History of the Lydden Valley »
HISTORY IN BRIEF »
Sea Level Changes
Around 427,000 - 364,000 years ago, in the Lower Palaeolithic, during a warm period, sea level reached a maximum of about 25m above its present level. There is a relict coastal cliff along seaward side of Deal-Sandwich road, formed about 140,000 years ago in the Middle Palaeolithic. Sea levels continued to fall as the polar caps expanded, to a maximum of up to 100m below their previous level. At this time the Lydden Valley was an area of dry land crossed by streams.
Around 10,000 years ago sea levels began to rise again. Although there were some fluctuations it continued to rise, particularly from 10,000 - 6,000 years ago, during the Mesolithic period. Archaeological excavation has discovered a buried prehistoric land surface which has produced Neolithic and Bronze Age finds. However by the late Bronze Age, about 1,300 BC the valley became inundated by the sea, eventually forming the Wantsum Channel. During the Roman period each end of the channel was guarded by a fort: Richborough (Rutupiae) and Reculver (Regulbium).
The rising sea levels also triggered the formation of sand and shingle spits. Three spits have been identified: Stonar, Sandown and Deal-Sandwich spit. Roman finds in the Sandhills, and occupation at Dickson's Corner demonstrate that the Deal-Sandwich spit was already well-developed by the Roman period. As the spit moved north the Lydden Valley filled with alluvium, peat and sand; this led to the development of mudflats and salt marshes.
The two Canterbury monasteries of Christ Church and St Augustine's, acquired lands bordering the Wantsum Channel and, after persistent efforts over a number of centuries, reclaimed the mudflats and salt marsh. The process became well-established by the 15th century, and some 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) between Sandwich and Deal had been drained by 1275. The land before they reclaimed it would have looked similar to Pegwell Bay does today. Sea walls were constructed and reclaimed areas were known as 'innings'. The 'walls' were usually earthen banks reinforced with turf, wattle and timber; the top of the embankment usually supported a droveway. Local labourers were employed at 4d per day.
The process of reclamation was repeated throughout the Wantsum Channel, so by the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509) the ferry at Sarre could be replaced by a bridge. However, the reclamation was not without setbacks; in 1236 violent storms, high tide surges and flooding, heralded extreme weather conditions which lasted for 60 years.
From the beginning of the 13th century Sandwich was supplied with water from a man-made channel called the Delf. It was probably originally constructed to supply St Bartholomew's Hospital on the outskirts of Sandwich, and its maintenance was the responsibility of the town. The area called Brooklands, near Finglesham and Ham, was not drained so the fenland would act as a reservoir to supply water for the Delf (also known as the South Stream). The Delf, which ran from Roaring Gutter, operated successfully until 1820 when Brooklands was drained. This greatly restricted the water flow and, in 1825, led to the introduction of an innovative water management scheme devised by Henry Foord, which used inverted siphons to keep the South Stream at a sufficient gradient to flow into Sandwich. The Delf continued to supply Sandwich with water until 1899.
Sandwich was a very important port between 1100 and 1300, but by the 15th century the sand and shingle spit had extended beyond Sandwich causing the river Stour to silt up. From 1479 onwards there were at least eight plans to reduce the silting or create new harbours by making a cut through the Lydden Valley to the sea.
- Diverting the Guestling 1479
- The Rogers Cut 1551
- The Jacobson Proposal 1559
- The Andrison Proposal 1572
- The Jager Proposal 1624
- The Labelye Proposal 1735
- The Rennie Proposal 1812
- The Telford Proposal 1825
The 1479 cut was completed but does not seem to have had any lasting beneficial effects. The 1551 scheme by John Rogers was started with a trial cut down to Sandwich Bay, but it was never completed. The line of the trial cut is shown on Ordnance Survey maps as the 'Old Haven', running from the North Stream near St George's Golf Club in a straight line to the Sandwich Bay Estate. Indeed, the 4th hole at St George's was named Old Haven commemorating the ancient channel.
In the medieval period the Lydden Valley was mostly farmed by three ecclesiastical manors: Lydd Court and Eastry manors belonging to Christ Church Priory in Canterbury, and Northbourne manor belonging to St Augustine's Priory, also in Canterbury. Although the main source of income would have been farming, the manors also had a right to wrecks along the coast. Pasturing sheep was important to Lydd Court and the peak period for wool production occurred in the years 1319-21. The severe flooding by the sea in the years 1324-26 caused the death of 4,585 sheep belonging to the Christ Church manors. Apart from cattle rearing, dairy produce, both from cows and sheep, included a Lydd Court cheese supplied to the Christ Church monastery. From around 1350 the produce going directly to the monasteries declined, partly due to more land being granted as tenancies or leased for grazing rights. Lydd Court also derived income from a watermill at Abbotspinnock located adjacent to the Downs Road where the North Stream would have entered Sandwich Haven. The Lydden Valley also produced rushes cut from the ditches, and the coastal area had salt pans manufacturing salt; the Domesday Book of 1086 records three salt pans belonging to Eastry manor. The beach and dunes also provided sand and shingle.
Post-Medieval and Modern Farming
After the dissolution of the monasteries Lydd Court was granted to the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury. However, three years later they were recovered by Henry VIII and sold. The majority of land was occupied by tenant farmers who were mainly using the Lydden Valley for pasture and livestock farming. The 19th century saw the introduction of market gardening, particularly on the lighter soils. During and after WWII there was a conversion to arable farming, particularly after the floods of 1953 which killed most of the grass. The Betteshanger Colliery, which started production in 1927, led to the loss of a large area of agricultural land which was buried under the waste tip (Now Fowlmead Country Park).