Slices of his­tory in Sand­wich

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - ANN REN­NIE

I de­cide to do a daytrip to Sand­wich on the Kent coast sim­ply so I can send a post­card to my fa­ther, who would be mildly amused that his el­dest daugh­ter, who has al­ways loved her cheese and tomato toasties, was vis­it­ing such a place and no doubt tuck­ing into the lo­cal fare in hon­our of its cre­ation.

On the bus from Broad­stairs I get a cheap day ticket and off we go through Rams­gate and its out­ly­ing vil­lages on the Isle of Thanet, where the Ro­mans first ar­rived in Eng­land in 43CE. To get to Sand­wich proper, the bus mo­tors through a huge busi­ness park and trun­dles over the River Stour and its quay, where plea­sure boats line the banks.

His­tory sug­gests that the idea for the sand­wich as a snack that didn’t re­quire all the cer­e­mony of din­ing pro­to­col was first thought of in 1762 by Lord Mon­tagu, the fourth Earl of Sand­wich, when he couldn’t be stirred from a fever­ish game of cards upon which there was a size­able wa­ger. Some­how this eas­ily di­gestible food cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of oth­ers who wanted nour­ish­ment that was por­ta­ble, quick to make and tasty, with roast beef slapped be­tween two slices of bread. Soon, all the lead­ing men in po­lite so­ci­ety were eat­ing sand­wiches. Ed­ward Gibbon wrote of this new gas­tro­nomic sen­sa­tion in one of his diary en­tries a few months later.

But Sand­wich, the town, has a his­tory with much more heft than that of culinary cre­ation. It was one of the orig­i­nal Cinque Ports, along with Rom­ney, Dover, Hythe and Hast­ings, that formed an an­cient me­dieval con­feder- ation of har­bours grouped to­gether for de­fence pur­poses and which were ob­li­gated to sup­ply the crown with ships and men once a year for 15 days, and if a war were on.

Sand­wich was the English port of pre-em­i­nent strate­gic and com­mer­cial im­por­tance be­tween the 11th and 13th cen­turies, but the coast­line has changed dra­mat­i­cally due to ero­sion and silt­ing and the town is just over 3km in­land. It was sacked by the French in 1457 and to this day the mayor wears a black robe in mourn­ing. Henry V set sail from Sand­wich for Agin­court and Thomas Becket stopped here on his way to Can­ter­bury be­fore his mur­der in the cathe­dral. A re­cent discovery of an early edi­tion of the Magna Carta found in a Vic­to­rian scrap­book in the lo­cal gov­ern­ment ar­chives has de­lighted the lo­cals. Although about a third of its con­tent is miss­ing, it has brought to seven the num­ber of sur­viv­ing orig­i­nals is­sued by Ed­ward 1 in 1300.

I walk through the orig­i­nal Bar­bican toll gate and pass 16th-cen­tury Dutch weavers’ cot­tages with their top rooms lean­ing into the street, form­ing the long­est stretch of un­bro­ken tim­ber-framed build­ings in Eng­land. I stop for cof­fee in No Name Street near the Guild­hall, won­der about the spec­tres haunt­ing Holy Ghost Al­ley, and visit a church that dou­bles as a lo­cal arts cen­tre. I am­ble hap­pily next to the Butts stream where, on this flat land, long­bow archers trained dur­ing the me­dieval pe­riod. It is a pic­turesque English scene, with its trees droop­ing and drap­ing pret­tily and duck­lings tread­ing wa­ter.

For a time the Pu­ri­tan Thomas Paine ran a corsetry shop in Sand­wich, be­fore he mi­grated first to France and then to the New World, where he fa­mously coined the phrase the United States of Amer­ica. The fam­ished fourth earl also spon­sored the voy­ages of a cer­tain Cap­tain James Cook RN, who named the Sand­wich Is­lands (Hawaii) af­ter his pa­tron, who was also the First Lord of the Ad­mi­ralty. His Cook’s tour of the South Pa­cific ended abruptly here in 1789 when he was speared by the lo­cals in Hawaii af­ter an al­ter­ca­tion.

• vis­itbri­

The har­bour­side town of Sand­wich in Kent

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