The dramatic twin towers of Reculver church are part of Herne Bay’s skyline and you can see them wherever you stand on the beach.
The site is now managed by English Heritage and you can walk or cycle the three miles from Herne Bay to the ruins along the coastal path. The towers were built in the twelfth century and became a landmark for mariners, known as the Twin Sisters.
According to legend, Frances and Isabella were the twin daughters of Sir Geoffrey St Clare, orphaned after his death. Frances became the prioress of the Benedictine Priory of Davington, while Isabella remained a ward of her uncle, Abbot John of Saint Augustine’s Abbey, in Canterbury. Isabella was betrothed to Henry de Belville, who was fatally wounded fighting for Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Isabella then became a nun like her sister. Fourteen years later, Frances was taken ill and the sisters made a vow that, if Frances recovered, they would go on pilgrimage to give thanks at the Shine of Our Ladye Star of the Sea in Broadstairs. Frances recovered, so they set off on their promised pilgrimage. They sailed from Faversham, but their ship was caught in a storm and ran aground near Reculver. Frances was rescued, but Isabella was left on the wreck until daylight. Although she was also rescued, she died of exposure in her sister’s arms. Frances completed the vow to make offerings to the shrine at Broadstairs, and then restored Reculver church, also dedicated to St Mary, adding spires to the towers, which were known thereafter as the Twin Sisters.
Reculver was once an important strategic location at the head of the Wantsum Channel, which used to separate the Isle of Thanet from the mainland of Kent. In AD 43, the Romans conquered Britain under the Emperor Claudius. The Roman armies landed unopposed, but there is much debate as to the exact location of the invasion. The Wantsum channel is a strong candidate, and parts of fortifications of the Claudian period have been found both at Richborough and Reculver, located at opposite ends of the Wantsum. By the fifth century the Romans had abandoned their defence of Britain and the fort at Reculver had fallen into disuse. An Anglo-Saxon monastery was founded here in 669, reusing the existing defences, and the church of St Mary was built near the centre of the earlier fort. Evidence suggests that the site had stopped being a monastry around the tenth century when the church became the parish church of Reculver.
The medieval church was partly demolished in 1805, when much of the stone was reused to construct a new church on higher ground at Hillborough, but the twin towers were left.
Reculver is said to be one of the most haunted places in Kent and there are many reports of supernatural experiences here, especially the sound of children crying.