OK, tonight’s Ars Magica roleplaying game session revolved around the Siege of Dunwich, Suffolk in 1173. I then remembered all the work I put in to this . I was writing for my Mage the Awakening campaign, and I wanted a setting outside of my current home county of Gloucestershire, but in the UK. I finally decided I would use a fictional setting. While this can be restrictive to players, I felt that could be overcome by allowing the players to help me create and imagine the setting.
Being very fond of my home county of Suffolk I toyed with the idea of a Suffolk setting. Unfortunately Suffolk has few large towns – really only Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Felixstowe. I had used Bury St Edmunds for my Changeling Chronicle “Three Crowns” and in several Ars Magica sagas, so I wanted something different. Also I lived in Bury St Edmunds in the time the game is set, and I wanted to avoid running a game which used my friend and old rpg group as NPCs. It was fun in Changeling but I wanted Mage to feel different.
Then I thought of Dunwich. Dunwich is still remembered in the titles of the local diocese, and in the 13th century was a major town, prospering at a time when Ipswich was in recession. The Great Storm of 1287 silted up the harbour, and the town went in to a terminal decline. Then as the years passed, the coastal defences were not maintained, and the town was lost to the sea as the cliffs eroded.
There is practically nothing left of the old town of Dunwich today, just a gravestone from the last Church to vanish. The village of Dunwich still exists a little inland as I recall, and I took the Student Parapsychology Society to the site of Dunwich a few years back, but there is really little to see.
However, as well inspiring the name of Lovecraft’s fictional Dunwich, Massachusetts (which gives the name an eerie and gothic tone immediately) Dunwich has become home to all kinds of legends and stories. While marine archaeologists and historians deny it was ever the great city with fifty churches one reads about in romantic Victorian books, it certainly was a major town, and if it had not been for the gret storm of 1287 would today be a major East Anglian port and cathedral city.
In my World of Darkness, that is exactly what happened. I have set about recreating Dunwich for the game, but Dunwich as it might have been, in 1988! I am not sure what use a fictional history of a lost town is anyone, but if anyone wants to join in by creating more places, personalities, or lift some of it for a game they are running feel free. The yuppie-era Vampire game exploring Thatcherism from the bloodsuckers perspective may happen yet – and this might amuse anyone who has ever tried to create a fictional town!
A History of (fictional) Dunwich
In which CJ makes a very peculiar blend of truth and fiction for the setting of his Vampire game – bet you can’t work out which is which!!! Dunwich (pronounced Dun-Itch) is a seaport and seaside resort in the county of Suffolk in England, with a natural harbour formed by the mouths of the River Blyth and the River Dunwich. Dunwich is today one of the largest ports in eastern England, with a population of around 53,000 (1988), though it is less important as an international port than nearby Harwich and Felixstowe. Initially settled by the Romans who built a now lost fort here called Sitomagus here (“the place of the Magi”), Dunwich grew large because its position as a convenient harbour on the North Sea made it attractive to Saxon settlers, who had founded a town here by 600AD. Further down the coast is the site where the Sutton Hoo treasure was found, and the area is rich in finds of Anglo-Saxon artefacts. In the Norman period the town continued to prosper, and an entry exists in the 1086 Domesday Book.
The twelfth century saw the construction of the great walls of Dunwich, some of which still stand to this day, by Hugh de Burgh. Tragically 1191 saw a shameful episode when following a blood libel, (claims they sacrificed Christian boy named Guy whose body was found in a well) there was a massacre of forty citizens, despite the best effort of Bishop Grace to prevent the massacre. This followed similar pogroms against the Jews at Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, and King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Following the revolt of Hugh de Burgh against the King the small motte and bailey castle was slighted, and it was never to be rebuilt, though the impressive earth mound Castle Hill still towers over the estuary and town, surmounted by a small wood and Girsham’s Folly, an eighteenth century mock ruined tower built by a minor member of the Hellfire Club in 1775.
King John granted Dunwich its Charter in 1208, which provided for the Thursday Market, and in the next four centuries it made most of its wealth trading Suffolk woollen cloth with the Continent, while maintaining a strong fishing fleet which rivalled those of Ipswich and Great Yarmouth. Other main exports were grain, and the main imports were fish, furs and timber from Iceland and the Baltic region, cloth from the Netherlands, and wine from France.
