order restitution of part of the expenses and dues paid out by them to the amount of £500 on the stopping-up of a certain haven which was opened by a storm of the sea near to Dunwich and deteriorated the haven of the said town, of which expenses certain men of Southwold and Walberswick ought to be sharers, and to which in like cases they used to contribute, which they are now unwilling to do.

'—whereas the men of Southwold and Walberswick are bound to clear the haven of Dunwich on one side at their own costs, and the men of Dunwich on the other side likewise as often as the said haven shall happen to be blocked by storms – the said men of Southwold and Walberswick have totally withdrawn that service, so that the men of Dunwich have incurred the expense of £300 of their money in

`—the men of Westleton in a village near to the town of Dunwich buy, sell and forestall all kinds of commodities coming to that same town, whereby the farm of the king of that town is deteriorated each year to the extent of £10, as they say—'

'And the present king (Edward II) and his father, because the men of the said town had it at farm, have granted several markets and fairs to the religious and others at two of the entrances to the town, to the great damage and loss of the town, and the fee-farm, whereby the town is so impoverished by those sales that they cannot raise half of the said farm-rent. So they beg the king to take the town into his own hands, and put a keeper in at his own will, to inquire into the grievances. They ask that he shall reduce the farm rent, otherwise he will lose his town and the rent.'

'—the sheriff of Suffolk has sued them at law before the justices for lands which they hold outside their fee, where they do not dwell, contrary to the liberties granted and confirmed by the king and his forbears, whereby they incur expense, etc, etc.'


King instructed mayor, bailiffs and community of Dunwich

The Friars Minor of Dunwich shall have the kings galley of that town with all its tackle appurtences in whose hands soever they may be, as the king has given it to them.


King Edward II sent the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk to Dunwich in 1308 to take over the Temple in his name and make out a detailed inventory of what he had won. If this kind of thing had not happened we should never have known very much about the Temple. As it is, we can know a great deal. The sheriff accounted for the rents; £3 11s. 9d. received in oblations and tithes; 8s. for two quarters of malt sold; and £4 0s.6d. from the sale of two horses, one ox, four pigs, one last of herrings, twenty cheeses, a piece of wax, an old cart and a tunic. Not a lot of 'riches' in that lot, but a bargain or two for somebody at the sale. He noted that the carter was paid 1.5d. a day; the Warden 9d. a week; and the chaplain 2d. a day plus 3d. a day for his food; whereas the chaplain's clerk, who helped in the task of 'celebrating in the chapel', was paid 2d. a week.

Then he listed the contents of the chapel, house, yard and outhouses.
one gold cup 20s.
one mazer 5s. 4d. (wooden drinking-bowl, with silver rim)
three silver cups 6s. 8d.
35 gold florins value £4 7s. 6d.
7 gold rings 7s.
2 gold clasps 5s.
17 clasps of silver 15s.
money found in 4 pouches £111 14s. 6.75d. which Robert de Suffield parson of Brampton Church says he was able to take care of.
1 pair of plates 2s.
1 pair of mustelers (wine-jars) 3s.
1 shilling in silver 12d.
1 mattress 6d.
4 score and 19 lambs £2 9s. 6d.
1 great chest and 1 small chest with 8 lead discs stamped with religious symbols.
and 1 pix with the King's protection not valued.
1 pair of organs 12d.
4 vestments whole £1 9s. 8d.
1 cross plated with silver 18d.
1 chalice of gold 16s.
1 old chalice 3s.
new missal for use 12d.
1 portiforium 13s. 4d. (portable breviary or prayer-book).
1 gradual 18d. (book of anthems)
2 legenda 3s. (books of legends, lives of saints)
2 antiphonariums, new 12d. (books of chants)
1 small chest with relics of saints and another small chest with other relics.
1 pix with Eucharist (box containing consecrated bread)
1 piece of wax 12d.
2 last and 1000 herrings £4 4s. od.
Timber 13s. 4d.
Norman stone from the quarry 13s. 4d.
2 old carts with gears for 3 horses 10s.
20 cheeses 2s. 6d.
1 crossbow 8d.
1 pelin (?) and 1 basin 20d.
2 jars, 1 plate, 1 posnet 7s.
1 lead (tub) and other utensils for brewing, 1 tub, 10 boards 10d.
1 small pig 10d.
1 quarter of an ox 12d.
1 lamb received from a certain stranger as an oblation.

