The Isle Of Ruim by Grant Allen

Story type: Essay

Perhaps you have never heard its name before; yet in the earlier ages of this kingdom of Britain, Ruim Isle, rising dim through the mist of prehistoric oceans, was once in its own way famous and important.

Off the old and obliterated south-eastern promontory of our island, where the land of Kent shelved almost imperceptibly into the Wantsum Strait, Ruim Island–the Holm of the Headland–stood out with its white wall of broken cliffs into the German Sea. The greater part of it consisted of gorse-clad chalk down, the last subsiding spur of that great upland range which, starting from the central boss of Salisbury Plain, runs right across the face of Surrey and Kent, and, bifurcating near Canterbury, falls sheer into the sea at the end of either fork by Ramsgate or Dover. But in earlier days Ruim Isle was not joined as now by flats and marshes to the adjacent mainland; the chalk dipped under the open Wantsum Strait, much as the chalk of Hampshire dips to-day under the Solent Sea, and reappeared again on the other side in the Thanet Downs, as it reappears in the Isle of Wight at the ridge of St. Boniface and the central hills about Newport and Carisbrooke. For now the murder indeed is out, and you have discovered already that Ruim–his dim, mysterious Ruim–is only just the commonplace, vulgarized Isle of Thanet.

Still, it is not without cause that I have ventured to call it by that strange and now almost forgotten old-world name. There is reason, we know, in the roasting of eggs, and, if I have gone out of my way to introduce the ancient isle to you by its title of Ruim, it is in order that we might start clear of the odour of tea and shrimps, the artificial niggers, and cheap excursionists, that the name of Thanet brings up most prominently at the present day before the travelled mind of the modern Londoner. I want to carry you back to a time when Ramsgate was still but a green gap in the long line of chalk cliff, and Margate but the chine of a little trickling streamlet that tumbled seaward over the undesecrated sands; when a broad arm of the sea still cut off Westgate from the Reculver cliffs, and when the tide swept unopposed four times a day over the submerged sands of Minster Level. You must think of Thanet as then greatly resembling Wight in geographical features, and the Wantsum as the equivalent of the Solent Sea.

In the very earliest period of our history, before ever the existing names had been given at all to the towns or villages–nay, when the towns and villages themselves were not–Ruim was already a noteworthy island. For there is now very little doubt indeed that Thanet is the Ictis or ‘Channel Island’ to which Cornish tin was conveyed across Britain for shipment to the continent. The great harbour of Britain was then the Wantsum Sea, known afterwards as the Rutupine Port, and later still as Sandwich Haven. To that port came Gaulish and Phoenician vessels, or possibly even at times some belated Phocaean galley from Massilia. But the trade in tin was one of immense antiquity, long antedating these almost modern commercial nations: for tin is a necessary component of bronze, and the bronze age of Europe was entirely dependent for its supply of that all-important metal upon the Cornish mines. From a very early date, therefore, we may be sure that ingots of tin were exported by this route to the continent, and then transported overland by the Rhone valley to the shores of the Mediterranean.

The tin road, to give it its more proper name, followed the crest of the Hog’s Back and the Guildford downs, crossing the various rivers at spots whose very names still attest the ancient passages–the Wey at Shalford, the Mole at Burford, the Medway at Aylesford, and the Wantsum Strait at Wade, in which last I seem to hear the dim echo to this day of the Roman Vada. Ruim itself, as less liable to attack than an inland place, formed the depot for the tin trade, and the ingots were no doubt shipped near the site of Richborough. We may regard it, in fact, as a sort of prehistoric Hong-Kong or Zanzibar, a trading island, where merchants might traffic at ease with the shy and suspicious islanders.

Ruim at that time must have consisted almost entirely of open down, sloping upward from the tidal Wantsum, and extending a little farther out to sea than at the present moment. Pegwell Bay was then a wide sea-mouth; Sandwich flats did not yet exist; and the Stour itself fell into the Wantsum Strait at the place which still bears the historic name of Stourmouth. Round the outer coast only a few houseless gaps marked the spots where ‘long lines of cliff, breaking, had left a chasm’–the gaps that afterwards bore the familiar names of Ramsgate, that is to say Ruim’s Gate, or ‘the Door of Thanet;’ Margate, that is to say, Mere Gate, the gap of the mere (Kentish for a brook), Broadstairs, Kingsgate, Newgate, and Westgate. The present condition of Dumpton Gap (minus the telegraph) will give some idea of what these Gates looked like in their earliest days; only, instead of seeing the cultivated down, we must imagine it wildly clad with primaeval undergrowth of yew and juniper, like the beautiful tangled district near Guildford, still known as Fairyland. Thanet is now all sea-front–it turns its face, freckled with summer resorts, towards the open German Ocean. Ruim had then no sea-front at all, save the bare and inaccessible white cliffs; it turned, such as it was, not toward the sea, but toward the navigable Wantsum. Even until late in the middle ages Minster was the most important place in the whole island; and after it ranked Monkton, St. Nicholas, and Birchington–villages, all of them, on the flat western slope. The growth in importance of the seaward escarpment dates only from the days when Thanet became practically a London suburb.