During the Middle Ages the cathedral was a popular pilgrimage destination, and attracted a number of royal pilgrims. Bishop Reginald Catchpole, the son of a wealthy local lawyer, was born in Dunwich about 1479. One of Henry VIII’s court, he founded the college of St Bartholomew in the town in 1528, which is now known as St Bartholomew’s, Dunwich, a co-educational boarding school which stands in beautiful early Victorian gothic revival buildings to this day . He remains one of the town’s most famed figures and a statue of Bishop Catchpole can be seen in the Elizabethan Thursday Market. Following Catchpole’s fall from grace he was beheaded at Tower Hill, London, on May 12th, 1535. Henry VIII was also responsible for the closure of both the Greyfriar’s Priory and the Blackfriars Priory and St. Anna’s convent, and dispersal of the monks during the Reformation. The King’s men were extremely vindictive: they even burned the last Prior of Blackfriars, Richard Grey,in the Monday Market, while accusing the monks of “gross blasphemy.foul sorceries and heathenish rites”.
The Thursday Market was also the site of the burning of the five Dunwich Martyrs in 1555, who suffered the stake for their Protestant beliefs and who are commemorated by the market cross which marks the location of this grisly event. 1645 saw the hanging of 12 women accused of Witchcraft here during the reign of terror of the notorious Matthew Hopkins, following the Dunwich Assize. Hopkins is said to have cursed the town as a “sinful bed of fornicators, wytches and braggarts, which should have fallen in to the sea.” Many occult and ghostly legends cluster around Dunwich.
In the 17th century Dunwich was a major centre for emigration to New England. This was organised by the Town Lecturer, Obadiah Whateley. Another resident, born in born in 1805 was Nathaniel Ward –Phillips, a prominent New England minister who is best known for his work Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New-England Canaan. The 17th and 18th century also saw the rise of Smuggling in the town,and there are continued rumours of a system of hidden smugglers tunnels linking churches, old inns and the caves which mark th cliffs dating from this period. The painters John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough both visited and painted scenes around Dunwich in the 18th century, and other famous sometime residents include Horatio Nelson and the novelist H Rider-Haggard. Short story writer MR James, noted for his supernatural fiction, was also a frequent visitor to Dunwich – scholars dispute whether Dunwich or nearby Aldeburgh was the inspiration for the fictional town of Seaburgh in his short story Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad and A Warning to the Curious.
An attractive East Anglian port city, best known for it’s historic Cathedral, Dunwich is still a popular seaside resort in season, and a commercially successful harbour town, returning an MP and a Euro MP in Dunwich (sometimes referred to as Coastal Suffolk) constituency. In 1988 the post is held by Arthur Murray-Fforbes, who represents the Conservative Party and was elected by a majority of 12,000. The Town Council represent 12 wards in the Borough, with 7 Conservatives, 3 Labour, one Liberal and an Independent councillor. The current mayor is Councillor Geraldine Mournley (Con). Dunwich Centre contains a mix of architectural styles, from well preserved medieval buildings like St. Crispin’s Guildhouse to Elizabethan black and white timbered buildings, through to the modern concrete glass and gleaming metal of the office buildings, bus station and mall. Much of the town centre architecture is Georgian, though the outlying housing tends to be Victorian as are the houses which overlook the front on Cliffview Road, many of which are today boarding houses catering to the tourist industry. The whole town is dominated by the towering Gothic Cathedral, one of the finest examples of medieval Gothic in Britain, the exterior largely untouched except fo r the Victorian Gotchic extension to the Nave, which fortunately complements the existing building. The second oldest building in Dunwich is St.Werburgha’s the current structure dating from 1077, and the medieval St. Crispin’s Guildhouse, which dates to 1421.
Dunwich has undergone an extensive gentrification programme in recent years, principally centred around the waterfront. This has turned a run-down dock area into an emerging residential and commercial centre, with Cafe bars, restaurants, speciality shopping and many pubs and night clubs.
