History of Sandwich


The town's name is famous worldwide thanks to an event in 1762. The Earl of Sandwich was too engrossed in a card game to stop and eat. He therefore ordered his steak to be brought to him between two slices of bread, so creating the snack known as a sandwich.


Important visitors


When you come to Sandwich, you won't be the first VIP visitors to the area! The first four Roman legions used nearby Richborough as a gateway and assembly point for their invasion in AD 43. Viking leaders Hengist and Horsa landed at Pegwell Bay in AD 449. St Augustine, who brought Christianity to Britain, also landed in Pegwell Bay in AD 597. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are among the monarchs who have stayed in the town when visiting the port.


Medieval golden era


The town is packed with medieval buildings. Strand Street has a higher concentration of half-timbered houses than almost anywhere in the country.


The present day population is some 6,000. It's difficult to imagine now but Sandwich was a principal English port in the Middle Ages. Its golden era was from the 11th to 13th centuries. A big factor was its strategic position just 20 miles or so from the continent and the wool trade with Flanders. Sandwich was located to the south of the Wantsum channel, then two miles wide, which separated the Isle of Thanet from mainland Kent. The sheltered waterway also offered a short cut to the Thames estuary without having to sail around the island. 


Cinque Port


Underlining its importance, the town became a founder member of the Cinque Ports Federation circa 1050. Fellow members were Dover,  Hythe, New Romney and Hastings. The five became seven with the addition of Rye and Winchelsea.


The ports were granted royal privileges, including freedoms from duties plus salvage rights, in exchange for loaning ships and sailors for military action. The full list of rights was: "exemption from Tax and Tallage, Sac and Soc, Toll and Team, Blodwit, Fledwit, Pillory and Tumbrill, Infrangentheof, Outrangentheof, Mundbryce, Waifs and Strays, right to Flotsam, Jetsam or Legan, Privilege of Assembly as a guild, Rights of Den and Strond, and Honours at Court". So there you have it.


This military role was vital in a period when England was at war with France for much of the time. There was no professional navy in those days and so the duties were both defensive and offensive. To share their burden, the seven "head ports" recruited "limb ports" and affiliates. Ramsgate and Deal became limbs of Sandwich. Its affiliate ports of Fordwich and Brightlingsea pay token duties to this day at an annual ceremony. Sarre also attends but continues to plead poverty!


The Battle of Sandwich, 1217


This battle celebrates its 800th anniversary this year. The English fleet sailed out of Sandwich to attack a French armada. Our boys captured the French flagship and a number of supply ships, resulting in a  French retreat to Calais. The result  was to fend off Prince Louis' plan to conquer England.  


French Attack, 1457


Sandwich was attacked by 4,000 Frenchmen, mainly from Honfluer in Normandy. The town's mayor was killed and, ever since, each Mayor of Sandwich has worn black robes to commerate the incident. After a backs-to-wall all-day battle, help arrived from other Cinque Ports and the French withdrew.


In these more peaceful days (Brexit apart), Sandwich is twinned with Honfleur. 


Time and Tides


Time and tides changed the landscape completely -  and with them Sandwich's fortunes. Shingle movement and land reclamation caused the channel to silt up, leaving just drainage ditches at the north end, and the River Stour to the south. As a result, Thanet was no longer an island and one William Lambarde reported that Sandwich "came to ruine by the alterations and vicissitudes of the Sea, which peradventure chocked the haven thereof of light sand".


It was not the only federation member to be affected by the sea's retreat. However, the formation of a permanent Royal Navy in 1496 put the seal on the Cinque Ports' decline. Nowadays only Dover remains an important sea port.


The sea is now two miles away, at the mouth of the River Stour but the Quay remains a focal point. It was renovated recently as part of a huge flood defence scheme.


The infamous Goodwin Sands lie just off the coast, stretching for some 10 miles. They have accounted for over 1,000 known ship wrecks and maybe another thousand or two more undocumented. Stranded ships break their backs on the falling tide and are quickly swallowed up by the treacherous shifting sands.   




The Middle ages also saw an influx of Flemish and Dutch settlers, some of whom were fleeing from religious persecution.  Many were weavers, traders and farmers.


Their influence can be clearly seen on local  architecture, with a number of Dutch gable-ended houses to be found in the area. The Old Dutch House on King Street is a prime example. The Sandwich Weavers is an imposing house on Strand Street. Our friends also made a mark on the landscape, with a series of drainage ditches criss-crossing low-lying farmland behind the coast.


Richborough Fort
Viking Ship replica at Pegwell Bay
Church Street St Mary's
Barbican Bridge
A visiting ship
Windows in Guildhall
Roaring Gutter Dike
Old Dutch House, King St
Barbican and Toll Bridge
Salutation House
The Bulwark

Exploring the Town


A perfect way to explore history is to take the Town Trail on foot. Much of it follows the route of the former town walls. On the trail you will see:


The Guildhall, now home to a small museum, tourist office and Sandwich Town Council. The Mayor wears ceremonial black robes to commemorate the killing og a previous mayor in more violent times.


The Butts where Henry V's archers reputedly practised before the victorious Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Folklore has it that the famous two-fingered V-sign was born in that battle. 


Gallows Field, where villains were hanged or buried alive and witches drowned. No recent cases are on record! 


Strand Street with its impressive collection of half-timbered houses; also the Kings Lodging House where Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were said to have stayed, and Manwood Court, formerly a 16th century free grammar school. 


The Churches of St Mary, St Peter' and St Clement. The curfew bell is still rung daily at 8 p.m. from St Peter's to call in the townsfolk and their livestock.


Barbican Gate and Toll Bridge. Two of the most photographed local landmarks, standing just next to the Quay.


Sandwich Quay. Once the bustling centre of ship movements into and out of Sandwich Haven. Boat trips may be taken, either upstream to Richborough Fort or down river to spot seals in Sandwich Bay.


Salutation House with its Lutyens & Jekyll gardens, which are a popular tourist attraction. 


Earth ramparts at The Bulwark and Mill Wall, formerly part of the old town walls.


Rope Walk - a long straight stretch of path along the town wall site, where maritime ropes could be rolled out.


St Bartholomew's and St Thomas's Hospitals. Built variously to provide shelter for pilgrims and other travellers and as permanent accommodation for the poor.



Rope Walk
Strand Street
Kings Lodging House
St Thomas's Hospital