The Cinque Ports - a brief History
The Cinque Ports
Sandwich Haven on the Great Stour
Originally, the Cinque Ports (pronounced 'Sink' Ports) were a confederation of five harbours, Sandwich, Romney, Dover, Hythe, and Hastings plus the two Ancient Towns of Rye & Winchelsea.
These were grouped together, for defense purposes, by Edward the Confessor. They supplied the Crown with ships and men.
In early times, the fishing fleets, maintained by the South Eastern coastal towns were frequently pressed into service to convey people, and armies, to and from the Continent, as well as to fight battles at sea. They formed the first Navy, and, in return for the use of their vessels, the ports received many privileges from the Crown.
Gradually the ports grouped together for mutual support and a confederation of the five main ones, Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, Romney, and Hastings, was formed and became known as the Cinque Ports. This grouping probably began before the Norman conquest, the Domesday Book records the obligation of the ports to supply ships and men to the King once a year. This ship service continued for over three hundred years until larger ships were needed by the Navy
The Charter & Privileges
The privileges obtained by the Cinque Ports were set down in a series of Royal Charters—the last one granted by Charles II in 1668, can be seen in the Guildhall, Sandwich. These privileges included freedom from tolls and customs duties, freedom to trade and to hold their own judicial courts. The Cinque Ports were also entitled to send Barons, to carry the Canopy over the Sovereign at his or her coronation. A section of the canopy, in cloth of gold, used at the coronation of George 3rd may be seen in Guildhall.
Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, Sandwich reached the top of its importance as the main port in England.
But, the Great Storm of 1287 was the beginning of the end for many of the ports, it silted up harbours, blocked rivers, and submerged towns. Despite this, the Cinque Ports still retained their status and privileges.
Today, these towns are still known as the Cinque Ports, but the coastline has changed considerably over the centuries - Sandwich is now 2 miles inland and only Dover retains its major port status
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
There has been a Lord Warden in charge of the Cinque Ports since the 12th century.
The Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports is today an honorary but still prestigeous position, formerly held by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother - the present Lord Warden is Admiral Lord Boyce. The Official Residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports is based at Walmer Castle.
Former recent Lord Wardens include Sir Winston Churchill 1941-1965 and Sir Robert Menzies, former Prime Minister of Australia 1966-1978.