The coastline of the Lydden Valley and Sandwich Bay extends from Sandown Castle, on the northern outskirts of Deal, up to Pegwell Bay, a distance of about 11 kilometres (7 miles). The sea off the Lydden Valley is part of the Downs, which extends from the North Foreland at Ramsgate to the South Foreland at Hope Bay, near St Margaret's Bay. The Downs encompasses an area 19 km (12 miles) long and about 5 km (3 miles) wide, bound on the east by the treacherous Goodwin Sands - known as the 'ship-swallower'. Before the advent of steam power the Downs provided a safe anchorage for shipping, as it was sheltered by the Goodwin Sands. In the mid-1800's it was not unusual to see 800 sailing ships at anchor in the Downs. William Clark Russell's in his book, Betwixt the Forelands (1889) states:
No space of water of equal extent around the coast that I have knowledge of is bounded by a seaboard charged with such historic memories.
The earliest Viking attacks on England occurred in 789-794. 'Vikings' is a general term for the invaders from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, although the raiders on southern England were predominately Danes. Kent suffered its first serious attack when the Isle of Sheppey was attacked in 835. Later raids pillaged monastic sites, including Minster Abbey, situated across the Wantsum Channel on the Isle of Thanet. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records in 851:
'The Heathen men, for the first time took up their quarters over winter in Thanet and in the same year came 350 ships to the mouth of the Thames, and took Canterbury and London by storm. . . King Athelstan and ealderman Ealhere fought in ships and slew a great army at Sandwich in Kent and captured nine ships and put others to flight.'
The site of the battle has been attributed to a place called 'Bloody Point,' north of Sandwich adjacent to the river Stour, now in the Lydden Valley on dry land. A house of the same name once stood on the site, although it was destroyed by the Canadian Army during WWII.
Further raids on Thanet occurred in 865, 980; and in 1006 Swein's Danish army landed at Sandwich and marched across to the Isle of Wight. In 1009 two Danish fleets sailed into Sandwich Haven. Thanet was plundered again, including Minster Abbey. The previous year a campaign of shipbuilding had created the greatest English fleet ever seen which was assembled at Sandwich, but there was no engagement. Later in the campaign the Danes sacked Canterbury (1011) and Archbishop Alphege was taken hostage; he was eventually murdered in 1012.
Note: For more about the Viking incursions into Kent see An Historical Atlas of Kent by Terence Lawson and David Killingray, (2004, Chichester, Phillimore) p32.
The Goodwin Sands and the Downs have been the scene of many shipwrecks; 680 have been recorded, which equates to about 32 per mile of coastline.
The true loss must have been much greater as many vessels sank unseen and few shipwrecks are recorded prior to 1700 - virtually none in the medieval period. Consequently the true total is nearer a thousand. In a letter to the Henry VIII in 1533 it was said the bodies of shipwrecked sailors 'have been found on the sea-sand their garments and their purses have been taken from them, and their bodies left unburied, and eaten by hogs and dogs'.
Some years produced particularly bad storms, such as 'The Great Storm' of November 1703. A notable event for the Lydden Valley was the storm in February 1743 when seven ships were driven ashore.
As a result of the shipwrecks many bodies were washed ashore and in earlier times they were buried in Strangers' Nook in Deal. If they could be identified they were often collected by relatives or buried in Deal cemetery. From 1806 the Sholden parish register lists unknown bodies washed ashore in the parish north of Sandown Castle; these were buried in the churchyard. For example 16 September 1809 buried 'a soldier of the 52nd Regiment, washed ashore, name unknown'. On 7 March 1844 'possibly John Agnes Blyth washed ashore (name on knife) aged c.17/18'. On 3 June 1871 the Deal, Walmer and Sandwich Mercury reports:
On Monday last a body was found floating in the sea near No. 1 Battery, and on its being brought on shore it was first thought that it was one of the unfortunate crew of the galley-punt Hope, but a closer investigation led to the belief that the deceased was a smackman. The body was subsequently interred at the parish churchyard, Sholden.
