Cat no. 3273


Running time6:17 Colour Sound 1970 Dunwich, Suffolk

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The village of Dunwich telling of the old city beneath the sea.



A view of the sea from the cliffs. Over shots of the sea shore, the commentary recalls that Dunwich was once the largest city in East Anglia. There are shots of the village. There is a shot of the village school where previously there were seven. The film shows the shop and post office and the Town Hall, now closed, In place of palace, court and prison. St. James' Church (built in 1830) is filmed whereas there were ten churches in Dunwich. The remains of the Greyfriars Priory and of St. James' Hospital, the Leper hospital, feature.

There is a shot of a country footpath, which once led to the main road to Colchester. There are shots of the sea pounding against the shore. Superimposed over these shots are scenes of the ruined buildings that remain in Dunwich. The commentary offers a list of disasters that befell the town. Tombstones in the grass at the top of the cliffs are filmed, a reminder that they were once Churchyards. The film ends with further sea shots.

Background Information:

Dunwich may have been a Roman settlement. Allowing for a rate of coastal erosion of 1m per year for the past four hundred years over a period of fifteen hundred years, the settlement would have been some distance out to sea. In 1884 a Southwold trawler trawled up Roman masonry 3 1/2 out to sea. Bede, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicler, refers to 'Dunmoc' as a 'Civitas', suggesting a Roman town. A map from c. 1300 shows a Roman tumulus near the town.Dunwich, City Under The Sea.An early indication that Dunwich was a thriving Anglo-Saxon town is that in AD 630, Sigebert returned to East Anglia with the missionary Felix. Felix was created a Bishop in AD 636 and Dunwich became a City. It was an important port standing as it did then at the mouth of the River Blyth, navigable as far inland as Halesworth. A Royal Palace was built at Dunwich sometime after AD 870. There is little evidence suggesting the fate of Dunwich during the period until 1042 and the reign of Edward the confessor. In 1042, Dunwich was a Burgh with 120 Burgesses and one Church. By 1086, it was reported in the Domesday Book that there were three Churches in Dunwich and the valuation to the crown was 50 pounds and 60,000 herring. Ominously, the Domesday Book gives the first evidence of Dunwich's battle against the sea. In 1154 the city became a Royal Demesne. It was described as a Towne of good note abounding with much riches and sundry kind of merchandise. The town was a prosperous fishing and trading port, with trade links extending as far as Iceland. Shipbuilding was a profitable industry. It had nineteen churches, chapels, two monasteries, Greyfriars and Blackfriars, and tow hospitals, St. James and the Maison Dieu. King John granted the City a Charter in 1209, making it a Free Burgh and creating a Guild of Merchants.The fortunes of Dunwich fluctuated during the 13th century. Its position was insecure owing to ongoing hostilities with the French; there were frequent localised altercations with fishermen and merchants from Southwold. In 1328, the harbour entrance was blocked by a spit of shingle and sand, rendering the port useless. This is the beginning of Dunwich's eventually unsuccessful fight with the sea. The river made its own course two miles to the north. This became the new port, granted to Dunwich by the King. In 1347, a quarter of the City was destroyed in a storm. By the end of the 14th century, three of the City's Churches had been lost. St. Bartholomew's was lost in 1331, along with St. Michael's and St. Patrick's. St. Martin's was last used in 1335 and St. Leonard's was lost before 1385. The River Blyth was blocked again.Political turmoil added to the misfortunes of Dunwich. The town backed the House of York during the Wars of the Roses and was heavily penalised by Henry VII. It was further impoverished by the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1540, St. John's Church, near the Great Market, was dismantled and by 1550 the site had disappeared into the sea. There were further losses from the incursion of the sea in 1560 and 1570. by 1602 the city was 1/4 of its 12th century size. In 1608, the High Road to the Quay was washed away. Between 1625 and 1649 the Church of the Knight's Templar, last used before the Dissolution, was washed into the sea. In 1677 the sea reached the Market Place and the Market cross was dismantled. In 1688, St. Peter's Church, last used in 1654, lost the east end of the chancel to the sea; the Churchyard followed in 1729. In 1740 another storm brought devastation to the town, including the loss of St. Nicholas's Churchyard. Many foundations, ruins and cemeteries were lad bare as the sea water washed away several layers of soil. Further storm damage was suffered in 1746 and 1749. Very little of the ancient capital remained. By 1754 the final remains of Blackfriars monastery fell into the sea. In 1755, the last service was held at All Saints, the last of the Churches of ancient Dunwich. The Church became a ruin in a few years. In February, 1904 the east end of the Chancel fell into the sea. The tower fell over the cliff on 12th November, 1919. In 1830 work began on a new Church of St. James.Dunwich's last claim to historical fame was as one of the notorious 'rotten boroughs' that prompted the 1832 Reform Act. By 1929, when the Bill was first laid before Parliament, the town had 42 houses, 200 inhabitants and 18 voters.

Featured Buildings:

Greyfriars' Priory (remains of); St. James (Leper) Hospital (remains of); St. James' Church, Dunwich; The former Town Hall,

Institute of Amateur Cinematographers

E. Tulley; Sidney Manasseh

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