The king kept the Temple and its lands in his hands for four years before granting it to the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.


Disappearance of land and property in ferocious storms

1334 Conclusions from the bailiffs rental

The parish of St Nicholas had once contained three hundred houses, which the erosions of the past forty years had reduced to less than two hundred. There were now no more than thirty houses left standing, some of them so near the low cliff-edge that no one would dare to live there (though rents would still be charged, on the book at least); one barn, one windmill ruined, two others having gone, and perhaps a dozen acres of land. The ecclesiastical value (mostly tithes) even after the diminution wrought by the last great storm, had been £4 6s. 8d. a year; at the next assessment it was valued at 4s. 2d. The church still stood; the east end of the chancel only a few feet from the cliff. Several priests, each staying for about two years, were to keep up the pretence of a parish of St Nicholas for a further thirty years almost.

St Martin's parish had had about a hundred houses in it. Twenty-five remained. A lot of empty sites, vacated by the sea, were never again likely to be occupied by man. The church still stood; or most of it. The chancel was already leaning to the east, with daylight showing between it and the nave. Another six or seven years at most would see the last of St Martin's.

St Leonard's, already the most devastated parish still existing as such before the storm, was reduced to twelve houses and a windmill lying on its back. Much of the area had previously reverted to open space which was used for cultivation, stabling, storage and various other purposes, including the fair. The church had still been standing before the storm, stripped of timber, bells and furnishings. There was no sign of it now, unless that pile of masonry out there, beneath a bigger pile of debris, was it. The fair continued to be held for a further six years, until the Prior of Eye discovered that the five shillings which he paid for the privilege of collecting tolls was somewhat in excess of the tolls collected.

St Peter's, never a very large parish, now had just over twenty houses, cottages and shops clustered round its church, twenty feet above the harbour, was undamaged. The greatest devastation here was in the area adjacent to the harbour. Only the parishes of St John's and All Saints remained relatively undamaged. All Saints in particular, though never very populous — it had only about twenty houses excluding monasteries — had suffered from the gale, and an even greater proportion of its area was henceforth 'land', not `messuage'.

Estimated that the population was between 1,500 and 2.000.


Bailiffs applied once more for a reduction in the town rent, giving as their reasons:

'—the port is obstructed by sand and by jetsam – divers of their lands are submerged and overflowed – their shipping in these times of war has been destroyed by the enemy – very many men have left the town to dwell elsewhere and those remaining there are not sufficient for the payment of the farm.'
Inquiry was ordered, and as a result the fee-farm rent was reduced, after some delay, from £65 to £14 l0s. 9d.


Estimated that Dunwich lost a third of its inhabitants to the 'Black Death'.


Petition for deferment of payment of the town rent, which was granted

'as they have shown the king that although the said town which before these times was almost entirely inhabited by fishermen is now so wasted and diminished by the late mortal pestilence and by the king's enemies plundering and killing the fishermen of the same at sea that the men there cannot pay—'

'A certain ship of Prussia with a cargo of flax, bowstaves and barrels of wax of Osmund Ferro was cast by a storm upon the soil of the king at Dunwich, between the present port of Dunwich and the former one called Old Haven.'


The Black Friars `whose mansion-house is in peril by incursion of the sea, which has destroyed the greater part of Dunwich' appealed for and were granted licence for Sir Robert Swelyngton to give them ten acres of land and four acres of marsh in Blythburgh `for building thereon a new mansion-house in place of that at Dunwich, and licence for the said Friars to transfer their buildings thither, and in aid of the new erection to sell the old site to any person who will buy it.'


