A History of (fictional) Dunwich

In which CJ makes a very peculiar blend of truth and fiction for the setting of his Vampire game - bet you can't work out which is which!!!

Dunwich (pronounced Dun-Itch) is a seaport and seaside resort in the county of Suffolk in England, with a natural harbour formed by the mouths of the River Blyth and the River Dunwich. Dunwich is today one of the largest ports in eastern England, with a population of around 53,000 (1988), though it is less important as an international port than nearby Harwich and Felixstowe. Initially settled by the Romans who built a now lost fort here called Sitomagus here ("the place of the Magi"), Dunwich grew large because its position as a convenient harbour on the North Sea made it attractive to Saxon settlers, who had founded a town here by 600AD. Further down the coast is the site where the Sutton Hoo treasure was found, and the area is rich in finds of Anglo-Saxon artefacts. In the Norman period the town continued to prosper, and an entry exists in the 1086 Domesday Book.

The twelfth century saw the construction of the great walls of Dunwich, some of which still stand to this day, by Hugh de Burgh. Tragically 1191 saw a shameful episode when following a blood libel, (claims they sacrificed Christian boy named Guy whose body was found in a well) there was a massacre of forty citizens, despite the best effort of Bishop Grace to prevent the massacre. This followed similar pogroms against the Jews at Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, and King's Lynn, Norfolk. Following the revolt of Hugh de Burgh against the King the small motte and bailey castle was slighted, and it was never to be rebuilt, though th eimpressive earth mound Castle Hill still towers over the estuary and town, surmounted by a small wood and Girsham's Folly, an eighteenth century mock ruined tower built by a minor member of the Hellfire Club in 1775.

King John granted Dunwich its Charter in 1208, which provided for the Thursday Market, and in the next four centuries it made most of its wealth trading Suffolk woollen cloth with the Continent, while maintaining a strong fishing fleet which rivalled those of Ipswich and Great Yarmouth. Other main exports were grain, and the main imports were fish, furs and timber from Iceland and the Baltic region, cloth from the Netherlands, and wine from France.

During the Middle Ages the cathedral was a popular pilgrimage destination, and attracted a number of royal pilgrims. Bishop Reginald Catchpole, the son of a wealthy local lawyer, was born in Dunwich about 1479. One of Henry VIII's court, he founded the college of St Bartholomew in the town in 1528, which is now known as St Bartholomew's, Dunwich, a co-educational boarding school which stands in beautiful early Victorian gothic revival buildings to this day . He remains one of the town's most famed figures and a statue of Bishop Catchpole can be seen in the Elizabethan Thursday Market. Following Catchpole's fall from grace he was beheaded at Tower Hill, London, on May 12th, 1535. Henry VIII was also responsible for the closure of both the Greyfriar's Priory and the Blackfriars Priory and St. anna's Conbvent, and dispersal of the monks during the Reformation. The King's men were extremely vindictive: they even burned the last Prior of Blackfriars, Richard Grey,in the Monday Market, while accusing the monks of "gross blasphemy.foul sorceries and heathenish rites".

The Thursday Market was also the site of the burning of the five Dunwich Martyrs in 1555, who suffered the stake for their Protestant beliefs and who are commemorated by the market cross which marks the location of this grisly event. 1645 saw the hanging of 12 women accused of Witchcraft here during the reign of terror of the notorious Matthew Hopkins, following the Dunwich Assize. Hopkins is said to have cursed the town as a "sinful bed of fornicators, wytches and braggarts, which should have fallen in to the sea." Many occult and ghostly legends cluster around Dunwich.

