Spotlight on Sandwich
Wonderfully picturesque, its medieval streetscape little changed over the centuries, Sandwich is relaxed and welcoming, with plenty to see and do.
Sandwich is one of the most picturesque and ancient towns in the UK, from its heyday as the most vital port in England and fourth most important town to its current more relaxed status as one of our most pleasant places to live. Small and friendly, it has a fine quayside and splendid wildlife and nature facilities.
Bizarrely, for such a typically ‘English’ town, its prosperity in the 16th century was established by Dutch settlers and since 1960, American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has supported its economic success.
The streets are very narrow, and to see the historic part of town, a car isn’t practical; but there are plenty of car parks and everywhere is easy to walk to.
The Tourist Information Centre is based in the historic Guildhall in the central Cattlemarket and it’s a good place to start your tour. To your left is the HSBC bank, which used to be the old Mermaid Inn. Next door is the Mermaid’s Locker and tearoom.
Continuing left from the Guildhall, turn right at the bottom of the road and you’ll be in Moat Sole; here you'll find the ancient St Thomas’s Hospital. Retrace your steps and follow the Cattlemarket to the end and you come to Delf Street, named after the Delf stream that runs along it.
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Continue until this changes to King Street, and turn at the end into St Peter’s Street where you will find
St Peter’s church with its prominent brick-built Dutch-style brick gable. Go on up St Peter’s Street and at the top you come to Strand Street.
Turn right here and you’ll soon find The Sandwich Weavers, a block of beautiful old houses originally used as Dutch weavers’ cottages in the 16th and 17th centuries.
If you go back in the other direction, on the right, opposite Bowling Street, is a grand brick wall in front of a large historic house called The Kings Lodging. Almost opposite here is The Pilgrims, a large double overhang timber-framed building. Continue on to St Mary’s church then turn round and come back. Turn right and into the High Street. Here you’ll find pleasant shops, and Holy Ghost Alley, a long, narrow mysterious passageway.
Don’t miss Short Street, on the right and the Old Dutch House, a large, attractive white building, with parts of its swagged and elaborate plaster pargeting picked out in bright blue, and other parts in black.
Return along the High street back to the junction with Strand Street: that road’s end is marked by two fine ancient public houses, the timber-framed Admiral Owen and opposite, The Crispin, both dating from the 1400s.
In front of you is the Barbican gate, a large arch over the road which was once one of several gateways in the old town walls. Pass through here and you are in the most scenic part of town, The Quay. The river and the boats look spectacular on a sunny day, as does The Bell Inn on the riverfront. Fisherman’s Wharf, a pub right on
the Quay, is a wonderful place to
relax right by the riverside.
The Guildhall and museum (01304 617197): discover the story of Sandwich since medieval times from panels and artifacts dating back to the 13th centuryWalk around the old town wall, which comprises The Butts, the Ropewalk, Millwall, The Bulwarks, and Town Wall. The major part of this edifice has disappeared but raised earthworks remainSandwich Bay Bird Observatory Trust (01304 617341): incorporating nature reserve with varieties of birds, flora and faunaRichborough Roman Fort (01304 612013): remains of an important Roman siteThe Salutation (01304 619919): 3.5 acres of ornamental gardens designed by Lutyens and Gertrude JekyllWhite Mill Rural Heritage Centre (01304 612076), a 1760s-built smock mill, restored miller’s cottage, farming and craft displays
Ash Coombe Vineyard (01304 813396): tours and tastingRare Species Conservation Centre (01304 611578): see previous pageSandwich River tours (07958 376183): trips along the Stour Sandwich coarse fishery (07936 409912)Golf courses: Royal St George’s (01304 613090), Royal Cinque Ports (01304 374328) and Princes (01304 613797).
Past and present
The Saxon word ‘Sandwic’ translates to ‘settlement on the sand’, and ‘Stronde’ (referring to Strand Street) meant riverbank. After measures to stop flooding were implemented, the town became one of the Cinque Ports, the south coast harbours that supplied the monarch with ships and men.
In the 1300s the Quayside area was enlarged and 1385 was when the town was walled for defence: however, this did not prevent the marauding French ravaging the town in 1457, and murdering the mayor, John Drury.
Tudor days were times of decline as the harbour silted up, but Elizabeth 1 saved the town’s fortunes as a result of her invitation to persecuted Flemish protestants to settle in the town. They brought with them weaving and market-gardening skills, which were the seeds of Sandwich’s success. By 1560 these very welcome ‘Strangers’ made up half the town’s population.
Unlike most other communities in Kent, the coming of the railway doesn’t seem to have appreciably altered the town’s fortunes. However in 1954, Pfizer, the American drug company, established compounding operations at Folkestone and a research and development facility at
a site at Sandwich Haven.
By 1960 the Folkestone operation was absorbed into the Sandwich plant. By the end of the 1970s, Pfizer Sandwich was the largest research operation of any US pharmaceutical company outside the States. Although Pfizer has reduced the size of its Sandwich operations, it remains the major employer in the area.
And does Sandwich still hate
the French? Not at all. The town is now twinned with Honfleur, from where the mayor-murdering marauders sailed from.
Considering a move?
A one-bedroomed flat or house costs �100-140,000, a two-bedroomed flat or house would be �150-200,000, a three-bedroomed semi from �245-270,000, a four-bedroomed detached house �305-430,000, and
a five-bedroomed detached house is �500,000 plus. Conservation Area places means adding on 15 per cent.
Todd Dalton, Director of the Rare Species Conservation Centre (01304 611578), part of the Rare Species Conservation Trust, a charity which also runs worldwide animal protection projects
Why did you start the centre?
I wanted to raise public awareness about captured breeds, rare species that were lesser known in zoological establishments. We focus on the overlooked and forgotten species, the ones people don’t know about – for instance, the Binturong. We’re open at weekends and all school holidays throughout the year, and from 1 March to 30 October, we’re open seven days a week, all day.
What can visitors expect to see?
We aim to produce an oasis of calm, with tropical gardens, exotic rare plants and nice viewing platforms. We want to make people feel as if they’re going somewhere outside the UK. One new species this year is the Sri Lankan rusty spotted cat, whose size full grown is that of a kitten! And we’ve got a pair of the only Philippine Great Hornbills in the UK – an almost prehistoric species, it’s very rare in the Philippines, where it’s indigenous.
Your favourite place in Sandwich?
Down by the Quayside, particularly in summer. It’s nice to have a drink on the terrace of The Bell Hotel and look out on the river. There’s a marvellous little patisserie called No Name in No Name Street. A great place in Sandwich to grab a sandwich!
How would you sum up the town?
Quaint and picturesque, very well preserved, with lots of pubs. It’s a relaxing, quiet place.
Did you know?
The fourth Earl of Sandwich coined the culinary term when he wanted meat between two slices of bread so he could carry on gamblingMayors of Sandwich traditionally wear black to commemorate the murder by the French invaders of Mayor John Drury in 1457Thomas Paine, author of Rights of Man, was a corset maker in town The curfew bell from St Peter’s church is still rung every night at 8pm, to warn people to douse their fires and to let their pigs and geese free to scavenge the streetsThe first elephant to reach England arrived there in 1255 Sandwich's streets are deliberately narrow and curved so that an archer can control them from both directionsThe first celery in England was planted here, bought by the Dutch Ian Fleming was elected captain of St George’s Golf club in 1964