Sandwich – Kent

A Background on Sandwich – Kent:
The location of our earliest known Ancestor

Sandwich - Kent

Sandwich Kent:                A Medieval Cinqueport

Sandwich is now about two miles from the sea, but the River Stour used to be large enough for big trading and war ships to sail to and from the quay. This large Harbour was called Sandwich Haven.

It was also large enough for invading ships, and the town was invaded many times in the past. For example, in 1457, the town was attacked by 4,000 Frenchmen (mainly from Honfleur) under Marshal Pierre de Breze or as English accounts call him, Peter Brassey. The Mayor of Sandwich, John Drury, was killed along with many citizens. In memory of this event, the Mayor of Sandwich still wears a black robe.

All is forgiven today however, and the town of Honfleur is now a twin town of Sandwich.

Sandwich was and still is a principle Cinque port. Originally, the Cinque Ports were a confederation of five harbours, Sandwich, Romney, Dover, Hythe, and Hastings plus the two Ancient Towns of Rye & Winchelsea.

They supplied the Crown with ships and men for over 300 years. In return they received freedom from tolls and customs duties, freedom to trade and to hold their own judicial courts plus many other privileges.


Today, these towns are still known as the Cinque Ports, but the coastline has changed considerably over the centuries and only Dover retains its major port status. Sandwich still retains the tradition of collecting ‘Ship Money’ from its associate towns, the ceremony is held in the ancient Courtroom in the Guildhall every year.

These were grouped together, for defense purposes, by Edward the Confessor. They supplied the Crown with ships and men.

In early times, the fishing fleets, maintained by the South Eastern coastal towns were frequently pressed into service to convey people, and armies, to and from the Continent, as well as to fight battles at sea. They formed the first Navy, and, in return for the use of their vessels, the ports received many privileges from the Crown.

Gradually the ports grouped together for mutual support and a confederation of the five main ones, Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, Romney, and Hastings, was formed and became known as the Cinque Ports. This grouping probably began before the Norman Conquest. The Domesday Book records the obligation of the ports to supply ships and men to the King once a year. This ship service continued for over three hundred years until larger ships were needed by the Navy.



The Charter & Privileges of the Cinque Ports

The privileges obtained by the Cinque Ports were set down in a series of Royal Charters—the last one granted by Charles II in 1668, can be seen in the Guildhall, Sandwich.


These privileges included freedom from tolls and customs duties, freedom to trade and to hold their own judicial courts. The Cinque Ports were also entitled to send Barons, to carry the Canopy over the Sovereign at his or her coronation. A section of the canopy, in cloth of gold, used at the coronation of George 111 may be seen in Guildhall.

Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, Sandwich reached the top of its importance as the main port in England.

But, the Great Storm of 1287 was the beginning of the end for many of the ports, it silted up harbours, blocked rivers, and submerged towns. Despite this, the Cinque Ports still retained their status and privileges.

Today, these towns are still known as the Cinque Ports, but the coastline has changed considerably over the centuries – Sandwich is now 2 miles inland and only Dover retains its major port status.

As a matter interest, the ex Prime Minister of Australia, Sir Robert Menzies, after retirement in 1966 was appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The Earl of Sandwich & the Origin of the Sandwich.

The origin of the word ‘sandwich’ for an item of food was possibly named after John Montagu who was the 4th Earl of Sandwich.

It is said that in approximately 1762, he asked for meat to be served between slices of bread, to avoid interrupting a gambling game. This story may have been rumour or adverse propaganda, put about by his rivals.

It is generally thought here, that the word ‘sandwich’ as an item of food, has no connection with the town, only with John Montagu, who happened to have the title, a ‘sandwich’ could just as easily have been called a ‘portsmouth’ if the 1st Earl, Edward Montagu, had not changed his mind.

Captain James Cook also named the Sandwich Isles (Hawaii) after the 4th Earl, who was his financial sponsor.


The Port of Sandwich is no stranger to odd events in English history; it was in 1255 that the first captive Elephant was landed in England. The prize beast arrived at Sandwich quayside, delivered as a gift to the English monarch Henry III, from the French king, and was then taken on foot to the king’s zoo at the Tower of London. The journey through Kent is reported to have proceeded without incident, except when a bull in a field adjacent to the roadside took umbrage to the great beast passing and attacked it. In one move the animal was thrown by the elephant and killed outright!

Before Sandwich became a Cinque Port, the ancient Saxon town of Stonar, located on the opposite bank of the Wantsum estuary, at the mouth of the River Stour, was already well established. It remained a place of considerable importance until it disappeared almost without trace in the 14th century. The ruins of the major Roman fort of Richborough are close by.

On 21 May 1216 Prince Louis of France landed at Sandwich in support of the baron’s war against King John.

On 28 August 1457, after four years of uneasy peace in England the king presided over a wasting realm, with feudal barons lording over the population of the north and the west of the realm. The French took advantage of the situation by sending a raiding party to Kent, burning much of Sandwich to the ground. A force of 4,000 men from Honfleur, under the command of Marshal de Breze came ashore to pillage the town, in the process murdering the mayor, John Drury.

Sandwich was later to gain significantly from the skills brought to the town by many Dutch settlers, who were granted the right to settle by Queen Elizabeth I in 1560. These settlers, brought with them techniques of market gardening, and were responsible for growing the first English celery. The Huguenot refugees also brought over Dutch architectural techniques, that are now as much a part of Kent as the thatched cottage. In addition techniques of silk manufacture were imported, enhancing the Kent cloth industry.



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