Sandwich in Kent, is a well preserved medieval town, rich in 16th and 17th century architecture. It is now two miles from the sea, but was once one of the most important naval bases in England. Before the River Stour silted up, it was wide and deep enough for great sailing ships. The first recorded mention of Sandwich is in 664 AD, but it is likely that there was a Roman settlement before. The name, Sandwich, has nothing to do with slices of bread, which originated centuries after Sandwich was founded. The name Sandwich, means “sandy place” and is of Saxon origin. The word “sandwich”, as an item of food, does not have a connection with the town, only with John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who happened to have the hereditary title. It is said that in 1762, he asked for meat to be served between slices of bread to avoid interrupting a gambling game.
Sandwich is one of the most important of the Cinque Ports. The Cinque (pronounced sink) Ports, were originally a confederation of five harbours, Sandwich, Romney, Dover, Hythe and Hastings, plus the towns of Rye and Winchelsea, which were grouped together for defence. They formed the first Navy and in return for the use of their ships, the ports received many privileges from the Crown.
Probably the best way to see Sandwich is on foot by walking the town walls, which stretch for two miles. The more elevated parts of the walk give a good view over the town and its landmarks. Sandwich has a history of violent raids, especially from the Vikings and the French. In 1385, it was decided that the town should be fortified and completely walled. The “walls” were brick and stone fronting the river, but the landward side defences were earth mounds, wooden palisades, a dry ditch and moat. The original earth wall was known as the Bulwark. The Barbican and Toll Bridge was one of the main gates to the town. Fishergate, leading onto the Quay, was another town gate. The lower part of the gate dates from 1384, but most of it was built from 1560.
Strand Street is the oldest street in the town. Originally, the River Stour was at the edge of the street. There are a number of houses with overhanging upper stories typical of the period. Behind the archway to Three Kings Yard, off Strand Street, is a ruined Chantry Chapel, built in 1250. The King’s Lodging in Strand Street, dating from 1400, is probably the finest period house in the town. Henry VIII and later Elizabeth I, are thought to have stayed here on visits.
Sandwich has several ancient inns. The Kings Arms Hotel, opposite St. Mary’s Church, is one of the town’s oldest timber-framed inns, dating from 1592. The Crispin Inn has been a pub since 1824, but is known to have been in existence since Medieval times. It was probably used as the official meeting place of shoemakers and leather workers. St. Crispin is their patron saint. The Red Cow, built in 1735, was the town’s workhouse for fifteen years.
St. Peter’s Street contains the Old Town Gaol. Opposite this prison is Holy Ghost Alley, previously known as Chantry Alley. Householders were allowed down this passage to obtain water from the Delf Stream, the town’s only water supply until 1894. The Guildhall was built in 1579. It was used as a court room and contains carved oak panelling, dating from 1607. St. Thomas’s Hospital, situated in Moat Sole, was built in the 14th century and named in honour of St. Thomas Becket. The owners of The Salutation, Steph and Dom Parker, are regularly seen on Channel 4’s television series, Gogglebox. The Salutation was built as a weekend retreat, between 1911 and 1912. It was designed by the renowned architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, who was also the architect of the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.
St. Clement’s Church is the town’s parish church. The central tower and parts of the nave date from the 12th century. The Norman tower is one of the finest in England. St. Peter’s Church, which dominates the centre of the town, dates from the 13th century, but has many later alterations and additions. It was destroyed in 1216 by a French attack, but then rebuilt by monks from Normandy soon after. The central tower collapsed in 1661 and the south aisle was completely destroyed. It was repaired by Dutch refugees, who were allowed to use the church for services. The traditional curfew bell is still rung from the church every night at 8.00pm, the time that animals could be put onto the street and people should extinguish their fires. St. Mary’s Church was built on what was originally a small sandy island, west of the old Saxon town. It was severely damaged by French attacks in 1217 and 1457. An earthquake occurred in 1578, followed by the collapse of the tower in 1667. Only occasional services take place now and the church is used as the St. Mary’s Art Centre.
Thomas Paine, author of ‘The Rights of Man’, lived in a small house in New Street. He moved to Sandwich from Norfolk in 1759 and married Mary Lambert, a local orphan, who died a few months after their marriage. He played a prominent part in both the French and American Revolutions and was eventually outlawed by the British Government for his views on religion and the Monarchy. He settled in New Rochelle, New York State, where he died a U.S. citizen, in 1809.