Dymchurch Tourist Guide
Find out about the history and development of Dymchurch and why you should come and visit this fascinating part of Kent.
Dymchurch lies on the A259 Hastings to Folkestone road between Hythe and St Mary’s Bay,on the Romney Marsh. It is typical of this part of the coast, having originally been a very small village which during the 1930s became a much larger settlement. In 1908 Walter Jerrold described the village as a quiet scattered village and a delightful place far from the madding crowd. Many of the houses were converted railway carriages. Dymchurch is now a popular seaside resort complete with holiday camp, caravan parks, light railway station and amusement park.
The Dymchurch wall (sea defences) were built by the Romans to protect their harbour at Port Lympne and they run for about 4 miles and were 20 ft high. The effect of this wall together with the Rhee Wall they erected between New Romney and Appledore ensured that the rich alluvial land deposited by the river Limen (Rother) initially used as salt pans, slowly through time became rich and fertile farmland.
The Norman church in Dymchurch, dedicated to St Peter & St Paul, was built about 1150. The first recorded Rector was Richard de Bello in 1260. The church remained virtually unchanged for nearly 700 years. In 1821 the population of Dymchurch increased and the north aisle was extended and the nave re-roofed giving the church its present lop-sided appearance. Mason's marks may be seen outside above the windows on the north wall. The church has been used for storing smuggled goods as were most of the others on Romney Marsh. This started in the reign of Edward I when a customs duty was placed on the export of wool which was in great demand in Europe.
In the 1100s the right to the self governing of the land in this area was given to a body called Lex Marisci, in exchange for these people to keep the sea wall maintained. In 1250 saw the creation of the Jurats of the Level of Romney Marsh, an ancient organisation who like the Cinque Ports were allowed the privilege of governing themselves in exchange for the sea wall maintenance. Its headquarters were at Dymchurch.
The book Dr Syn written by Russell Thorndike helps to give the feel of the marshes, its smuggling and owling. The church described in the book is that in Dymchurch. The novel "Doctor Syn" was published in 1915. It is set around the turn of the 18th century and tells the story of the Vicar of , who was once the notorious pirate Captain Clegg and now leads a secret life as the Scarecrow, head of a gang of smugglers. The author was the actor and writer Russell Thorndike, brother of the actress Dame Sybil Thorndike. While the Thorndikes were touring the USA with a theatrical company, a murder took place outside their hotel. The body was left all night on the street below their window. Unable to sleep, they passed the time by telling stories. The character of Doctor Syn is said to have been created that night. The Thorndikes knew Dymchurch well and were frequent visitors. Russell lived in several different houses in the village, and was often to be found in the Ship Inn, which is featured prominently in the novel. Such was the popularity of the original novel that Thorndike went on to write six others, which recount Doctor Syn's earlier life.
New Hall was rebuilt in 1575 after an earlier wooden structure was destroyed in a storm. It was rebuilt and used as a court room for the Romney Marsh area. It was here that Scott's Tax was introduced; a tax levied on local residents at the time to fund the ongoing maintenance of the sea wall defences. Those who lived directly outside of the boundaries and thus not eligible for the tax were said to have gotten away ‘Scott Free’.
Residents with land were also required to grow thorn bushes for use in the building of the wall, as thorn twigs were believed at the time to be impervious to sea water. Failure to do so resulted in an ear being cut off by way of punishment.
The Ship Inn was built in the 15th century and was a regular haunt (in much later years) of the author Russell Thorndike. It is said that he penned various chapters of his Dr Syn books while drinking in this pub, and based some characters from his books on local reprobates.
The long history of conflict associated with the Romney Marsh is largely the result of its nearness to the continent. There is early evidence of Roman, Viking and Saxon invasions and settlements dating back to the third century AD. In the nineteenth century the Royal Military Canal was built along with a line of Martello Towers to protect against a Napoleonic invasion. All of the 28 miles of the canal is now open to walkers and provides an excellent long distance trail.
Tales of smuggling on the Marsh are commonplace. Whether they are about the notorious Hawkhurst Gang or the fictional character Dr Syn, the fact and the fiction is often difficult to separate and as a result has provided inspiration to both authors and artists alike.
One of the major attractions of the village is the beautiful sandy beach. Awarded a ‘Tidy Britain Group Seaside Award’ for the past 10 years, the sandy beach extends for as far as the eye can see. Swimmers, jetskiers and windsurfers alike, gather to make the most of the water, while those who prefer less energetic pastimes may ride the donkeys, fly kites or simply enjoy sitting on the sand.
Facilities of all kinds can be found on the wide seawall, which may have been built by the Romans. Ice Cream, candy floss, toilet facilities, 2 Beach Managers and a First Aid Post are all on hand, as is the village High Street which is literally a 1 minute walk from the beach. Access to the seawall and toilet facilities are provided for the disabled.
Restaurants, cafes and takeaways offer a good choice of food and the pubs and inns offer food too. All the seaside ‘goodies’ are available, sticks of Dymchurch Rock, inflatable beach toys of all kinds and maybe even a ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hat if you look hard enough!
No visit to Dymchurch would be complete without a journey on the railway that carries the village name. The railway was built by Captain J. E. P. Howey and Count Louis Zborowski to serve the local population and tourist trade. The Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway first opened in July 1927 and the 'World's Smallest Public Railway' now covers a distance of 13.5 miles from the Cinque Port Town of Hythe to the fishermen's cottages and lighthouses at Dungeness.
