The medieval market town of Sandwich in Kent that gave its name to the world’s most popular snack.
Sandwich in the county of Kent was once one of England’s major ports, and an important naval base. In Roman and Saxon times, Sandwich sat at the southern end of the Wantsum Channel, which ran between Kent and the Isle of Thanet. This channel offered a short cut for ships travelling from the continent to the Thames Estuary. In many ways Sandwich was the gateway to England.
Saxon Naval Base
Once the Romans left in the fourth century, Sandwich emerged as a major naval base for the Saxon kings. Edward I came to Sandwich every year from 1043 to 1047 to personally take command of the fleet gathered to face a potential invasion from Norway. It was also at Sandwich that Edward the Confessor gathered a fleet to try and resist a rebel fleet led by his rival the powerful Earl Godwine in 1052.
Three Kings Yard
Edward’s successor, King Harold, also used Sandwich as a naval base. William invaded, and defeated Harold. But this shattering event did not stop the rise of Sandwich as a major port. Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries Sandwich reached the height of its prestige. An alliance formed between Sandwich and four other ports – Hastings, Dover, Romney, Hythe – close by on the English coast. This alliance was known as the Cinque Ports. These ports were obliged to provide ships and sea men for national defence, in return for significant trading privileges. Reflecting the navy’s importance, the Cinque Ports became a very powerful organisation. This influence began to decline during the reign of King John when the first moves were made towards a professional navy. Sandwich remained an important base. Edward III sailed out of Sandwich in 1350 to defeat Castilian galleys off Winchelsea. The Barbican on the Quay, built in 1539 remains as evidence of Henry VIII’s consciousness of the strategic importance of Sandwich.
It was during the reign of Henry VIII that Sandwich experienced a major change in its status. Sandwich harbour, which had once been able to hold hundreds of ships began to shrink due to the silting up of the Wantsum Channel. From the seventeenth century Sandwich settled into its new role as a quiet market town two miles from the sea.
St Mary’s Church
The medieval church, of St. Mary’s has a fine 17th century roof and 18th century altar piece. The church occupies what may be the oldest church site in Sandwich, where a 7th century convent was founded of which nothing now survives. Early documents belonging to the church date from 1311. There remain substantial parts of a large Norman church, despite the town having been sacked by the French in the 13th and 15th centuries, an earthquake in the 16th century and the collapse of the tower in the 17th.
In 1759 Sandwich was the home and shop of Thomas Paine, founding father of the United States and French Republic. It was Paine who created the phrase “United States of America”, and was author of three of the bestsellers of the eighteenth century, including the cornerstone of American democracy, Common Sense plus the bible of English radicalism, the Rights of Man.
The snack we know today was named after the 18th Century Earl of Sandwich, who, incidentally never visited the town. Being a heavy gambler , he didn’t want to leave the gaming tables when he was winning so he ordered his meat to be served between two slices of bread. Not knowing what to call it, his servants christened it the sandwich.