In the 17th century Dunwich was a major centre for emigration to New England. This was organised by the Town Lecturer, Obadiah Whateley. Another resident, born in born in 1805 was Nathaniel Ward –Phillips, a prominent New England minister who is best known for his work Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New-England Canaan. The 17th and 18th century also saw the rise of Smuggling in the town,and there are continued rumours of a system of hidden smugglers tunnels linking churches, old inns and the caves which mark th cliffs dating from this period. The painters John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough both visited and painted scenes around Dunwich in the 18th century, and other famous sometime residents include Horatio Nelson and the novelist H Rider-Haggard. Short story writer MR James, noted for his supernatural fiction, was also a frequent visitor to Dunwich - scholars dispute whether Dunwich or nearby Aldeburgh was the inspiraion for the fictional town of Seaburgh in his short story Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad and A Warning to the Curious.

Modern Dunwich

An attractive East Anglian port city, best known for it's historic Cathedral, Dunwich is still a popular seaside resort in season, and a commercially successful harbour town, returning an MP and a Euro MP in Dunwich (sometimes referred to as Coastal Suffolk) cosntituency. In 1988 the post is held by Arthur Murray-Fforbes, who represents the Conservative Party and was elected by a majority of 12,000. The Town Council represent 12 wards in the Borough, with 7 Conservatives, 3 Labour, one Liberal and an Independent councillor. The current mayor is Councillor Geraldine Mournley (Con).

Dunwich Centre contains a mix of architectural styles, from well preserved medieval buildings like St. Crispin's Guildhouse to Elizabethan black and white timbered buildings, through to the modern concrete glass and gleaming metal of the office buildings, bus station and mall. Much of the town centre architecture is Georgian, though the outlying housing tends to be Victorian as are the houses which overlook the front on Cliffview Road, many of ehich are today boarding houses catering to the tourist industry. The whole town is dominated by the towering Gothic Cathedral, one of the finest example sof medieval Gothic in Britain, the exterior largely untouched except fo r the Victorian Gotchic extension to the Nave, which fortunately complements the existing building. The second oldest building in Dunwich is St.Werburgha's the current structure dating from 1077, and the medieval St. Crispin's Guildhouse, which dates to 1421.

Dunwich has undergone an extensive gentrification programme in recent years, principally centred around the waterfront. This has turned a run-down dock area into an emerging residential and commercial centre, with Cafe bars, restaurants, speciality shopping and many pubs and night clubs.


Dunwich is still a flourishing port today, handling just under a million tonnes of cargo each year. It is the site of three breweris, belonging to Tolly Cobbold,Greene King and Adnams, whcih are major employers, as is the Dunwich Sugar Beet Factory, whose concrete silos dominate the skyline. The pumping of treated waste from this factory in to the North Sea by the concrete encased outflow pipe remains controversial, but the "White Pier" can be walked some two hundred yards in to the North Sea by the foolhardy who risk being washed away by surging waves. The outflow pipe was built in 1974 following complaints from locals about the smell of sugar beet waste.

Industry around Dunwich has had a strong agricultural bias with the sugar beet factory and with Gartons (manufacturers of combine harvesters and specialist agricultural machinery) still a major employer, and the cattle market held oin the monday Market as it has been for centuries. There are light industrial units in the two trading estates which lie to the south and east of Dunwich proper.


Dunwich has never had much luck with its football team, Dunwich City Football Club. Established in 1898, the team enjoyed little success, with a history of Third and Fourth Division success at best. Playing in green, grey and White striped shirts at the London Road Stadium, their main rivals are Norwich City F.C. and Ipswich Town F.C, both notably better teams.

Dunwich has a more successful Speedway team, the Dunwich Devils, who are based at their Catchpole Stadium track, on the outskirts of Dunwich, for over 50 years. Greyhound Racing also takes place at the Catchpole Stadium, and is often better attended.

Dunwich Heath, a gorse covered sandy area just to the west of the town filled with small woods proves a popular recreational area, both for locals and tourists. It is poularly said to be haunted by the spirit of an executed 18th century soldier, the drummer "Black Toby", and by "Black Shuck", the folkloric hell hound of East Anglia. The remians of the gibbet mentioned by James in his travelogue may have led rise to such stories.