Lincolnshire’s Drowned Villages
By Paul Homewood
h/t Siv Sivsson
As a follow up to yesterday’s piece on 13thC storms, there is an interesting piece on the archeologist Dr Caitlin Green’s website, which brings home the reality of some of these events:
Previous posts on this site have looked at the coastline of Lincolnshire in the palaeolithic and early medieval eras. The following post continues this theme by examining the changing coastline of Lincolnshire in the later medieval period, from around AD 1250 until 1600, with a particular focus on some of the medieval and early modern villages and churches that were lost to the sea and drowned in that era.
The coastline of Lincolnshire in the thirteenth century, drawn by C. R. Green after S. Pawley, Lincolnshire Coastal Villages and the Sea c. 1300–1600: Economy and Society (University of Leicester PhD thesis, 1984), with slight modifications. This map includes one depiction of the possible number and extent of both the offshore barrier islands that are often thought to have protected the coast of Lincolnshire through until the thirteenth century and the calmer, lagoonal conditions that they are suggested to have created to their west, which protected the Lincolnshire coast from the full erosive force of the North Sea.
Up until the thirteenth century, the coast of Lincolnshire is thought to have been protected by a series of offshore coastal barrier islands. These islands extended south-eastwards from Spurn Point—potentially as far as the coast of north-western Norfolk (see map, above)—and are argued to have shielded the Lincolnshire seaboard from the full ferocity of the storms and tides of the North Sea, creating a sheltered tidal lagoon between themselves and the main coastline that was characterised in part by saltmarsh, wide sand and mud flats, and tidal creeks and estuaries.(1) However, this protection appears to have failed during the 1200s, as the offshore islands were finally destroyed by an unprecedented series of storms and floods in that century. The debris that resulted from their destruction is believed to have been cast up along the foreshore of the Lincolnshire Outmarsh as broad ‘storm beaches’ and sand dunes, and the coastal landscape of Lincolnshire witnessed a sudden and dramatic changes in its nature. No longer did it look out on to a sheltered lagoon, but rather to the open sea. As Simon Pawley puts it,
a coastline, sheltered for four and a half millennia and topographically and geologically unprepared for the experience, was now exposed to whatever forces of tide and weather had formerly operated on the line of the barrier islands. More floods and coastal disasters were an inevitable result, especially since the stormy conditions of the thirteenth century continued into the fourteenth.(2)
It is against this background that the events described in this post took place, as the coast of Lincolnshire started to suffer under the same sort of erosive forces that have led to the loss of significant amounts of land, and a large number of villages, along the unprotected coastline of the East Riding of Yorkshire since the Iron Age and Roman period.(3) With the foreshore no longer protected by a sequence of coastal barrier islands and a sheltered tidal lagoon, the sea began to make significant inroads into the land, reclaiming a mile or more from the coast between Mablethorpe and Skegness by the end of the sixteenth century and destroying a number of low-lying coastal settlements in the process.
The storm surges of 1287 and 1288 are usually considered to be the events that finally overwhelmed the offshore barrier islands, and those years certainly saw significant damage to the Lincolnshire coast in the area of the two neighbouring medieval parishes of Mablethorpe St Peter and Mablethorpe St Mary. The church of Mablethorpe St Peter lay offshore from the modern dune-top Golf Road/Quebec Road car park, around a mile to the north-east of the current Mablethorpe St Mary’s church. According to the Louth Park Abbey Chronicle, the church of Mablethorpe St Peter was ‘rent asunder by the waves of the sea’ in 1287, an event that seems from other references to have taken place on on the night of New Year’s Day 1287. The Hagnaby Abbey Chronicle similarly relates that ‘the church of St. Peter of Mablethorpe was wholly destroyed, the chalice and pyx, in which the body of Christ was served, being found crushed under a heap of stones.’ Moreover, the next year saw equally dramatic marine flooding in the Mablethorpe area, with the Hagnaby Abbey Chronicle recording that there was, on the 4 February 1288,
a flood of the sea … [that] reached as far as Maltby field and totally destroyed the church of St. Peter of Mablethorpe, and that day perished many men, uncounted sheep, and an unknown number of cattle … Also on the eve of the Assumption [14 August 1288] the sea caused very great damage in the territory of Mablethorpe.(4)
Despite its obviously vulnerable coastal position in the aftermath of the loss of the protective barrier islands, the rebuilding of Mablethorpe St Peter’s church appears to have been begun a short time after these latter floods and on the same site, with money from the local tithes and offerings assigned to this from May 1290. Whether the church of Mablethorpe St Mary was also damaged in these floods is unrecorded, although it may be significant that it too was being rebuilt in the early 1300s; in this case, however, the rebuilding was taking place on a brand new site. The present church presumably stands on this new site and it has been plausibly suggested that the recorded rebuilding of the church of Mablethorpe St Mary from November 1300 onwards reflected a ‘strategic withdrawal’ inland by the parish from a dangerously exposed coastal position for its church too, with the aim of avoiding the fate suffered by the church of Mablethorpe St Peter.(5)
The sea continued to exert a destructive influence on the Mablethorpe area throughout the rest of the medieval period. For example, in August 1335 the waters broke through the medieval sea-banks at Mablethorpe for at least two days, drowning sheep and crops; in 1425, the sea-banks were ‘torn apart’ by the flood and almost the whole of Mablethorpe was submerged in both January and October; and in 1443, the lord of Mablethorpe manor was exempted from offices and services ‘in consideration of his loss of land in Mablerthorp through the irruption of the sea and of his costs in repairing the coasts’. In 1500, the Commissioners of Sewers for the province of Lindsey indicated that both Mablethorpe and Skegness were ‘in very great danger of the sea’, and the truth of this judgement was demonstrated in the the late 1530s, when the church of St Peter, the village of ‘Mawplethrop’, and the greater part of its parish were ‘overflown with water in the sea’ and never recovered. As late as the 1870s, the church ruins could still be seen from the dune-top at Mablethorpe, and it was said in the 1930s that the sea continued to occasionally throw up carved stone from the church onto the foreshore.(6)
The full article is here.