Monument record DUN 001 - Dunwich Town (Med)

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The Medieval Town of Dunwich.


Grid reference Centred TM 479 703 (265m by 646m) (Centred on)
Map sheet TM47SE


Type and Period (6)

Full Description

The Medieval Town of Dunwich.
By 1066 there were 120 burgesses in Dunwich, which had increased to 236 by 1086, even though a carucate of land is stated to have been carried away by the sea between those dates. Herring fishing seems to have been a major industry (S1). A charter was granted to the town by King John in 1199, with later charters of 1215, 1559 and 1690 (S2).
The earliest map of the town was made by Ralph Agas in 1587, however this only survives as an engraved copy by Joshua Kirby, printed in 1753 (S3). This shows the coast line in 1587 and in 1753. Features marked and lost between those dates included the Black Friars, St Peter's Church, St Francis'Chapel, the Old Key and hillocks or mounds called Cock Hills and Hen Hills (swept away in 1740 (S3)). Between 1753 and now the Temple and All Saints Church (see DUN 014) have been lost. An imaginative reconstruction map by Hamlet Watling was unfortunately published as a genuine map in 1935 (S4). For the town ditch or Pales Dyke - see DUN 013.
In 1066 there was one church and by 1086 there were three (S1). The known churches are (S5):
1. All Saints Church - see DUN 014.
2. St Bartholomew - lost about 1331 and may not have been parochial.
3. St John the Baptist - said to have been cruciform. Stood in the Great Market Place. Attempts to protect it with a wall in 1510 failed and about 1540 it was pulled down. The last burial there was in 1538.
4. St Leonard - lost circa 1300. Stood E of St John the Baptist.
5. St Martin - last rector instituted 1335 and the church lost soon after. Stood on the E side of town.
6. St Michael - lost about 1331, may not have been parochial.
7. St Nicholas - lost before 1400. Last institution 1352. Stood 100m SE of the Black Friars and was said to have had transept and a central tower. Last part of the churchyard swept away in 1740 (S3).
8. St Peter - its furnishings were removed in 1702 shortly before it was lost. It stood 300m NE of All Saints. Last part of churchyard lost in 1729 (S3).
Religious houses in Dunwich comprised (S6):
1. A cell of Benedictine monks, dependant on Eye Priory, founded sometime after 1080. Destroyed by the sea in the time of Edward I.
2. Black Friars (Dominican Friary). Founded pre 1256 by Sir Roger de Holish. 24 friars in 1277. Had a licence to move their friary to Blythburgh in 1384, but were still in Dunwich when the house was dissolved in 1538. Lay to the S of the town, ruins still showing in 1587.
3. Grey Friars - see DUN 003.
4. Temple. Preceptory of Knights Templars founded pre-1199, suppressed 1308-12 when the property was transferred to the Knights Hospitaller of St John. They maintained a chaplain but not a preceptory. Chapel dedicated to St Mary and St John. Lay to the S of the town. Ruins still standing in 1587 and probably 1753.
For the two medieval hospitals - see DUN 005 and DUN 006.
Agas also mentions that there was a mint at Dunwich (S3). Various coins [of Stephen, and others?), with mint signatures of DV, DVN, DVNE and probably DVNEPIC are known from this mint which, prior to the discovery of the Wicklewood, Norfolk hoard were attributed to Durham (Dunholm)(info from Brit Numismatic Journal 'Coin Register 1997, 142).
In 1587 the surviving part of the town was about 500 yds wide E-W and nearly a mile N-S. By 1970 it was only 150ft wide at St James' Street (S7). In 1977 it was 50m wide [wider!] at St James' Street and 480m N-S (S8).
1970: TM 4785 7024 A small area (approx 32ft x 30ft) within the town defences at the S end of the town was excavated. A series of 30 post holes at the lowest level were associated with C12-C13 pottery. A later structure is represented by two parallel beam slots 8ft apart. Two simple upright rims of Ipswich type ware were recovered from the lower levels. Imported pottery included Pingsdorf type ware and Andenne ware. S E West for DOE (S5).
1971: TM 479 702 C13-C14 cooking pot, 5ins high, found in the cliff just outside the S end of the town! Reported by (see 'Not to be published on web' tab for finder/s and/or findspot/s)(S10).
1972: TM 479 705 short excavation inside the line of the western defences just S of St James' Street revealed a large ditch running parallel to the main defence. Although neither the course of the ditch nor a close date could be obtained, it does recall the defensive property boundary found in the Cox Lane, Ipswich, excavations in 1958 by S E West for DOE (S9).
1989: TM 4791 7054 two wells and a probable pit close together, exposed in the cliff face 15m to the S of St James' Street. Pottery recovered from cliff fall in C13-C14 (now in SAU).
1996: Large group of finds found detecting and sieving recent cliff collapse over circa 400m stretch below (to E) Greyfriars precinct (DUN 003). Finds total circa 500, mainly Med and early PMed, objects - see finds list & (S11) for details.
Also metal detector finds 2000/2001. See (S12) for details.
A large amount of work has been undertaken relating to the underwater remains of Dunwich by David Sear of Southampton University. For the final report see ' 5883 Dunwich, Suffolk: Mapping and assessing the inundated
medieval town' by David Sear et al, 2013 ( in R:\Environmental Protection\Conservation\Archaeology\Archive\Dunwich).

Sources/Archives (17)

  • <S1> (No record type): Piper J per SAU (JN, JP & EM), finds reports, finds ID sheets, ill.
  • <M1> (No record type): APs: AJN 15, ALO 10.
  • <R1> Index: OS. OS Card. OS, card TM47SE3, 9 (ill card only).
  • <S1> Museum Record Card: Ipswich Museum. IPSMG card. IPSMG, card Dunwich Med, 1971.
  • <S1> Bibliographic reference: 1911. VCH Suffolk 1. 451, 452, 522.
  • <S2> (No record type): Cooper E R, The Dunwich Charter of King John, 1215, PSIA 23, 1939, 230-5.
  • <R2> Bibliographic reference: Suffolk Institute of Archaeology. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology. PSIA, 7, 1890, (2), 237-240.
  • <M2> Unpublished document: Suffolk Archaeological Service. Parish file. Parish file: copy of Agas/Kirby map, map of SCC property; (S11).
  • <R3> Bibliographic reference: Suffolk Institute of Archaeology. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology. PSIA, 14, 1912, (3), 317.
  • <S3> (No record type): Gardner T, An Historical Account of Dunwich, 1754.
  • <S4> (No record type): Spencer H E P, Notes on the excavation of Temple Hill, Dunwich, 1935, PSIA, 22, 1935, (2), 198-200.
  • <S5> (No record type): Blatchly J & Northeast P, `Lost & Ruined Churches' in Cautley H M, Suffolk Churches, 5th ed, 1982.
  • <S6> (No record type): Knowles, D. & Hadcock, R.N.. 1971. Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (2nd ed). Knowles D & Hadcock R N, Medieval Religious Houses: England & Wales, 1971.
  • <S7> (No record type): West S E, The Excavation of Dunwich Town Defences, 1970, PSIA, 32, 1970, (1), 25-33.
  • <S8> Map: OS. OS Map. OS, 1:2500 map.
  • <S9> Museum Record Card: Ipswich Museum. IPSMG card. IPSMG, card Dunwich Med, 1972.
  • <S12> Digital archive: Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service. Portable Antiquities Database. Barker, G, Cummings, D, Bosworth et al per Geake, SCCAS sf 153/101-2, 128, 137-41, 3548 & 3683-4.

Finds (10)

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (2)

Record last edited

Mar 28 2013 12:08PM

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