Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Let there be lighthouse at Minster in Thanet?

With the publication of our new book about Thanet seamarks – a review post for this soon, I am reading it at the moment – my memory was jogged about the possible existence of Minster Lighthouse.

This is very 1066 and all that type of thingy, Britain was a Saxon country invaded by the Normans back then, the Norman king produced the Doomsday Book to regulate taxation and this is the first written record of most places in England.

There is a convent, nunnery, wosisname at Minister in Thanet, with some very old buildings, the history of this is long and a bit complicated and it starts not long after St Augustine landed here in 597 AD bringing Christianity to the UK.

Back in around 650 AD the royal family had a bit more of a hands on approach to the ruling business and some of the children of the King of Mercia (Near Wales) got murdered as a result of political intrigue at the court of King Egbert the king of Kent. The surviving children came to claim blood money from the king, however one of them Ermenburga asked the king for land to build a nunnery instead. Being England’s first Christian king Egbert agreed with this and said she could have as much of The Isle of Thanet as her tame dear could run around in a day. Thanet was still a proper island back then and I think she wound up owning about half of it.

Anyway she got some nuns together including her children and set up her convent at Minster. This got raided by the Vikings in throughout the last half of the 700s and eventually closed after the Vikings killed about 70 nuns.

Later in 1027 King Canute gave the site to the monks at St Augustine’s in Canterbury and the monks built a grange (agricultural administrative centre) there, as a base to run the land (10,000 acres) from.    

After the Norman Conquest 1066 the Normans were concerned that the island Thanet could provide a base for an enemy to attack the country from and so they used a scorched earth policy here and everything was laid waste for a while. Dom Goscelin writing in 1097 writes that the chapel of SS Peter and Paul was left neglected and desolate’ roofless and the floor covered in mud.

Back at this time Minster was on the coast of The Isle of Thanet facing the Wantsum Channel which would have been over a mile wide then.

Once the threat of invasion declined, probably around 1100 the monks came back, rebuilt and carried on until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538.

Eventually in 1937 the remaining site 10 acres was bought as a refuge for a community of Bavarian nuns, threatened with expulsion by the Nazi regime.

A couple of years ago I went to the convent to sketch it, I am a fairly slow thinker and find that sketching the subject of interest helps me to clarify the situation, particularly where history is involved.

When you consider that much of my interest here concerns local events of over 1000 years ago here is a bit from our reprint of Lewis’s history of Thanet, it’s worth considering that Lewis was writing less than 300 years ago. 

The photos of the pages should expand enough to read if you click on them a bit.

So, To the Lighthouse – while I was there sketching I was told by one of the nuns that the bit on the right of the picture is the oldest inhabited building in England and the bit on the left the remains of a lighthouse.

This photo is probably easier to follow than my sketch.

So yesterday I put Minster Abbey Lighthouse, into Google and got to this page which says:- 1027 Site granted by King Canute to St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury Construction of West (Saxon) Wing, Church and Lighthouse (west tower).

Easier to explain with splodges on the photo the bit on the left is the remains of a tower the arch circled in red looks Norman to me, the bit on the right the bits circled in blue look as though they could be Saxon windows. The mullioned ones look much later.

I can’t find any sources for the notion that the tower could have been anything more than the tower of the church attached to the grange and later demolished.

So does anyone know where the source of it having been a lighthouse is? 

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