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Archaeologia Cantiana - Vol. 126   2006 page 381

Researches and Discoveries

DOUBLE TIDES IN THE WANTSUM – FACT OR FICTION?

Two contributors to volume CXXV of Archaeologia Cantiana referred to double tides in the Wantsum. In his article on the possible Brittonic origin of the place name Sarre, Andrew Breeze noted that ‘ships avoiding the North Foreland waited [at Sarre] for the double tide’.1 In her article on King Alfred’s naval battle on the Stour, Christine Grainge quoted this writer’s research suggesting that there was no double tide in the Wantsum.2 Who is right?
   The idea that there were double tides in the Wantsum seems to go back some time. The earliest mention of them that this researcher has been able to trace is in Sonia Chadwick Hawkes’s contribution to the Fifth Richborough Report of 1968. In her description of the geography of Richborough she wrote of the existence of a crossing place of the Wantsum – whether by ferry or by ford – along the line of the present Sarre Wall: ‘The existence of a ford here, presumably at low water, is plausible because Sarre was the meeting-place of the double tide, and the formation of some sort of bar would be expected under these conditions.’ Later, on the same page, she spoke of Sarre in the late Saxon period as ‘a royal port, or even a place where ships had to put in to wait for the tide’.3 In 1982 Hawkes restated her proposition, asserting that Sarre was ‘strategically placed where vessels using this inner route had to put in to wait on the double tide’.4 In 1992 Susan Kelly repeated this, saying that ‘Sarre dominated the principal haven of the Wantsum, where ships passing through the channel would have waited for the double tide’.5 While Kelly quoted Chadwick’s 1982 paper as her reference, Chadwick gave no source or reference in either of her papers for her claim. She may, however, have had in mind a paper published in 1927, in which Geo. P. Walker described ‘two tides at Sarre’, but what he was describing was not a double tide, but two separate tidal streams flowing into the Wantsum from the northern and the eastern ends of the channel and meeting at Sarre.6 He saw the tides as ‘ebb[ing] and flow[ing] through both entrances at about the same time’. He quoted a Dr Parks as saying:

The two seas were distinct, and kept their tides so from one another. The one flowing from the north side of the Foreland and the other from the south, and each met the other at the low point of the highlands under Sarre, from whence they ebbed back again, each to its own sea.7

Even if Chadwick’s ‘double tide’ was based on Walker’s concept of two tidal streams flowing simultaneously into the Wantsum from each end to meet at a fixed point and then ebbing back to the entrance from which each came, the hypothesis of a double tide in the Wantsum still appears to have gained currency from the analogy of the behaviour of the tide at Southampton, where there genuinely is a double tide. The tidal cycle

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