Landscape - Watercourse

St. Eanswythe's Water

Until Victorian times, the main supply of fresh water to Folkestone came via an artificial watercourse that diverted a natural stream and carried it, along a gradually falling contour, nearly one and a half miles to the town. The stream that fed the watercourse rises to the west of Cherry Garden Hill and still flows as a tributary of the Pent Stream from which water could also be diverted into the artificial watercourse. Neither the watercourse, nor the stream that fed it, should be confused with the Pent. Rather, this is ‘St Eanswythe’s Water’, abbreviated on maps of the 1500s as ‘St Ens Water’.

First record of the watercourse is found in Tynemouth’s Sanctilogium of the 1340s. This recounts St Eanswythe providing for her nunnery by making water flow uphill from ‘Swecton’. This clear reference to the artificial watercourse, whose spring rises at Swetton, proves it was in existence by the mid-1300s and was by then regarded as ancient. Recent archaeological work suggests that it was probably constructed in the late eleventh- or twelfth-centuries to supply the Benedictine Priory that had recently been established on the site of the Anglo-Saxon minster.  The story of St Eanswythe’s miracle may have been concocted soon afterwards, as part of a dispute over control of the Priory at Folkestone, to firmly establish the rights of the church to this vital supply of fresh water.