New Romney Station features a buffet and a Toy and Model museum with an OO gauge model railway layout featuring trains that are computer-controlled. Check the RH&DR website www.rhdr.org.uk for more details of train times and the special Thomas the Tank Engine days and Santa Specials. Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day usually see a special event being staged as well.
Dymchurch has four public houses, all of which provide a bright and breezy welcome and most offer food. The Amusement Park and Arcades are the place to visit if you prefer a little light-hearted gambling during your visit or maybe a ride on the Dodgems or the Ghost Train. Dymchurch is fortunate enough to have the sea in one direction and the Romney Marsh in just about all others! The Marsh offers plenty of good walks with the possibility of stumbling across some unequalled pubs and inns in the most out of the way places.
While walking on the Marsh you will most certainly come across some of the wildlife unique to this part of the countryside. Be on the lookout for the Marsh frogs and other wetland inhabitants such as dragonflies and reed warblers which bring the ditches alive during the summer. You may catch site of the shy water vole which is still common on the Romney Marsh but in decline across most parts of the United Kingdom. The Romney Marsh is also a popular haunt for bird watchers and most of the farmland bird species such as corn buntings, yellowhammers and skylark can be seen.
A walk on the Romney Marsh will reveal evidence of its long and fascinating history. You may discover one of the few remaining and unusual ‘looker’ huts which once provided shelter for shepherds. In contrast you may find yourself following the route of an ancient sea wall, now located far inland and a reminder of the ever changing coastline in this part of the world.
The Romney Marsh Countryside Project has produced nine self guided walks of interest to both the novice and experienced country walker. The walks range from three to nine miles in length. The Romney Marsh Countryside Project has waymarked each of these nine routes with green and yellow arrowed discs, yellow taped marker posts at stiles and bridges across large fields. They have also installed new oak posts at road junctions and provided new materials for stiles and kissing gates.
Dymchurch was part of the Napoleonic defences of England in the early 1800s. Two Martello towers were built in the village to act as a deterrent to Napoleon invading. At the time the only people who lived here were a few fishermen or smugglers.
Two redoubts were constructed into the south coast Martello chain to act as supply depots for the local Martellos, and were originally described as 'eleven-gun towers'. It was originally proposed to build a four-gun tower at Dymchurch, but this idea was revised at the Rochester conference of 1804. Dymchurch Redoubt was built between 1806-1809 to the same specifications as its Eastbourne counterpart, although Dymchurch does not have any caponiers. (Caponiers are blockhouses in the moat that allowed the garrison to cover the entire ditch with defensive musket fire - Eastbourne Redoubt has five).
Dymchurch also underwent significant re-fortification during the Second World War, bunkers and pillboxes adorning its parapets. The gun platforms were encased in concrete for machine-guns to be mounted, artillery emplacements constructed and an observation post erected. On the western extreme of the Hythe Ranges, during the 1970s the Redoubt was being used by the British Army for training soldiers in the art of street-fighting. It is still owned by the Ministry of Defence, and will probably remain so, effectively preventing any restoration work with a view to opening it to the public in the foreseeable future.
Dymchurch Martello Towers
Martello Towers are fortifications that were built by the British Army for coastal defence during the nineteenth century. They were built all over the British Empire, from Ireland to Canada, and many survive to this day. The towers built along the coast of Kent and Sussex were the first to be built in England.
Tower 20's position was described as being "critical" in 1873, and it is believed that it was washed away during the early part of the century. The immediate neighbour of the Dymchurch Redoubt, Tower 21 was the last in the line of the low-level towers, most of which were lost to the sea. As with Tower 20, the tower was described as being in a critical position in 1873 and has been washed away. Tower 22 was the second most recent south coast Martello to be lost; it was destroyed in 1956. Tower 23 was itself restored externally in the early 1970s at a cost of £4,500. A ground-level door was knocked through the seaward wall, and by the 1990s the tower was being lived in. Tower 23 has a new roof extension and was put up for sale for £850,000 in 2004. After again being used by the Coastguard up until 1959, Tower 24 was acquired by the Ministry of Works and restoration work was begun. The internal timberwork was found to be rotten, and that of Tower 23 used as a guide. A new floor of the correct pattern was installed, and room partitions added. The tower was first opened to the public as a museum in 1969 and remains as a museum of Martello Towers, owned by English Heritage. It is currently the only tower solely devoted to the history of the Martello Towers. Tower 25 is possibly the only empty tower that is regularly maintained, whereas others are just left to deteriorate. Tower 26 was demolished in 1871. Tower 27 was demolished in 1841 in consequence of the advance of the sea.
New Hall Museum is in New Hall Close. An old court room built in 1575 and containing a small museum with exhibits found on Romney Marsh and maps and charts. Tel: +44 (0) 1303 873897.
MWs Dymchurch Amusement Park in the High Street has rides such as dodgems, log flumes, a ghost train and 3 large indoor amusement arcades and promises a fun day out for the whole family. Tel: 01303 873120.
New Romney Visitor Centre, Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Light Railway, New Romney Station, New Romney, Kent TN28 8PL
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015