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The Isle Of Ruim
by [?]

Perhaps you have never heard its name before; yet in the earlier ages of this kingdom of Britain, Ruim Isle, rising dim through the mist of prehistoric oceans, was once in its own way famous and important.

Off the old and obliterated south-eastern promontory of our island, where the land of Kent shelved almost imperceptibly into the Wantsum Strait, Ruim Island–the Holm of the Headland–stood out with its white wall of broken cliffs into the German Sea. The greater part of it consisted of gorse-clad chalk down, the last subsiding spur of that great upland range which, starting from the central boss of Salisbury Plain, runs right across the face of Surrey and Kent, and, bifurcating near Canterbury, falls sheer into the sea at the end of either fork by Ramsgate or Dover. But in earlier days Ruim Isle was not joined as now by flats and marshes to the adjacent mainland; the chalk dipped under the open Wantsum Strait, much as the chalk of Hampshire dips to-day under the Solent Sea, and reappeared again on the other side in the Thanet Downs, as it reappears in the Isle of Wight at the ridge of St. Boniface and the central hills about Newport and Carisbrooke. For now the murder indeed is out, and you have discovered already that Ruim–his dim, mysterious Ruim–is only just the commonplace, vulgarized Isle of Thanet.

Still, it is not without cause that I have ventured to call it by that strange and now almost forgotten old-world name. There is reason, we know, in the roasting of eggs, and, if I have gone out of my way to introduce the ancient isle to you by its title of Ruim, it is in order that we might start clear of the odour of tea and shrimps, the artificial niggers, and cheap excursionists, that the name of Thanet brings up most prominently at the present day before the travelled mind of the modern Londoner. I want to carry you back to a time when Ramsgate was still but a green gap in the long line of chalk cliff, and Margate but the chine of a little trickling streamlet that tumbled seaward over the undesecrated sands; when a broad arm of the sea still cut off Westgate from the Reculver cliffs, and when the tide swept unopposed four times a day over the submerged sands of Minster Level. You must think of Thanet as then greatly resembling Wight in geographical features, and the Wantsum as the equivalent of the Solent Sea.

In the very earliest period of our history, before ever the existing names had been given at all to the towns or villages–nay, when the towns and villages themselves were not–Ruim was already a noteworthy island. For there is now very little doubt indeed that Thanet is the Ictis or ‘Channel Island’ to which Cornish tin was conveyed across Britain for shipment to the continent. The great harbour of Britain was then the Wantsum Sea, known afterwards as the Rutupine Port, and later still as Sandwich Haven. To that port came Gaulish and Phoenician vessels, or possibly even at times some belated Phocaean galley from Massilia. But the trade in tin was one of immense antiquity, long antedating these almost modern commercial nations: for tin is a necessary component of bronze, and the bronze age of Europe was entirely dependent for its supply of that all-important metal upon the Cornish mines. From a very early date, therefore, we may be sure that ingots of tin were exported by this route to the continent, and then transported overland by the Rhone valley to the shores of the Mediterranean.

The tin road, to give it its more proper name, followed the crest of the Hog’s Back and the Guildford downs, crossing the various rivers at spots whose very names still attest the ancient passages–the Wey at Shalford, the Mole at Burford, the Medway at Aylesford, and the Wantsum Strait at Wade, in which last I seem to hear the dim echo to this day of the Roman Vada. Ruim itself, as less liable to attack than an inland place, formed the depot for the tin trade, and the ingots were no doubt shipped near the site of Richborough. We may regard it, in fact, as a sort of prehistoric Hong-Kong or Zanzibar, a trading island, where merchants might traffic at ease with the shy and suspicious islanders.