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With the Roman invasion Ruim saw a new epoch begin. A great organization took hold of Britain. Roads were made and colonies established. Verulam and Camulodun gave place in part as centres of life and trade to York and London. Even in the native days, I believe, the Thames must always have been a great commercial focus, and the Pool by Tower Hill must always have been what Bede called it many centuries later, ‘a mart of many nations.’ But under the Romans London grew into a considerable city; and as the regular sea highway to the Thames lay through the Wantsum, in the rear of Thanet, that strip of estuary became of immense importance. In those days of coasting navigation, indeed, the habit was to avoid headlands, and take advantage everywhere of shallow short cuts. Ships from the continent, therefore, avoided the North Foreland by running through the Wantsum at the back of Thanet; as they avoided Shellness and Warden Point by running through the Swale, at the back of Sheppey.

To protect this main navigable channel, accordingly, the Romans built the two great guardian fortresses of the coast, Rutupiae, or Richborough, at the southern entrance, and Regulbium, or Reculver, at the northern exit. Under the walls of these powerful strongholds, whose grim ruins still frown upon the dry channel at their feet, ships were safe from piracy, while Ruim itself sheltered them from the heavy sea that now beats with north-east winds upon the Foreland beyond. In fact, the Wantsum was an early Spithead: it stood to Rutupiae as the Solent stands to Portsmouth and Southampton. But Thanet Isle hardly shared at all in this increased civilisation; on the contrary, Rutupiae (the precursor of Sandwich Haven) seems to have diverted all its early commerce. For Rutupiae became clearly the naval capital of our island, the seat of that vir spectabilis, the Count of Saxon Shore, and the rendezvous of the fleets of those British ‘usurpers’ Maximus and Carausius. It was also the Dover of its own day, the favourite landing place for continental travellers; while its famous oysters, the true natives, now driven by the silting up of their ancient beds to Whitstable, were as much in repute with Roman epicures as their descendants are to-day with the young Luculluses of the Gaiety and the Criterion.

I have ventured by this time to speak of Ruim as Thanet; and indeed that was already one of the names by which the island was known to its own inhabitants. The ordinary history books, to be sure, will tell you in their glib way that Thanet is ‘Saxon’ for Ruim; but, when they say so, believe not the fond thing, vainly imagined. The name is every day as old as the Roman occupation. Solinus, writing in the third century, calls it Thanaton, and in the torn British fragment of the Peutinger Tables–that curious old map of the later empire–it is marked as Tenet. Indeed, it is a matter of demonstration that every spot which had a known name in Roman Britain retained that name after the English conquest. Kent itself is a case in point, and every one of its towns bears out the law, from Dover and Lymne to Reculver and Richborough, which last is spelt ‘Ratesburg’ by Leland, Henry the Eighth’s commissioner.

In some ways, however, Thanet, under the Romans, must have shared in the general advance of the country. Solinus says it was ‘glad with corn-fields’–felix frumentariis campis–but this could only have been on the tertiary slope facing Kent, as agriculture had not yet attempted to scale the flanks of the chalk downs. As lying so near Rutupiae, too, villas must certainly have occupied the soil in places, as we know they did in the Isle of Wight; while the immense number of Roman coins picked up in the island appears to betoken a somewhat dense provincial population.

