Our Favourite Archaeology in Suffolk – Dunwich

Photograph of Dunwich and coast

Featured Image: Aerial View of Dunwich. Source: Dunwich Museum

We continue with our blog series showcasing some of our favourite archaeology in Suffolk. Each week you’ll meet a member of the team who will share with you their favourite archaeological site to visit or favourite find. This week, we explore the lost town of Dunwich with Alice.

Alice has been part of the team since 2017, starting off in the Historic Environment Record and is now the Project Delivery Officer co-ordinating the Rendlesham Revealed community archaeology project.

Growing up in Suffolk I had lots of favourite historic places I liked to visit, but as a landscape historian I am fascinated by the subtle hints in the landscape that can offer glimpses into a place’s heritage, whether it is the remnants of an ancient woodland or heath, or an old English place name. There is so much to appreciate.

So, what springs to mind when asked “what is your favourite historic site or object?”, well I would have to choose the town of Dunwich. I have many fond memories of visiting Dunwich as a child, walking along the beach eating fish and chips, enjoying the views from the clifftops and visiting the medieval monastery ruins.

Photograph of the beach and shoreline
Dunwich beach and cliffs.

Dunwich has an intriguing history, spanning from prehistoric period to World War Two. It was an international port during the Anglo-Saxon period and a major settlement recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086 as one of the ten largest towns in England. The economy was based on sea trade, fishing and ship building. The place name of Dunwich has been attributed to the old English ‘dun’ meaning hill and ‘wic’ meaning dwelling or trading settlement.

What makes Dunwich so mysterious is that most of the town has been lost to the sea after centuries of coastal erosion – there were several large storms in the 13th and 14th centuries destroying the town. However, you can still see the remains of the 13th century Franciscan friary standing on the cliff tops today.

Dunwich is now a small coastal village, but lots of work has been undertaken to search for the remains of the lost city under the sea. Dunwich Museum tells the story in their exhibition and some of the digital mapping is also available online at dunwich.org.uk

Photograph of the Greyfriars Western Gate
Greyfriars Western Gate.
Photograph of the friary remains
Remains of Greyfriars Southern Refectory Wing.

During World War Two, the Suffolk coast became a militarised landscape defending England from German invasion. Dunwich Heath, well known for its beautiful landscape, was one of the heaviest defended parts of the Suffolk coastline. The area was also a training ground used for military exercises to prepare for the D-Day landing, known as Exercise ‘Kruschen’, to test specialised equipment.

Find Out More:

Explore Dunwich on the interactive map on the Suffolk Heritage Explorer website

Find out more about:

Dunwich’s history: Dunwich Museum,

Dunwich Greyfriars Monastery

Dunwich during the Second World War

Dunwich: The search for Britain’s Atlantis

Dunwich Project Report.

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