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Sandwich Town Wall and Great Bulwark

In the civil parish of Sandwich.
In the historic county of Kent.
Modern Authority of Kent.
1974 county of Kent.
Medieval County of Kent.

OS Map Grid Reference: TR32955790
Latitude 51.27571° Longitude 1.34187°

Sandwich Town Wall and Great Bulwark has been described as a certain Urban Defence.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


The defences of Sandwich were a wall on the N and W sides and a rampart on the remainder. They were built some time after 1384/5 and renewed in the time of Edward IV. The wall and the Fisher Gate are scheduled(Hasted; Clapham). The town wall exists as a low flint wall, 1m high, in fragments, from TR 32725853 to TR 32755855 in the garden of a private house; and as a restored brick wall with flint base from TR 32815853 to TR 32865851 along the backs of houses in Strand St. The core of the wall is revealed from TR 33495812 to TR 33495810 and at TR 33475805 where it is described as the Bulwall's in 1844 (The Map Sandwich St Clements dated 1844), and has been rebuilt into modern walling from TR 33295819 to TR 33305818. A rampart with outer ditch forms the remaining defence; it is mutilated in places and a footpath runs along it. The two gates still standing are the Barbican (see GP/ AO/64/141/6) and Fisher Gate (see GP/AO/64/138/3). The latter, according to a plaque, was built circa 1384. Restored by the Cooper's Guild circa 1560, and acquired by the Corporation circa 1780. Both are in good condition (F1 FGA 17-JUN-64). (PastScape)

The remains of the earth defences which protected the town can be traced with very little difficulty except along the riverside. The most impressive section is the SE corner, where the bank rises steeply above the ditch to a height of about 25ft, 7.62m. There were five gates in the circuit, of which only two now remain. That known as the Barbican is probably a mid 14th century structure, and consists of two circular towers flanking a single archway. Only the base of the towers remains, standing to a height of about 10ft, 3.05m; a modern superstructure has been erected. Part of the wall remains on the W side. Fishergate, a three-storied building, has been dated to 1571, but this may refer only to the upper storey which is built in brick whereas the lower two are of flint. The rectangular plan makes it possible that the gate was originally erected in the 15th century. Canterbury Gate stood at the NW corner of the town, it was demolished about 1792, and consisted of two circular towers flanking a plain pointed archway. Excavations in 1929 uncovered half the plinth of the northern tower of the gates. It measured 13.5ft, 4.11m in diameter, and three courses of masonry remained to a height of 3.5ft, 1.07m. The outer face had a slight batter. Pottery was found, which was vaguely dated to the 14th or 15th centuries. There was also evidence of a destructive fire in the same period. The town, attacked in 1400 and 1438, was certainly burnt in 1457, and the gate might have been destroyed then. Engravings show Woodborough Gate was a rectangular structure, of two square towers flanking a single pointed archway. Sandown Gate is pictured as a square structure with two half-round towers of only slight projection flanking a single entrance. It is not clear at what date Sandwich was first defended. The town played a part in the Barons' Wars, although there are no specific references to fortifications until 1274-5 when the townsmen rebelled against unpopular civic arrangements. Their case was investigated, and judgement went against them. At the same time it was ordered that the trenches constructed during the late disturbance in the realm should be filled in and levelled with earth, and that the Barbican and the rest of the fortifications constructed to oppose the King should be taken down, and removed to Dover Castle at the expense of the commonalty. The ring-leaders suffered a short spell of imprisonment, but whether any steps were taken to fill in the defences is not known. The Barbican was presumably a wooden structure, possibly very similar to the wooden wall which Walsingham described as having been brought to the town in 1386. The townsmen received permission to levy murage for a period of seven years in 1321, but although the town was an important base during the Hundred Years War, by comparison with the issue of murage grants to other towns in the area little seems to have been done towards fortifying it against attack. In 1339 all those who had left the town to avoid paying for its fortification were ordered to return, but there is no other indication that defence was seriously contemplated. In 1385 Sir Simon Barley, as constable of Dover Castle, was ordered to summon before him all who held soil not built on, in perilous places in Sandwich, and to instruct them to fortify the town. The rents and profits of the lands concerned were to be used to pay for the work, but the commonalty, also received a grant from the customs for two years, and a further grant of murage for two years in 1387. It was said that the town had been weakened by plagues and other grievous calamities and it had not been possible to finish the fortifications they had begun. Barley was also empowered to impress masons, carpenters and other labourers for the work. Sandwich is peculiar amongst the towns of England in that considerable effort was expended on the fortification of the town in the 15th centuries. There seems to have been an effort to wall the town in stone, though no trace of stonework remains, as well as the building of the gates. Thus in 1405 the mayor and commonalty received a grant of murage for seven years, which was renewed in 1412 for the same term. The Hornblow in 1436 ordered that the ditches were to be scoured and cleansed. Earth walls were to be raised on the W side of the town, perhaps implying that hitherto it had been undefended, and a month later, it was decided to dig up the road to Worth and all other roads and also to continue the wall of the town to the Delf. Planks were to be placed over the town doors neighbouring the Haven, and within the walls, so that men could cross from house to house for the defence of the town. Those dwelling on the sea-front were to collect "balestones" and to put them on their quays to be ready for attack. The cost of these preparations was met by a tax on properties in the town. In 1451 the SE corner of the town was fortified with a two storey erection, armed with guns and known as the "Bulwark". In 1456 the council decided to press ahead with the Newgate, apparently already begun in the S walls, and ordered also that strict watch should be kept every night. These preparations were made under growing threat of attack from France, a fear which materialised in August 1457. John de Waurin's account of the attack shows that the "Bulwark" provided a considerable obstacle to attackers, although the tower was eventually sacked. In the following years, efforts to improve the fortifications continued. In 1458 the council began to collect up old debts, and a new rate of taxation on properties in the town was imposed. Timber and nails were obtained through the purchase of two hulks, at a total cost of £3 6s 8d. Repairwork was carried out at the Great Bulwark, and it was decided to erect a second, of brick, near Fishergate. In 1461 a grant of £100 annually was made to the mayor and barons, to which they were to add £20 for the repairs. The accounts for some of this money are enrolled on the Memoranda Rolls. This grant was replaced in 1465 by exemption from the payment of various customs duties, a privlege which was renewed in 1477. Accounts for work done betwen 1464 and 1474 survive amongst Exchequer accounts. They suggest that much of the work was concerned with the erection of stone walls, since a considerable quantity of stone was bought. There is mention also of the purchase of "15 crenells" in 1471-2, surely an indication that it was the wall itself, as well as Dorlby Gate, mentioned in the account for 1466-7, that was under construction. Finally in 1483 the mayor and barons received a grant of £100 from the Customs. (PastScape ref Turner, 1971)

