Historical Reprints History Vanishing England: The Book

Vanishing England: The Book

Vanishing England: The Book
Catalog # SKU3284
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 2.00 lbs
Author Name P.H. Ditchfield
ISBN 10: 1610336429
ISBN 13: 9781610336420


Vanishing England:
The Book

Large Print

P.H. Ditchfield

This book is intended not to raise fears but to record facts. We wish to describe with pen and pencil those features of England which are gradually disappearing, and to preserve the memory of them. It may be said that we have begun our quest too late; that so much has already vanished that it is hardly worth while to record what is left.

--New Edition, large 15 point font



Although much has gone, there is still, however, much remaining that is good, that reveals the artistic skill and taste of our forefathers, and recalls the wonders of old-time. It will be our endeavour to tell of the old country houses that Time has spared, the cottages that grace the village green, the stern grey walls that still guard some few of our towns, the old moot halls and public buildings. We shall see the old-time farmers and rustics gathering together at fair and market, their games and sports and merry-makings, and whatever relics of old English life have been left for an artist and scribe of the twentieth century to record.

Our age is an age of progress. Altiora peto is its motto. The spirit of progress is in the air, and lures its votaries on to higher flights. Sometimes they discover that they have been following a mere will-o'-the-wisp, that leads them into bog and quagmire whence no escape is possible. The England of a century, or even of half a century ago, has vanished, and we find ourselves in the midst of a busy, bustling world that knows no rest or peace. Inventions tread upon each other's heels in one long vast bewildering procession. We look back at the peaceful reign of the pack-horse, the rumbling wagon, the advent of the merry coaching days, the "Lightning" and the "Quicksilver," the chaining of the rivers with locks and bars, the network of canals that spread over the whole country; and then the first shriek of the railway engine startled the echoes of the countryside, a poor powerless thing that had to be pulled up the steep gradients by a chain attached to a big stationary engine at the summit. But it was the herald of the doom of the old-world England. Highways and coaching roads, canals and rivers, were abandoned and deserted. The old coachmen, once lords of the road, ended their days in the poorhouse, and steam, almighty steam, ruled everywhere.

Now the wayside inns wake up again with the bellow of the motor-car, which like a hideous monster rushes through the old-world villages, startling and killing old slow-footed rustics and scampering children, dogs and hens, and clouds of dust strive in very mercy to hide the view of the terrible rushing demon. In a few years' time the air will be conquered, and aeroplanes, balloons, flying-machines and air-ships, will drop down upon us from the skies and add a new terror to life.


Under this alarming heading, "The Disappearance of England," the Gaulois recently published an article by M. Guy Dorval on the erosion of the English coasts. The writer refers to the predictions of certain British men of science that England will one day disappear altogether beneath the waves, and imagines that we British folk are seized by a popular panic. Our neighbours are trembling for the fate of the entente cordiale, which would speedily vanish with vanishing England; but they have been assured by some of their savants that the rate of erosion is only one kilometre in a thousand years, and that the danger of total extinction is somewhat remote. Professor Stanislas Meunier, however, declares that our "panic" is based on scientific facts. He tells us that the cliffs of Brighton are now one kilometre farther away from the French coast than in the days of Queen Elizabeth, and that those of Kent are six kilometres farther away than in the Roman period. He compares our island to a large piece of sugar in water, but we may rest assured that before we disappear beneath the waves the period which must elapse would be greater than the longest civilizations known in history. So we may hope to be able to sing "Rule Britannia" for many a long year.

Coast erosion is, however, a serious problem, and has caused the destruction of many a fair town and noble forest that now lie beneath the seas, and the crumbling cliffs on our eastern shore threaten to destroy many a village church and smiling pasture. Fishermen tell you that when storms rage and the waves swell they have heard the bells chiming in the towers long covered by the seas, and nigh the picturesque village of Bosham we were told of a stretch of sea that was called the Park. This as late as the days of Henry VIII was a favourite royal hunting forest, wherein stags and fawns and does disported themselves; now fish are the only prey that can be slain therein.

The Royal Commission on coast erosion relieves our minds somewhat by assuring us that although the sea gains upon the land in many places, the land gains upon the sea in others, and that the loss and gain are more or less balanced. As a matter of area this is true. Most of the land that has been rescued from the pitiless sea is below high-water mark, and is protected by artificial banks. This work of reclaiming land can, of course, only be accomplished in sheltered places, for example, in the great flat bordering the Wash, which flat is formed by the deposit of the rivers of the Fenland, and the seaward face of this region is gradually being pushed forward by the careful processes of enclosure. You can see the various old sea walls which have been constructed from Roman times onward. Some accretions of land have occurred where the sea piles up masses of shingle, unless foolish people cart away the shingle in such quantities that the waves again assert themselves. Sometimes sand silts up as at Southport in Lancashire, where there is the second longest pier in England, a mile in length, from the end of which it is said that on a clear day with a powerful telescope you may perchance see the sea, that a distinguished traveller accustomed to the deserts of Sahara once found it, and that the name Southport is altogether a misnomer, as it is in the north and there is no port at all.

