Fairfield: The lost village of Romney Marsh where there is still an isolated church

Fairfield’s 13th century church is a fascinating glimpse into Kent’s lost past. Only a few farms and the village church of Fairfield remain.

But hundreds of years ago, there were about 28 towns and villages in Romney Marsh. Today, there are just 17, including the major towns of Romney and Lydd.

The “isolated church” of St Thomas Becket was built in the 13th century and was only accessible by boat until 1913 as it was often blocked by water. A stream was dug in 1913 with a causeway for access. Now the only way to get there is to take a path through the wet swamp.

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It was around 1200 AD that a simple structure of wood and slats was built to provide local farmers with a place of worship. But it became permanent and the 13th century building survived intact until the 18th century when the entire wooden building was enclosed in brick walls and the roof was covered with heavy tiles.

In 1912 the whole church was dismantled and the rotten beams were replaced. But as much of the original 13th century material as possible has been reused.

Stepping inside is like stepping back in time to the 18th century. The interior is filled with rows of box powers, painted bright white, with a three-tier pulpit.

The church has been used for several films and TV series, including the BBC’s Great Expectations and the 1972 film The Canterbury Tales. Fairfield would have been abolished as a civil parish in 1934, becoming part of Snargate and Stone cum Ebony.

The primary reason for the decline of most Romney Marsh settlements was the Black Death. It is estimated that the Black Death killed between 30 and 45% of the population of England between the years 1348 and 1350.

But there were other diseases such as malaria and other waterborne diseases that made the swamp a hostile place to survive. Mortality rates in the swamp were almost twice as high in villages a few miles away.

Also in the 13th century, between 1287 and 1288, violent storms swept the coastline, cutting off the port town of New Romney from the sea.

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