>Under the waters


In terms of rank rottenness,Dunwich would vie with the fictional Dunny-on-the-Wold as the most rottenborough in the British Parliament. By the time of the Reform Act 1832, the bulkof the constituency was underwater, leaving only a tiny village of “44 housesand half a church”

It was a very different Dunwichthat received its entitlement to two representatives in Parliament in 1298, andeven this was a shrunken, storm-tossed survivor of its medieval glory. At itspeak, Dunwich had six parish churches, religious houses for the Grey and BlackFriars, a hospital, a shipbuilding yard and port complex and a yearly paymentto the Crown of £120 13s 4d and 24,000 herrings.

It was, in short, one of the mostimportant cities, ports and trading centres in England. It was one of thecountry’s 10 largest cities and arguably the capital of East Anglia. But theangry storm surges of the North Sea could destroy as easily as they brought prosperity.The watery threat had been signalled in the Doomsday Book, which recorded thatthe town had lost half of its fields to the sea.

But it was a huge, three day long storm in 1286 that signalled the end for Dunwich’s prosperity. The raging seaswept away a large chunk of the town and, most catastrophically, destroyedDunwich’s natural harbour. Recovery attempts were started –  a prize as rich as Dunwich was not easilyabandoned, but these were defeated in an even greater storm of 1328. Dunwichwould now begin a long and irreversible journey to decline and destruction.