We're on a road to nowhere: ST JAMES STREET, DUNWICH, SUFFOLK

Times change and few things mark the passing of people, fashions and ways of life so eloquently as once thriving city thoroughfares
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The Independent Culture
Legend has it that, if you stand on the cliffs at Dunwich during a storm, you can sometimes hear the ringing of medieval bells. Look around for the source of this doleful sound and you will see nothing but waves. But still the bells toll, on and on and on. They tell of man's unequal struggle with the elements.

This is the "Lost City of Dunwich", once the sixth greatest town in England and the ancient capital of East Anglia. The city no longer exists; over the centuries it slipped inch by terrible inch into the North Sea. The remnants cling to what seems to be firm land but that, too, will eventually end up in the watery depths below.

It was the sea that brought St Felix and Christianity to East Anglia, and he was duly made Bishop of Dunwich in 630. It was the sea, too, that brought Dunwich wealth and prosperity. The local herring industry was profitable enough to support a thriving port and harbour. By the 12th century, Dunwich owned 80 "great ships" and had a population of 4,000 served by no fewer than nine churches.

What the sea gives, it can also take away. The tiny museum contains a model showing Dunwich at its most substantial: streets of medieval houses, windmills, monasteries are all clearly evident. But look half a mile inland and there is a yellow line. The Dunwich between the sea and the line has gone.

St James Street was once just another of Dunwich's busy thoroughfares. Today, it is all that remains of the city. At one end is a restaurant famous for fresh fish and chips. At the other is St James's Church, built in 1832 because all the other places of worship had disappeared.

But saddest of all are the ruins in the south-east corner of the churchyard. These are the remains of the Norman Leper Hospital of St James. When the hospital was built in the 12th century, it was placed at a safe distance from the city and its inhabitants. This is all that survives of "Old Dunwich".