Sunday, 23 March 2008

Thanet and the Wantsum

With all the recent talk of allowing the sea defences to fail that stop Thanet from becoming an island again, I thought some historical background would be helpful to some of you.

When the last ice age ended about 10,000 B.C. the glacial melt down caused by the global warming resulted in sea levels to rising by about 100 meters, separating the UK from Europe. By about 3,000 B.C. the level had filled in the ancient waterway known as the Wantsum.

The geological information suggests that in Roman times the Wantsum a considerable waterway about two miles wide and 30 feet deep. Until it silted up it was the main sea route between the Thames and the North Sea, and the English Channel. Going round the North Foreland has always represented a nautical challenge. It is our local mini Cape of Good Hope or going round the Horn.

If you consider the seas rising leaving Thanet an island, because it is higher and the surrounding land is lower, what you have to start with can be thought of as the typical children’s concept of an island, a chalk hill with a flattish top poking out of the water.

The north, east and south coasts being subject to the full force of wave action were eroded away, the result being our chalk cliffs. The west and southwest coast of Thanet faced the UK mainland and were subject to the gentle silting up of the Wantsum channel. This silting up was a very slow process and without large scale land reclamation Thanet would probably still be an island today.

From about 1,000 AD the two great monasteries of Minster and Canterbury owned most of the land around the Wanstsum and from about this time the monks started building dykes and reclaiming land.


  1. Michael, any notion of what year the Wantsum channel would have no longer been a sailable passage? Frank

  2. Frank I am pretty sure that it was around 1200, although Ranulf Higden writing in around 1300 suggests that at one time it stretched all the way to Canterbury and on to Ashford, your best bet is to come into the bookshop and read the first few pages of John Lewis's history of Thanet [revised edition of 1736] where he makes reference to the earlier writers. This writing is often confused with Lewis writing down the situation in 1736 and has caused considerable confusion. Chaucer also mentions it in his history, late 1300s and what he says is I think a translation from the polychronicon early 1300s.


Comments, since I started writing this blog in 2007 the way the internet works has changed a lot, comments and dialogue here were once viable in an open and anonymous sense. Now if you comment here I will only allow the comment if it seems to make sense and be related to what the post is about. I link the majority of my posts to the main local Facebook groups and to my Facebook account, “Michael Child” I guess the main Ramsgate Facebook group is We Love Ramsgate. For the most part the comments and dialogue related to the posts here goes on there. As for the rest of it, well this blog handles images better than Facebook, which is why I don’t post directly to my Facebook account, although if I take a lot of photos I am so lazy that I paste them directly from my camera card to my bookshop website and put a link on this blog.