The winter of 1871 was particularly stormy. On 16 January the lugger Reform was launched into a gale in response to distress signal, but the launch went disastrously wrong, and the Reform smashed into Deal pier with the loss of eight of the crew of eleven. The three survivors were swept up the coast clinging to some of the wreckage. A boat managed to get to sea and they were eventually saved and brought ashore north of Sandown Castle near No. 1 Battery. Mr Cattermole of the Castle Inn rushed up the beach to meet them as they came ashore bringing a 'liberal supply of brandy' with him. The three rescued men were then taken to the Chequers Inn, situated in the Sandhills. Six of the bodies were taken to No. 2 Battery, and they were returned to their houses the following day.
An unknown man buried on 14 March 1876 was probably a sailor on the Strathclyde, bound for Bombay with 95 passengers, which sank after being struck by the Franconia.
At the village of Worth the cellar of St Crispin's Inn was used as a mortuary for the bodies washed up in Sandwich Bay. Legend has the Inn is haunted by a ghost of a girl called Georgina who was washed ashore one stormy night. 
In 1602 the Lord Warden as Admiral of the Cinque Ports claimed 'he enjoyed all wreck of the sea, and in his absence, this went to the king'. Although in principal the Crown was entitled to a share, and it made no consideration as to any entitlement of the lords of manors. In 1613 William Ward, sergeant of the Admiralty for the Cinque Ports, the Droit Gatherer General and the Clerk of Dover Castle were all jointly charged with 'embezzling the profits of wrecks at sea and usurping, a gross betrayl of their authority'.
On 1 January 1616 three Dutch ships foundered on the Goodwin Sands and a dispute over the wrecks arose between the Lord High Admiral of England in the Narrow Seas and the Lord Warden, Lord Zouch. The mayor of Dover claimed 'the Downs, Goodwin Sands, and other places on that coast are within the Lord Warden's Admiralty jurisdiction; that the Vice-Admiral of that county has always received all manner of wrecks of the sea and other casualties happening in the King's Channel'. It was generally accepted that the Lord Warden had the right to all wrecks between Beachy Head in Sussex to the Shoe Beacon in Essex. It was also stated that the mayors of the ports had the power to punish offenders concerning ships if the ship could be reached on horseback at low water.
Generally wrecks were regarded as fair game by all, although the authority of the Lord Warden gave him an advantage. The Ann Lyon was wrecked on 28 November 1623 about midway between Sandown Castle and Shellness. Thomas Fulnetby, sergeant of the Admiralty of the Cinque Port, took possession of £9,000 in coin salvaged from the wreck, which he placed in Deal Castle for safe keeping. The remainder was looted by the inhabitants of Deal and Sandwich. The Lord Warden, Lord Zouch received £1,000 for merely returning a quantity of Brazil wood (mahogany) to the owners and further £2,000 for sugar, cinnamon and other goods. This was obviously a lucrative source of income for the Lord Warden, so much so that Lord Zouch negotiated to sell the appointment to George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham for £1,000 in hand, and £500 a year for life.
After signing Magna Carta in 1215 to accommodate the baronial opposition to his rule, the last years of King John's reign developed into civil war. But the majority of the barons supported the claims of Louis of France to the English crown. By the time John died on 19 October 1216, large parts of the country, including London, were in the hands of Louis, and there were severe doubts as to whether John's nine-year-old son, Henry III, would ever succeed in making good his claim. Louis's wife Blanche of Castille took on the task of raising a fleet to sail and support Louis. She was helped by Eustace the Monk.
Eustace the Monk had a colourful career and had set aside his monastic habit and he served the Count Renant of Boulogne, although this ended in enmity and in 1205 he joined King John. He captured the Channel Islands but after 1212 he served the Dauphin and supported the English barons. On 29 May 1217 an invasion fleet approached Dover, but eight ships were captured.