Responding to a petition of Dunwich burgesses the king ordered the sheriff of Suffolk, under pain of a £40 penalty, to make proclamation that

`—although by stress of weather the port of Dunwich has many times changed [as regards,] the mid-stream and course of the river in divers places between Dunwich and Southwold, no man of Blythburgh, Southwold and Walberswick of whatsoever estate or condition henceforth coming there with ships, vessels and boats laden with fish or other merchandise shall, under pain of forfeiture and imprisonment, hinder the Burgesses of Dunwich from levying tolls and customs.'

1409 Calendar of Close Rolls.

Situation regarding rights of Dunwich on the Kingesholme marsh and shingle bank between Southwold and Dunwich, clarified at the request of the town of Southwold.

· The men of Dunwich had no right to take tolls of Walberswick and Blythburgh.
· They never had had such right, except once, when it was given by agreement between them and Dame Margery Cressy, at which time the haven was 'below the town of Dunwich and not silted up.'
· The marsh in dispute was not part of Dunwich, but part of Blythburgh.
· 'It ought not to be called Kyngesholme; that name is newly put upon it by the men of Dunwich; one part is and ought to be called Lenaldesmershe, another Middelmersshe, and a third Cherchemersshe.'
· Sir Roger Swillington (lord of Blythburgh) did own the said marsh.
· He did have the right to collect 4d. for every ship anchoring on it.
· He did own the ferry over the harbour.
· Sir Roger and his father had not encroached upon the rights of the king at Dunwich.


Six men hired by bailiffs to maintain a night watch over the harbour 'after digging the ditches'. This is the only reference to perceived dangers of innundation in the 15th century.

1410. Sir Roger granted to the men of Dunwich:

'—a marshe called Churchmarsh, alias Lenaldesmarsh, lying between Dunwich and Walberswick, i.e. along the sea-coast on the east and along the great river running from the port of Dunwich to the town of Dunwich on the west, with one end abutting on the said port, and the water between the said marsh and hamlet on the north, and to the old port of Dunwich on the south—'

This he granted them, according to the form of certain indentures, along with 'stones, sand, wreck of sea and all other profits and commodities,' in return for the payment to him, his heirs and assigns annually at Christmas of one root of ginger.

The king, Thomas de Beaufort and the burgesses of Dunwich granted to Sir Roger, his heirs and assigns and the tenants of Blythburgh and Walberswick that they

'—may come when they please with any victuals, goods, etc. of their own in their own ships and boats within the said port of Dunwich wherever it may be changed or diverted and anchor there both in the port and on land in any part, and load and unload the goods, etc. And they shall have a ferry, and all profits from the same, in the new port between the north and south sides—'

The men of Dunwich were to be allowed to cross the harbour in their own boats without payment, and Sir Roger and his heirs, etc. were to pay £1 a year for the ferry to the king or to whoever held the farm of Dunwich. Sir Roger further granted these concessions to the men of Dunwich:

Freedom from toll, tronage (charge for use of weighbridge) and all customs in his fairs and markets of Blythburgh (one weekly market, three annual fairs): permission to anchor, dry their nets and take lastage (stones for ballast) on the land of Walberswick on the north of the port. Permission to take any wreck of the sea which 'they may prove to be their own'.

The king further granted that the tenants of Sir Roger might anchor, dry their nets and take lastage on the land of the south of the port. The boundary between the two places was to be 'the mouth of the said port and the thread of the water of the said port, wherever it may be diverted or changed by heaping of sand or otherwise.'

Forty shillings was 'paid into the hamper' for that agreement.

A separate writ was issued exempting Southwold fishermen from paying tolls for boats using the harbour mouth.

‘The bailiffs and commonalty of Dunwich shall have no power to arrest any person at a place within the haven of Dunwich called the Key, otherwise called the Wodeishend, nor from thence to the town of Southwold.’