Dunwich is still a flourishing port today, handling just under a million tonnes of cargo each year. It is the site of three breweries, belonging to Tolly Cobbold,Greene King and Adnams, which are major employers, as is the Dunwich Sugar Beet Factory, whose concrete silos dominate the skyline. The pumping of treated waste from this factory in to the North Sea by the concrete encased outflow pipe remains controversial, but the “White Pier” can be walked some two hundred yards in to the North Sea by the foolhardy who risk being washed away by surging waves. The outflow pipe was built in 1974 following complaints from locals about the smell of sugar beet waste.Industry around Dunwich has had a strong agricultural bias with the sugar beet factory and with Gartons (manufacturers of combine harvesters and specialist agricultural machinery) still a major employer, and the cattle market held in the Monday Market as it has been for centuries. There are light industrial units in the two trading estates which lie to the south and east of Dunwich proper.
Dunwich has never had much luck with its football team, Dunwich City Football Club. Established in 1898, the team enjoyed little success, with a history of Third and Fourth Division success at best. Playing in green, grey and White striped shirts at the London Road Stadium, their main rivals are Norwich City F.C. and Ipswich Town F.C, both notably better teams. Dunwich has a more successful Speedway team, the Dunwich Devils, who are based at their Catchpole Stadium track, on the outskirts of Dunwich, for over 50 years. Greyhound Racing also takes place at the Catchpole Stadium, and is often better attended.
Dunwich Heath, a gorse covered sandy area just to the west of the town filled with small woods proves a popular recreational area, both for locals and tourists. It is popularly said to be haunted by the spirit of an executed 18th century soldier, the drummer “Black Toby”, and by “Black Shuck”, the folkloric hell hound of East Anglia. The remains of the gibbet mentioned by James in his travelogue may have led rise to such stories.
Ghosts of Dunwich
DUNWICH: A lost city, Dunwich was one of the major ports of medieval England. The usual phantom monks prowl the ruins of Greyfriar’s monastery.
On the beach you may well see a young man clad in the bright clothing of an Elizabethan sailor. Don’t hail him; he is another of Dunwich’s many ghosts…
Inland of modern Dunwich lie Dunwich Heath and the woods. If you go down to these woods tonight you could be in for a very big surprise, for they are roamed by not one but two ghosts! The first has a pretty story attached. In life he was the brother of the Lord of the manor who wished for nothing more than to be allowed to marry his true love. Sadly this was not allowed for she was a mere serving maid and his brother expressly forbade them to marry. Furthermore he was never allowed to see the girl again. In despair he took to wandering the path that leads through the woods hoping for a glimpse of her, but alas this was not to be. One day he could stand it no longer and dropped dead of a broken heart. So the story goes; I personally suspect pneumonia caught from the biting cold wind off the sea more than a heavy heart as the reason for this romantic heroes demise! At least today he has more company of equal social stature, for the other apparition is that of a Victorian squire galloping through the woods on a fine Arab horse, doubtless off to evict some poor widow into the snow or tie an innocent hearted maid to a railway track, moustache twiddling as he does. Well it’s a nice idea anyway…
No ghost book is complete without a shaggy dog story and Old Shuck, eyes as big as saucers pads his way down to Dunwich headland to scare to death those unfortunate enough to see him cross their path. )Adapted from my Suffolk Ghost Book, Spectral Suffolk)
Libraries & Research in (fictional) Dunwich
It is likely the players will want to grub around and look stuff up. This means they need to consider access to the various libraries, newspapers and museums of Dunwich. Unfortunately lots of documentation is distributed in different archives and collections, but dedicated effort can pay off…
East Anglia in 1988 has two major regional daily newspapers…The East Anglian Daily Times, always called the EADT by locals which maintains a small Dunwich Office on the High Street above Clarks Shoe Shop, and the Eastern Daily Press referred to as the EDP which maintains a small office on the Thursday Market. The EDP has more of an East Suffolk and Norfolk emphasis to my mind, the EADT more inclined to reports from Essex and the west of the County, though it prints an East Suffolk edition for Dunwich, Ipswich and Lowestoft readers. (NB: in 2005 the EDP concentrates on Norfolk, the EADT on Suffolk and Essex).
