History of the Cinque Ports

Today, the quiet charm of many of the Cinque Port towns belies their important and sometimes violent role in the development of the nation’s seafaring and naval traditions. Some survive as working ports. Indeed, Dover is a major international transport hub, handling some 5 million vehicles and 13 million passengers per year. Others, like Hastings, maintain their historic role as centres of inshore fishing. New Romney, Winchelsea and Tenterden, in particular, have been stranded well inland by the retreating sea. It is sometimes hard to believe that all were once amongst the most significant ports in England.

Their pre-eminence began almost 1000 years ago, around the middle of the 11th century, when they were first granted important legal and fiscal privileges, as well as valuable commercial benefits and social status, in return for providing ships and men to meet the naval and transportation requirements of the English Crown.

The heyday of the Ports

Their fortunes and prowess peaked under the Plantagenet Kings of the 12th and 13th centuries but waned over the next 300 years, as changing patterns of warfare at sea and natural changes to the coastline of south-east England shifted the focus of naval power to more specialised, deep-water ports in other parts of the country.

The Cinque Ports today

By the 21st century, most of the Cinque Port towns have diversified well beyond their seafaring origins, but all repay the visitor with fascinating glimpses of their colourful past and its continuing influence upon the local, regional and national identity.