Coastal Villages Now Landlocked, More Common Than You Think

Coastal villages that have become landlocked may still retain aspects of their maritime heritage, such as old buildings, artifacts, and cultural practices related to the sea.

But today we hear a lot about coastal erosion in the UK. Houses, streets and even whole villages live with the threat of being swallowed by the sea. But the reverse also happens.

The silting up of rivers and estuaries means that villages which once thrived as coastal communities are now landlocked and life is very different to what it once was.


Parkgate, Cheshire

Sitting on banks of the River Dee, on the Wirral Peninsula in Cheshire, Parkgate is known for it’s birds and wildlife. There was a time though when it was a busy seaside town and at the beginning of the 18th century it was more than that.

Looking south along the salt marsh and quayside at Parkgate.
Parkgate was an important port from the start of the 18th century, in particular as an embarkation point for Ireland. The River Dee, which was a shipping route to the Roman city of Deva (Chester), had partly silted up by AD 383

From the early 1700s Parkgate was a port of some importance, particularly as a setting off point for Ireland.

In Roman times the River Dee was a shipping route to Chester, but by AD 383 it had silted up, so a port was needed further downstream.

Burton was used first and then the small town of Neston, but the silting up continued and eventually a site was chosen near the gate of Neston’s hunting park and ‘Parkgate’ came into being.

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Inevitably the silting up of the Dee also eventually made Parkgate redundant as a port and the dockside activity found a new home in Liverpool on the River Mersey.

Towards the end of the 18th century Parkside re-invented itself as a seaside resort, popular with bathers, but this too came to an end, as grass took a hold on the sands of the estuary.

This led to the development of marshland and Parkside was left with no beach and no direct access to the sea. The villagers scraped what living they could from fishing and shrimping.

During the Second World War, Liverpool was an obvious target for German bombers and small lights were placed on Parkside’s marshes to make pilots think there was industry there.

The marshes became a conservation area in 1972, as part of the Dee Estuary Nature Reserve while the village itself was reborn again, this time as very desirable residential area. It is now popular with visitors and birdwatchers.

Wiveton, Norfolk

The imposing church of St Mary in Wiveton seems oddly out of place in such a small village, but this small village was once a busy port.

Until the 17th century, the River Glaven was navigable and Wiveton was a port. The outline of the former harbour can still be seen in the fields between Wiveton and Cley

It sits on River Glaven, a little under two miles from the sea with the larger village of Blakeney just to the west.

While today you’d struggle to make your way along the Glaven in a canoe, it was a navigable tidal estuary until the early 17th century, with a harbour.

You can stand on the small bridge just along the road from the church and look out across the fields at what was a harbour and still discern the outline.

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Large transport barges were once a regular sight and marks from mooring ropes can still be seen on one wall of St Mary’s.

From the fifteenth century onwards, ships left Wiveton for ports on the continent. There was considerable trade with the low countries, Scandanavia and Iceland, but by the 1600s, other ports along the UK coast were the more regular destinations.

Dutch Engineer

Then early in the seventeenth century, the successful draining of the fens by Dutch engineer Sir Cornelius Vermuyden, inspired local landowners the Calthorpe Family to reclaim part of their coastal estates with the help of another Dutch engineer, Van Hasedunck.

As a result the marshes east of Wiveton were embanked and its days as a port were over, with many of the locals losing their livelihood.

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A petition was made to the King to stop Sir Henry Calthorpe and his son Philip from continuing with the embankment. It was successful and the bank was demolished but the damage had been done.

The flow of the tide to Wiveton was halted, although small ships could still pass up the estuary to Cley on the other side of the river.

Wiveton ceased to be a port and is today a small village with under two hundred residents.

Winchelsea, East Sussex

You’ll find Winchelsea between East Sussex’s High Weald and Romney Marsh, some two miles southwest of Rye and seven miles northeast of Hastings.

Looking from Pett sea wall, with the sea to left and Pett Level Road to the right. Cliff End cliffs seen in the distance. This raised embankment protects a large area of flat reclaimed land most of which is farmed with sheep.

The Winchelsea of today was founded in 1288, after an earlier town with the same became a victim of coastal erosion.

Old Winchelsea was on a huge shingle bank where the estuaries of the Rivers Brede, Rother and Tillingham met.

The bank offered protection and provided a sheltered anchorage called the Camber. After the Norman Conquest it played an important role in cross Channel trade and was a naval base.

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New Winchelsea is a planned town based on a grid system and built on higher ground on the western edge of Romney Marsh and Camber Sands.

