The Confederation of Cinque Ports

17/06/2016
Tenterden News

The Confederation of Cinque Ports was originally formed for military and trade purposes, but is now entirely ceremonial. The name originates in Norman French, meaning "five ports"

The Five Ports

Hastings; New Romney; Hythe; Dover; Sandwich (Other towns also contribute to the Confederation, including two Ancient Towns, and seven surviving Limbs)

Two Ancient Towns

Rye; Winchelsea

Seven Surviving Limbs

Lydd (Limb of New Romney); Folkestone (Limb of Dover); Faversham (Limb of Dover); Margate (Limb of Dover); Deal (Limb of Sandwich); Ramsgate (Limb of Sandwich) and Tenterden (Limb of Rye)

Cinque Port towns : Historic Tenterden

Tenterden stands on the peninsula of high land between the Rother Levels to the south and the River Beult valley. In the later years of the Roman occupation of Britain, roads were built through the dense forest of the Weald to carry iron ore from the Sussex mines to East Kent. One of these roads passed along the ridge of high ground north of Tenterden, but there is no evidence of any permanent settlement in the area until the coming of the Saxons and Jutes in the 8th century. 

The new settlers began to claim areas in the Wealden forest for pasturing their pigs and one of these areas was cleared by the men of Thanet, The Tenet-ware, who gave Tenterden its name, Tenet-ware-den, the 'den' or pig pasture of the men of Thanet. 

With the gradual clearance of the forest and the creation of rich grasslands by the reclamation of much of Romney Marsh, pigs gave way to sheep as the major source of wealth, and in the 13th century Tenterden began to play an active part in the new wool and cloth trade - an industry which flourished for the next 350 years. 

Wool from marshland sheep accounted for much of Tenterden's increasing prosperity, but unlike the other Wealden communities, Tenterden also had access to the sea. The ports of Smallhythe and Reading Street, both in the Hundred of Tenterden, were initially established to ship timber out of the Wealden forest, but both began to make use of the timber for building ships. When the Cinque Port of Rye found itself unable to fulfil its obligations as a Cinque Port to supply its quota of ships and men for the Crown's use, it turned to Tenterden for help. In 1449 King Henry Vl granted to the Town and Hundred of Tenterden its charter of incorporation as a limb or member of Rye in the Confederation of the Cinque Ports. The 550th anniversary of the Charter was celebrated in 1999.

Membership of the Confederation brought many benefits and the town enjoyed all the ancient customs and privileges of the Cinque Ports, such as virtual self-government, exemption from national taxation and Honours at Court - the right to be present at the monarch's coronation, an honour held to this day. The new Corporation was given the right to elect a Bailiff every year, and in 1600 Queen Elizabeth granted the town a new charter under which the title of Bailiff was changed to that of Mayor. 

In the 15th and 16th centuries the Romney Marsh harbours silted up and Tenterden slowly lost its maritime trade, bringing about a decline in the influence of both Tenterden and the Cinque Ports. In the 18th century, access to the rich grazing lands of the Marsh and the cultivation of fruit and hops on the higher land continued to bring wealth to the landowners of Tenterden, which developed into an important market and service centre for the surrounding district. The coming of the railway to Ashford and Headcorn in 1842 brought London goods to the Tenterden shops and encouraged its growth as a shopping centre. Under the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 the Mayor and Jurats were replaced by a reformed Borough Council of Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors and in 1974 the Town and Hundred of Tenterden became a "Successor Parish", with a Town Mayor and Councillors.

The Town Hall was built in 1792 to replace the original Court Hall destroyed by fire in 1661. The Town Hall includes an Assembly Room recently restored to something like its 18th century appearance and displayed there is a board listing the names of all the Bailiffs and Mayors of Tenterden since 1449, and the Arms of the 14 members of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports.

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