« PreviousContinue »
it was a much deeper channel, through which ships made their way out to the north mouth by Reculver, but we have no reason to suppose that the whole of the marsh was occupied by these deep waters, and the mention of these fleets is suggestive of the shallow water that was found on either side of the main course of the river, the fleets by their running water opening up a channel to the land. So the quotations by authors of the ships of the Danish invaders sailing through the estuary by no means proves that it was a broad channel extending from Cliffsend in Thanet to beyond Walmer, or even from the Port of Sandwich to Minster.
With respect to Stonar, Lewis supposes it to have been formerly an island, quoting Kilburne, who states: "It was antiently compassed with the water, then called Stour, and by the Britaines the Doure."* He concludes that in Bede's time the Isle of Thanet must have been much larger than at present, notwithstanding the addition of Stonar to it. I can find, however, no other authority for the assertion that Stonar was an island, and there seems to be insuperable objections to such a supposition. First, Bede makes no mention of two mouths to the south, as in this case there must have been, nor do we anywhere find any record of the stopping-up of an opening between Cliffsend and Stonar. If the waters of the Wantsum had originally two outlets-one between Stonar and Sandwich and the other between the assumed island of Stonar and Cliffsend, Thanet-we have no historical notices of this closing of the latter outlet; nor does it seem at all likely that it, being the more direct cut for the water to the sea, should have forsaken its course for the more circuitous way round by Richborough and Sandwich.
Kilburne states that Stonar belonged anciently to the Abbey of St. Augustine, which by the grant of King Henry I. had a fair holden yearly five days before and after the translation of St. Augustine (being the 26th day of May), but long since discontinued.
I have now exhausted all the historical notices of any
* Survey of Kent, page 260.
importance in support of the theory of the broad estuary of the Wantsum (at least from the earliest Saxon period), and found no ground for the supposition that St. Augustine and his followers took any route but the usual entrance to the Port of Richborough, and in that case the suggestion of Sprott that he landed in Thanet at Stonar has the greatest claim to our acceptance.
The present position of the monument erected to commemorate St. Augustine's landing may seem to some to offer a solution of the difficulty, inasmuch as it is supposed to have been in the little bay that existed beyond Cliffsend that the landing took place; but of course this necessitates our abandoning the notion of any flete in the case. If this be so, I cannot conceive that a worse place could have been selected; we must remember that at the present time at low-water an immense expanse of mud-flat is met with, extending to a distance of one mile at least from the shore, and it is only at high-water at spring-tide that the sea approaches the shore, and is so shallow that a common rowing boat cannot land. If St. Augustine with his ships for forty followers had chosen this spot he certainly would not have landed on the "mainland," nor in the Isle of Thanet, but most assuredly in the sea of Pegwell Bay.
We must not assume that the landing-place of Hengist and his followers, or of St. Augustine and his, was a matter of chauce; in the first case we are expressly told (as is recorded by Green in his Making of England, page 31), "The Jutes who landed under Hengist landed not as enemies but as friends, and their place of landing was the result of a settled design. In the first year that followed after their landing Jutes and Britons fought side by side." The fortress of Richborough still remained in the hands of the British troops. Here under shelter of the place rested the British fleet; the far-famed Rutupine Port was here, the entrance to this tranquil harbour was by Stonar and Sandwich; and everything points to the conclusion that the landing of the Jutes in Thanet was at Stonar and not Pegwell Bay.
The Saxon pirates had again and again invaded Thanet in the past. They made their sudden descents upon the island
at Margate and Kingsgate, at Broadstairs and Ramsgate, in all probability on these occasions coming and going "like a thief in the night." The caves and hiding-places in the woods. in Thanet testify to the terror in which the inhabitants dwelt of these pirates, who came in flat-bottomed boats propelled by oars. In Vol. XI. of Archæologia Cantiana I gave an account of a cave near Margate where in all probability the Roman-British inhabitants of Thanet had hidden themselves from these invaders. Under these circumstances, the Saxon landed at any part of the coast where the cliffs were cut through so that they might gain access to the land; but we must not conclude in this case that there was any usual landing-place, nor would this Cliffsend Bay present any facility for their purpose.
In the case of St. Augustine we are told that he landed on the spot where Hengist had landed more than a century before. His coming was preceded by negotiations with Bertha and with the King himself; and, if we conclude that Ethelbert had a palace or fortress at Richborough, nothing would have been more reasonable than to ask St. Augustine to remain at Stonar in the Isle of Thanet waiting his advent to his castle at Richborough.
If local tradition is to be our guide, not only does it point to Stonar as the landing-place of St. Augustine in Thanet, but that he went from thence to Richborough; and Leland informs us that in his time it was considered a portion of the Isle of Thanet-that the Holy Missionary, on leaving the ship, trod on a stone which retained the print of his foot as though it had been clay, that this stone was preserved in a chapel dedicated to St. Augustine after his canonization, and yearly, on the anniversary of its deposit, crowds of people flocked thither to pray for and receive health (see C. Roach Smith's Antiquities of Richborough, pages 160, 161, and Planche's Corner of Kent, pages 28, 29).
THE PHYSICAL CHANGES.
First of all then we have found that the great tongue of low-land reaching from Cliffsend in Thanet to the ancient town of Stonar near Sandwich must have been caused by a very ancient beach, which formerly existed along the entire distance, and of which we have evidences in scattered portions which have not been cut away by the bendings of the River Stour, or the Sandwich Haven as it is here termed, between Sandwich and Pepperness. This Stonar beach shews evidences that it had travelled from north to south, or from Thanet Cliffs towards Sandwich; that it was the result of marine currents that flowed at the time it was formed in exactly an opposite direction to the sea currents of the present time and for many ages past, which have driven the Walmer beach from south to north. This change in the direction of the currents was probably due to the widening of the English Channel between Dover and Calais, which has caused the great tidal wave that enters the Channel from the south and west to prevail to a greater extent over the opposite tidal wave that enters from the North Sea, and consequently the place where these two currents meet and neutralize one another has been shifted more northward. So that to go back to the time when the Stonar beach was formed we must date back to the Pre-historic period. Now all the historic evidences we have met with point to the same conclusion, that the Stonar beach and its connection with the Isle of Thanet date back previous to the Roman occupation of Britain. This great natural barrier not only kept the sea from coming directly into the Wantsum Estuary, but compelled the retreating exit-waters of the river to make a circuitous course round by Sandwich.
A study of the most ancient authentic maps that have been made from time to time shew quite conclusively that the Sandwich Haven, or the mouth of the Stour, has been progressing more and more northward, so that whereas in the reign of Queen Elizabeth it had been somewhere opposite the Stonar Cut, and pointed out eastward, it has from the