The advent of the English brings Thanet itself, as distinct from its ancient port, the Wantsum, into the full glare of legendary history. According to tradition, it was at Ebb’s Fleet, a little side creek near Minster, that Hengest and Horsa first disembarked in Britain. As a matter of fact, there is reason to suppose that at a very early time an English colony did really settle down in peace in Thanet. On Osengal Hill, not far from Ebb’s Fleet, the cemetery of these earliest English pioneers in England was laid bare by the building of the South Eastern Railway. The graves are dug very shallow in the chalk, seldom as deep as four feet; and in them lie the remains of the old heathen pirates, buried with their arms and personal ornaments, their amber beads and strings of glass, and the coins that were to pay their way in the other world. But, what is oddest of all, a few of the graves in this earliest English cemetery are Roman in character, and in them the interment is made in the Roman fashion. The inference is almost irresistible that the first settlement of Thanet by the English was a purely friendly one, and that Roman and Jute lived on side by side as neighbours and allies on the Kentish island.

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I don’t doubt, myself, that the whole settlement of Kent was equally friendly, and that the population of the county contains throughout an almost balanced mixture of Celtic and Teutonic elements.

However, the century and a half that succeeded the English colonization of south-eastern Britain were, no doubt, a time of great retrogression towards barbarism, as everywhere else in Romanised Europe. The villas that must have covered the gentle slopes towards the Wantsum fell into decay; the fortresses were destroyed; the roads ran wild; and the sea and river began slowly to slit up the central part of the great navigable backwater. A hundred and fifty years after Hengest and Horsa, if those excellent gentlemen ever really existed, another famous landing took place in Thanet. Augustine and his companions disembarked at Ebb’s Fleet, and held close by (on the hill behind Prospect House) their first interview with AEthelberht. But though this epoch-making event happened to occur in Thanet, it has no special connection with the history of the island, any further than as a component of England generally. And indeed, even through the garbled version of Bede, it is plain enough to see that British Christendom was not yet wholly wiped out in eastern Britain. The conversion of Kent was essentially a conversion of the king and nobles to the Roman communion; it brought back once more the part of Britain most in connection with the continent into the broad fold of continental Christendom. It is quite clear, in fact, that Rutupiae and Durovernum, Richborough and Canterbury, had never ceased to hold close intercourse with the opposite shore, whose cliffs still shine so distinctly from the hills about Ramsgate. For AEthelberht himself was married to a Christian Frankish princess of the house of the Merwings; and coins of the Frankish kings and of the Byzantine emperors have been found on the surface or in contemporary Jutish graves in Kent.

It is interesting to observe, too, that of the monks whom Gregory chose to accompany Augustine on his easy mission, one was Lawrence, who succeeded his leader as second Archbishop of Canterbury, and another was Peter, the first Abbot of St. Augustine’s monastery. Out of compliment to these pioneer missionaries, or to their Roman house of St. Andrew’s, almost every old church in that part of Kent is dedicated accordingly, either to St. Augustine, St. Lawrence, St. Peter, St. Gregory, St. Andrew, or St. Martin (patron of Bertha’s first church at Canterbury). Thus, as we shall see hereafter, St. Lawrence was the mother church of Ramsgate, and St. Peter’s of Broadstairs, while the entire lathe bears the name of St. Augustine.

In Thanet, too, the first evidence of the new order of things was the foundation in the island of that great civilizing agency of mediaeval England, a monastery. The site chosen for its home was still, however, characteristic of the old point of view of Thanet. It was the place that yet bears the name of Minster, situated on a little creek of the Wantsum sea, where some slight remains of an ancient pier may even now be traced among the silt of the marshes. The island still looked towards the narrow seas and the port of Rutupiae, not, as now, towards the tall cliffs and the German Ocean. Ecgberht, fourth Christian king of Kent, by the advice of Theodore, the monk of Tarsus who became Archbishop of Canterbury, made over to the lady whose name is conveniently Latinised as Dompneva, first abbess, some forty-eight plough-lands in the Isle of Thanet. This cultivated district, bounded by the ancient earthwork known (from the name of the second abbess) as St. Mildred’s Lynch, lay almost entirely within the westward-sloping and mainly tertiary lands; the higher chalk country was as yet apparently considered unfit for tillage. The existing remains of Minster Abbey are, of course, of comparatively late Plantagenet date; but as parts of a great grange, whose still larger granary was burnt down only in the last century, they serve well to show the importance of the monastic system as a civilizing agency in the country districts of England.

