Spotlight on Sandwich
PUBLISHED: 12:33 22 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:33 22 March 2014
Spring is the perfect time to visit this quaint historic town with its splendid riverside setting, more ancient buildings than almost anywhere in Kent and so much to do and see
Once the greatest port in England, ‘Sandwic’, meaning ‘settlement on the sand’, was regularly ravaged by the French, yet when it became landlocked, it was continentals from the Netherlands who transformed its fortunes, transplanting their skills as weavers and market gardeners.
These Flemish ‘strangers’ rebuilt St Peter’s Church, gave Sandwich some fine Dutch brickwork, celery, plus quite a lot of new words.
But it wasn’t until 1954 that American pharmaceutical company Pfizer really put the east Kent town on the international map when it acquired an 80-acre site on the outskirts of Sandwich to enable the expansion of its Kent-based activities.
By the 1970s the huge Pfizer plant was the largest research operation of any pharmaceutical company outside the US, but the company decided to leave Sandwich in 2011 and the site was sold to a private consortium in August 2012.
Now known as Discovery Park, it is home to 60 companies, including Pfizer, who have retained a presence in the town.
Last October a 10-year masterplan was prepared for the site, detailing proposals for a superstore development (pivotal to the scheme as a whole), petrol station, shops and 500 homes, these to run alongside the commercial premises.
The planning application was lodged in September 2013 but at the time of writing no decision has yet been reached.
In early 2014 the heart of the magnificent historic gardens at The Salutation was devastated by flooding. Head gardener Steve Edney was aided by many kind volunteers in helping to restore the gardens to their former glory – by the time you read this let’s hope that this will have been achieved.
“We’re tremendously touched by the kindness everyone’s shown, and the wonderful support we’ve had,” says Dominic Parker, who lives with his wife Stephanie in the main house, and offers luxury accommodation in three historic properties in the grounds (01304 619919, CT13 9EW).
Despite all this industrial and flood-driven upheaval, Sandwich remains a quaint and highly appealing riverside town, packed with ancient buildings and the perfect place to unwind for a weekend break.
What to do and see
You can see across the rooftops of town by walking around the old town walls, or visit the remains of a Roman site at Richborough Roman Fort (CT13 9JW).
Gazen Salts Nature Reserve (CT13 9HN) has woodland and rare birds, while Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory Trust (CT13 9PF) is a twitcher’s paradise.
Another highlight is The Salutation at Sandwich, which has acres of fine historic gardens (see below), and White Mill Rural Heritage Centre (01304 239544, CT13 9JB), a 1790s-built smock mill with craft displays.
St Mary’s Arts Centre (CT13 9GX), based in a redundant church, is the town’s performance centre: in April you can enjoy A Tribute to Simon and Garfunkel (5 April) and The Rat Pack Vegas spectacular (12 April): tickets from The Admiral Own, see below.
The Quay, on the banks of the River Stour, offers spectacular scenery and river views.
Eat, drink and sleep
Good hotels and restaurants include: The Salutation (see above), Shepherd Neame-owned The Bell Hotel (01304 615308, CT13 9EF), Kings Arms hotel (01304 617330, CT13 9HN), Fisherman’s Wharf (01304 613636, CT13 9RU), The Admiral Owen (01304 617771, CT13 9EB), and the George and Dragon (01304 613106, CT13 9EJ).
Dates for your diary
Sandwich celebration (10-11 May): two-day Food Fayre, cookery demonstrations, street music.
Le Weekend (7-8 June): with Le tour de Sandwich cycle special, French market, street music, dancing and free concerts, La Balade classic car meet and medieval encampment.
Folk and Ale Festival (11-13 July): bands and artists performing gigs in pubs and Morris dance teams throughout the town.
Sandwich Festival (21-25 August): 20th anniversary, motor cycle meet, barn dance, duck race.
Steve Laslett is Chair of the Sandwich Community Events Organisation (SCEA), a body that aims to promote all events and tourist attractions in the town, via its website www.sandwichevents.org.uk.
These volunteers list tourist activities, visitor events, and community activities of all kinds. Steve also runs The Sandwich Shop (CT13 9AE).
“SCEA was started because I realised that there were a lot of people working hard in the town, so we joined together to pool resources, such as new ideas and a website,” he explains.
“Our aim is to boost businesses and to raise the town’s profile, and it’s working – our visitor footfall is increasing every year. We have an event each month, including a Christmas Lights and Fayre in the winter.
“We’re planning an Arts Week in September, plus late this year we’re ready to start building a boatyard and a medieval flagship.
“Sandwich is visually stunning, friendly and it has a lovely continental climate. We have the accolade ‘an architectural gem and the most complete medieval town in England,’ and I’m not sure I can better that!”
Rob Wallis, who is organising La Balade de Sandwich (part of Le Weekend), adds: “We are aiming to get more than 50 cars, plus vintage motorcycles and a good selection of vintage cars. A key challenge is will there be enough room on the Quay to accommodate all the participants?”
Sandwich Concert Band (SCB) is comprised of two bands: the Concert Band and the Training Band, the latter encouraging and developing those playing at Grades 1 or 2 upwards.
SCB welcomes players of wind, brass and percussion instruments, who perform four or five concerts annually, including bandstands and outdoor concerts in the summer and have a festive concert at Christmas.
Kate Robinson, who lives just outside Sandwich and is a clarinet player, is the Training Band conductor.
“I joined the band about 10 years ago together with my son, who plays the trumpet,” Kate says. “The music is a mixture of marches, classical transcriptions, music from films and shows, plus good symphonic band music.
“We perform a variety of pieces, classical as well as pop. And within the band we have a clarinet ensemble, which raises money for the Martha Trust (01304 615223), a charity that provides care and practical help for people with physical and learning difficulties.”
She adds: “Sandwich has a tremendous sense of community; there are lots of events throughout the year. And in the town there are a great many fascinating little alleyways that have a lot of history attached to them.
“Sandwich is a small medieval town, with interesting architecture, and lots of leisure and cultural activities.”
Not to scale
Local resident Nick Mathews, who used to teach in Sandwich, has designed a delightful card model of St Peter’s church, scale about 100:1, that can be assembled by anyone aged over 12, using just a sharp knife, ruler, scissors and card glue (cost £10, email Nick: email@example.com).
He also makes models of small buildings and beach huts, and is considering making morels of Herne Church, Dover Castle, and the Roman Gateway at Richborough Fort. His grandfather Sydney Bushell, who fought with the 38th Welsh Division on the Somme, was featured in the February edition of Kent Life.
“I taught English, art and history at Sandwich Technical School for 28 years, and I love the town,” says Nick.
“I like its beauty, variety, lively shops, the many activities and clubs, the choice of great places to eat and the lovely fun people.
“Coming soon is our Arts Week in September and the First World war art exhibition in November. I’m especially interested in our medieval fayres, art exhibitions, and helping at the local school.
“Sandwich is a beautiful and interesting town with a strong sense of community and fun. The architecture is interesting and the walks are varied and beautiful.”
Sandwich is on the east Kent coast, just south of the isle of Thanet and about halfway between Deal and Ramsgate. Reach it via the A257 from Canterbury (get there via the M2/A2); alternatively follow the A299/A256 from Ramsgate, or from the south via Dover (take the A2 and A256). There is a station and good bus services.
Satnav: CT13 9AH (town centre)