Local History

deblyns tea shop romney marsh

In Roman times, the area consisted of a number of islands occasionally flooded by sea water. There is some evidence that salt extraction took place on the seashore and the name is derived from the River Rother [formerly Romenal] that used to run through it.

aethelred debylyns tea shop new romneyThe town of New Romney was formed on the estuary of the river Rother and gave directly onto the sea.  There is mention of a church [an ‘oratorium’] in AD.741, and a mint was established during the reign of King Aethelred II (c.AD.997-1003).  

The regular street plan of the town has led some people to think it was a planned town from the beginning. It may have fought off the first attempted invasion of William the Conqueror immediately before the Battle of Hastings in 1066. After his victory, he commissioned a survey of all his lands in England and it features in the Domesday Book (1086) as Romenal (Romney), part of the lands of the Archbishop of Canterbury, containing 156 houses.

Old or New Romney?

The name ‘New Romney’, contrasting with ‘Old Romney’, which is to the north, is a misnomer, as it is doubtful that the village predated the coastal town. Both settlements are recorded as early as c 1140. 

 cinque ports deblyns tea shop new romneyThe ‘Cinque’ Ports

New Romney was the hub of the original five ‘Cinque’ ports, which were essential for the trade and security of southern England. The others were Dover, Hastings, Hythe and Sandwich. A Royal Charter of 1155 established the ports with various tax exemptions, in return for their agreement to supply fifty seven ships in times of national need. The towns also had the right to claim unclaimed goods from shipwrecks. This exemption from national taxes and laws led to a certain amount of smuggling, which became a dominant feature in the 18th century.

Urban Development

New Romney soon developed into a thriving medieval town, with three churches [St Martin, St. Lawrence and St. Nicholas], the Hospital of St Stephen and St Thomas for lepers (1184-1190) and the priory of St.John. Of these, only the parish church of St. Nicholas (c.1130-1170) survives intact. The High Street moved from the road leading to the church and port to the present High Street, and was filled with houses on large narrow sites called ‘burgage’ plots. The structure of these houses would have been tall one roomed ‘hall’ houses, built of plaster and wood, with tall sloping roofs. Over the years, as people wanted separate rooms and more privacy, the upper area was frequently filled in with a floor to create an upper storey, directly under the gables of the roof. 

Problems for New Romney

The continual silting up of the River Rother led to the construction of an additional navigable channel (the ‘Rhee Wall’) between Appledore and New Romney in the 12th century. However, severe storms in the late 13th century, especially the one of February 1287, blocked the channel and diverted the Rother estuary to the port of Rye, leading to the development of that town and the demise of New Romney as a port in the middle of the 14th century. The Rhee Wall now survives as an indentation in the ground. The plague of the Black Death in 1348 would have led to further economic decline and the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII (1536-40) and led to the closure of the Priory of St.John. Soon after, the townspeople were asked to decide on the choice of St.Martin’s or St.Nicholas as their parish church, leading to the demolition of the former. 

A ‘Rotten Borough’ and Smuggling

From 1371 to 1832 New Romney was a ‘rotten borough’, or a town or constituency which sent M.P.s to Parliament despite its small population. It is described by Hasted in 1799 as having ‘about one hundred houses in it … and about five hundred inhabitants. It consists principally of one very wide street, well paved, running the whole length of it, and a cross street’. The town had a market and town hall, directly opposite Deblyns. Almshouses for poor people were built in West Street (1734) and St.John’s Road (1770).

The main industry of the area is thought to have been been smuggling, and you can imagine a smuggler being temporarily incarcerated behind the metal grill of the lock up or ‘dungeon’ below the town hall directly opposite!   

deblyns tea shop new romneyVictorian Seaside Development

In the 1880s a local gentleman, Sir Robert Perks, decided to construct a seaside resort right on the coast at Littlestone-on-Sea. A marine parade of hotels and boarding houses formed, and a golf club was constructed in 1888. Between the two world wars of the 20th century, a residential resort of seaside bungalows was built to the south, at Greatstone-on-Sea.