63 burgesss record in Bailiff's Minute Book


153 taxpayers assessed in the lay subsidy.

Estimated that a third of Dunwich's male taxpayers were burgesses.

circa 1425

150 taxpayers recorded giving a population estimate of around 800 (Bailiff's Minute Book)

1406 Half-Tax
All Saints

St John's

St Peter's

1422 Half-Tax
All Saints

St John's

St Peter's
1427 Half-Tax
All Saints

St John's

St Peter's


Dunwich signed a trading agreement with the port of Hull. This, together with information in the Bailiff's Minute Book indicates that the town was still actively involved in coastal trade in staple agricultural products although the town's income from port dues and market tolls was not substantial


Loan of £62 6s 4d approved by Queen Elizabeth 'being credbly informed that her town of Dunwytche is by Rage and Surges of the Sea daylie wasted and devouired. And the Haven of her Highness said Towne, by diverse Rages of Wyndes continually landed and barred, so as no Shippes or Boats can either enter in or oughte-' The money to be raised by selling the bells, lead, iron, glass and stone from the decayed and disused church of Ingate.


Description of Dunwich written for John Daye, a native of the town.

- the curiosity of visiting this place where I beheld the remains of the rampart, some tokens of Middlegate- foundations of down-fallen edifices- remains dead exposed- naked wells divested of the ground about them by the waves of the sea- divers coins, several mill-hills and part of the old key- seven or eight great high hills there standing.


Map drawn by Ralph Agas and published in Gardner's 'History of Dunwich'.

See Map


Unsuccessful law suite brought against Southwold regarding the position of the new cut through the shingle bar. 'Dounwytch Men said it should be opened nearer to Dunwich than Southwold and that their port ought to be repaired at Southwold's expense.


Restoration of the British monarchy set in motion the development of parliamentary democracy. Dunwich, despite its economic decline and loss of population continued to send two MPs to London elected by the public vote of its handfull of freemen. Membership of the House of Commons became a prize sought by men wishing to be close to royal patronage and political power. Small towns such as Dunwich which, due to size and population, were "controlled" and used by a patron of the freemen electorate to exercise undue and unrepresentative influence within parliament, were described as "rotten boroughs".


John Benifice (known locally as King John of Dunwich) was elected to the office of town bailiff. He used his authority to rig the election of Dunwich’s two Members of Parliament by recruiting local people who did not live in the town as freemen (called outsetters). There were about 17 freemen residing in the town. Between 1670 and 1690 Benifice recruited and enrolled 500, mainly from places along the east coast among seamen and traders.


A knight makes a first appearance on the list of bailiffs. 17 freement residing in the town, and 63 residing elsewhere.


King Charles II reduced the Crown's loan to £5 and remitted all arrears ' in consideration of the poverty and low estate of the town'


St Peter's church started to fall into the sea.


Benifice was summoned to appear before an Assembly of the freemen to answer a long list of alleged wrongdoings, misdemeanours, irregularities, and crimes. He was found guilty and the Assembly deprived him of his freedom of the borough and stripped him of the offices he held.

Admiral Sir Robert Rich, who had been elected MP with the help of Benefice's outsetters organized a sucessful petition to the Crown for a new charter which would specifically confirm the right of outsetters to vote in parliamentary elections.

Sir Robert's opponents held the common seal of the borough and continued to function as the Corporation of the Borough, notwithstanding the new corporation set up by Sir Robert's supporters under the authority of their new charter. Sir Robert's supporters were removed from office in the old corporation only to be re-appointed in the new one, which also made the disgraced John Benifice an alderman and justice of the peace.


Dunwich now had two corporations (old and new) each of which returned two candidates. The old corporation petitioned the House of Commons but parliament decided in favour of Sir Robert and his fellow candidate who had been elected under the new arrangements.


This year the election result was disputed with allegations of bribery, menaces, and irregularities in the admission of freemen.

