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New Survey To Reveal 'Britain's Atlantis'- HISTORY

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Author Topic: New Survey To Reveal 'Britain's Atlantis'- HISTORY  (Read 445 times)
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« on: May 12, 2009, 10:19:12 pm »

At its height Dunwich was one of the largest ports in Eastern England, with a population of around 3,000, eight churches, five houses of religious orders, three chapels and two hospitals. The main exports were wool and grain and the main imports were fish, furs and timber from Iceland and the Baltic region, cloth from the Netherlands and wine from France.

Dunwich is first referred to in the 7th century when St Felix of Burgundy founded the See of East Anglia at Dommoc in 632. Years later antiquarians would describe it as being the 'former capital of East Anglia',[2] although this reference is almost certainly a romantic creation as no documents survive from the town's heyday which refer to Dunwich as such. The Domesday Book of 1086 describes it as possessing three churches. The historian and diver Stuart Bacon, who has made several visits to the seabed in a bid to find the remains of the old town, has found evidence that it may have possessed up to 18 churches and chapels at the height of its fortune during the 12th and 13th centuries.

In 1286 a large storm swept much of the town into the sea and the River Dunwich was partly silted up. Residents fought to save the harbour but this too was destroyed by an equally fierce storm in 1328, which also swept away the entire village of Newton, a few miles up the coast. Another large storm in 1347 swept some 400 houses into the sea. A quarter of the city had been lost and the remainder of Dunwich was lost to the sea over a period of two to three hundred years through a form of coastal erosion known as long-shore drift. Buildings that sit on the present day cliffs were once a mile inland. In 1754 the antiquarian Thomas Gardner published a highly influential history of Dunwich (and two other towns, Blythburgh and Southwold) with images of some of the lost churches, but some of his claims have been disputed by later historians.

Most of the original buildings have disappeared, including all eight churches and Dunwich is now a small coastal "village", though retaining its status as a town. However, the remains of a Franciscan priory (Greyfriars) and a building constructed as a hospice for lepers can still be seen. A popular local legend says that, at certain tides, church bells can still be heard from beneath the waves.

By the mid-19th century, the population had dwindled to 237 inhabitants and Dunwich was described as a "decayed and disfranchised borough".  A new church, St James, was built in 1832, after the last of the old churches, All Saints, which had been without a rector since 1755, was abandoned. It fell into the sea between 1904 and 1919, with the last major portion of the tower succumbing on 12 November 1919. In 1971 the historian Stuart Bacon located the remains of All Saints' Church a few yards out to sea during a diving exhibition. Two years later in 1973 he also discovered the ruins of St Peter's Church which was lost to the sea during the 18th century. Most recently, he has located what may be the remains of shipbuilding industry on the site.

As a legacy of its previous significance it retained the right to send two members to Parliament until the Reform Act 1832, making it an example of a rotten borough.
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