Friday, 11 October 2013

Some notes on the historical origins of Ramsgate as a port.

Ramsgate is formed by a natural valley meeting the sea through the chalk cliffs, the oldest picture I know of that shows Ramsgate shoreline viewed from the sea is the 1790s print based on a drawing from the newly completed harbour.

This natural feature means that there would have been some sort of sandy cove at Ramsgate since prehistoric times and it is likely sea fishing has taken place here for millennia.

The sand that built up in the inlet would have restricted the erosion by the sea, so the shoreline in the harbour area has probably been in the same place since well before Roman times.

We know from archaeological digs that there was some sort of pier, where the slipways are now, at least as far back a roman times, as they found roman coins there as well as the remains of a roman pier there.

Up until the 1720s there is very little written down about The Isle of Thanet and as the sea has eroded the shoreline cliffs, there aren’t going to many archaeological remains to dig up on most of the coastline. Back in prehistoric times there were probably other valleys leading through the Thanet cliffs.

Around a thousand years ago, when Thanet was a proper island and Sandwich was an important port on the coast facing Thanet, King Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1066) made Sandwich a founder member of the Cinque Ports (the main English ports).

The main port on the south side of Thanet was Stonar, which the Abbot of St Augustine possessed by edict of Cnut (King Canute 995 – 1035) from 1027. Sandwich was in the hands of the Prior of Christ Church Canterbury under a similar edict from 1023.

There was an ongoing legal battle between the two ports, for the trade, which attracted taxes, and although a jury convened by Henry I 1127 decided the Sandwich should get the trade and the taxes, Stonar continued to prosper until it was burnt to the ground by the French in 1365.

At the same time Margate was described as a port in a letter from King Edward III in the 1340s telling the bailiff there to arrest the ship owners there.  

By 1422 when Ramsgate became a limb of the Cinque Port of Sandwich, the port of Sandwich itself was starting to silt up.


  1. Michael, are you sure Stonar was burnt to the ground by the French for I heard it was down to some bloke called Godden, though I suppose that could have been Pier Louis Godden. As for Edward III, I think the letter said he had a port in Margate on a day trip. Could be wrong, of course.

    Seriously, interesting article and no mention of TDC stuff ups back in those days. On the other hand, some bloke with a beer belly and a megaphone was seen shouting outside the priory calling for an end to animal exports.

    1. Alas Allan we have no insight until into the characters administering Kent until 1716 when Wake translated to the see of Canterbury as archbishop, local government at this time was administered by the clergy, enforced in the parishes by the churchwardens and overseen by the archbishop. Wake kept private notebook, which translates from the latin roughly:

      Patten of Whitstable keeps a mistress and does not pay his debts; Bourn of Ash is "allied to the sons of Eli”; Roberts of Queenborough, ale-house sot and debtor, "so impudent as nothing is like him"; Bate of Chilham, "proudest and stiffest man" in the diocese, allowing corpses to lie unburied for want of fees; Burroughs of Kingston, "most horribly covetous”; Ansell of Stowting and Cade of Sellindge, Jacobites and tavern-brawlers; Edward Dering of Charing who fought his own sister at the Swan Inn and threw her "head-cloths" into the fire; Hobbs of Dover, amasses pluralities; Isles of New Romney a notorious sot and Jacobite; Nicholls of Fordwich who preached that King George was a Foreigner, a Lutheran, and a Beggar-"a wicked, swearing. Lying, Drunken man".

    2. A few recognisable characters in that lot then, Michael. Interesting how history repeats itself though, from fear of having the unfortunate Ann Barnes swamped with complaints, I shall not endeavour to make the links between past and present persons. Clearly though, Wake, who kept the notebook, was the John Hamilton of his day.

    3. Not really sure about that William, I think John Hamilton is subjective to the point of being compulsive, I also feel Wake was a gentleman and sure sign of this is insults that lack error and confusion. Blundering along being rude to people regardless of whether those people have done or said something right or wrong, suggests someone who has aspirations towards a higher station in life, and resents their own origins. I don’t think Wake was subject to either of those issues.

