For your reading and musing pleasure amid the dreary din of politics and the COVID, here’s a pleasant walk in South East England with fellow blogger Colin Markham. Take a minute to refresh and refocus. See Colin’s other guest features here.-PBN
A tour of Sandwich
Over the years the little town of Sandwich (pop. 4,985) has become one of my favourite haunts. All the ingredients are there to create a leisurely day out among interesting surroundings: an absence of tourism and commercial exploitation, a fine collection of ancient buildings, pleasant walks and an aura of peace. The nearest comparison I can make is with Rye, 40 miles (64 km) to the south-west in East Sussex. The main difference is that Rye is a hill town whilst Sandwich is almost entirely flat. Also Rye readily caters for tourists, whereas Sandwich has carefully avoided overt developments in this direction in order to preserve its historical integrity and undisturbed ambience.
In the words of John Newman: *‘Sandwich could make a bid for the title of the completest medieval town in England. A walk around it yields many pleasures, but the medieval evidence needs more thorough probing than is possible on a mere perambulation. Nor is it easy to find a rational route through the town. It is best to start at the very heart, by St. Peter’s Church, and strike out in two directions, first N and W, then S and E.’
‘A mere perambulation’ is all I offer in these brief impressions. A more thorough exploration awaits time and opportunity. Having arrived by train, I tend to approach the heart of the town from one of two directions, in both cases involving a walk along the course of the old town wall. One of these paths is along a causeway, one side above a former moat, whilst on the other side one looks across to the east side of the town and the parish church. The path is lined with overhanging trees, and cows graze where water once lapped against the town wall. Where the path begins to descend to a lower level there is a
view of The Salutation (1911-12), a splendid mansion designed by Lutyens in the **Queen Anne style, the gardens being laid out by the renowned Gertrude Jekyll. Newman describes the grounds as *‘beautifully mature’. Until 2020 the house was open to visitors and also served as a hotel. Its present status is unknown. The entrance to the house, gardens and tea rooms is on The Quay, a delightful riverside expanse of grass and trees with a backdrop of old buildings, including the only surviving town gate, the Fisher Gate, the lower half dating from the fourteenth century, the upper half from the sixteenth. At the western end of The Quay the main road north passes through The Barbican, a building with sixteenth-century chequered bastions on the north side, the
rest added in the twentieth century as a toll gate. This end of The Quay is overshadowed by the Bell Hotel (1880s), a massive building that seems out of proportion to the medieval townscape. For the rest I will concentrate on the three churches. There is much more to see but I will leave you to experience that for yourselves, your own discovery and delight.
St. Peter’s church is in the centre of the town, adjacent to Market Street with its small collection of shops. The interior appears spacious if only because of the absence of pews and other church paraphernalia, this being one of the two churches no longer in regular use. The loftiness of the building is impressive. On my last visit (2019) the rear of the church was being used as a charity bookshop. St. Mary the Virgin in Strand Street is even more forlorn. It is little more than four walls. As with all old churches there are monuments and tombs from a bygone era. The church seems to be emptied of purpose and
spiritual atmosphere. The parish church of St. Clement is located away from the town centre. Its interior is well appointed and attests to it being the focus of regular worship. The central tower, dating from mid-Norman times, impacts on chancel and nave creating a curious intrusion between the two.
Finally, the origin of ‘sandwich’ as a light snack. John Montagu (1718-1792), the fourth Earl of Sandwich, was an inveterate gambler. On one occasion, desirous of refreshment and reluctant to leave the excitement of the game, he instructed a servant to fetch him a slice of beef between two slices of bread. The claim that Lord Sandwich invented the snack in this way is not substantiated as it is thought the practice was already current and that the word passed into common usage because some of his companions simply asked for ‘the same as Sandwich’.
*John Newman North east and east Kent (Buildings of England series), Yale University Press, 3rd edition, 1983, pp. 450, 453. **Queen Anne reigned 1702-1714.
Colin Markham, February 2021