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Coordinates: 51°16′25″N 1°30′30″E / 51.27361°N 1.50833°E / 51.27361; 1.50833

Wreck of the SS Mahratta on the Goodwin Sands, 1909. This was one of two vessels of the name to be wrecked on these Kentish shoals.

The Goodwin Sands are a 10-mile-long sand bank in the English Channel, lying six miles east of Deal in Kent, England. As the shoals lie close to major shipping channels, more than 2,000 ships are believed to have been wrecked upon them, and as a result they are marked by numerous lightships and buoys. Notable shipwrecks include the VOC ship Rooswijk, HMS Stirling Castle, the SS Montrose, which once carried the convicted murderer Dr. Crippen, and the South Goodwin Lightship. The Brake Bank lying shorewards is part of the same geological unit.[1] Several naval battles have been fought nearby, including the Battle of Goodwin Sands in 1652 and the Battle of Dover Strait in 1917.

East Goodwin Lightship

There is currently a lightship on the end of the sands, on the farthest part out, to warn ships. The sands were once covered by two lighthouses on the Kent mainland, one each at the north and south ends of the sands. The southern lighthouse is now owned by the National Trust, and the northern one is still in operation.

In 1974 a plan was put forward to build a third London airport on the Goodwin Sands, with a huge harbour complex, but the idea faded into obscurity.

When hovercraft ran from Dover, they used to make occasional trips to the sands. An annual cricket match was until 2003 played on the sands at low tide, and a crew filming a reconstruction of this for the BBC television series Coast had to be rescued by the Ramsgate lifeboat when they experienced difficulty in 2006.[2]



In 1817, borings in connection with a plan by Trinity Board to erect a lighthouse on the Sands revealed, beneath fifteen feet of sand, a stratum identified by Charles Lyell as London clay lying upon a chalk basement. Based on this, Lyell proposed that the Sands were the eroded remains of a clay island similar to Sheppey, rather than a mere shifting of the sea bottom shaped by currents and tides.[3][4] Lyell's assessment was uncritically followed until the mid-twentieth century, and enlarged upon by G.B. Gattie[5] who asserted, based on unsourced legends, that the sands were once the fertile low-lying island of Lomea, which he equated with an island said to be known to the Romans as Infera Insula ("Low Island").[6] This, Gattie said, was owned in the first half of the 11th century by Godwin, Earl of Wessex, after whom the sands are named.[7] When he fell from favour, the land was supposedly given to St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, whose abbot failed to maintain the sea walls, leading to the island's destruction, some say, in the storm of 1099 mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. However, the island is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, suggesting that if it existed it may have been inundated before that work was compiled in 1085–86.[8] The earliest written record of the name "Lomea" seems to be in a 1590 work De Rebus Albionicis by a John Twyne (or Twine), but no authority for the island's existence is given.[9] There is a brief mention of a sea-tide inundation in 1092 creating the Godwin sands in a 19th century book of agricultural records, re-issued in 1969.[10]

The modern geological view is that the island of Lomea probably never existed.[11] Although the area now covered by sands and sea was once dry land, the Strait of Dover opened in the Weald-Artois chalk range in prehistory – between around 7600 BC and 5000 BC[12] – not within historical time.

Notable events


17th century

  • John, the son of Phineas Pett of Chatham, was involved in an ordeal in the beginning of October 1624, when occurred: "a wonderful great storm, through which many ships perished, especially in the Downs, amongst which was riding there the Antelope of His Majesty, being bound for Ireland under the command of Sir Thomas Button, my son John then being a passenger in her. A merchant ship, being put from her anchors, came foul of her, and put her also from all her anchors, by means whereof she drove upon the brakes [the Sands], where she beat off her rudder and much of the run abaft, miraculously escaping utter loss of all, for that the merchant ship that came foul of her, called the Dolphin, hard by her utterly perished, both ship and all the company. Yet it pleased God to save her, and got off into the downs, having cut all her masts by the board, and with much labour was kept from foundering."[13] Phineas Pett received news of the shipwreck at Deal, and was dispatched by the Lord Admiral to attend to the ship and use his best means to save her. He used chain pumps, replaced the rudder, and fitted jury masts, by which effort she was safely brought to Deptford Dock.

Great Storm of 1703

In the Great Storm of 1703 at least 13 men-of-war and 40 merchant vessels were wrecked in the Downs, with the loss of 2,168 lives and 708 guns. Yet, to their credit, the Deal boatmen were able to rescue 200 men from this ordeal.

Naval vessels lost to the sands included:

18th century

According to legend the Lady Lovibond was wrecked on the Goodwin Sands on February 13, 1748, amidst alleged controversy over the cause of her sinking in which all hands were lost. She is said to reappear every fifty years as a ghost ship. No references to the shipwreck are known to exist in contemporary records or sources, including newspapers, Lloyd's List or Lloyd's Register.

