Winchelsea is a small walled town in Sussex, situated on the edge of Romney Marsh, on the south coast of England. Like its nearby neighbour Rye, Winchelsea sits atop of a hill, some distance from the sea. What we now see as Winchelsea, is New Winchelsea, what was left of Old Winchelsea having been swept away in a storm.
Old Winchelsea was on an island at what was then the mouth of the River Rother. The old town was recorded as Winceleseia in 1130 and Old Wynchchelse in 1321.
The importance of the original Winchelsea or Old Winchelsea can be seen by the fact that in Saxon times it had its own mint. It was also of importance in the wine trade. The name is believed to be derived from 'the shingle isle on the level'.
Prior to its inundation by the sea and its final destruction by the Great Storm of 1287, Old Winchelsea was quite a sizeable town. In the 1260s, over 700 houses, 2 churches and over 50 inns and taverns.
The original town of Winchelsea or Old Winchelsea was washed away in the great storm of 1287. Edward I then laid out New Winchelsea. A somewhat grandiose scheme, that never quite materialised, but Winchelsea of today follows the same street pattern. A street pattern that follows the French bastide and is seen nowhere else in England. Similar street patterns can be found at Caernarvon and other towns in North Wales founded by Edward I.
New Winchelsea was built on the end of a long sandstone ridge.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, Winchelsea was regularly attacked by the French.
What little remains of the town planned by Edward I, is the wall and three gates.
Winchelsea claims to be the smallest town in Britain to have its own mayor, but Winchelsea no longer forms part of any local administration, now being part of the Parish of Icklesham.
Winchelsea Beach is a pebbly affair. Three miles further east lies the sandy beach of Camber Sands.
Winchelsea, like neighbouring Rye, was one of the Cinque Ports. Winchelsea is connected to Rye by a military road.
Winchelsea lies on the Ashford to Hastings line.
In 1278, Dover, Hythe, Sandwich, New Romney and Hastings, were formalised under a Charter of Edward I as the Cinque Ports. In return for providing maritime support to the King, they were granted special trading privileges as free ports. Later Rye and Winchelsea were added to the Cinque Ports. Their special privileges were revoked in 1685, as their services were made redundant after Henry VIII founded a professional navy, what was to become the Royal Navy.