Already in Bede’s time the Wantsum was beginning to get silted up, mainly by the muddy deposits brought down by the Stour. It was then only three furlongs wide, and could be forded at two points, near Sarr and at Wade. The seaward mouth was also beginning to be encumbered with sand, and the first indication we get of this important impending change is the fact that we now hear less of Richborough, and more of Sandwich, the new port a little nearer the sea, whose very name of the Wick or haven on the Sand, in itself sufficiently tells the history of its origin. As the older port got progressively silted up, the newer one grew into ever greater importance, exactly as Norwich ousted Caister, or as Portsmouth has taken the place of Porchester. Nevertheless, the central channel still remained navigable for the vessels of that age–they can only have drawn a very few feet of water–and this made the Wantsum in time the great highway for the Danish pirates on their way to London, and exposed Thanet exceptionally to their relentless incursions.

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In fact, the Danes and Northmen were just what they loved to call themselves, vik-ings or wickings, men of the viks, wicks, bays, or estuaries. What they loved was a fiord, a strait, a peninsula, an island. Everywhere round the coast of Britain they seized and fortified the projecting headlands. But in the neighbourhood of the Thames, the high road to the great commercial port of London, the mementoes of their presence are particularly frequent. The whole nomenclature of the lower Thames navigation, as Canon Isaac Taylor has pointed out, is Scandinavian to this day. Deptford (the deep fiord), Greenwich (the green reach), and Woolwich (the hill reach) all bear good Norse names. So do the Foreness, the Whiteness, Shellness, Sheerness, Shoeburyness, Foulness, Wrabness, and Orfordness. Walton-on-the-Naze near Harwich in like manner still recalls the time when a Danish ‘wall’–that is to say, a vallum, or earthwork–ran across the isthmus to defend the Scandinavian peninsula from its English enemies.

At such a time Sandwich, with its shallow fiord, was sure to afford good shelter to the northern long ships; and isolated Thanet, overlooking the navigable strait, was a predestined depot for the northern pirates, as four centuries earlier it had been for the followers of those mythical personifications, Hengest and Horsa. Long before the unification of England under a single West Saxon overlordship the Danes used to land in the island every year, to plunder the crops, and in 851, when AEthelwulf was lord of Wessex at Winchester, ‘heathen men,’ says the Winchester Chronicle, with its usual charming conciseness, ‘first sat over winter in Tenet.’ From that time forward the ‘heathen men’ continually returned to the island, which they used apparently as a base of operations, with their ships lying in Sandwich Haven; in fact, Thanet must long have been a sort of irregular Danish colony. Still, St. Mildred’s nuns appear to have lived on somehow at Minster through the dark time, for in 988 the Danes landed and burnt the abbey, as they did again under Swegen in 1011, killing at the same time the abbess and all the inmates. On the whole, it is probable that life and property in Thanet were far from secure any time in the ninth, tenth, and early eleventh centuries.

At least as late as the Norman conquest the Wantsum remained a navigable channel, and the usual route to London by sea was in at Sandwich and out at Northmouth. It was thus that King Harold’s fleet sailed on its plundering expedition round the coast of Kent (a small unexplained incident of the early English type, only to be understood by the analogies of later Scotch history), and thus too, that many other expeditions are described in the concise style of our unsophisticated early historians. But from the eleventh century onward we hear little of the Wantsum as a navigable channel; it has dwindled down almost entirely to Sandwich Haven, ‘the most famous of English ports,’ says the writer of the life of Emma of Normandy, about 1050. Sandwich is indeed the oldest of the Cinque Ports, succeeding in this matter to the honours of Rutupiae, and all through the middle ages it remained the great harbour for continental traffic. Edward III. sailed thence for France or Flanders, and as late as 1446 it is still spoken of by a foreign ambassador as the resort of ships from all quarters of Europe.

Still, the Wantsum was all this while gradually silting up, a grain at a time, and the Isle of Ruim was slowly becoming joined to the opposite mainland. When Leland visited it, in Henry VIII.’s reign, the change was almost complete. ‘At Northmouth,’ says the royal commissioner, in his quaint dry way, ‘where the estery of the se was, the salt water swelleth yet up at a Creeke a myle or more toward a place called Sarre, which was the commune fery when Thanet was fulle iled.’ Sandwich Haven itself began to be difficult of access about 1500 (Henry VII. being king), and in 1558 (under Mary) a Flemish engineer, ‘a cunning and expert man in waterworks,’ was engaged to remedy the blocking of the channel. By a century later it was quite closed, and the Isle of Thanet had ceased to exist, except in name, the Stour now flowing seaward by a long bend through Minster Level, while hardly a relic of the Wantsum could be traced in the artificial ditches that intersect the flat and banked-up surface of the St. Nicholas marshes.

