seaxe left Anglo Saxon History

seaxe right

1. The History of the Romney Marsh in maps
(Pre-Roman to Modern times)


The basis for our maps
Romney Marsh underlying soil type
This drawing illustrates the soil age of the underlying land on the Romney Marsh.

The brown area denotes old marshland, the yellow areas new marshland and the pink areas denote areas of shingle. This map is taken from a publication from the University of East Anglia.
The "Kent A" cadastre - page 5 - Peterson 2002

Our following maps utilise the above soil structure on this map to allow us to generate maps of the land at various historic times.

Please note that the majority of the following maps were created using 'Google My Maps'.

Map showing current area is close to sea level
Romney Marsh modern day showing a 1 metre rise in sea levels
The blue shaded areas on this map show land that would be flooded if the sea rises just 1 metre.

Pre-Roman times
Romney Marsh pre Roman 43AD The Celts were extracting and exporting iron across to Gaul along the edge of the vast forest later to be called Andredsweald, and most likely building ships along the edge of the sea, that reached up the Rother valley to at the very least Bodiam, but more likely as far as Etchingham at the time.
Tidebrook near Wadhurst appears to show where the tidal reach on the Rother was at the time of the Saxon landings.

The Forest reached the sea all along the coastline from modern Appledore through to Hailsham.(see our Andredsweald page)

The Limen(laemen) a Saxon word meaning earthen (modern Rother another Saxon name meaning Rower) flowed out to the sea at modern Hythe.

The Cliffs at Hastings would have been about 2 km further out to sea, and the residues from the cliffs would have been deposited as a shingle bank stretching from modern Pett at least to modern Camber and probably to Lydd.

Behind the shingle bank would have been the Brede, Tillingham and Rother valleys that merged near to Rye and then at Appledore.

On the edges of these rivers would have been vast areas of salt marsh.

Roman Iron Exports 1st to 4th century via Lemanis
The Romans probably landed in Sandwich in 43AD and took over the country, the most likely reason was the rich iron production and the massive forest rich in oak trees that could be used for shipbuilding in the south east of the Country. The Rother/Limen,the Brede and the Tillingham rivers were used as a main iron export route via Portus Lemanis as the Rother flowed along the top of the Marsh at this time to arrive at the sea at Hythe. Behind Burmarsh and Dymchurch was a lagoon that was mostly salt marsh and there is evidence for salt production near Burmarsh, Snave, Newchurch and St Marys Bay in 100AD.

The fortress of Portus Lemanis was built by Carausius(The Roman Commander of the Classis Britannica who declared British independence from Rome) to defend the iron production in the Weald from the Romans in about 273AD. When Allectus, Caurausius’s successor was defeated, iron production was limited by the State to only produce enough iron for shipbuilding.

After the Romans left England around 410AD Henghest and Horsa, mercenaries from Jutland, were paid by King Vortigern of Kent and in 449AD were given land in the South East of the county, probably near the old Roman Fortress at Lemanis.

Roman Iron Exports 1st century
Romney Marsh iron exporting 1st century
Small bloomeries taken over from the Celts 150tons/annum

Roman Iron Exports 2nd century
Romney Marsh iron exporting 2nd century
Expanded exploration area 700 tons/annum

Roman Iron Exports 3rd century
Romney Marsh iron exporting 3rd century
Major production from less larger bloomeries 450 tons/annum

Roman Iron Exports 4th century
Romney Marsh iron exporting 4th century
125 tons/annum

Roman Iron production

  •   43AD - 100AD = 150 tons/year (  8550 tons)
  • 100AD - 150AD = 700 tons/year (35000 tons)
  • 150AD - 200AD = 750 tons/year (37500 tons)
  • 200AD - 250AD = 750 tons/year (37500 tons)
  • 250AD - 300AD = 200 tons/year (10000 tons)
  • 300AD - 350AD = 200 tons/year (10000 tons)
  • 350AD - 400AD =  50 tons/year (  2500 tons)

Overall about 141050 tons of smelted iron was exported
Source of this data is the Wealden Iron Research Group.

