Most scholars agree that Dunwich was most probably the site of a Roman coastal fort, and was certainly a Saxon settlement (Comfort 1994; Bacon 1979). Divers from Suffolk Underwater Studies have tried to locate artefacts from the seabed to verify this theory, but so far without success (Bacon & Bacon 1975). The size of the original city is unknown, but was sufficiently important to have once been the seat of the first Bishop of East Anglia, and to have received Royal Charters for a Market and a mint (Bacon & Bacon 1979, Chant, 1986). In 1086 Dunwich was one of the ten largest towns or cities in England (Comfort, 1994). The wealth of Dunwich was based on sea trade and fishing. Indeed, the initial demise of the city is as much related to the continual battles to preserve the open harbour as to the physical losses arising from coastal erosion (Figure 2). In the 13th century, the city of Dunwich contained up to 18 ecclesiastical buildings (of which two remain Greyfriars monastery and St James - chapel to the Leper Hospital), a mint, a large guildhall and several large important houses (Comfort, 1994, Bacon & Bacon, 1979). The population has been estimated at over 5000 at its height, with at least 800 taxable houses, and an area of c.800 acres (Comfort, 1994).
Loss of land at Dunwich is recorded as early as the Domesday book when over half the taxable farmland was lost to the sea between 1066 and 1086. Major losses were subsequently reported in the storms of 1328 and 1347, the latter resulting in the destruction of significant property (c.400 houses) in the low lying portions of the city. The decline of the city continued with losses in 1560 and 1570 such that by 1602 the town was reduced to a quarter of its original size (Comfort 1994; Bacon 1979). Further storms in 1740 flattened large areas of the remaining city, so that only All Saints church remained. The loss of All Saints has been well chronicled since it occurred during the early 20th century, finally disappearing over the cliff edge in 1919 (Figure 1). As of 2007, a final fragment and a single tombstone of All Saints Churchyard remains, and the south east corner of Greyfriars Monastery wall has started to collapse down the cliff.