Meanwhile, Thanet had been growing once more into an agricultural country. Minster, untenable by its nuns, had been made over after the Danish invasions to the monks of St. Augustine at Canterbury, and it was they who built the great barn and manor house which were the outer symbol of its new agricultural importance. Monkton, close by, belonged to the rival house of Christ Church at Canterbury (the cathedral monastery), as did also St. Nicholas at Wade, remarkable for its large and handsome Early English church. All these ecclesiastical lands were excellently tilled. After the Reformation, however, things changed greatly. The silting up of the Wantsum and the decay of Sandwich Haven left Thanet quite out of the world, remote from all the main highroads of the new England. Ships now went past the North Foreland to London, and knew it only as a dangerous point, not without a sinister reputation for wrecking. On the other hand, on the land side, the island lay off the great highways, surrounded by marsh or half-reclaimed levels; and it seems rapidly to have sunk into a state resembling that of the more distant parts of Cornwall. The inhabitants degenerated into good wreckers and bad tillers. They say an Orkney man is a farmer who owns a boat, while a Shetlander is a fisherman who owns a farm. In much the same spirit, Camden speaks of the Elizabethan Thanet folks as ‘a sort of amphibious creatures, equally skilled in holding helm and plough’; while Lewis, early in the last century, tells us they made ‘two voyages a year to the North Seas, and came home soon enough for the men to go to the wheat season.’ With genial tolerance the Georgian historian adds, ‘It’s a thousand pities they are so apt to pilfer stranded ships.’ Piracy, which ran in the Thanet blood, seemed to their good easy local annalist a regrettable peccadillo.

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In all this, however, we begin to catch the first faintly-resounding note of modern Thanet. The intelligent reader will no doubt have observed, with his usual acuteness, that up to date we have heard practically nothing of Ramsgate, Margate, and Broadstairs, which now form the real centres of population in the nominal island. Its relations have all been with Rutupiae, Sandwich, Canterbury, and the mainland. But the silting up of the Wantsum turned the new Thanet seaward, by the chalky cliffs; and the gaps or gates in that natural sea-wall now began to be of comparative importance as fishing stations and small havens. Ebb’s Fleet was no longer the port of Ruim. The centre of gravity of the island shifts at this point, accordingly, from Minster to Ramsgate. The change is well marked by certain interesting ecclesiastical facts. Neither Ramsgate nor Broadstairs had originally churches of their own. The first formed part of the parish of St. Lawrence, which was itself a mere chapelry of Minster till late in the thirteenth century. The old village lies half a mile inland, and Ramsgate itself was throughout the middle ages nothing more than a mere gap and cove where the fishermen of St. Lawrence kept their boats. The first church in the town proper was not erected till 1791. Similarly, Broadstairs formed part of the parish of St. Peter’s, the village of which lies back at about the same distance from the sea as St. Lawrence; and St Peter’s, too, was at first a chapelry of Minster. The cliffs were then nothing; the inward slope was everything.

Margate seems to have been the first place in the new Thanet to attain the honour of a place in history. As in two previous cases, the Mere Gate was at first but a fisherman’s station for the village of St. John’s, which gathered about the old church at the south end of the existing town. But as the Northmouth closed up, and Sandwich Haven decayed, the Mere Gate naturally became the little local port for corn grown on the island and wool raised on the newly-reclaimed Minster Level. A wooden pier existed at Margate long before the reign of Henry VIII., when Leland found it “sore decayed,” and the village was in repute for fishery and coasting trade. Throughout the Stuart period Margate was the ordinary place of departure and arrival for Flushing and the Low Countries. William of Orange frequently sailed hence, and Maryborough used it for almost all his expeditions. It was about the middle of the last century, however, that the real prosperity of Margate first began. Then it was that citizens of credit and renown in London first hit upon the glorious discovery of the seaside, and that watering-places tentatively and timidly raised their unobtrusive heads along the nearer beaches. The journey from London could be made far more easily by river than that to Brighton by coach; and so Margate, the nearest spot to town (by water) on the real sea with any accommodation for visitors, became in point of fact the earliest London seaside resort. It was, if not the first place, at least one of the first places in England to offer to its guests the perilous joy of bathing machines, which were inaugurated here about 1790.