Pre 740AD most likely after 566AD

Sometime before 740AD when ‘Old’ Romney was first recorded as a port the Rother/Limen changed its course and broke through to the sea at ‘Old’ Romney

There is a report of a storm in 566AD which hit the South East and effected Hampshire, Sussex and South Kent which most likely caused this re-routing of the Rother. Sussex Archaeological Collections Relating to the History and ..., Volume 27

There are also reports of a major storm surge in 586AD in the Thames, which could also have effected this coastline, howwever the north sea storm surges rarely hit the South Kent and Sussex coasts so this is less likely.

It is probable that one of these events blocked the exit of the Rother/Limen at Hythe forcing the river to break through to the sea at ‘Old’ Romney.

It is likely that one of these storms also created the shingle banks at Old Winchelsea and Broomhill where the later villages were founded.

A Major storm in the Channel 566AD
A Major storm in the Channel 566AD

The following map is an alternate view of the Marsh from an undated map at the National Trust Smallhythe Place, it doesn’t match with the age of the land from the University of East Anglia map(at the top of this page), but has been used as a basis for a lot of subsequent maps of the Romney Marsh.

I believed it was worth showing what others had thought of the early Marshes.

An Alternate map from the National Trust museum at Smallhythe
National Trust map of Romney Marsh
An undated map from the National Trust Ellen Terry museum at Smallhythe Kent.

Post 900AD New Romney and Langport

The slow moving Rother now silted up the area around Old Romney, and the port had to be moved to modern New Romney in late 900AD, where it was known as Langport.

In 1066AD the Normans sacked New Romney as it was claimed that some ships landed prior to the battle most likely due to taking on water and sinking. The Portsmen killed all the Normans onboard and suffered as a consequence.

A couple of refernces to this even are found from the following Chroniclers.

Master Wace
The duke placed a guard in Hastings, from the best of his knights, so as to garrison the castle well, and went thence to Romenel, to destroy it utterly, because some of his people had arrived there, I know not by what accident, and the false and traitorous had killed them by felony. On that account he was very wroth against them, and grievously punished them for it.

William of Jumièges
After providing for the decent interment of the dead the duke marched to Romney, and taking it by assault, revenged the slaughter of a party of his troops, who, having landed there by mistake, were fiercely attacked by the in- habitants and cruelly butchered, after great loss on both sides.

There is also a possibility that the English sailors from Langport were attacking the French Fleet as it passed by on its way to Pevensey/Hastings but the Chroniclers(mostly Norman) wouldn’t have wanted it known that the English had any successes.

Post 900AD New Romney and Langport
Post 900AD New Romney and Langport

1200AD the Rhee Wall

As time passed the Rother started to silt up its entrance to the sea producing a delta, this made the Port of Old Romney in turn silt up.

This was seriously effecting old Romney and the Langport at New Romney, so that in the early 1200’s a channel was cut from Appledore to Old Romney via Snargate, called the ae (meaning watercourse – now called the Rhee) this most likely became the course of the Rother once it was built.

A great gate at Snargate was made to hold the water from the Rhee back as the tide lowered which could then be released so that it flushed the silt from Langport into the sea.

Over the next few years as the Rother deposited silt further out to sea making the new harbour less deep so in 1250AD the Rhee was extended to New Romney.

The new channel in turn allowed the area behind Dymchurch to dry out producing the rich farmlands of today.

1200AD the Rhee
1200AD the Rhee

1287AD the Great Storm

In February 1287AD a great storm hit the south coast effecting Kent and Sussex, the marsh suffered extreme damage and Old Winchelsea (offshore from current Winchelsea) and Proomhill(Bromhill) were completely washed away and about 1 metre of shingle swept over New Romney effectively blocking the exit of the Rother.

The Rother broke its banks near to Old Winchelsea and the Rother flowed south of the Isle of Oxney to the sea at Rye.

The Rhee channel, now a redundant waterway overtime became filled in and is now turned into a road. The banks are now known as the Rhee Wall due to the protection they brings to the below sea level land near Newchurch.