Excavations at Rope Walk, Sandwich. A cut was made through the 'scheduled' medieval town-bank close to the site of the Woodnesborough Gate. The bank, sterile dumped clay, was at least 12m wide at the base and still some 1.5m high. Beneath the bank was an extensive area of metalling traced for at least 17m. The central section was laid on a thick bed of rammed chalk and the S section consisted of pebble and flint. The N section contained four successive beds of metalling running at the tail of the bank. The few finds tend to confirm a 15th century date for the bank whilst the underlying deposits may relate to the Whitefriars monastery. (PastScape ref. Philp and Parfitt)

As a result of flooding on the E coast in January 1978, the Sandown Bridge, which leads across the Town Moat on the E side of the city, was damaged. Early in February workmen from the Kent County Council started restoration work and the filling of the central part of the bridge was removed so that it could be replaced with reinforced concrete. During the course of removal of this filling the foundations of the original 1706 bridge were found and just on the western edge of the excavation the front of the Sandown Gate was uncovered. The gate itself had been demolished in 1781-2, but part of the southern drum tower has always been visible in the grass bank on the western edge of the Town Moat and until 1923, when the bridge was widened, more of it must have been visible. The gate itself, which was constructed in 1455 just before the great French raid of 1457, was made entirely of red-orange bricks and then plastered over. Only the upper quoins on either side of the gateway arch were of stone and some worked blocks of stone, which were found in the rubble fill of the later bridge, must also have come from the gate. Some of these stones were presumably parts of the vault in the gateway while others were for window jambs and the top of the main arch. The bricks used for the gate were fairly hard-fired and varied in colour from red to orange or even orangey-yellow. They were all 0.24m by 0.12m by 0.06m, 9.5in by 4.75in by 2.25in, which is a size found in several late 15th century brick buildings in E Kent ; "for example, these are almost exactly the dimensions of the red bricks used in the 1490s in the "Bell Harry" tower at Canterbury Cathedral". All the bricks used in the drum towers of the gate were laid as "headers" and the walls were here about 0.76m, 2.5ft, thick ie three bricks laid longways. It was not possible to see the thickness of the walls flanking the gateway itself. Blocking the gateway, which was 2.25m, 7.4ft, wide was a later wall of yellow to buff bricks. These were laid in an English bond and had dimensions 0.21m by 0.11m by 0.06m, 8.25in by 4in by 2.3in, and may perhaps have been put there in the 16th or early 17th centuries to raise the height of the road passing through the arch when a new bridge over the moat was made. All that can be said with certainty is that this yellow blocking was made before 1706 when the present bridge was first constructed. This bridge, which is shown with the gate in a mid 18th century engraving in Boys' Collections for an History of Sandwich in Kent etc. was constructed up against the drum towers of the gate and had central road supports which butted against the yellow brick blocking. The gate itself was probably demolished in 1782 and subsequently the parapets of the bridge were built over the drum towers, which were clearly only dismantled to road level. At least 2.5m, 8ft, in height of the gate must still survive below ground. In 1923, the northern parapet of the bridge was demolished and a new wider bridge was constructed. This completely covered and partly damaged the front of the northern drum tower. On 7 February 1978 the surviving remains within the bridge were buried in concrete after being covered by plastic sheeting. (PastScape ref. Brown, 1978)

Although it is seldom acknowledged, the surviving town walls of Sandwich are one of the most complete defensive circuits of any English medieval town, with more than two thirds of the length being made up of earth ramparts that have survived virtually complete to the present day. (Clarke et al)

The Barbican Probably of late C14 origin. Consists of 2 round towers, which have a base of ashlar. Above this the ground floor is chequered work of stone and flints with loop windows. Entry is via a semi-circular timber barrel roof between the towers and tiled over. The 1st floor has been modernised; the south east tower has been fronted with weather- boarding, the north west tower with rough plaster almost like roughcast. Conical tiled roofs. On the town side of the towers are 2 modern or modernised buildings of rubble and brick, and on the first floor weather-boarding joined by a hipped tiled roof over the whole. A small 2-storeyed modern house has been built on to north side of the north west tower and is now occupied by the toll collector. (Listed Building Report)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:06

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