The Cinque Ports

Long before the towns were formally recognised as the Cinque Ports, around the time of the Norman conquest in 1066, the five original ‘head ports’ of Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich were busy fishing and trading centres.

For more than 500 years the five towns provided the ships and men who guarded king and country from frequent and vicious attacks in return for special privileges. This unique confederation of South East England Channel ports was the original force behind England’s maritime power.

Under the system of ‘ship service’,the ports were required to supply 57 ships, each with a crew of 21 men and a boy, for 15 days every year. In return the ports were granted special rights which included, amongst many other things, exemption from the jurisdiction of certain courts and the right to levy their own local taxes. These ships were used not only in warfare, but also to transport the King, his family and armies between England and Europe. Neighbouring towns and villages eventually joined the original five towns and were known as ‘limbs’and helped fulfil the quotas of ships and crew. The ‘two Ancient towns’ of Rye and Winchelsea later became head ports in their own right.

The early 14th century saw a sharp decline in the power and influence of some members of the Confederation. The South East coast had been devastated by extremely violent storms in the previous century, permanently changing the coastline and making some harbours unusable. When a permanent navy was founded in the 16th century by Henry Vlll the days of the Cinque Ports as a collective force were numbered.

Today, the Confederation (now consisting of the original five towns and two Ancient towns, together with the surviving limbs of Deal, Faversham, Folkestone, Lydd, Margate, Ramsgate and Tenterden) still plays an active part in the ceremonial affairs of state. Places of honour are reserved for the Cinque Ports Barons at Westminster Abbey, during coronations. The Lord Warden is still in office with great ceremony, at Dover.

To find out more visit The Cinque Ports website.