Dymchurch is rich in history going back over two thousand years. It began with the gradual build-up of the Romney Marsh. Thousands of years ago when the Romney Marsh was just sea, banks of shingle started to build up where the sea defence wall in Dymchurch is now. Marshy areas formed behind these shingle banks and our predessors started to reclaim the land for occupation and cultivation. The sea was kept at bay by building sea defences, first with thicket fences, then bricks and finally concrete; the Dymchurch Wall was born.
Dymchurch became the headquarters for law and order on the Marsh and its name derives from Deme, mediaeval English for judge or arbiter. It was here where the governors of the Marsh resided (known as The Lord of the Level), and where swift justice was administered to anyone endangering the wellbeing of the Marsh. The governors met in a court room called the New Hall, located in what is now New Hall Close opposite the church. It was originally a wooden structure, but was rebuilt in 1575 after the earlier wooden structure was destroyed in a storm. It was used as a court room for the Romney Marsh area.
The head magistrate was known as Leveller of the Marsh Scotts. It was here that the so-called 'Scott-tax' was introduced, levied on residents to fund maintenance of the sea wall. Those directly outside the boundaries and thus not eligible for the tax were said to have got away "Scott Free". Residents with land were required to grow thorn bushes for building of the wall, as thorn twigs were believed impervious to sea water. Failure resulted in an ear being cut off.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, smuggling was rife all along the south east coast of England. Due to its remote location Romney Marsh and the surrounding areas were amongst the busiest locations for illicit trade. Inspiration from this gave rise to Dymchurch being the setting of the " Doctor Syn" novels, based on smuggling, by Russell Thorndike.
Gallows at Dymchurch c1835
The Dymchurch Heritage Trail is a walk around the village of Dymchurch discovering the history of its buildings and the people who onced lived there.
To follow the trail, you can either:
- pick up a copy of the Heritage Trail Leaflet, which is available in many outlets in Dymchurch and elsewhere on the Marsh, or
- print off a copy of the leaflet, or
- use your mobile/small tablet by going to this mobile friendly link
You can read about the historic buildings and people on the trail on our Dymchurch Heritage Trail page.