The Changing face of Romney Marsh
Changing face of Romney Marsh
The Romney Marshes are an area on the South Coast of England which lies between Folkestone in the East and Winchelsea in the west. The land used to be marsh land, but over time it has been changed to its current form. We would like to take you down the annals of time to about 10000 BC to see the changes brought about by a mixture of Man and Nature. Romney Marsh at the present day has been mostly converted to very fertile farmland, quite a large area lies below sea level, but is protected by sea defences and walls throughout the area. The Marshes are famous for their sheep and smuggling which for many years provided income to the locals .The area is well used by windsurfers, sailors and other water sports enthusiasts. The majority of the beaches are sandy and safe for families.

The whole area, as with the rest of Sussex has been affected by severe oscillations of land level over the last 10,000 years, I will come back to this later on in the article.
6000 BC

The area is bordered by a range of hills(shown in green) , through which three rivers pass , they all flow into the area from the left of the map(west)  and consist of the Rother , the Tillingham and the Brede . The land was about  40 ft lower than at present, and the whole area was under  water. This made the area look like a great bay. The headland at Fairlight and Hastings was about 2 miles futher out at sea at this point.

3000 BC

The land has risen about 40 ft and is now above sea level, the land dried out, and the salt leached away, the whole area is covered by forests , the remains of which are visible today as a Submerged forest at Pett Level .

100 AD

The land rose about 370AD, but it is on its way down again. The Romans build a wall around the northern part of the area, probably to create salt pans, with which to provide troops in both England and Europe. The river Rother flows north of the Isle of Oxney and out through the salt marshes to the sea at Old Romney .

1250 AD

The land is slowly being reclaimed by the local inhabitants and the Rother is helping to keep the port of Old Romney clear, with its flow throughout the area, this is the high point for the inhabitants of Old Romney, with the Cinque Ports , and their entourage. The town of Broomhill and Winchelsea which lie on the south edge of the marsh being important port towns.

1287 AD

A severe storm has hit the channel, and the movement of shingle has blocked the outlet of the Rother at Romney, changing its path forever down to Rye and out into the sea. The Storm sweeps away the towns of Broomhill and Winchelsea entirely and destroys many ships. The Cinque Ports are devastated. New Romney is founded, Winchelsea is built in its current position.

1666 AD

Another 100 years further on in time we can see that the Rother is still flowing to the north of the Isle of Oxney , and the area around Walland Marsh is now open to the sea, but much of the land has been reclaimed especially around Old Romney . Rye and Winchelsea are both important ports, as they have a protected harbour.

(This map has been taken from a map of the time)

1750 AD

The river Rother has now changed its route to the sea, and now flows to the south of the Isle of Oxney . More land has been reclaimed and the area is becoming  less and less marshy. The area around Rye and Winchelsea now provides safe haven for the sailing ships at the time, this shows Rye at the height of its fame. The dotted line shows the present coastline. It also shows that the Tillingham and the Brede were still navigable at this point, but the Rother is only navigable to the Isle of Oxney .

2000 AD

Within the line of the hills lies the Royal Military Canal which was built in the early 1800's to protect against  invasion from Napoleon. Quite a large area lies below sea level, but is protected by sea defences and walls throughout the area. The area now consists of rich and fertile farmland.

OK back to the land oscillation, we have a theory about the land rising and falling, and have tried to use historical records to prove the theory. This is an adaptation of a theory proposed by Walter J.C. Murray in his book Romney Marsh published in 1953

We have looked at the geological evidence in the area, and noted that the land has risen and fallen but the oscillations have diminished over time. The data looked like a damped curve, similar to those found on a car suspension damper.

 We plotted the results we had into a chart, and found that it was possible to extrapolate points where we had no data, and produced the following.

The data we have is shown in the following table the entries that have some evidence are shown in light blue, with their source. It appeared that the data we had was in a logarithmic series.

10,000BC +35ft Geological surveys have shown that the land was about 35ft higher than at present.
6000BC -25ft This is known as the Neolithic Depression in which the land sinks about 75 ft.
3300BC +23ft From 6000BC to 3300BC the land rises to 23 ft above sea level, with Oak Forests and moorlands covering. Some of these can still be seen at Pett Level .
1550BC -16ft The land sinks back below sea level, but silt has produced islands.
370BC +15ft It is our estimation that the land rose at this time.
420AD -10ft The Romans win the north of the Marshes from the sea, from 50AD this must have been when the land was around sea level, thus making possible the building of the Rhee wall between Old Romney and Appledore .
945AD +10ft  
1290AD -6ft In 1287 the ports of Winchelsea and Broomhill are lost to the sea.
1530AD +7ft The shingle bank at Seaford blocks the harbour in the early 1500's.
1690AD -3ft  
1790AD +5ft  

We have only extrapolated our data to 1775 as the extrapolation is difficult to carry beyond this because a small change in the estimation of date gives an unreasonable date change.

Finally there seem to be two possible things that we could imagine that could create this source of oscillation
1. Would be an impact on the earth nearby, such as an enormous asteroid or meteor, creating a series of ripples in the earth's surface, similar to that of a pebble in a pond.
2. Or the effects of the Ice Cap melting over Britain which would produced a similar effect with Scotland sinking while the South East rises.

PLEASE NOTE:- These suppositions may or may not be valid, if you have any proof to support or counter the argument , please contact us at, we would be interested to know if this cyclic phenomenon is noticed outside this area, as proof of land movements in other areas of the country would corroborate either of the above suppositions.
The theory seems to be valid for other villages and towns in our area, however it seems that in the 21st century these occilations have stopped. 

Villages Mentioned
Appledore (Danes invade England)
Brede (Edward I inspects the Channel Fleet)
Broomhill (Swept away by the Storm)
Fairlight (Firehills and Views)
New Romney (Cinque Port and Storm)
Old Romney (Sheep and Wool Smuggling)
Pett (End of the Royal Military Canal)
Rye (On the Island)
Seaford (The cormorants or shags)
Winchelsea (Inland Cinque Port !!)
Copyright Villagenet 1998-2024
Local Businesses
Hastings Rock the place to listen to
Talk in Code fabulous new Album
The Bald Explorer for local documentaries
Battle Brewery our local excellent micro brewery
Roman, Saxon and Norman History of the South East
For all things mosaic, commissions workshops etc please contact Hannah
The Rudes as lots of people call us, are an outdoor touring theatre company specialising in taking new & original theatre to mainly small rural communities and a few towns across the South of England. We were founded in 1998 & first toured in the Summer of 1999. Currently we tour only in the summer performing 50+ times nightly during June, July & August.
World War 2 Vehicle database