New Hall today
The New Hall in Dymchurch dates back to the time when Dymchurch was once the headquarters for law and order on the Marsh; the name Dymchurch 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 St Peter and St Paul Church. It was originally a wooden structure with a thatched roof, 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.
In the new hall the Lords of the Level, jurats, and bailiffs met to discuss and rule the Marshland which was their domain. Their primary concern was the effective maintenance of the walls and drainage throughout the Marsh. The group still meets annually today although legislation has removed their former ruling powers.
The head magistrate was known as Leveller of the Marsh Scotts. It was here that the so-called scot tax was introduced, levied on residents to fund maintenance of the sea wall.
Court Room today
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.
William Pitt, the Prime Minister, visited the New Hall in 1804 to try and convince the landowners of the Marsh that they needed a canal to repel the threat of a French invasion. He got his way, and we now have the Royal Military Canal and the Martello Towers as well.
Court Room and Gaol
In the New Hall today, there is a perfect 18th century court room, which is now a museum displaying many interesting relics and antiques, and the old gaol. The last court was held in 1951. The gaol, built in 1797, is right next to the Court House It consisted of two rooms, one of which was known as The Gaol.
The Gaol today
The gaol was 15 ft by 10 ft and 8 ft high, with a boarded floor and table and shelf for provisions. There was no fire place and there was a sewer in one corner. The other room was named The Bridewell and was 11 ft by 10ft and 6ft 3ins high. Both of these rooms had an iron double-grated window, looking into a small court paved with flagstones. The rooms had double wooden doors, strongly clamped with iron. There was straw and blankets on the floors to sleep on.
The gaol was in use until 1866, when the New Romney constables were superceded by the County Police.
The Corporation of Romney Marsh, who now manage New Hall, are very happy to have visitors, especially groups, but the visit must be by prior appointment.
Please contact Allan Holliwell, Clerk to the Corporation 01303 872314, to make an appointment.
There is no charge for entry but if individuals or groups want to make a small contribution that is accepted gratefully.
John Stickels, who was gaoled for stealing from the
Ship Inn in 1828, etched his name on the gaol wall