“The World, according to the best geographers, is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Romney Marsh.”

Storm of 1287

Great Storm of 1287
The Great Storm of 1287  (Ack. 40

In the 13th century a series of storms occured which had significant effects on the development of Romney Marsh. Storms occured in 1236, 1250, 1252, 1271, 1287 and 1288 with the disastrous storm in 1287 having the greatest impact.

The River Rother, flowing out to sea at New Romney, had been silting up for many years and this, together with the increase in the size of ships needing deeper water, meant that the storms only added to and already worsening situation for the port at New Romney.

Storm of 1287

In 1287, a storm hit the southern coast of England with such ferocity that whole areas of coastline were redrawn - towns that had stood by the sea now found themselves landlocked, while others found themselves in possession of a new harbour.

Along the coast from Romney Marsh, the port of Winchelsea was completely destroyed. It was later rebuilt several miles inland, where it became the first example of town planning in England being built on a grid system familiar to our American friends. Despite its new position Winchelsea still retained its place as a Cinque Port.

The most dramatic change wrought by the great storm was to the towns of Rye and New Romney. Before the storm New Romney was a thriving harbour town with the River Rother flowing into the English Channel at this point. The storm silted up the harbour completely and diverted the river away from the town. More or less overnight New Romney became landlocked,
a mile from the coast. So much silt was deposited by the flood that the land level in the town rose by 5 inches.

 

Gradual Build up of Romney Marsh
Gradual Build up of Romney Marsh

If you visit the parish church, which is the only building in the town pre-dating the flood, you will find that the floor of the church is several inches below street level. The pillars in the church provide further evidence of the flood - the level the water reached can still be seen on them.

The River Rother, that had previously entered the sea at New Romney, changed course and now entered the sea at Rye, creating a brand new harbour. These same storms, however, helped to build up more shingle: such beaches now ran along practically the whole seaward side of the marshland.

By the 14th century, much of the Walland and Denge Marshes had been reclaimed by innings, the process of throwing up an embankment around the sea-marsh and using the low-tide to let it run dry by means of one-way drains set into the new seawall, running off into a network of drainage ditches. The drainage dykes and ditches, known locally as sewers, drain the water from the farm land and allow it to flow either to the sea via outfalls or is pumped in to the Royal Military Canal, eventually also ending up in the sea.

Artist's impression of the Great Storm in 1287
The Great Storm at New Romney 1287
Artist's impression on the cover of the New Romney Town Trail leaflet