Dunwich Museum

Victorian Dunwich

The tragic history of this once mighty town attracted romantics to Dunwich and visitors included the painter J. W. Turner and the writers Edward Fitzgerald, Jerome K Jerome, Henry James and Lucy Montgomery. Turner painted the town when ruins of All Saints Church still stood on the cliffs. Its tower was used as a lookout by the smugglers who supplemented their meagre earnings from the land by cheating the excisemen of the 18th and 19th centuries. Although its voting population sometimes sank to 12 electors, Dunwich still sent two MPs to Parliament. The Reform Act of 1832, which abolished rotten boroughs, swept away the last medieval privilege, just as the sea swept away the town’s last great church.

Dunwich was now an estate village owned by the Barne family. It became popular with day trippers, attracted to the coast by cheap rail travel. During the Second World War it was largely taken over by the army and fortified to resist a possible invasion. In 1947, the Barnes sold off the village, mainly to sitting tenants. Summer visitors now eat fish and chips and enjoy the sun where the Maison Dieu Hospital once stood. Bird watchers set up cameras where monks used to hurry about their duties. Ramblers stride out where Roman and Saxon invaders once trudged. There are few reminders of the great old town. One of them is the ancient line of Middlegate where this arch stands. The street once led into an exciting and vibrant town. Now the path leads to the cliff edge and below the sea still nibbles at the foundations of Dunwich.