Of Sunken Cities and Weird History

19 Jun

While Listening to this week’s edition of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast I learned a fascinating bit of history.

In Suffolk County, England, there used to be a thriving port town. Once it was a seat of power, serving as the capital city to the Kingdom of the East Angles, but the city’s doom was sealed on New Years Eve in 1286 when the mouth of the river was buried in silt during a three day long storm. The North Sea then began a slow but relentless assault on the city, swallowing up more land each year.

That city’s name is Dunwich.

“In the Roman period the shoreline was at least 2,000 metres further out. The town’s slow death began in 1286 when a three-day storm which started on New Year’s Eve wrecked much of the settlement and blocked the river mouth. Further storms silted up what had been an international port, destroying the town’s prosperity, and the erosion of the coastline was remorseless. As recently as 1736 All Saints was a handsome church with a tall tower: by 1912 only the ruined tower remained teetering on the edge of the cliff, and now nothing remains on dry land.”

-Article in The Guardian, May 10th, 2013

At this point the minds of H.P. Lovecraft fans are racing with possibilities. Given his Anglophile nature I would be surprised if the connection to The Dunwich Horror was a coincidence, though as yet I have not found any evidence of him referencing the real Dunwich.

On a personal note, as someone whose country wasn’t founded until 1776 I find it fascinating to see the term “recently” used in regards to the year 1736. In the United States we have a far more limited perception of time.

The town has other interesting history that makes it perfect for gaming. There’s a legend that you can still hear the bells of All Saints’ Church, abandoned in the 1700’s and which finally tumbled into the sea in 1922. According to Wikipedia, “A single gravestone still remains (as of 2011) around 15 feet from the cliff edge…”

This gives me the image of graves pouring out from the cliff face, spilling their contents into the North Sea. It’s a vision that strikes me as very William Hope Hodgeson-esq.

There was also a stronghold of the Knights Templar in Dunwich:

“thought to have been founded around 1189 and was a circular building similar to the famous Temple Church in London. When the sheriff ofSuffolk and Norfolk took an inventory in 1308 he found the sum of £111 contained in three pouches – a vast sum. In 1322, on the orders of Edward II, all the Templars’ land passed to the Knights Hospitallers. Following the dissolution of the Hospitallers in 1562 the Temple was demolished. The foundations washed away during the reign of Charles I.”

-Wikipedia entry on Dunwich

Why was the temple demolished? Were the Templars hiding something in its vaults? Something the Hospitallers later fell prey to? And is it still there, sealed within catacombs long buried beneath the silt?

This just screams out to be a pulp adventure or Delta Green operation.

In 2013 The Guardian ran a story about efforts to map the submerged city using acoustic imaging, giving archaeologists an unprecedented look at the remains.

“Although the ruins are only between three and 10 metres (9.8ft to 32.8ft) below the water, visibility is atrocious. Prof David Sear, of the geography and environment department of Southampton University, who led the project, described the Didson acoustic imaging used as “like shining a torch on to the seabed, only using sound instead of light”.

-Article in The Guardian, May 10th, 2013

That’s certain to upset any local Deep Ones who have taken up residence.

Below is a map from the Atlas Obscura entry for Dunwich. I love the map insert about the lost Saxon churches. Maybe the storm of 1286 was caused by ritual warfare between the lost churches, where beings far older than the Christian faith were worshiped in hidden sanctuaries. Lovecraft’s story The Festival comes to mind.

Perhaps this is what drew the Templars to Dunwich, the storm being summoned by the Order to annihilate the heretics. Or to remove them as competition for the affections of blasphemous gods.

However you look at it, the sunken city of Dunwich is overflowing with possibilities.



Image from the Atlas Obscura


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