This storm also seriously damaged Hastings (probably sealing its port) and most of the other ‘Cinque Ports’, requiring the main ports to attach Limbs(smaller ports) and Antient towns to provide the 57 ships and crew required by the king for 15 days a year and hence keep their independent rights.

1287AD the Great Storm
1287AD the Great Storm

Consequences of the Storm

New Romney was now a member of the Cinque Ports in title only, as they had no harbour, and over time it lost its power.

The Cinque ports had a major problem now as Hastings, New Romney and Sandwich harbours had been effectively blocked by shingle banks, so Limbs(additional ports) were added to the 5 main ports.

Rye and Winchelsea soon overtook the Hastings and New Romney as major hubs of the Cinque Ports.

On the marshes various Archbishops of Canterbury now extended their lands by ‘inning’ (surrounding the marshy areas with walls and then draining the marsh) between the Rhee Wall and modern Camber. Inning was a cheap way to increase their landholding without paying tax, and so made the church wealthier.

The Knell Dam 1332AD

The rerouting of the Rother south of the Isle of Oxney allowed the sea tides to flow right up the Rother valley as far as Bodiam. Marshland which had previously been valuable as summer pastures to provide food for an increasing population was no longer available.

By 1330 the flooding had become worse, and in 1332 two local landowners, Isabella Aucher who lived near Newenden on the Kent side, and Geoffrey de Knelle who lived in Sussex, petitioned the king for permission to make a wall at a place called Knellesflete. This was granted, and in the next few years the Knelle Dam was built.

There were other Dams built around this time, the Sea Wall across the southern edge of the Wittersham level and the Thorn Wall between Appledore and the marsh.

The Dams/Walls thus diverted the river waters and numerous tides round the north side of Oxney, there it promoted harbours at Maytham, Small Hythe, Reading Street and Appledore. These were small but of national importance to Henry V in 1415 and even to Henry VII in 1517 for warship construction. After the storm, and possibly before, the land on the Newchurch side of the Rhee was drained and turned into rich farmland.

The Knell Dam 1332AD
The Knell Dam 1332AD

Camber and the Castle 1512AD
Camber is a new name and was used to describe the protected sea area between modern Camber, Camber Castle and Rye which was used to harbour the fleet (originally provided by the Cinque Ports but which became the Royal Navy in 1546) from the weather in the channel, it is derived from the French ‘la Chambre’ meaning the chamber.

Camber Castle also known as Winchelsea Castle was built by Henry VIII to defend the western entrance to the Camber and to protect Winchelsea and Rye, and the main wealden shipyards at Maytham, Smallhythe and Reading(Street) on the Rother near modern Tenterden.

The Castle was completed between 1512 and 1514 but was badly built and required expensive modifications in 1542/3 to make it effective, but became obsolete by 1637 as the silt from the Rother and longshore shingle drift from the Fairlight Cliffs moved the coastline further towards Camber.

This increased the distance from the castle to the sea of the 28 brass and iron guns mounted on the turrets, hence making them ineffective.

Camber and the Castle 1512AD
Camber Castle 1512AD

1636AD End of the Knell Dam

The Wittersham levels had been drained since the Knell Dam was built, but this had caused the area around Newenden to flood and remain flooded.

In 1600 “or thereabouts” a breach occurred in the Knell Dam(Maytham Wall). The Newenden levels emptied into the Wittersham level and "within 10 days" all the Drowned Lands(area between Newenden and Appledore) were drained. The Commissioners for the Newenden levels thereupon made 3 successive proposals to Wittersham to allow the breach to stay open for drainage, but were turned down and the Dam was rebuilt.

The Rother continued to silt up the north of the Isle of Oxney, until By 1636AD the Rother had deposited a great deal of silt to the north of the Isle of Oxney, and the harbour at Rye was under threat of closure as the Rother had slowed. So a channel was proposed through the Wittersham Levels to enable the flooded Newenden Levels and Rother to flow faster to the sea and clear Rye harbour. An agreement was reached in 1663AD to carry out the making of a channel through the Wittersham levels, but a storm in late 1633AD broke through the dam and flooded the Wittersham Levels, a channel was then cut through the area and the Rother now flowed south of the Isle of Oxney, and still does.

