Rye Conservation Society (RCS) visited Sandwich on Wednesday September 10 to compare notes with this other, very similar Cinque Port – ravaged recently by tidal surge floods from which Rye was spared as the Environment Agency’s flood defence scheme worked leaving water levels hovering inches from disaster.
In Sandwich though the famous Secret Gardens near the Quayside and the Lutyens-designed Salutation mansion were wrecked, and Mike Slavin from Rye Harbour, who was one of the visitors, said: “They have made a remarkable job of recovery which is a great tribute to the gardeners… and the Environment Agency clearly served Rye well”. RCS members also learnt a lot about helping old buildings recover from floods, but hoped they would never need that expertise.
Dr Frank Andrews, vice-president of the Sandwich Historical Society, gave the RCS visitors a brief outline of the one-time port’s famous history, as one of the top five port towns of England by population in the mid-14th century. However French raids and the silting of the harbour mirrored the experience of Rye as a once thriving Cinque Port. Dr Andrews said: “We are proud of our town and look after it very carefully.” When local government re-organised in the 70s, many of the town’s assets were retained in a trust, and Sandwich sounded better organised at promoting itself.
Although its population is now much greater than that of Rye, the problems of conserving its fine heritage are similar and were well demonstrated by the society’s expert guides who showed the visitors around its historic buildings, three parish churches, and ancient streets and alleyways – which have many more noticeboards than Rye providing information for visitors. The RCS also learnt of the tensions which exist below the surface between the once proud port and its local authority, Dover District Council, because, as with Rye and Rother, there has often seemed to be an apparent lack of care and understanding of the smaller town’s needs and problems, and the resources needed to tackle them.