George Downing (his grandfather was a property dealer in London who built Whitehall's Downing St Terrace) bought property in Dunwich as a means of acquiring political influence in the borough. In 1710 his properties totalled around 1,000 acres.


Downing contested the Dunwich election and won by 88 votes to 12. If he had he relied on the insetters alone he would still have won by 12 votes to 11.


George Downing succeeded to the family baronetcy (3rd baronet) and the family's fortune.


Downing stood again with Sir Robert Kemp of Ubbeston unopposed, but Queen Anne's death the following year made a fresh general election necessary. In this election the pair were defeated by 25 votes to 1.


Ten burgesses sent temporarily to prison in Beccles for non-payment of the Crown's loan to the town.

Sir George Downing obtained the grant for the fee-farm for £5 per annum for 99 years.


Sir George Downing standing with a Mr. Edward Vernon won the election, which was was marked by bribery, corruption, and various irregularities on both sides, by 30 votes to 10. Sir George consolidated his hold on the local electorate, many of whom were his tenants by encouraged them to fall into arrears with their rents. The understanding was that no action would be taken against them provided they voted for Sir George and whoever stood with him. He also paid "election money" to the freemen who voted for him and 'sold' the parliamentary seats, with guaranteed success at elections, for about £1000 price each time.


Sir George sold the second Dunwich seat for £1,200 to Miles Barne, who had recently bought an estate at Sotterley, 10 miles north of Dunwich.


Jacob Garard Downing succeeded to the baronetcy and the Downing fortune. He was promptly elected by the freemen of Dunwich to fill Sir George's seat in the Commons.

Keen to gain a foothold in Dunwich, Miles Barne bought the small Long Estate at Dunwich and unsuccessfully tried to buy that owned by the Rich family.


Sir Joshua Vanneck a banker and merchant in the City of London bought the Heveningham Hall estate with the intention of challenging the Downings for election at Dunwich. The same year Sir Jacob Downing died.

Miles Barne was elected to represent Dunwich at Westminster by 13 votes to 2.

Lady Downing caused the freemen to be arrested for the debts due under the terms of the bonds which they had given to her late husband. Miles Barne and Sir Joshua Vanneck pooled their resources (£14,000) and bailed the freemen out of jail and began proceedings in the court to have the bonds declared illegal. The two partners then had to lease land from the borough and from Dunwich's charities on which to build houses for the freemen to live rent free. Farms had to be let to freemen at subsidized rents in return for their support at elections. The Barnes and Vannecks continued to nominate the two candidates for election by the freemen right down to the passing of the Reform Act in 1832, when the rotten borough was disfranchised.


Downing College founded under the deferred will of Sir George Downing, 3rd Baronet


John Brinkley Easey died age 23. One of the last inhabitants to be buried in the churchyard of All Saints. His grave fell into the sea in the early 1980s.


Dunwich Corporation dissolved and the property and regalia handed to the Dunwich Town Trust.


All Saints church lost to the sea.


The Barnes Dunwich estate sold.


A concerted effort was made to promote an underwater exploration to locate any remains of the lost town. The ruins of All Saints church were located in a gully quite close to the shore.


An underwater expedition was launched with about 40 divers. This resulted in a number of finds, notably a large fragment of 14th century masonry, which is lodged in the town museum.


A team of marine archaelogists from Southampton University revealed a new project to explore the seabed off Dunwich using some of the latest equipment, such as multiscan sonar, echo sounders and geographical positioning systems. The intention is to ‘build up a picture of the ancient sunken city which lies between l0ft and 50ft down’. It will cost £25,000, of which £20,000 has been raised through a donation from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

Main references

Cartularies of the religious houses of Leiston, Butley and Blythburgh.
Bailiff's Minute Book, Suffolk Records Society
Historical Notes on Dunwich, Blythburgh and Southwold by T. Gardner
History and Antiquities of Suffolk, Rev. A Suckling
Men of Dunwich, by Rowland Parker.