The earliest reference to a castle at Sandwich, the premier port of England at one time, was in the reign of Edward I (1272‚1307 ) when a bailiff or royal official was appointed by the King . The documentary sources say that the castle was ‘ newly erected’ around AD1290.
A local amateur archaeologist Mr Alf Southam and colleagues carried a series of trial trenches in Castle Mead, a field immediately adjacent to the town wall and the Sandown road on the east side of town. Trial trenches proved the existence of the castle ditches and eye witnesses remembered seeing walls being hit when the field was ploughed.
In 1982, further trial trenching under the direction of Mr Paul Bennett of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, provided more evidence of the castle ditch and a possible castle mound. Not open to the public.
The river Stour, coming from Canterbury, now meanders for many a mile through fertile pastures on its way by Richborough to Sandwich, and thence, turning back in a devious course, flows into the sea in Pegwell Bay ; but in ancient times it debouched at Stourmouth direct into a creek which bounded the southern shore of the eastern promontory of Kent ; thence, passing along northward from Stourmouth in a broad charnel, it found its way into the estuary of the Thames close to Reculbium (Reculvers), thus cutting off from the mainland of Kent a portion which is still called the Isle of Thanet, although for many centuries no longer an island. Just where this creek had originally opened to the waters of the Channel was, on the N. or island side, the little sheltered haven of Ebbesflete, where the Saxons first landed in England, and where in 599 Augustine commenced his divine mission in this land. On the opposite side, upon a cliff below which the river now flows towards Sandwich, stands the ruin of Richborough Castle, being the outer wall of the Roman camp of Rutupiae, which guarded this chief port of the Roman navy, and their settlement below of Stonar, or Stonore, a city that has disappeared, and from which the town of Sandwich was perhaps built. Stonore, or Estonore, as it was written, if not on an island, was at the S. end of a promontory of Thanet stretching almost to Sandwich : from this place it was divided by the river Stour, which here met the sea. It was used by the Romans as their port on the Thanet side, and was perhaps founded by them ; in Saxon times it was called Lundenwic. But in 1365 Stonore was nearly destroyed by a great inundation of the sea, and it was burnt by the French in 1385 ; Leland says that nothing then remained of the place but Stonore Church.
Of Sandwich, on the opposite side of the Stour channel, mention is made in the seventh century, and in the eleventh it had become “the most famous of all the ports of England.” This, no doubt, was due entirely to its position at the S. end of the navigable tidal channel, which was the common passage for shipping from the south to the Thames, instead of sailing, as now, round the North Foreland. Harold cold his father, Earl Godwin, sailing from Dover in 1052 turned in here between Sandwich and Stonore, and passing beneath Richborough, came by the before-mentioned channel, then called The Wantsum, round the W. end of Thanet, to the point called Northmouth, at Reculvers, where they met the estuary of the Thames, and so by it to London. And as long as this highway for ships existed, Sandwich flourished, but when the action of the waves, and the set of the tides, banked up the outfall here, so that the silt and deposits of the Stour river could not be carried off, then gradually the Wantsum became shallower, and at last filled up, and at once Sandwich began to decay. The entire waterway was open from Sandwich to Northmouth till 1450-60, but a “caryke” sunk in the haven in 1464 (cir.) “did much hurt, and gether a great bank,” and in 1485 bridges began to take the place of ferries in Wantsum, the passage having got choked with “wose, mudde, and sande’ Then the elevation of the foreshore caused the sea to recede from Sandwich, until at the present day it is two miles from the sea, and is a decayed, forgotten locality.
It was the oldest of the Cinque Ports, and was a favourite point of departure for, and arrival from, the Continent, on account of the narrowness of the passage across ; and Sandwich was also frequented, after the canonisation of Becket, from its nearness to the Canterbury shrine. Becket escaped hither from the Northampton council (see NORTHAMPTON), after hiding at Eastry (three miles off), a cell of Canterbury; and here he landed on his return from exile in December up, just before his murder (see SALTWOOD, KENT). Richard I. landed here returning from his Austrian prison, and proceeded barefoot to Canterbury to return thanks. Edward III. used the port frequently in his foreign expeditions, and the castle is mentioned in his time. It stood at the S.E. of the town, near the entrance to the port. The custodian of this king’s castle was appointed by the governor of Dover Castle. It was held in 1471 by the bastard Falconbridge, who strongly fortified himself there with some 8000 of his followers against Edward IV., but on the King’s approach it was surrendered, with thirteen ships, on the promise of a fill pardon, though Falconbridge was afterwards executed at Southampton. (Baker’s Chronicle.) Nothing whatever remains of this castle now. The town was defended by a wall anti live gates, of which one only remains, namely, the Fisher Gate, towards the haven, and near it is the barbican, a Tudor work, on the Ramsgate road from the N. This castle is not
mentioned by Leland. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)