Romney Marsh is a small, flat area on the south-east coast of England where ODDknit designer Jessica Goddard was raised.
Sheep, Ships, and Nuclear Power
Jessica grew up in the small town of New Romney on Romney Marsh, close to the border of Kent and East Sussex, just across the channel from France.
Despite the name Romney Marsh is no longer particularly marshy. The whole area is drained by a network of ditches that run into the sea. The Marsh is very flat land, practically at sea level, bordered by the English Channel to the south and east, and the old cliff line to the north and west. Rising sea levels have caused a real threat of flooding, the drainage and coastal defences need constant care to keep the sea from reclaiming the land.
The tallest building in town is St Nicholas, the Norman Church just off the high street, seen here from the grounds of the old school building.
This a the view to the south from the church tower. The square, grey buildings in the distance are part of Dungeness Nuclear Power Station. The power station is sat on a large shingle bank right on the coast. The seaside position is necessary because the power station requires a large, reliable source of water. Building it on a shingle bank seems like a bad idea all round, though to be fair it has yet to float away to sea.
The rest of the view is mostly sheep fields. A lot of sheep are raised on Romney Marsh where shepherds are traditionally called “Lookers” (because they watch the sheep and Marshians are excellent at naming things). The local breed (the Romney) is popular around the world.
And no, the sheep do not glow in the dark.
To the east the sea is visible on the horizon with the curve of the bay to the left. Today the town of New Romney is a couple of miles from the sea but originally the town was an important port at the mouth of the River Rother.
In 1155 Hastings, Hythe, Dover, Sandwich and New Romney were were considered so important that they were named as the original Cinque Ports. The towns gained special privileges in return for allowing the crown to use local ships in defence of the country. However during the storms of the 13th century, the river changed course and the harbour silted up. People used to be able to moor their boats to the Church, but now it's tricky to even see the water from the top of the tower!
To the north and west there are more fields and a distant view of the hills that mark the boundary of the Marsh. Though not visible in this photo, Little Cheyne Court Wind Farm is in this direction, taking advantage of the strong coastal winds. The Marsh is definitely pulling it's weight in power generation.
The easily accessible coast and the privileges that came with being a Cinque Port made this a notorious area for smuggling. To be fair most of the south coast has some history of smuggling but this particular bit of it was popularised in the Doctor Syn books by Russell Thorndike. There was a Disney version and everything.
Jessica's sister Emily painted the cover of this reprint.
Historically the smugglers of the Marsh were more concerned about moving wool out to the continent than bringing liqueur and tobacco in. The local abundance of sheep combined with the high export tax on wool, a significant number of boats, the gentle coastline and the nearness of France made smuggling sort of inevitable. With most of the locals on their side the smugglers (aka Owlers) were hard to catch and the industry boomed for hundreds of years, only dying out when the duties were reduced in the 19th Century.
*Personally I'm a bit miffed about the “bleak” thing, but like John Betjeman said "the sky is always three-quarters of the landscape". When that sky is grey and overcast I guess it can be quite dull, other times though, not so much...
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