End of the Knell Dam 1636AD
Camber Castle 1512AD

1662AD William Dugdales Map

In 1662AD a detailed map was published by William Dugdale showing all the waterways and channels of the Romney Marsh

This map shows the ‘Sea Wall’ between Iden and the Isle of Oxney, the ‘Thorn Wall’ near Appledore and the ‘Knell Dam/Wall’ all standing, hence the survey of the map must have taken place pre 1636AD as that was when the Knell Dam failed and the Rother started flowing south of Oxney.

The map was titled:
"The Description of Romney Marsh, Walland Marsh, Denge Marsh, and Guildford Marsh, with the Divisions of their Waterings, their Heads, principal Sewers, and their Guts, for the sewing of the Fresh Waters that fall into the same: And also the Levels of Wittersham, Sherley Moor, and the surrounded Marshes, from Appledoure, Chanell, lying to the River of Rotherbridge, up to Newenden, Sandhurst, and Bodiam; together with the Harbours of Rye and Winchelsea, with the Marshes adjoining."
and comes from:
‘The history of imbanking and drayning of divers fenns and marshes, both in forein parts and in this kingdom, and of the improvements thereby extracted from records, manuscripts, and other authentick testimonies’ / by William Dugdale.
Dugdale, William, Sir, 1605-1686.
London: Printed by Alice Warren, 1662.;view=toc
Refer to Cap XI;view=fulltext

William Dugdales map of Romney Marsh in 1662
William Dugdales map of Romney Marsh in 1662

Royal Military Canal 1804AD-1809AD

The ‘Royal Military Canal’ is a canal running for 28 miles (45 km) between Seabrook near Folkestone and Cliff End near Hastings, following the old cliff line bordering Romney Marsh, which was constructed as a defence against the possible invasion of England during the Napoleonic Wars.

As you can see it follows much of the original course or the river Rother/Limen in Roman times.

The Canal has help the draining of the land and the reclamation of the remaining marshy areas, this means that the Romney Marsh and Rother Valley is mostly rich fertile farmland.

Royal Military Canal 1804AD-1809AD
Royal Military Canal 1804AD-1809AD

First 1 inch Ordnance Survey map 1801AD

The origins of the Ordnance Survey lie in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745. Prince William, Duke of Cumberland realised that the British Army did not have a good map of the Scottish Highlands to locate Jacobite dissenters such as Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat so that they could be put on trial.

In 1747, Lieutenant-Colonel David Watson proposed the compilation of a map of the Highlands to help to subjugate the clans.

In response, King George II charged Watson with making a military survey of the Highlands under the command of the Duke of Cumberland. The survey was produced at a scale of 1 inch to 1,000.

In 1801, the first one-inch-to-the-mile (1:63,360 scale) map was published, detailing the county of Kent, with Essex following shortly afterwards. The Kent map was published privately and stopped at the county border, while the Essex maps were published by the Ordnance Survey and ignored the county border, setting the trend for future Ordnance Survey maps.

Above details are from the Wikipedia article

Revised 1809AD to include the Royal Military Canal
First Ordnance Survey map 1801AD (republished in 1809AD)

Present day

Since the publication of Dugdales map the Rother has silted up more, the Environment Agency has a sea lock at Rye that protects the Rother Valley from sea water incursion however flooding in the Rother valley still takes place due to high volumes of run off from the local hills. The map below is from and shows the extent of a flood warning from 05-Nov-2023

The Ness at Dungeness has grown bigger as the Hastings cliffs fall into the sea and New Romney is now a long way inland. Between 1966 and 1980 an improvement scheme was installed. The river banks were raised throughoutmost of its length to increase storage and avoid overtopping .

Romney Marsh - Present Day
First Ordnance Survey map 1801AD (republished in 1809AD)
This is today and also shows the difference to Dugdales map.

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Author Simon M - Last updated - 2023-11-29 12:12:58
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