Abandoned Communities ..... Dunwich
We know that high tides and storms caused further enormous damage in January 1328. On this occasion details of the extent of devastation are recorded in a book by Thomas Gardner, Salt Officer of Southwold, published in 1754. The first part of the book's title is "A Historical Account of Dunwich, Anciently a City, now a Borough". Gardner drew his information from the bailiffs' rental of 1334. Only a few houses remained in the parishes of St Nicholas, St Martin's, and St Leonard's. Most of these had been deserted as they were close to the new cliff edge and their occupants were well aware that it was only a matter of time before they too would disappear. A windmill in the parish of St Leonard's had toppled over. Some time before 1328 residents had taken the precaution of removing from the church of St Leonard's its timber, bells, and furnishings. In the storms of that year it was totally destroyed. Afterwards none of it could be seen.

Another effect of those storms was that the shingle of Kings Holme was pushed further south and the entrance to the harbour was finally blocked. The people of Dunwich now had to resign themselves to the fact that it would be quite impossible to open the harbour once again. They still made no attempt to negotiate with their neighbours. If anything, the conflict became even more violent. Authorised by Sir John de Clavering, lord of the manor at Blythburgh, a "britask", or wooden stockade, was built close to Walberswick with the aim of collecting tolls from passing shipping. Then in 1331 a commission of inquiry was set up to investigate allegations that four men from Dunwich had attacked a ship belonging to Anastasia Butt, a widow of Walberswick. It was alleged that they had broken up and sunk the ship, and murdered sixteen men who were on board the ship.

For an imaginative account of how this attack may have taken place please go back to Rowland Parker's book on Dunwich. Parker proposes the theory that the incident may have involved a very early use of gunpowder.

It appears that after 1328 the exodus of people from Dunwich accelerated. Before that date it is likely that occasionally individual families made the decision to get out, and clearly significant numbers were obliged to leave whenever serious erosion occurred. After 1328, however, residents appear to have been more prepared to accept that they had no future in Dunwich. In particular there is evidence that several of the more wealthy families took the decision to move away, as the names of many such families fade from the records after the 1330s and 1340s.

Further relatively minor damage would have been suffered by Dunwich from time to time. However, by the beginning of the fifteenth century the town appears to have entered a period of relative stability, albeit with a much reduced population. A considerable amount of information about the way of life in Dunwich during the first part of the fifteenth century has been preserved in the Bailiffs' Minute Book for 1404 to 1430. This document can be seen in the Suffolk Record Office in Ipswich. If your understanding of medieval Latin is limited you can read a translation of it in a book edited by Mark Bailey.

Mark Bailey (ed.), 1992, The Bailiffs Minute Book of Dunwich, 1404-1430, Boydell Press, Suffolk Records Society Vol. XXXIV.

If you make a visit to the Record Office I would strongly recommend that you browse among the newspaper cuttings on Dunwich. Search in particular for articles featuring Mr Stuart Bacon, variously referred to as "expert and author of a book on Dunwich", "marine historian", "marine archaeologist", and "Director of Suffolk Underwater Studies". You will learn that Stuart Bacon has found and restored an eighteenth century cannon, has complained about treasure seekers tampering with graves at All Saints churchyard in such a way that erosion is likely to be accelerated, and has made out a case for major land reclamation schemes and huge sea walls in order to prevent further loss of vulnerable coast. Sadly, after several years of diving under the water where Dunwich once was Stuart Bacon has had to come to the conclusion that "we know more about the moon than we know about what goes on down there".

During the period covered by the Minute Book the town was governed by two bailiffs. Until 1346 there had been a mayor and four bailiffs, but in that year it was decided that in view of the declining size and status of Dunwich the office of mayor should be abolished and the number of bailiffs reduced to two. The Minute Book contains notes made by the bailiffs on a wide range of matters, though predominantly matters with financial implications of one kind or another.
Two pages from the Bailiffs’ Minute Book