Winchelsea, East Sussex, England, Photo Tour
Winchelsea is a small walled town in East Sussex, England, at the southern corner of the Romney Marsh. The present town replaced an earlier town of the same name, now known as Old Winchelsea. The town is part of the civil parish of Icklesham.
Old Winchelsea was on an island at the then mouth of the River Rother. The old town was recorded as Winceleseia in 1130 and Old Wynchchelse in 1321.
History of Old Winchelsea
Before the Norman Conquest, the town had its own mint. It was of importance in the wine trade.
There were, in the 1260s, over 700 houses, 2 churches and over 50 inns and taverns implying a population of 4000 to 5000 people. During the 13th Century the town was attacked several times by French marauders, while incursions by the sea destroyed much of the town until a massive flood completely destroyed it in 1287.
Today’s Winchelsea was the result of the old town’s population moving to the present site, when King Edward I ordered a planned town, based on a grid, to be built. The complete plan was never completed, but the outlines are still visible today. It was at this time that the town, together with Rye, became one of the Two Antient Towns affiliated to the Cinque Ports.
The town had a tidal harbour on the River Brede, a tributary of the Rother. French raids continued into the 15th century, and little of the original town remains. It does, however, retain its town wall, and three gates. The parish church is dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr.
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, and a model of the town before the French destroyed it. Further deposition of silt from the river and shingle along the coast, have now left the town bereft of its port.
Winchelsea claims to be the smallest town in Britain to have its own mayor.  Winchelsea constitutes neither a local government district, civil parish (it is part of Icklesham parish) or charter trustees area, and so therefore the mayor traces continuity back to the pre-reform Corporation – the mayoralty claims that it was omitted deliberately, whilst other sources claim that the corporation had been assumed not to exist any more, and that the mayoralty is not recognised by the Government. In any case, Fordwich in Kent has a population of 300 and definitely does have a mayor.