More ships were assembled at Calais and on 24 August 1217 ten large ships carried between them a total of between a 100 and 125 knights, they were supported by some seventy smaller ships carrying the supplies. They intended to cross the Channel and sail up the Thames to London, to meet with Louis of France.
The Battle of Sandwich was fought on the 24 August 1217 between an English fleet under the command of Hubert de Burgh and a French Fleet led by Robert de Courtenai (uncle to the French queen). Hubert de Burgh probably had 16 ships and 20 smaller boats, some supplied by the Cinque Ports and armed with iron prows for ramming the enemy. The French underestimated the small English force and aimed to capture the ships. Hubert de Burgh's ships attacked and hurled stones and 'great pots' of lime onto Eustace's ship, so the crew was blinded by the dust. Eustace was captured and promptly beheaded. Hubert's forces pressed home the attack and nearly all the French vessels were taken or destroyed - 32 knights were captured and taken to Sandwich. Defeat at the battle of Sandwich meant the end of the attempt of Louis of France to seize the English crown.
Two of the unidentified wrecks along the Lydden Valley coastline were likely to have been two of at least 25 ships lost in a sea battle which took place in the Downs on 21 October 1639, between the Dutch, commanded by Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp (1598-1653) and the Spanish, commanded by Admiral Antonio Oquendo. The Spanish fleet consisted of 45 men-of-war and 30 merchant vessels. It was transporting 13,000 Spanish soldiers to Flanders. Tromp had already attacked the Spanish off Beachy Head and Dover and the Spanish had withdrawn to the Downs, joined by an English squadron commanded by Sir John Pennington and a squadron of Spanish privateers commanded by Michiel Dorne. Despite the attempts at protection by Pennington and Dorne, the Spanish fleet was defeated at the Battle of the Downs. Only the squadron commanded by Dorne managed to escape. Tromp lost 100 men - the Spanish forces lost over 7,000.
The battle was so close to the shore that in Deal a stray shot entered a stable and struck off a horse's head, while on the Strand a minister who rode along to see the sea-fight had his horse killed from under him.
Francis (Frank) Austen (1774-1865), brother of the novelist Jane Austen, was stationed at Ramsgate during the Napoleonic Wars. The war with France was renewed in May 1803, and in July he was employed to raise a body of Sea Fencibles (a naval militia), from among the fishermen, to protect the coastline in the event of an invasion. Captain Austen was responsible for the North Foreland Fencibles allotted the district between the North Foreland and Sandown Castle.
Captain, later Admiral, Sir Home Popham proposed the idea for the Sea Fencibles in 1793. The Admiralty was to supply row galleys of 36 to 40 oars, to be armed with an 18-pounder or a 42-pound carronade - a naval gun with a short barrel and large bore. The men were armed with half-pikes and every man was allowed a shilling per day while on exercise. Popham was in command of the coast between Beachy Head and Deal, where he identified particular weak points, although he was not too concerned about the coastline between Deal and Ramsgate because he says:
'the fleet in the Downs [along] with the Goodwin Sands are such securities to the coast between the two Forelands that little is to be apprehended in that space'.
Captain Austen was aged 32 in 1806, when he married a local Ramsgate girl, Mary Gibson. The previous year he was captain of HMS Canopus, an 80-gun French ship captured by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile. He served with Nelson in his pursuit of Villeneuve which ended in the Battle of Trafalgar. He just missed taking part in the battle because Canopus had been sent to Gibraltar for water and stores, even though Nelson assured them they would get back in time for the battle. However in February 1806 he chased the French across the Atlantic, and contributed to their defeat at the Battle of St Domingo. He went on to become Admiral Sir Francis Austen and died in 1865 aged 91. Francis was very close to his sister and he kept Jane Austen's letters over a period of 50 years, but tragically, on his death his daughter burned them all.