  2. Perhaps, Michael, we should revert to the system whereby the church ran the local government. On average, the local clergy are better educated than the present administration and far less steeped in the history of politics whereby they still blame Thatcher for all our evils and herald the triumphs of Comrade Arthur. Also, one would hope, far less chance of fingers in the till or vested interest, other of course, than that of the Almighty.

    1. Anon for many years we had a chain of bookshops in Hertfordshire, the one in Stevenage having been purchased from the religious bookseller SPCK, so we continued to supply the diocese of St Albans with prayer books, hymnals, alter candles and to provide the bookstall for diocesan synods.

      Over the years we did this I ran several of these bookstalls, so I have first hand experience of the clergy making decisions. At this point in my comment I realise that words fail me…

      Historically at one time I believe we chose our kings based on which could pee highest up the mast of a longship, history fortunately doesn’t say how queens were chosen, but as alternative to democracy it may also have its advantages.

    2. Wake's predecessor and mentor as Archbishop of Canterbury saw the death of Queen Anne as a bit of a blessing. Time for him to bring in the Hanoverians. He had also helped finalize the union of England and Scotland. He had sorted out the kingdom much to his liking so seems to have left Wake nothing much to do but disapprove of the Kent local clergy (with emphasis on the local where they spent most of their time)

    3. Ah anon, I see from your spelling that you are an American so feel obliged to defend our English clerics.

      Wake didn’t criticise, or as you would say criticize his clergy, but he did keep a private notebook (Notitia Dioces Cantuar,) discovered after his death and now in Canterbury Cathedral Library. Not all of his descriptions were negative – he had a lot of clergy to manage and remember – he for instance, describes Lewis of Margate as; “vir probus, doctus, diligens; concionator bonus” there is also the problem of my translations, “a conscientious studious hardworking jolly good chap” perhaps?

      Personally I think Lewis may have been a bit formidable, his will states that his sermons are to be burnt, “so as not to encourage slothfulness in others”

    4. Evidently Allan Poole must be descended from Lewis if his lengthy sermons to the gathered councillors are anything to go by. Mind you, whereas Poole pontificates the Labour doctrine, Ian Driver's contribution is an exercise in dramatic delivery amounting to not very much substance. He would have made a good reformist, all fire and brimstone and to hell with the established order.

    5. Apologies anon my deliberate mistranslation of the latin was supposed to funny, it actually translates as “an honest man, who is intelligent, loving and a good preacher” I have had long day extrapolating information from mediaeval rolls relating to the isle of Thanet.

      This is to do with what latin sounds like and what it actually means, try for instance saying aloud:

      Caesar ad sum jam forti
      Brutus et erat
      Caesar sic in omnibus
      Brutus sic in at

    6. Perhaps 'Pontifisus Driver exspansitum exspouti maximus drivelus' is more appropriate to Thanet's forum.

    7. To quote an eminent local political leader "Nescis quia tu natus est"

  3. Michael, in English, "Z" is the classicist choice isn't it ? But if we continue this I feel sure we would shortly be called "Pedants".

    On the subject of "Brimstone" I think that was the original name of Guildford Lawn ? Then along came Plymouth Brethren (What became the Ramsgate small boat owners place) and didn't like their chapel address being Brimstone Square.

  4. And for you my friend "Nezciz quia tu natuz ezt"

    I think they meant zulphur

    1. Zulphur Zquare. Turn up in a reliable jamjar bearing a frezhly made homemade milkzhake ?

      Have you been in touch with John Williams ex Margate museum curator ? I believe he had (has) just about everything ever press published re Ramsgate HarbourI. Beachcomber can put you in touch.

    2. Thanks anon I don’t think there will be much of a problem after the early 1700s there is even a map from 1723, far more material than I could use, for what will be a book about Ramsgate fishing smacks, it is the period before that I am working on at the moment. The difficulty being that the fishing was going on before anyone wrote anything down and even when they did they weren’t much interested how it was done.

      No maps no pictures, just few legal documents and the letters from the monarchs.


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