ROMNEY MARSH originally lay under the sea but has been slowly growing since the Romans started reclaiming the land about 100 AD. After the Norman invasion of 1066, many churches were built and by 1250, much of the Marsh was as it is today. Along the coast, important import and export towns had been built but during the 1280’s, terrible storms swept away the towns of Winchelsea and Broomhill, blocked the River Rother at Romney and the river moved its course to Rye. After this, agriculture and sheep rearing became the main source of income in the area with the hardy Romney Sheep still being the main breed. In 1155, a royal charter established Romney and Hythe as ‘Cinque Ports’, which granted them the right of self-government and exemption from taxes.
When tax was introduced on bags of wool leaving England, the locals turned to smuggling to avoid paying the taxes and to make a comfortable profit. Those involved became known as “Owlers” and most people turned a blind eye to their activities. Alcohol, silks, wool, tea, brandy and tobacco were the main goods smuggled, and many inns, and even churches, participated. Large battles were common in the 1700 and 1800’s between the huge gangs of owlers and the customs men. To commemorate this period of our history, every even-numbered year (e.g. 2012) in July, there is The Days of Syn Festival in Dymchurch, a weekend of fun and re-enactments with characters from Russell Thorndyke’s famous Dr Syn books, with smugglers and soldiers.