Home
Brightlingsea
Sailing
Fun Stuff
Useful Stuff
Techie Stuff
Green Stuff
Ugly America
Partners

Friends & Family
(Request a login here)

Google
Web www.ledwards.net

More Virus Information
 

The Cinque Ports

Prior to the Norman Conquest, King Edward the Confessor had contracted the five most important Channel ports of that day to provide ships and men "for the service of the monarch" and although this was frequently as a "cross-Channel ferry service", it was not exclusively so. Under the Norman kings, this became the essential means of keeping the two halves of their realm together, but after the loss of Normandy in 1205, their ships (the for-runners of the Royal Navy) suddenly became England’s first line of defence against the French.

These ports – Hastings, Sandwich, Dover, Romney and Hythe – became known as the Cinque Ports (from the French word five, but always pronounced ‘sink’ not ‘sank’). They were granted many freedoms (for example from militia service, from market and port tolls) and privileges, the most prized being the right to carry the canopy over the King at the Coronation and the very profitable, the running of the international Herring Fair on Yarmouth strand.

Silting-up of harbours had bedevilled these ports almost from the start. In 1191 to help Hastings, the worst sufferer, Rye and Winchelsea became Limbs of Hastings and remained so until early in the 14th century, when they were admitted as full members of the Confederation, with the title "Antient(sic) Towns".From the 12th to the 15th centuries, the five, and then seven Head Ports acquired “Limbs”. At the height there were thirty such Limbs, big and small, which were administered as outlying parts of their Head Port, making it necessary in many cases for its Mayor to appoint an officer termed the “Deputy”.

Edward I is the King who established what was to become the permanent organisational framework of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports and it was he who, in 1278, granted the first detailed Cinque Ports Charter as distinct from separate charters to each Port. He wanted to harness the Ports’ too-often disruptive energies, to one end and weld the Confederation into a more effective weapon against the French, whilst binding it in a personal loyalty to the monarch. There had been the occasional Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports before - now he made the post a permanent one. He decided it should be held by the officer in charge of the royal fortress of Dover, the country’s strongest land defence against the French and that the fleet of the Ports must always be under his command. Hence the office, always and solely in royal gift, of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Constable of Dover Castle and Admiral of the navy of the Cinque Ports. The headquarters of the Lord Warden are therefore at Dover Castle, but since early in the 18th century, Walmer Castle has been his official residence.

The Lord Warden administered the law not only within the Confederation and on its shores, but over the whole of the Thames estuary. As fighting duties passed to the Royal Navy, these legal duties became the more important. Finally, his jurisdiction extended from just beyond Beachy Head in the south to the Naze in Essex at the north and “half-seas over” towards the Continent. It covered matters of pilotage, wreck, salvage, violence at sea and mercantile law. He had his Court of St James for Admiralty matters and a Court of Shepway for his transactions with the Cinque Ports, both ultimately at Dover.

Meanwhile the Ports developed their own Court of Brodhull, to co-ordinate resistance to encroachments by the Lord Warden and latterly to defend their privileges against growing criticism, but above all, to organise the annual Yarmouth Fair in advance and take stock of it afterwards. They held their last Fair in 1663. By then, with the silting-up of their havens, the increased size of ships needed in warfare and the growth of the Royal Navy, they had become an anomaly.

And today? A picturesque survival and a memorable one.

Brightlingsea and the Cinque Ports

Brightlingsea, a Limb of the Head Port of Sandwich, is the only community outside Kent and Sussex which has any connection with the Confederation of the Cinque Ports. As a thriving ship-owning port, in becoming a Limb of Sandwich it could contribute to that town’s ship-service quota. To the Portsmen generally it was a useful half-way house en route to and from their annual Herring Fair at Yarmouth. For the Lord Warden, it made sense of the extending of his powers so far north of Sussex and Kent over the full width of the mouth of the Thames. Also it produced excellent oysters and the Lord Warden had his own official layings in Brightlingsea Creek until at least the 1670’s.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Tudors began to develop new forms of local government and the Privy Council kept a very tight grip until after the Civil War. Brightlingsea ceased to belong to the Abbey at Colchester and became a royal manor – its most illustrious “Squire“ being Queen Elizabeth I. For all the mundane business of paying taxes, keeping the peace, jailing offenders, licensing inns, indenturing apprentices and the heavy burden of poor relief, the town was answerable to the Mayor of Sandwich, two days journey distant by road and not less than six hours by sea. So in Brightlingsea “Mr Deputy” probably exercised greater initiative than his equals elsewhere. No wonder Brightlingsea was once or twice summoned before the Privy Council to explain itself, or needed to enlist Confederation support against, for example, Newcastle’s refusal to recognise its privileges, or wrote to the Lord Warden (with a gift of oysters) to put in a good word for it in the right quarter.

During the 22 years of war against revolutionary France, the Sandwich link was stretched so thin as to look absurd. In 1811, an Act of Parliament ended it. For local government and militia purposes, Brightlingsea became part of the Tendring Hundred of Essex, but as far as the Lord Warden was concerned, it remained part of his jurisdiction. The Cinque Port Wreck House built at that time still stands in Brightlingsea Waterside, a unique survival and as late as 1848, the Cinque Port Agent was active in the Colne.

A maritime Brightlingsea was never happy in a largely agricultural Tendring Hundred, above all when dealing with unemployment and poor relief. When Gladstone altered local government with his County Councils Act, old loyalties inspired an attempt to set up a county of the Cinque Ports and in 1887, Brightlingsea secured Sandwich’s agreement to a revival of the old link. The population of the town had grown to a remarkable 400% over the century, whilst it had shrunk or stagnated in the locality. It could not be long before Brightlingsea became a Borough - the First World War put an end to that. It was that dream which lay behind the so-called “Revival”, the election again, annually since 1885, of a Deputy, his visit to Sandwich for his formal Recognition and not least John Bateman’s magnificent gift of the “Great Opal” and silver chain of office, to be worn by the Deputies until such time as they became Mayors in their own right.

That climax can now never be achieved, but the Lord Warden, Earl Beauchamp, set the seal of approval on a unique combination of old tradition and new vitality when on Choosing Day 1924, he presided in person at the election of the new Deputy.

 

last updated: 06 July 2007
  bookmark this Site link to us © Lance Edwards
2000-2007
contact us terms of use