by John | Oct 16, 2013 |

A Changing Coastline - Walberswick

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The first settlement at Walberswick dates back to at least the Anglo Saxon era. The name ‘Walberswick’ is taken from two Saxon words: Waldbert – probably the name of a landowner – and wyc – meaning “shelter” or “harbour”.

From 200AD through to 1587AD, the coastline that the town sits upon underwent massive changes.


Map 1.

It is believed that during the Roman era (200AD), the Dunwich and Blythe rivers formed a large estuary together; there is evidence of a Roman settlement and anchorage.

During the Saxon period, Dunwich began to gain in importance, eventually growing to become a major east coast port, and one of the most important towns in Suffolk .


Map 2.

By 1250, a large shingle spit called Kingsholme had formed, similar to that which exists at Orford Ness today. This was accompanied by the considerable coastal erosion that had occurred between the Roman and early Norman era. The spit deflected the mouth of the rivers southwards, toward Dunwich.

Dunwich reached its peak in the 1200s, dominating trade, with a population of thousands.


Map 3.

The coastline continued to undergo changes. In 1328, a severe storm destroyed much of Dunwich, and blocked the harbour mouth. The rivers were therefore forced to take a new path to the sea, near Walberswick.

Attempts to reopen the port were unsuccessful, and as coastal erosion and further storms took their toll, the town gradually declined. The focus of marine activity consequently moved to Walberswick and Southwold.

Walberswick was a small port, with an economy based around shipbuilding, fishing and trade. The ruins of the once-large St Andrews church, built in c. 1490, give indications of its former prosperity.

But two hundred years later, the village’s fortunes began to fluctuate; the church had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it was partially demolished, and a smaller church was built within the remains.




Today the village's economy relies mainly on the tourism industry, and around half the properties are holiday homes.

History shows us that the possibility of coastal change is never far away: sea levels rise as a predicted consequence of global warming, and the gradual tilting downward of the coast also presents a challenge.

The fresh water marshes that flank the village may eventually become saline if the sea defences cannot be sustained. The solutions are far from straight forward and some difficult decisions may lie ahead.


Information and images from Suffolk Coast & Heaths Explorer series.


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