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The author (right), during his term as Mayor of Fordwich, affirming allegiance in Sandwich Guildhall, 2013 (PHOTO COURTESY OF PATRICK HEREN)

You have probably wondered, when reading a news article on a subject familiar to you, on which planet the author lives. The inhabitants of Fordwich, Kent, England’s smallest town, are smarting from two egregious examples of that loathsome type of metropolitan journalism, the restaurant review. In January, the Guardian and the Telegraph both arrived to sample the food at the Fordwich Arms, which had recently been taken over by an excellent chef who previously worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant in London.

Both reports read as if written by acolytes of Private Eye’s Glenda Slagg. The Telegraph writer’s companion started checking property prices before they had got out of the taxi from Canterbury West (and its high-speed link to St Pancras). The Guardian’s Grace Dent was also checking property prices. And she addressed us in print as “you poor Fordwich bastards”. At least she liked the food (10/10).
My fellow townspeople are incensed. To tell the truth, some of them were already disgruntled by the upscaling of the Fordwich Arms, which under the previous landlords had served large helpings of excellent home-cooked food of the kind — steak and kidney pud comes to mind — that appeals to the men and women of East Kent. But we shouldn’t complain: the food is still fabulous, just different, and that little bit more expensive.

No, what upsets us is that our gorgeous and historic town is being noticed by the ghastly metropolitan elite for the most piffling of reasons, that one of its two ancient pubs is now serving “sweetcorn panisse — thick chips hewn off a stiff, carb-a-licious corn batter that’s alive with tarragon — perched on a corn chowder with a wobbly confit duck egg yolk”.

So let me tell you about Fordwich, England’s smallest town, which lies on the right bank of the Great Stour, two miles downstream from Canterbury. With fewer than 400 inhabitants, it qualifies as a hamlet, but history and geography long ago elevated it to municipal status. Fordwich lies at the highest point of navigation on the Stour, which by default made it the port of Canterbury from Roman times until the coming of the railways in 1830. Before that all heavy cargo destined for Canterbury came up river from Sandwich and was discharged at Fordwich, which accordingly became a little place of some consequence.

The name is first recorded in 675 AD: Fordewic was simply the village by the ford. But there is a separate reference to St Mary’s Church in about 620, which places it within a generation of the arrival of St Augustine, the Roman abbot sent by Pope Gregory to bring Christianity to King Ethelbert of Kent. St Augustine succeeded triumphantly with Ethelbert, and there is a theory that the church stands by the river at Fordwich because it was the spot at which the people of Kent were baptised by mass immersion in the Stour.

In Domesday (1087), Fordwich is described as a small burgum, one of only eight boroughs, or towns, in Kent.
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Patrick Heren
February 28th, 2018
5:02 PM
The name of the Powell and Pressburger film seems to have dropped out in the dining process. It is A Canterbury Tale.

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