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Now we come to St. Augustine's landing, A.D. 597. According to Bede, "On the east of Kent is the large Isle of Thanet containing, according to the English way of reckoning, 600 families, divided from the other land by the River Wantsum, which is about three furlongs over, and fordable only in two places, for both ends of it run into the sea. In this Island landed the servant of our Lord, Augustine, and his companions, being, as is reported, nearly forty men."*
We learn from subsequent writers that the two fordable places mentioned by Bede are Sarre and Sandwich; fordable has been surmised to mean passable by boats. And we know that a ferry existed in early times at Sarre and one at Sandwich crossing the river to Stonar.
It will be seen that the exact spot where Augustine landed is not mentioned by Bede, only that it was in the Isle of Thanet. In a note to Dean Stanley's Memorials of Canbury (page 53), with regard to Ebbsfleet in Thanet, he writes, "It must have been at this place, from the fact that it was the usual landing-place in ancient Thanet, as is shewn by the tradition that Hengist, St. Mildred, and the Danes came there, and the fact that Bede's whole narrative emphatically lands Augustine in Thanet and not on the mainland," the place indicated by Stanley being the spot where the farm called Ebbsfleet is situated. But Stonar, near Sandwich, would be equally in the Isle of Thanet, and close to Richborough, where, according to Thorn and Thomas Sprott,+ Augustine and his companions landed, waiting in the Isle of Thanet until it pleased King Ethelbert to receive them: "Which thing the King hearing came shortly after into the Isle of Thanet unto his pallace or castle of Rupichester, situate nigh the old citty of Stonehore, and the King sitting under the cliff or rock whereon the castle is built, commanded Augustine with his followers to be brought before him." A difficulty has been found in accepting this conclusion because Richborough is not in the Isle of Thanet,
* Ecclesiastical History, Giles, page 37.
+ Catalogue of British History, iii., page 208.
See also Canon Jenkins in Archeologia Cantiana, Vol. VI., page lix.
and Thorn speaks of "Retesburgh in Insula Thaneti." But he was probably alluding to the general name of the port,* or confused the first landing with the scene of the final debarcation on the mainland-for the Missionaries crossed the ferry to Richborough, and from thence advanced by the Roman road to Canterbury.
Tradition is not a very safe guide, especially when the traditions are at variance. The mention of St. Mildred as landing at Ippedsflete is recorded in Lambard and Thorn: "This woman (saith he) was so mightily defended with divine power that lying in a hot oven, three hours together, she suffered not of the flame; she was also endued with such godlike vertue, that coming out of France, the very stone whereon she first stepped at Ippedeflete in this Isle received the impression of her foot, and retained it for ever, having besides this property, that whithersoever you removed the same, it would within short time, and without help of man's hand, return to the former place again."†
The former landing-places were mostly fleets or streams leading into some large river-as we find in the names of Purfleet, Northfleet, Fleet Street, etc., names of like import on the Thames and suitable landing-places for the ships of those days. Ebbsfleet in this case would perhaps mean a stream leading into a river that ebbs and flows.
Formerly Ebbsfleet was supposed to be situated where the farm-house of that name stands, and is so placed in the Ordnance Maps of Thanet; of late the spot has been shifted to near "The Sportsman," and by a spring of water called St. Augustine's Well, chiefly on the representation of the late Mr. W. R. Bubb, who resided at Minster; he walked with me to the spot where the present memorial cross is erected, and explained his reasons for concluding that the landing must have been there, and not at or near the Ebbsfleet Farm, as usually represented. These reasons were chiefly the presence of a large oak tree that was said to
"The plural form of the name Rutupiæ suggests the existence in Portus Rutupensis of a second town, which would naturally be situated on the Eastern shore, as Richborough stood on the Western bank, of the estuary." (Arch. Cant., Vol. XII., p. 330.) This town may have been Stonar.
+ Lambard, Perambulation of Kent, page 100.
have formerly grown there, and the proximity of the place to Cottington-field, which he thought a corruption of Godman-field.* The said oak tree referred to is mentioned as coinciding with the account given in Lewis's History of Thanet. The latter, quoting Bede, states: "Some days after the King himself came into the Island, and mistrusting they might use some magical arts to deceive him, appointed to give them audience in the open air, under an oak which grew about the middle of the Island, which tree the German Pagans had in the highest veneration." It will be seen at once on reference to Bede's Ecclesiastical History that this is a mis-quotation. Nothing is said in Bede about an oak. The account of this great oak by Mr. W. Bubb is rather strange, for at the present time the oak is quite a rare tree in the Isle of Thanet. Boys, in his general view of the agriculture of the Island of Thanet, quoted by Hasted, vol. iv., page 292, states: "The timber growing in this Island is in general elm, which in the lower part of it, about Minster and Monkton, grows to a good height. Just by the house of Powcies farm there was till lately a small grove of oaks, the only one in the Island, but the unthriving state of them shewed how unkind both soil and situation were to them."+
It must strike every one who reads any modern account of Ebbsfleet how all the writers draw their conclusions from the supposed configuration of the county in early times, and as far as I am able to learn they possessed very small ability to comprehend geographical and physical forces. I need not repeat instances, for they appear in all the writers of the last, and some even of this, century.
