My new novel, Destiny’s Tide, is being published by Canelo in e-book form on 26 June, and is currently available for pre-order. (It’s currently ‘headlining’ their website as Book of the Month!) To build up to the book’s release, I’m going to highlight several aspects of the ‘back story’, and today I’m focusing on Dunwich in Suffolk, home of my protagonists, the Stannard family, and the setting for much of the land-based action in the book. First of all, here’s an edited version of what I say about it in the book’s historical note, with links added to various useful websites that provide more detail. For those who want yet more detail, and a better impression of the location than I can provide through a few photographs, there’s a Time Team programme about Dunwich, which is available to view on YouTube.

The story of Dunwich, ‘England’s Atlantis’, is not really as well-known as it should be. Indeed, it’s possible that some will know the name only from H P Lovecraft’s famous and seminal tale of the supernatural, The Dunwich Horror; this took only the placename from the village in Suffolk (and that probably unwittingly), otherwise setting the story in rural Massachusetts, but it has spawned two films and countless references in popular culture. As for the real Dunwich, almost certainly once the seat of the Bishops of East Anglia, as late as the thirteenth century it possessed the same geographical extent as London, was listed as one of the ten most important towns in England, and was regarded as the best harbour on the east coast. But a series of catastrophic storms, notably in 1286, 1287, 1328, 1347 and 1362, effectively blocked its harbour and swept away large areas of the town, which eventually declined to merely the tiny hamlet that remains today. The story of this ‘lost city’, and its endless battle against the sea, was well told in Rowland Parker’s famous book Men of Dunwich, first published in 1978, which was an important source for this story; so, too, were Nicholas Comfort’s The Lost City of Dunwich, Thomas Gardner’s An Historical Account of Dunwich (first published in 1754), and many archaeological reports on the digs and surveys, including those underwater, carried out at Dunwich over many years. Thanks to these sources, many of the character names in this story are taken from real people who lived there at the right time. Indeed, some of them held the actual offices I have attributed to them…

Dunwich in 1587, just over 40 years after the events of Destiny’s Tide. West is at the ‘top’. For a guide to the layout of the town and its major buildings, follow this link.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the town of Dunwich experienced something of a limited revival, thanks to the success of its Iceland fishery. However, this proved short-lived…the dissolution of the monasteries dramatically reduced the demand for fish, and the town’s decline resumed. Greyfriars, the monastery to which Thomas Ryman [one of the book’s central characters] once belonged, is now the last substantial relic of old Dunwich, with its gates, refectory and enclosing wall still standing upon Dunwich cliff…However, some remains of the Maison Dieu hospital supposedly still exist beneath the beach café and adjacent public conveniences…while the sunken lane that was once Midgate Street can still be walked as far as its abrupt end at the cliff edge. All Saints, the last of what were once seven churches, lost its final rector in 1755, although burials continued in its churchyard for some time afterwards. The last grave of all, that of Jacob Forster (who died in 1796, aged thirty-eight) is still in situ…although it is now precariously close to the cliff edge. The ruins of All Saints fell into the sea between 1904 and 1922; the last buttress was moved further inland and re-erected in the churchyard of the nineteenth century Saint James’s Church…

With climate change very much in the news, and coastal erosion still being very much a live issue on the East Anglian coast – indeed, it has just been proposed that entire communities might have to be abandoned to the sea – the fate of Dunwich provides an important lesson for our times. In terms of my story, though, it could hardly have provided a better backdrop. The town’s constant battle against the sea, together with its bitter rivalry with its neighbours Southwold and Walberswick, provided me with plenty of dramatic material, not to mention a hint of the supernatural… In recent times, the ruins of the seven lost churches of Dunwich have actually been located on the seabed and studied in some detail. But science has not yet been able to prove or disprove the legend that sometimes, if the conditions are right, the bells of the drowned churches can still be heard, ringing out to summon their ghostly congregations once again.

This splendid display board at Dunwich beach provides a vivid image of the destruction of the town. The ancient defensive fortification surrounding it was known as the Palesdyke.
The ruins of Dunwich Greyfriars
Dunwich cliff, looking south
The last grave of All Saints Church. A decisive meeting between the book’s two central characters takes place roughly in this location.

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