The Eastern Daily Press dates back to October 10th, 1870, and the EADT to 1890. Both are fully archived at the Record Office in Keble Street.
A third regional newspaper, The Suffolk Free Press existed from 1850 to 1951, before closing. It’s local version, the Dunwich Free Press still comes out each Thursday, and is the primary newspaper read for local news by Dunwich folk who choose to buy a paper. A thick weekly almost anything happening in the Dunwich region is worthy of some attention, and the often sermonising editorials and deeply conservative columnists are often amusing to an outsider. Local headlines include such past classics as “Garden bonfire gets out of control”, “Frost killed Prize Marrow” and “Woman has Purse Stolen” (it subsequently turned up in her handbag). The large offices and Press are based on Walberswick Road, and the News Room welcome stories.
The DFP offices also publishes the Dunwich Gazette, a weekly freebie delivered on Mondays throughout the town and 90% advertising. The Gazette is rivalled by the Dunwich Eye published on Wednesdays, and distributed wherever paperboys do not throw it in the Estuary, by Pickman Group Papers of Ipswich.
The Historian may be interested in these newspapers available at Dunwich Record Office (and largely based on real newspapers)-
The following are (fictitious, based on Ipswich) past Dunwich papers…
The Nightlife of (fictional) Dunwich
Dunwich supports quite a varied night life, because of the student population (ok, only 1,570 but still more than most Suffolk towns), the large hinterland of villages, and the summer tourist population. While pubs predominate there are a few nightclubs, bars and restaurants.
Nightclubs of Dunwich
While Dunwich is not a major resort town, there are several small clubs.
Dancing In The Dark is a converted cinema on the High Street. The downstairs is today Anglian Windows, and the side door always flanked by bouncers leads to a steep staircase which winds up to the large bar space and dancefloor. The club is decorated in smoked black glass and polished metal, with russet furnishings. Comfortable, fairly spacious and with a sprung wood dancefloor the carpets are inevitably sticky from the traditional student drink of Snakebite and Black.
It’s open several nights, with Friday and Saturday traditionally townie nights, and students dominating Mondays and Wednesdays. The schedule is
Cowboy Joes Really just a bar with a late license, open Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Wild West decor, minute dance floor, and both types of music, Country and Western, washed down with generous helpings of rock n roll nostalgia on Saturday nights, and Elvis every night. The bouncers are from the family who own it, and brook absolutely no nonsense, and the average age is thirties and up. Students will probably not get through the door, unless with their parents.
Discotheque 1999 – on the Pier, this is really what it sounds like. Glitterballs,loads of ‘futuristic’ metallic foil, staff in “space age” foil uniforms. Closed n off season (from mid-September to April) so fairly irrelevant to the game, but horror stories are told of it. Caters exclusively to tourists of all ages, and often has minor TV celebrity guest dj’s. It look like a metal portacabin, and the sp[ace theme is done to death in a really tasteless fashion. If only it were summer you could enjoy the nightly wet tee shirt contests. Just thank your lucky stars karaoke is still to come to England!
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!
Dunwich is a seaside resort town, albeit a small one. Since the 1970’s and the advent of cheap package holidays and the fashion for holidaying abroad, the seafront has slipped in to decline, and its faded grandeur is in places, well tatty. The college year opens in late September, when the cutting wind off the North Sea and seasonal sea fog has driven all but the hardiest of tourists away, and as a result the Front is closed, shuttered and often partially deserted.
I shall describe a few of the landmarks of the Front here. Imagine them rainswept, grey and littered with the rubbish of the summer holidaymakers…
The sandy beach at Dunwich is the reason for the tourism, and while it has not won any awards for cleanliness in years, and the water quality is dubious, some people do swim heres till. The currents can be treacherous, and the flag system is operated from May to October, warning when it is dangerous to go out. The beach is relatively wide, but the drop off under water is sudden, and summer bathing fatalities are not unknown. The council does make a dedicated effort to clean the beach of rubbish however, and litter pickers operate each evening at sunset, even off season, just as beachcombers greet each dawn all year round. Fishermen are not uncommon, using rod and line rather than the crab fishing one sees in the harbour.