But however much as an Englishman I might rejoice that the actual area of "our tight little island," which after all is not very tight, should not be diminishing, it would be a poor consolation to me, if I possessed land and houses on the coast of Norfolk which were fast slipping into the sea, to know that in the Fenland industrious farmers were adding to their acres. And day by day, year by year, this destruction is going on, and the gradual melting away of land. The attack is not always persistent. It is intermittent. Sometimes the progress of the sea seems to be stayed, and then a violent storm arises and falling cliffs and submerged houses proclaim the sway of the relentless waves. We find that the greatest loss has occurred on the east and southern coasts of our island. Great damage has been wrought all along the Yorkshire sea-board from Bridlington to Kilnsea, and the following districts have been the greatest sufferers: between Cromer and Happisburgh, Norfolk; between Pakefield and Southwold, Suffolk; Hampton and Herne Bay, and then St. Margaret's Bay, near Dover; the coast of Sussex, east of Brighton, and the Isle of Wight; the region of Bournemouth and Poole; Lyme Bay, Dorset, and Bridgwater Bay, Somerset.

All along the coast from Yarmouth to Eastbourne, with a few exceptional parts, we find that the sea is gaining on the land by leaps and bounds.

It is a coast that is most favourably constructed for coast erosion. There are no hard or firm rocks, no cliffs high enough to give rise to a respectable landslip; the soil is composed of loose sand and gravels, loams and clays, nothing to resist the assaults of atmospheric action from above or the sea below. At Covehithe, on the Suffolk coast, there has been the greatest loss of land. In 1887 sixty feet was claimed by the sea, and in ten years (1878-87) the loss was at the rate of over eighteen feet a year. In 1895 another heavy loss occurred between Southwold and Covehithe and a new cove formed. Easton Bavent has entirely disappeared, and so have the once prosperous villages of Covehithe, Burgh-next-Walton, and Newton-by-Corton, and the same fate seems to be awaiting Pakefield, Southwold, and other coast-lying towns. Easton Bavent once had such a flourishing fishery that it paid an annual rent of 3110 herrings; and millions of herrings must have been caught by the fishermen of disappeared Dunwich, which we shall visit presently, as they paid annually "fish-fare" to the clergy of the town 15,377 herrings, besides 70,000 to the royal treasury.

The summer visitors to the pleasant watering-place Felixstowe, named after St. Felix, who converted the East Anglians to Christianity and was their first bishop, that being the place where the monks of the priory of St. Felix in Walton held their annual fair, seldom reflect that the old Saxon burgh was carried away as long ago as 1100 A.D. Hence Earl Bigot was compelled to retire inland and erect his famous castle at Walton. But the sea respected not the proud walls of the baron's stronghold; the strong masonry that girt the keep lies beneath the waves; a heap of stones, called by the rustics Stone Works, alone marks the site of this once powerful castle. Two centuries later the baron's marsh was destroyed by the sea, and eighty acres of land was lost, much to the regret of the monks, who were thus deprived of the rent and tithe corn.

The old chroniclers record many dread visitations of the relentless foe. Thus in 1237 we read: "The sea burst with high tides and tempests of winds, marsh countries near the sea were flooded, herds and flocks perished, and no small number of men were lost and drowned. The sea rose continually for two days and one night." Again in 1251: "On Christmas night there was a great thunder and lightning in Suffolk; the sea caused heavy floods." In much later times Defoe records: "Aldeburgh has two streets, each near a mile long, but its breadth, which was more considerable formerly, is not proportionable, and the sea has of late years swallowed up one whole street."

It has still standing close to the shore its quaint picturesque town hall, erected in the fifteenth century. Southwold is now practically an island, bounded on the east by the sea, on the south-west by the Blyth River, on the north-west by Buss Creek. It is only joined to the mainland by a narrow neck of shingle that divides Buss Creek from the sea. I think that I should prefer to hold property in a more secure region. You invest your savings in stock, and dividends decrease and your capital grows smaller, but you usually have something left. But when your land and houses vanish entirely beneath the waves, the chapter is ended and you have no further remedy except to sue Father Neptune, who has rather a wide beat and may be difficult to find when he is wanted to be served with a summons.

The George Inn, Norton St. Philip, Somerset

366 pages - 8½ x 11 softcover
ISBN-10: 1610336429
ISBN-13: 9781610336420

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