With the introduction of steamers Margate’s fortune was made. Floods of Cockneydom were let loose upon the nascent lodging-houses. Then came the London, Chatham and Dover, and South Eastern Railways, and with them an ever-increasing inundation of good-humoured cheap-trippers. The Hall-by-the-Sea and other modern improvements and attractions followed. Like the rest of Thanet, Margate has now become a mere suburb of London, and what it resembles at the present day a delicate regard for the feelings of the inhabitants forbids me to enlarge upon. I will merely add that the recognized modern name of Margate is an etymological blunder, due to the idea immortalized in the borough motto, “Porta maris, Portus salutis,” that it means Door of the Sea. The true word is still universally preserved on the lips of the local fisher-folk, who always religiously call it either Meregate or Mergate.

Ramsgate, a much more attractive and enjoyable centre, rich in excursions to points of genuine interest, dates somewhat later. It first came into note about the beginning of the eighteenth century, when it did a modest trade with the Levant and the Black Sea, or, as contemporary English more prettily phrases it, ‘with Russia and the east country.’ In 1750 the first pier was built, as a national work, mainly to serve as a harbour of refuge for ships caught in gales off the Downs. The engineer was Smeaton, and he succeeded in creating an artificial harbour of great extent, which has lasted substantially up to the present time. This new port, rendered safer by the enlargement in 1788, made Ramsgate at once into an important seafaring town, the capital of the Kentish herring trade, alive with smacks in the busy season. The steamers did it less good at first than they did to Margate; but the completion of the two railways, and the building of the handsome extensions on the east and west cliffs, turned it at once into a frequented watering-place. It is the fashion nowadays rather to laugh at Ramsgate. Marine painters know better. Few harbours are livelier with red and brown sails; few coasts more enjoyable than the cliff walk looking across towards the Goodwins, the low shore by Sandwich, the higher ground about Deal and Dover, and the dim white line of Cape Blancnez in the distance.

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Broadstairs, close by the lighthouse on the North Foreland (the Cantium Promontorium of Roman geography), is still newer as a place of public resort. But as a fishing village it dates back to the middle ages, when the little chapel of “Our Lady of Bradstow” stood in the gap of the cliffs, and was much addressed by anxious sailors rounding the dangerous point after the silting up of the Wantsum. Ships as they passed lowered their top-sails to do it reverence. Under Henry VIII. a small wooden pier was thrown out to protect the fishing boats; and about the same time, as part of the general scheme of coast defence inaugurated by the king, a gate and portcullis were erected to close the gap seaward, in case of invasion. The archway and portcullis groove remain to this day, with an inscription recording their repair in 1795 by Sir John Henniker. The railway has turned Broadstairs into a minor rival of Ramsgate and Margate and ‘a favourite resort for gentry,’ where ‘those who require quietness, either from ill health or a retiring disposition,’ says a local guide-book, may enjoy ‘the united advantages of tranquillity and seclusion.’ Hundreds of retiring souls indeed may be observed on the beach any day during the season, seeking tranquillity in a game of cards, repairing their health with the stimulus of donkey exercise, or soothing their souls in secret hour with music sweet as love, discoursed to them by gentlemen in loose pink suits and artificially imitated AEthiopian countenances.

Westgate is the very latest-born of these Thanet gates, a brand-new watering-place, where every house proclaims the futility of the popular belief that Queen Anne is dead, and where fashionable physicians send fashionable patients to cure imaginary diseases by a dose of fresh air. It has no history, for only a few years since it consisted entirely of a coastguard station and three or four cottages: but it is interesting as casting light on the nature of the revolution which has turned Thanet inside out and hind part before, making the open sea take the place of the Kentish mainland, and the railway to London that of the silted Wantsum.

At the present day Thanet as a whole consists of two parts: the live sea front, which is one long succession of suburban watering-places; and the agricultural interior, including the reclaimed estuary, which ranks among the best-farmed and most productive districts in all England, Yet till a very recent date the Thanet farmers still retained the use of the old Kentish plough, the coulter of which is reversed at the end of every furrow; and many other curious insular customs mark off the agriculture of the island even now from that which prevails over the rest of the country.

I don’t know whether I’m wrong, but it often seems to me the very best way to gain an idea of the real history of England is thus to take a single district piecemeal, and trace out for one’s self the main features of its gradual evolution. By so doing we get away from mere dynastic or political considerations, leave behind the bang of drums or the blare of trumpets, and reach down to the living facts of common human activity themselves–the realities of the workaday world of toilers and spinners. By narrowing our field of view, in fact, we gain a clearer picture on our smaller focus. We see how the big historical revolutions actually affected the life of the people; and we trace more readily the true nature of deep-reaching changes when we follow them out in detail over a particular area.

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