Robert Holden, long time stalwart of the Association, contributed this piece about some of the history of his local area as the OGA50 Round Britain Challenge fleet set out from the East Coast of England. We’re posting it again as the RBC60 fleet converges on Ramsgate, April, 2023.
My bit of coast is where most history has taken place and has the country’s greatest number of archaeological sites of the entire UK. And where am I talking about? Well, the Isle of Thanet and East Kent in general. East Kent was trading with France and Belgium, or whatever they were called 3 – 4,000 years ago. Then we had a failed attempt at setting up an outpost by some distant tribe called the Romanus. They had a go in 55BC but on a later attempt were more successful at invasion in AD43, under Aulus Plautius, landing in east Kent. Here they set up their entry port to Britanicus, evocatively sited amid the East Kent marshes. Called Rutupiae (Richborough) it was perhaps the most symbolically important of all Roman sites in Britain, witnessing both the beginning and almost the end of Roman rule here. It was a start point for the Roman Road, that was to be known as Watling Street, with a major quadrifrons triumphal arch erected straddling the street. This being the main road from Richborough to London.
In 17 cross-Channel fleet operations, including the Norman invasion, the Spanish Armada and the Descent of William of Orange in 1688. Of these nine (53%) failed to reach their destination. Of seven cross-Channel passages by Caesar’s fleet or parts of it, only two (29%) failed. These two failures resulted from bad weather and adverse winds and were commanded by subordinates of Caesar who were arguably under pressure from him to make the passage as soon as possible. Passages by Caesar himself on the short route between Boulogne and east Kent were 100% successful. On the other hand perhaps the most spectacular failure was that of Duke Robert the Magnificent of Normandy. In the 1030s he assembled a fleet which set sail to invade England from Fécamp. Caught in a storm, it was driven to Jersey. Such statistics underline the sheer uncertainty of invasion passage-making in the age of sail. The Roman naval commanders of AD43 would have had a massive incentive to reduce these uncertainties by using the short crossing of the Dover Strait.‘British Archaeology’ by Gerald Grainge.