The beach is never empty during the day except in rainstorms, or unless one walks up all the way to where it peters out among the cliffs. Great black groynes break it up,sticking in to the sea, and a line of tiny beach huts can provide shelter from the wind, flanked by the desolate shuttered ice cream and fish and chip sheds, closed for the winter. The eerie shrieks of circling seagulls resonate across the wintry sands; but then living in Dunwich, the crawk of the seagull is the soundtrack to dy to day life. Out at sea great passenger ferries bound for Scandinavia sail stately past, bound for or just out of Harwich, and on a clear night one can just about make out the flares of far away oil rigs on the Dogger Bank.
A strip of grass separates The Promenade from the beach, and it has a small Victorian public toilets, open all night, and a number of park benches set among attractive flowers dying with the frosts. Ten pence will allow use of the Telescope mounted at the viewpoint, which allows a wonderful look at the expanse of grey heaving icy water, and the freezing white foaming waves. If you are lucky you might see a porpoise or even a seal, but they are uncommon here now, and the seals never beach.
The smell of rotting seaweed, dead fish and salt water permeates everything. When the weather is poor, a beach out of season is a godforsaken, desolate place.
The Victorian Pier projects from close to Bryant Bros. Amusement Park for a hundred and fifty yards out in to the North Sea. Few fall off it, owing to the iron fence which runs along the edge, but standing looking over the edge the twelve foot down in to the raging sea can be unnerving.
The entrance is a large gaudy wood and iron frontage, with two turnstiles, a locked fire exit gate, a small ticket office and a kitchen/toilet for staff. In winter the decrepit caretaker Herbert Wrongdon appears at dawn to unlock, and locks up again an hour after dusk, taking £3 from anglers for a days fishing from the end of the pier. At night security guards are paid to visit, and occasionally drive up, and more irregularly unlock and wander round with flashlights.
The Pier can be divided in to three sections.
The Bryant Bros. Amusements Park
Churches of (fictional) Dunwich
The Medieval Guilds of Dunwich (which persist to this day in the form of businessmens clubs and dominate the local Chamber of Commerce) derive their names from the major parish churches of Dunwich. The most important ecclesiastical building is clearly the Gothic Cathedral dedicated to Our Lady Stella Maris (Star of the Sea). The current Bishop of Dunwich is the Right Reverend Robert Curtaigne, who sits in the House of Lords, and the Dean is the Rev. Harold Wyke. The Cathedral was established by Saint Felix. The Bishop of Dunwich appointed by Sigebert, he met Sigebert in France. The Pope Honorius authorised Felix as Bishop of East Anglia. He is an obscure saint, but his cult was popular in Soham, Cambridgeshire, from where his remains were taken out of East Anglia during a relic raid by a rival monastery in the Middle Ages. A Native Burgundian his own copy of the gospel, written in Lombard characters, was held at Eye for centuries and oaths sworn upon it – it was known as the Red Book of Eye. His feast day is March 8th.
The Cathedral also contains the Shrine of St. Sigebert, King of East Anglia, who retired to the monastic life at Bury St Edmunds in 635. When the pagan King of the Mercians, Penda, invaded, he was forced against his will to lead the army. He chose to ride unarmed but for an ash wand, and was slain on the field of battle, a true and holy pacificistic martyr. His feast day is January 25th, and he is patron Saint of Dunwich.
The Cathedral is worthy of its own entry, which will follow when I find the time.
King George Dock and North Quay District
The King George Dock was opened in 1923 because the Old Docks were no longer able to handle the increasing larger cargo ships. It can accommodate ships of 800ft in length, 100ft in breadth and with a maximum draught of 40ft. Large, four storey reinforced concrete warehouses – built in linear style – line the sides of the North Quay and there is a rail link between it and the King George Dock. There are also about a dozen rail mounted cranes, each 115ft tall and installed in the 1970’s, alongside the Dock itself as well as the railway marshaling yard and turntable. These last two are located between the Dock and Quay as is the container yard that covers several acres.
The King George Dock was the scene of the Dunwich Explosion in 1942 when a munitions vessel, the S.S. Elsinore Castle, exploded killing 27 people.
There is a rail link from the marshaling yard to Dunwich, which crosses the entrance of the Dock via a steel lattice swing bridge. This was originally powered by diesel engines, but was converted to electic drive in 1952.
