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Dunwich (All Saints)

DUNWICH (All Saints), a sea-port and parish, and formerly a borough and market-town, in the union and hundred of Blything, E. division of Suffolk, 29 miles (N. E.) from Ipswich, and 98 (N. E.) from London; containing 237 inhabitants, and comprising 1337 acres. It is supposed by some to have been a town of the Britons, or a Roman station; some Roman coins have been found. During the heptarchy it was of great importance, being the metropolis of East Anglia, and the seat of a see. By the Saxons it was called Dommoc-ceaster, or Donmoc, from which its present name is derived. Sigebert, King of the East Angles, having been converted to Christianity in 630, founded a bishopric at Dunwich, which was held by Felis, a Burgundian, who was consecrated by Honorius, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 636, and who, after presiding over the see for seventeen years, was buried in the cathedral, which continued to flourish under a succession of prelates till about the middle of the ninth century, when this part of the country was devastated by the Danes. At the time of the Norman survey it was a place of considerable importance, and had an extensive herring-fishery, as the king received from the burgesses annually £50, and 60,000 herrings. The town had anciently a mint; and William of Newburgh, who wrote in the reign of Henry II., styles it a wealthy and famous sea-port. In the reign of Richard I., a fine of 1060 marks was levied on the town, because the inhabitants had supplied the king's enemies with corn; and Ipswich and Yarmouth were fined 200 marks each, for the same offence; whence an estimate may be formed of the relative consequence of this place. During the wars of the barons with King John, it was fortified with a ditch and a rampart; and that monarch, in the first year of his reign, bestowed on the town a charter of incorporation, and exempted the burgesses from tolls and customs, and from sea-wreck and lagan throughout the realm. In the reign of Edward I. it maintained eleven ships of war; and in 1359 furnished six ships and 102 mariners, for the siege of Calais. Such, indeed, was the ancient prosperity of the place that it contained more than 50 religious foundations, including churches, chapels, priories, and hospitals; but being situated on a hill composed of loam and loose sand, it has yielded to the successive encroachments of the sea, which has demolished its edifices, ruined its haven, swallowed up its streets, and reduced it to an insignificant village.

The borough, as originally established by John, was governed by a mayor and bailiffs, till the 22nd of Edward III., when it was placed under the superiutendence of bailiffs only. The charter was ratified and extended in almost every succeeding reign, till that of Edward IV., who, after confirming former privileges, granted the bailiffs and burgesses all wreck of the sea, and an admiralty court, with a jurisdiction from the south pier of Southwold harbour to a point of land formerly called Beacon Hill, now Catliff. The control is vested in two bailiffs, a recorder, two assistant justices, and twelve capital burgesses, with a coroner, town-clerk, and serjeantat-mace. The borough sent members to parliament as early as the 23rd of Edward I., but was disfranchised by the act of 1832. The bailiffs, and the assistant justices (who are the bailiffs for the preceding year), are magistrates for the borough, exercising exclusive jurisdiction. The market, which was held on Saturday, has been discontinued: there is a fair on the 25th of July. Several small boats are employed in the herring-fishery, and there are fish-houses, where herrings and sprats are dried, and prepared for sale. Dunwich anciently contained six parish churches, but they have all been entirely destroyed, except that of All Saints, of which the walls and a tower remain: the living is a perpetual curacy, with a net income of £40, and in the gift of Lord Huntingfield and Frederick Barne, Esq., whose impropriate tithes have been commuted for £100. The church being dilapidated, a new one was commenced in 1826, which is a neat edifice of white brick, with an octagonal tower, built chiefly by subscription among the inhabitants. An hospital for lepers, dedicated to St. James, and another called Maison Dieu, are of great antiquity. According to tradition, the lands of the latter, which were very extensive, were, with the exception of a small portion, lost by encroachments of the sea; and the two were afterwards consolidated into one charity for the relief of widows and poor persons of the town of Dunwich, especially such as are afflicted with insanity or loss of speech: the funds amount to £93. A convent of Franciscan friars was founded in the reign of Henry III., of which there are remains of the walls and two gateways; and there were also a Dominican convent, and a house of Knights Templars. Dunwich gives the title of Viscount to the Earl of Stradbroke.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.