Mr. Green, in his Making of England, speaking of the Jutes in Thanet, writes: "Their quarters in Thanet would satisfy the followers of Hengist, who thus lay encamped within sight of their fellow pirates in the Channel, and who felt themselves secure against the treachery which often proved fatal to the Germans that Rome called to her aid, by the broad inlet that parted their camp from the mainland. Everything in the character of the ground confirms the
* See Bubb's History (in the Thanet Guide), Hutchings and Crowsley. + Hasted, folio, vol. iv.
tradition which fixes this spot at Ebbsfleet, for great as the physical changes of the county have been since the fifth century, they have told little on its features. At the time of Hengist's landing a broad inlet of the sea parted Thanet from the mainland of Britain, for the marshes which stretch from Reculver and Sandwich were then, as they remained for centuries, a wide sea-channel hardly less than a mile wide."*
Again, Stanley writes:† "You all remember the high ground where the white chalk cliffs of Ramsgate suddenly end in Pegwell Bay. Look from that high ground over the level flat which lies between these cliffs and the point where they begin again in St. Margaret's cliffs beyond Walmer. The level ground which stretches between the two cliffs was then in great part covered with water. . . . . Moreover at that remote age Sandwich Haven was not yet choked up, so that all the ships which came from France and Germany on their way to London sailed up into this large port, and through the river out at the other side by Reculver; or if they were going to land in Kent, at Richborough or the mainland, or at Ebbsfleet in the Isle of Thanet."
When any of these writers give us an authority for this statement it invariably turns on Bede's History and the map in Battely's Antiquitates Rutupine. I have been much puzzled to account for the map in Battely, seeing that he gives us no description of it in the letterpress, but rather argues against such a supposition; but I believe I have at last cleared up the mystery. Battely's Antiquitates Rutupina was published some time after his decease, the first edition in 1711 and the second in 1745, in which the map I allude to is found. In a History of the Isle of Thanet, by John Lewis, 1723, and from a Paper he read before the Society of Antiquaries, October 11, 1744, it appears he then undertook to shew that Battely was wrong in his account of the boundaries of the ancient port of Richborough, and he goes on to state that the mouth of the estuary extended from Ramsgate cliff to Walmer.
This map is again copied into Hasted's History of Kent,
* Making of England, page 29.
+ Memorials of Canterbury, page 29.
vol. iv., pages 288-9, and up to the present time it seems generally to have been received as the true explanation of what must have been the state of the ancient Portus Rutupensis. With regard to Mr. Lewis's quotations they are often erroneous, his description of Bede's account of the Wantsum being a case in point.
The map in Battely's History is not taken from any more ancient source than that of his own time, in the last century; it is merely copied from a map giving the outlines of Thanet and the mainland, omitting altogether Sandwich and Stonar, which he supposed to be beneath the waters of the Wantsum; and he omits to give us any historical or physical data for his broad assertions. It represents the sea-level as then so greatly in excess of the present high-water mark as to overflow lands that are now more than thirty feet above Ordnance datum line, making the sea occupy all the marshland from Deal to Minster. But I cannot, after a study of the physical changes and actual evidences presented to a geological observer at the present time, accept this interpretation. And when I enquire into the historical evidences I do not find one single fact to support such a conclusion. Although it is stated again and again that Ebbsfleet was the usual landing-place in the Isle of Thanet in ancient times, the only instances adduced are the landing of Hengist and Horsa, the landing of St. Augustine, St. Mildred, and the Danish invaders; and the locality of this Ebbsfleet is equally obscure.
With regard to the supposed presence of this great estuary, with a mouth opening from Walmer to Pegwell Bay (a distance, remember, of 8 miles), and 2 miles wide between the mainland and Thanet inside Richborough, opening out into the mouth of the Thames with a width of of a milesuch an inlet, washed by the waves of the Straits of Dover, must have left behind it evidences of its presence in cliffs along its entire length; and where are they? Then it must have left inside some sort of beach; where is it? Then the bed of this sea must be strewn with shells of the molluscs and other denizens of the sea, of which we find no evidence whatever except a few cockle-shells and occasional shells of