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This article concerns the town in the United Kingdom. For the town in Victoria, Australia see Winchelsea, Victoriamarker.

Winchelsea is a small town in East Sussexmarker, Englandmarker, located between the High Wealdmarker and the Romney Marsh, approximately two miles (3 km) south west of Ryemarker and seven miles (12 km) north east of Hastingsmarker. The present town replaced an earlier town of the same name, sometimes known as Old Winchelsea. The town is part of the civil parish of Ickleshammarker.

The Corporation of Winchelsea claims that it is the smallest town in Britainmarker to have its own mayor. Winchelsea constitutes neither a local government district, civil parish or charter trustees area, and so therefore the mayor traces continuity back to the pre-reform Corporation, which lost its civil and judicial powers in 1886 but was preserved as a charity by an Act of Parliament in order to maintain the membership of the Cinque Port Confederation. The mayor and corporation of Winchelsea now have a purely ceremonial role.

Old Winchelsea

Old Winchelsea was on a massive shingle bank that protected the confluence of the estuaries of the Rivers Bredemarker, Rothermarker and Tillinghammarker and provided a sheltered anchorage called the Camber. The old town was recorded as Winceleseia in 1130 and Old Wynchchelse in 1321.

History of Old Winchelsea

Before the Norman conquest of England, the town had its own mint. After the conquest, it was of great importance in cross-Channelmarker trade (acting in particular as an entrepôt for London) and as a naval base. In the 13th century, it became famous in the wine trade from Gasconymarker.

There were, in the 1260s, over 700 houses, two churches and over 50 inns and taverns thus implying a population of 4,000 to 5,000 people at the time. . During the mid 13th Century incursions by the sea destroyed much of the town until a massive flood completely destroyed it in 1287. The location is believed to be under the Broomhill Sands in Rye Bay.

"New" Winchelsea

Sea defences, near Winchelsea
Today's Winchelsea was the result of the old town's population moving to the present site, when in 1281 King Edward I ordered a planned town, based on a grid, to be built. The new town inherited the title of “Antient Town” from Old Winchelsea and retained its affiliation to the Cinque Ports confederation together with Rye and the five head-ports.

Winchelsea was greatly involved in the wine trade with Guyenne and the extensive wine cellars under the town may still be visited on open days.

The town had a tidal harbour on the River Bredemarker. It flourished until the middle of the 14th century. It then suffered French and Spanish raids during the Hundred Years' War until the 15th century and was hit by the Black Death. In 1350, the Battle of Les Espagnols sur Mermarker was fought nearby. The town remained prosperous, although reduced in size until the 1520s. The silting of the harbour ultimately destroyed its prosperity. Camber Castlemarker otherwise known as Winchelsea Castle, was built by Henry VIII in the early 16th century half way between Winchelsea and Rye to guard the approach to the great Rye anchorage, known as the Rye Camber. Much of the stone used in its construction was taken from the demolition of the Franciscan monastery of Greyfriars.

Winchelsea retains its medieval setting on a hill surrounded by largely empty marsh, the original layout of the planned town and the largest collection of medieval wine cellars in the country. It also retains three of the four town gates and several original buildings, including the parish church, which is dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr. Another church, St Leonard's, was later the site of a windmill, which was blown down in the Great Storm of 1987marker. Some of the original 13th/14th century fortifications can still be seen at the Strand Gate and Pipewell Gate. The scale of the original plan for New Winchelsea can be judged by the site of the "New Gate", over half a mile outside the current town.

Across the road from the churchyard stands the Court Hall, one of Winchelsea's oldest buildings, the lower floor once being the gaol. The first floor is now the museum, full of relics of the history of Winchelsea Corporation, and a model of the town. Another historic building is the town well found nearby, next to the town armoury. The well was dug in 1851, to save water being carried up the hill, and is thought to be 80 feet deep.

Winchelsea stands on the main south coast road, the A259. The Royal Military Canal built in the early 19th century as a defence-line against invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte passes the eastern side of the town and connects to the river Brede.

The town lends its name to the nearby seaside village of Winchelsea Beachmarker.

Parish campaign

In 2006 a group of local residents requested Rother District Council to review the parishing arrangements of Icklesham, with a view to creating a separate Winchelsea Parish. The Parish of Winchelsea Action Group submitted a petition in favour from 228 electors. Other survey and polling evidence suggest the residents of Winchelsea are in favour by a majority of up to 2-1, but that the remainder of Icklesham parish was against the idea by a wide margin. In the May 2007 parish council elections, the proposal for a separate parish council was the key issue. The three candidates supporting a separate parish for Winchelsea were elected by a clear majority in a record turnout of some 66% and the two opposing candidates (including a member of the Corporation and former councillor) were defeated.

Rail transport

Winchelsea railway stationmarker is located to the north in the Brede valley, on the Ashford, Kentmarker to Hastingsmarker "Marsh Link" line.


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