19th–20th century

The brig Mary White was wrecked on the Sands in a storm in 1851; seven men of her crew were rescued by the lifeboat from Broadstairs.

The Belgian cargo ship SS Cap Lopez was wrecked on the sands in 1907.

Two ships named SS Mahratta ran aground on the Sands, one in 1909 and the other in 1939.

The passenger ship SS Chusan collided with the freighter Prospector near the Sands in June 1953, severely damaging and nearly sinking her.

The Radio Caroline vessel MV Ross Revenge drifted onto the Sands in November 1991, effectively ending the era of offshore pirate radio in Britain.

Literary references

William Shakespeare mentions the Sands in The Merchant of Venice, Act 3 Scene 1:

Why, yet it lives there uncheck'd that Antonio hath
a ship of rich lading wrecked on the narrow seas;
the Goodwins, I think they call the place; a very
dangerous flat and fatal, where the carcasses of many
a tall ship lie buried, as they say, if my gossip
Report be an honest woman of her word.

Herman Melville mentions them in Moby-Dick, Chapter VII, The Chapel:

In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind are included; why it is that a universal proverb says of them, that they tell no tales, though containing more secrets than the Goodwin Sands...

R. M. Ballantyne, the noted Scottish writer of adventure stories, published The Floating Light of the Goodwin Sands in 1870.

W. H. Auden quotes the phrase "to set up shop on Goodwin Sands" in his poem In Sickness and in Health. This is a proverbial expression meaning to be shipwrecked.[14]

G. K. Chesterton's poem The Rolling English Road refers to "the night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands."

Ian Fleming refers to the Goodwin Sands in Moonraker, one of the James Bond novels, as well as making them a major plot point in his children's story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

See also


  1. ^ R. L. Cloet, "Hydrographic Analysis of the Goodwin Sands and the Brake Bank", The Geographical Journal, 120.2 (June 1954:203-215). Cloet demolished the story that the Goodwin Sands had been a low-lying island, identifying their hydrofoil shape formed by currents, and charting their anti-clockwise drift.
  2. ^ "Now that's a real wash-out". Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  3. ^ Principles of geology Vol. 1, pp. 408–409, Charles Lyell
  4. ^ Lyell, Principles of Geology, (London, I830), vol. I, ch. xx "Encroachments of the Sea" p 276.
  5. ^ Gattie, Memorials of the Goodwin Sands (London, 1904) noted by Cloet 1954:204 and note 1
  6. ^ "Gattie, quoting some 'early writers', suggests that the Goodwins are the 'Infera Insula' they mention". (Cloet 1954).
  7. ^ Another theory is that the sands' name came from Anglo-Saxon gōd wine = "good friend", an ironic name given by sailors.
  8. ^ snippet Edwin Guest, Origines Celticae (a Fragment) and Other Contributions to the History of Britain 1883:530.
  9. ^ Charles G. Harper, The Kentish Coast 1914:231.
  10. ^ Stratton, J.M. (1969). Agricultural Records. John Baker. p. 17. ISBN 0-212-97022-4. 
  11. ^ Unsolved Mysteries of the Sea, p. 27, Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe, 2004
  12. ^ Climate, history and the modern world, p. 116, H. H. Lamb, 1996
  13. ^ From the Autobiography of Phineas Pett.
  14. ^ C. Merton Babcock, The Language of Melville's "Isolatoes", Western Folklore, Vol. 10, No. 4. (Oct., 1951), pp. 285-289 [1]; W. Carew Hazlitt, English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, London, 1869, p. 430.

Further reading

  • Richard Larn and Bridget Larn - Shipwrecks of the Goodwin Sands (Meresborough Books, 1995) ISBN 0-948193-84-0
  • Steve Conway - Shiprocked - Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline (Liberties Press, Dublin, 2009) ISBN 978-1-905483-62-4 (author gives his account of running aground on the Goodwin Sands and helicopter rescue)
  • Raymond Lamont Brown - 'Phantom’s of the Sea' (Taplinger Publishing Company, NY 1972) ISBN 0-8008-5556-6

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GOODWIN SANDS, a dangerous line of shoals at the entrance to the Strait of Dover from the North Sea, about 6 m. from the Kent coast of England, from which they are separated by the anchorage of the Downs. For this they form a shelter. They are partly exposed at low water, but the sands are shifting, and in spite of lights and bell-buoys the Goodwins are frequently the scene of wrecks, while attempts to erect a lighthouse or beacon have failed. Tradition finds in the Goodwins the remnant of an island called Lomea, which belonged to Earl Godwine in the first half of the 11th century, and was afterwards submerged, when the funds devoted to its protection were diverted to build the church steeple at Tenterden. Four lightships mark the limits of the sands, and also signal by rockets to the lifeboat stations on the coast when any vessel is in distress on the sands. Perhaps the most terrible catastrophe recorded here was the wreck of thirteen ships of war during a great storm in November 1703.

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