The new town retained Old Winchelsea’s affiliation to the Cinque Ports Confederation and had a tidal harbour on the River Brede.

At the beginning of the fourteenth century, it was one of England’s premier ports, thriving through shipping and ship building, trading, fishing and if the stories are true, piracy, smuggling and wrecking.

Hundred Years War

As there was a considerable wine trade with France, many of the townspeople spoke French.

The port flourished until the middle of the 1300s, when it was the raided by the Spanish and French during the Hundred Years War and then hit badly by the plague.

Winchelsea’s fortunes weren’t what they were, but it continued as a port on a smaller scale until the 1520s, when the silting up of the harbour ultimately brought about its end.

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Old Winchester had been lost to the sea, which then began to give back some of the land it had swallowed.

Slowly a shingle bar built up above the tides, the river narrowed, and local people helped the process by building dykes which hastened the deposit of mud.

By the end of the 15th century the port no longer existed and the last merchant had left the town.

Today, no longer on the coast itself, Winchelsea shares it name with the nearby seaside village of Winchelsea Beach.

Cley Next The Sea, Norfolk

Across the River Glaven from Wiveton, Cley was also once a port, in fact one of the busiest in England.

Cley Windmill is a Grade II* listed tower mill at Cley next the Sea, Norfolk, England which has been converted to residential accommodation.
Cley was once one of the busiest ports in England, where grain, malt, fish, spices, coal, cloth, barley and oats were exported or imported

Grain, meat, fish, spices, coal, cloth, barley and oats, all came into or left the country through Cley, but despite its name, Cley has not actually been next to the sea since the seventeenth century, due to silting up caused by land reclamation.

Today it is difficult to comprehend that there was a time when you could stand in front of Cley Church, looking back towards Wiveton and see wharves on both sides of a bustling harbour, packed with ships of up to 130 tons.

Cargo would be moved into one of the many warehouses that then existed or it was taken away by cart.

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The loading of other vessels would also be taking place before they left for destinations such as Norway, Greece, Marseilles or Carthaginia.


The throngs of people on the quayside would include customs officers and foreign merchants, as well as local fishermen, dockers and coal carriers.

As with Wiveton, land reclamation by the Calthorpe family spelled the beginning of the end.

The bank they had built was demolished, but the river had begun to silt up without the scouring action of the tide. The valley however remained tidal until 1824, when the coast road and second bank which is still there today were built. By this point Cley’s days as a port were over.

The valley did see rough seas twice more though, both in 1897 and 1953 when exceptionally high tides flooded over the banks.

Today with a resident population of just over four hundred people, Cley is popular with tourists and the marshes form part of Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s oldest and best known nature reserve.

Blakeney, Norfolk

Just two miles along the coast from Cley, Blakeney fared better than its neighbour and was a commercial seaport until the early twentieth century.

The harbour has since silted up and only small boats can make their way out to the sea past Blakeney Point, now most famous for its seal population.

As the coastline changed due to natural processes, including silting and erosion, Blakeney's importance as a trading port diminished. The harbor became less accessible for larger ships.
As the coastline changed due to natural processes, including silting and erosion, Blakeney’s importance as a trading port diminished. The harbor became less accessible for larger ships.

The River Glaven which makes its way through Wiveton and Cley, flowed into the sea at Blakeney Haven, a deep inlet behind and sheltered by Blakeney Point.

This was a major shipping area in the Middle Ages when Cley and Wiveton also flourished. When they became redundant as ports, Blakeney continued to prosper, especially after the channel to the Haven was deepened in 1817.

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Packet ships, which were boats of a medium size, designed for mail, passenger and freight transport, sailed from Blakeney to London and Hull from 1840.

Spanish Armada,

This trade declined as the gradual silting of the harbour made accommodating these vessels increasingly difficult.

Today Blakeney, a popular summer tourist resort, has a slightly upmarket air. The Blakeney Hotel where Elizabeth Taylor once stayed attracts walkers and lovers of wildlife.

Many of the cottages that housed working fishermen are holiday homes. The atmosphere is tranquil and its hard to believe that men of the village once had both a disregard for the law and a fierce reputation for piracy.

In the first half of the fourteenth century, they boarded two ships sailing from Flanders and brought them back to Blakeney Haven to remove what they were carrying.

Many foreign merchant ships which sought safety from rough seas in the haven, found they weren’t as safe as they’d thought when their cargo was stolen.

The Blakeney men thought so little of the law that when a ship was requested to help fight the Spanish Armada, they refused to supply one. A stark reminder that the picturesque quiet little villages of today weren’t so sleepy in the past.