Dunwich – The medieval town lost at sea

Related Articles

Related Articles

Dunwich is a small rural village located on the Suffolk coast in England. Visitors will find a quaint English pub, tea rooms and a pebble beach popular with holiday makers.

At first glance, there’s nothing overly remarkable about this picturesque setting, but beneath the surface Dunwich has a unique story to tell that spans centuries….

The earliest evidence of occupation around the Dunwich area starts in the Roman period, with scant but suggestive evidence of a large settlement. The Anglo-Saxon chronicler Bede referred to “Dunmoc” as a “Civitas”, with archaeological discoveries that includes a Roman tumulus and masonry trawled from the nearby seabed.


The Roman document, ‘Notilia Dignitatum’ even refers to a late Roman fort or station in the area, but due to the continual coastal erosion, any surviving remains of the fort or settlement would be hundreds of metres out to sea.

Chapel of St James’ Leper Hospital, Dunwich St James’ Hospital was a C12 leper hospital located just to the west of the medieval coastal town of Dunwich.

Greyfriars, Dunwich was a Franciscan friary in the lost town of Dunwich in the English county of Suffolk.

By the Anglo-Saxon period, Dunwich had become a major port standing at the mouth of the River Blyth, navigable as far inland as Halesworth. In 630 CE, King Sigeberht returned to East Anglia where he later anointed the missionary Felix to the status of Bishop (the first Bishop of the East Angles). This made Dunwich a religious centre for the region and the seat of the bishops of Dommoc till the Danelaw befell Suffolk around 870 CE.

Over the centuries the prosperity of Dunwich grew, even being described as a “Towne of good note abounding with much riches and sundry kind of merchandise”.  This is thanks to the extensive trade network that connected the town with ports across Europe, reaching as far north as Iceland.

The lost town of Dunwich – Image Credit : Dunwich Museum – Find out more

In 1154 CE the town boasted nineteen churches/chapels, two monasteries of the Greyfriars and Blackfriars order and two hospitals,  St. James and the Maison Dieu. This building boom extended the town a mile from north to south, covering an area similar in size to even London.

But from the year of 1286 CE, Dunwich’s fate would start to take a downward path…  A massive storm, followed by repeated storm surges began to erode the coastline and change the course of the River Blyth, resulting in a loss of the town’s harbour in 1328 CE.

This was an economic catastrophe for the port and Dunwich became largely abandoned during the 14th century. Without the means or revenue to maintain coastal defences, long-shore drift erosion proceeded in progressively invading the town, wiping virtually every trace of Dunwich off Suffolk’s coast.

Although Dunwich’s name mostly faded from history, the town’s legacy remains in the surviving ruins of the Greyfriars Franciscan friary, the leper chapel and the material evidence of the people who lived throughout the town’s history.

But the story doesn’t end there… an acoustic imaging study by the University of Southampton and Touching the Tide project has revealed the ruins of churches, shipwrecks and hundreds of medieval buildings, submerged up to 10 metres beneath the waves.

View map full size – Click Here

Header Image – Greyfriars, Dunwich – Image Credit – Mrs Airwolfhound – CC License 2.0

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic


The Varangian Guard – When Vikings Served the Eastern Roman Empire

The Varangian Guard was an elite unit that served as the personal bodyguards for the emperors of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire).

Walking, Talking and Showing Off – a History of Roman Gardens

In ancient Rome, you could tell a lot about a person from the look of their garden. Ancient gardens were spaces used for many activities, such as dining, intellectual practice, and religious rituals.

Curious Kids: How did the First Person Evolve?

We know humans haven’t always been around. After all, we wouldn’t have survived alongside meat-eating dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex.

Ring-like Structure on Ganymede May Have Been Caused by a Violent Impact

Researchers from Kobe University and the National Institute of Technology, Oshima College have conducted a detailed reanalysis of image data from Voyager 1, 2 and Galileo spacecraft in order to investigate the orientation and distribution of the ancient tectonic troughs found on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede.

Tracing Evolution From Embryo to Baby Star

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) took a census of stellar eggs in the constellation Taurus and revealed their evolution state.

“Woodhenge” Discovered in the Iberian Peninsula

Archaeologists conducting research in the Perdigões complex in the Évora district of the Iberian Peninsula has uncovered a “Woodhenge” monument.

New Fossil Discovery Shows How Ancient ‘Hell Ants’ Hunted With Headgear

Researchers from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Chinese Academy of Sciences and University of Rennes in France have unveiled a stunning 99-million-year-old fossil pristinely preserving an enigmatic insect predator from the Cretaceous Period -- a 'hell ant' (haidomyrmecine) -- as it embraced its unsuspecting final victim, an extinct relative of the cockroach known as Caputoraptor elegans.

New Algorithm Suggests That Early Humans and Related Species Interbred Early and Often

A new analysis of ancient genomes suggests that different branches of the human family tree interbred multiple times, and that some humans carry DNA from an archaic, unknown ancestor.

Popular stories

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.

The Real Dracula?

“Dracula”, published in 1897 by the Irish Author Bram Stoker, introduced audiences to the infamous Count and his dark world of sired vampiric minions.