Ruins of Romney Marsh

This is something I have been meaning to do for a while.

Across the Romney Marshes there are several ruined medieval churches and I have been meaning to go for a walk across the marshes to find them. So that’s what I did the weekend just gone.

For this route I used OS Explorer #125.

The first destination was a place called Chapel Bank (TQ928297). In actual fact, there is no ruined church atop this hill. Because what happened is that in the mid-nineteenth century the church was moved, stone by stone, and rebuilt about 1km to the northwest in Reading Street, where it still stands. Like a complete bell-end I forgot to take a picture of the actual church – a very fine example of an early medieval chapel as you’re likely to find anywhere (details of the church, and pictures, can be seen here:

Chapel Bank used to be known as Ebony Isle, and is located at the eastern tip of the Isle of Oxney.

Chapel Bank from afar

Getting to the sight can be a chore. You can clearly see it from some way off but the problem, as you can imagine trying to navigate over the marshes, is getting there due to the number of drainage ditches and streams. But get there I did. The public foot path leads through farm land and across hedgerows and fields that were full of tits, finches and meadow pipits.

Meadown Pipit

Although the church is now gone what still remains is the church yard with plenty of tombstones. There are also memorials to the Sinden family – Donald Sinden, the actor, lives in nearby Wittersham and plaques to his deceased wife and son can be seen atop Chapel Bank (I don’t think they were actually buried there, since the church would have been long gone and the site is heavily overgrown, though I believe it is still sanctified ground).

Tombstones on Chapel Bank

Moving on from Chapel Bank I headed for a church that not only still stands, but is still in use – Fairfield Church (TQ966265).

Fairfield Church

You can see why this church is popular with film and TV programme makers. I know it’s been used for at least one adaptation of Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’. The church, dedicated to St Thomas Beckett, is in a sheep field crossed with ditches. It can clearly be seen from the road. I made my way over, hoping the church would be open, but unfortunately it was locked. A peer through the windows showed it to be draped with hops.

Fairfield Church

The church is all that remains of the village. There are still scattered farms about but the actual village itself disappeared many centuries ago. The church dates from the 13th century when the land was reclaimed from the sea by walling it off, and was originally wooden, though it has since been partially rebuilt in red brick.

After stopping for a wee and a brew up I moved on to one of the actual ruined churches – All Saints at Old Romney (TR049258).

Hope All Saints church

This one was also viewable from the roadside with a public foot path leading a couple hundred yards across a field to the enigmatic ruins. Built in the 12th century to serve the parish of Hope, it fell into disuse and ruin by the 16th century due the local population suffering from malaria and other waterborne diseases.

Hope All Saints Church from the east

Substantial remains still stand – a large section of the west-end as well as portions of the nave. Best of all, not only are there physical remains, but there are also some good stories surrounding this church – stories of smugglers! Romney is rife with tales of smugglers (interestingly, the Kent coast saw more smuggling activity than any other part of the UK, mainly due to its proximity to the continent). Groups of smugglers were said to meet and plan in the ruins of the church until, one day, they were seen and a party of Preventative Officers laid in wait for them to return…

My final destination was another ruin in the middle of nowhere. The ruins of Midley church (TR031232).

Midley church

This was another ruin that you can see as you approach but getting there is another thing. Not only do you have to find a way across the drainage ditches but there is also the steam railway line to cross! Situated in the Walland Marsh, all that remains is the west end of the church; but there are still architectural features that can be seen. A bout of the black death in the mid-fifteenth century saw the local population decimated, and the church no longer had any parishioners (although that didn’t stop the clergy from collecting the tithes!).

Window and doorway

My day across the marshes had been a very enjoyable one. Romney Marsh is one of those landscapes that is far from pretty, yet it is beautiful, and sublimely bleak. The day was overcast, and humid, and the long damp grass and muddy fields left my feet caked in mud. I was exhausted by the end, and pleased to finally get back to the car. And even more pleased to have explored the landscape that I have driven through many times, but never before had I travelled it and been part of it.


1 Comment

  1. Hal Sinden said,

    March 20, 2014 at 11:09 am

    purely out of interest, the cremated remains of my grandmother (diana) and my uncle (jeremy) *are* in fact buried up there in chapel hill where you found the memorial trees. the latter in fact was dug and buried by me prior to the ceremony we held up there. my grandfather’s house is actually part of ebony, rather than being in wittersham necessarily.

    chapel bank is a wonderful place to visit, i’m extremely glad you had a chance to visit it!

    hal sinden

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