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History of Fordwich

Fordwich comes from the Old English ‘ford’ meaning a ‘ford’ with ‘wic’ as a ‘dwelling, building or group of buildings for specific purposes or industrial settlement’; therefore, a ‘trading centre at the ford’. The Domesday Book records Fordwich as Forewic.

The now redundant church at
Fordwich is a Grade: I listed building, dedicated to Saint Mary the Virgin. The monks of St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury built it around 1070. They added the north aisle late in the 12th century. Early in the 13th century, they extended the chancel and added the tower later that century, with windows inserted in the nave south wall and the north aisle, within 50 years. Joseph Hatch cast and hung a bell in 1624, adding three more nine years later. The church benefited from a plaster tympanum added to the chancel arch in the 16th Century, and, in 1688 inscribed, with the Ten Commandments and the Royal Arms of King William. In 1800, Edward Hasted describes the Fordwich church as consisting of ‘two isles and a chancel, having a tall spire steeple at the west end, in which are four bells. It is situated so close to the river, and so much on a level with it, that it is sometimes overflowed, and always exceedingly wet and damp. There seems to have been some good painted glass in the windows, of which there are but few remains’. The Victorians installed a small Holman organ in 1887.

In 1973, the Rector, Reverend Owen Brandon retired, and due to a general lack of men and money, and the small population, St Mary’s came under the care of the Vicar of Sturry, the Reverend Peter Gausden, who had also taken over the Parish of Westbere with Hersden some two years earlier. In May 1974,  Her Majesty in Council created by order, the United Benefice and Parish of Sturry with Fordwich and Westbere. In the following years, maintenance of the ancient church proved an extremely heavy burden on parish finances, and despite considerable fund-raising efforts by the Fordwich community, the building passed into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. The Trust took over in 1996 and the following year carried out extensive repairs, particularly to the chancel windows…. more 

Although the River Stour reaches Canterbury until the 1800’s it could be navigated only as far as
Fordwich, which became the city’s port of, very important as water was the only practical means of transporting goods at the time.

The Domesday Book describes
Fordwich as a 'Small Burgh', one of only seven boroughs in Kent. It became self-governing from the 11th Century and received a Merchant Guild Charter from Henry II in 1184. They elected the Mayor in the Church together with twelve Jurats and other officers, on the first Monday after the Feast of St. Andrew. Should he refuse the office when elected the Mayor would be fined or else had his house pulled down to the ground by the populace. The first known Mayor is John Maynard in 1292. Fordwich remained incorporated until 1886, when the Town property passed into the hands of a body of Trustees.

Fordwich became a corporate limb of the Cinque Port of Sandwich in about 1050, before the Norman Conquest, and as such helped to provide ships and men to fight for the Crown as required. In return, the Town received self-government and freed from many national taxes. Later the Head Port of Sandwich changed the provision of ships to the payment of money.

The Town owned the Quay and the Crane and derived income from duty on imported goods and the hiring of the crane. The stone for 
Canterbury Cathedral, from Caen in France, unloaded there, together with all the goods required by the thriving monastic city. The port lost its importance due to the River Stour becoming silted up. With the introduction of a railway, in 1830, linking Canterbury and Whitstable harbour, Fordwich finally ceased to be a port. When the River became narrower, the town built a bridge and derived income from the tolls.

A Guildhall built in 1544, replaced an earlier building. At the rear stood a Crane House with the crane folded back against the building ready to be swung out over the river to unload a boat.

The town jail occupied the ground floor, in the south west corner, and next to it, the jailer's quarters with a large store house. Wrong-doers could be sentenced to jail for up to a year and a day. The last prisoners to be held there were three men from Canterbury given fourteen days - and their nets publicly burnt in front of the town hall for poaching the
Fordwich Trout, in 1855.