Marine Parade, which runs along the east side of North Quay, was built in 1921-23 and is incoporated into the elevated concrete and rock causeway forming the modern sea defences. This was built to not only provide vehicular access to the the ferry terminal at the the northern end of the Quay, but to improve on the cast-iron Victorian groynes, which were considered inadequate by the 1920’s. The Art Deco ferry terminal was completed in 1925 and steamers ran a service from Dunwich to Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Rotterdam until 1963, when cheap foreign holidays finally forced it to close. It now houses the Dunwich Harbour Master’s office and a local Customs & Excise office.
Two jetties jutting out on the seaward side of Marine Parade and adjacent to the ferry terminal, enabled ferries to tie up. These are now used by private craft such as yachts. Pleasure steamers could also dock at the Quay itself. Further down the coast is the pleasure pier built in 1896. As you’d expect for the period, it is a very ornate iron construction with wooden decking.
Business has declined since World War II, now the docks only handle 500,000 tons of cargo a year and Harwich has taken over the North Sea ferry traffic due to the relative remoteness of Dunwich.
At night the Docks and North Quay are almost deserted, though patrolled by pairs of security guards, and with a skeleton night staff. Most of the modern warehouses are 24 hour however, and if you looked inside you would find a scene of bustling activity, as betrayed by the occasional container lorry coming in and out. The whole area is guarded by barbed wire and chain link fence like a modern industrial estate, and some floodlights cover busy thoroughfares and the carparks.There are two entrance gates, though entry by boat, swimming or walking along the railroad tracks is an easy way round the fence.
Donovan’s Burgers provides coffee and Burgers from 12 midnight till 2am, and from 8am to 2pm, and is a small caravan parked in the car park. Workers from different warehouses or busy unloading a night arrival in port sometimes gather here to fraternize. The Harbour Masters office is also open 24/7, with at least two staff, on duty, and usually two Dunwich pilots playing darts on standby as well. During the day heavy lorries, busy warehouse workers and gangs of dockers make this quite a busy area, and security is fairly lax.
Naseby House, Hall of Residence
A self catering hall of residence on King’s Road, Dunwich. Home to 17 students and one member of staff, the warden Donald, who is a new lecturer in Cultural Studies. Relatiely expensive, and a good 15 minute walk from the main campus.
Basement – Warden’s Flat (Donald), Launderette, bathrooms, boiler room, cleaner’s cupboard.
Ed – room 1 – 2nd year, from Farnborough,sports student.
Laura – ( 3rd year senior Student) – room 2, plays hockey and lacrosse. Verry attractive.
Kate – room 3 – 2nd year, new ager, irritable, indeed most say bitchy. Incense and her kimono her trademarks.
Frank – room 4, 2nd year from Ely, muscular, religion student. Handsome
They have the largest kitchen, and Laura’s room has a en suite toilet and shower.
Louis Clutterbuck- room 1 – mature student (back right)[Kev]
veronica Isabella Dee- room 2 (front right) [Luke]
Clovis Lockwood- room 3 – [DC] (front left)
Clare Mayfair- room 4 [Ben] (back left)
Has a kitchen and toilet.
The Sports student girls
Nessie- room 1 – sports student, leader of these ladies, from Macclesfield.
Evelyn- room 2 – sports student, sings along loudly to various awful bands.
– room 3
Dora – room 4 – sports student, very strong.
Liz – room 5 – sports student, friendly.
This floor has its own bathrooms and toilet as well as small kitchen.
The Christian Union Girls
Room 1 – Belinda, from Coventry, 2nd year Religion
Room 2 – Diane, from Aylesury, doing History/religion in 2nd year
Room 3 – Amy from Dartmouth doing geography. Very pretty. 2nd year.
Room 4 – Clare from Birmingham doing 2nd year religion.
Room 5 – Severina Harris in theory, 2nd year religion student. rarely if ever sleeps in halls though, but pays the fees.
There is a toilet at top of stairs, and a reasonable kitchen.
Off limits to students, and heavily locked, the door is on the front left of the third floor.
That’s as far as I got in the background rather than plot and NPC. Thought might amuse somebody!