A walk within Winchelsea
Retrace your steps back to Rectory Lane (A259). Cross the road and then turn right, walking up the hill alongside Rectory Lane. Follow the road to the junction with Hiham Gardens. Before you turn into Hiham Gardens, look across Rectory Lane to the ruins. These are known as Blackfriars Barn. In fact, the building was probably something much more significant than a barn and nothing to do with the Black Friars. There is a three-chambered cellar underneath. Unusually, the cellars have two fireplaces - suggesting they were not used for the storage of wine - and the building had an unusually large cesspit - suggesting it had some sort of public function. One theory is that it was a guild hall.
Opposite Blackfriars Barn, on your side of Rectory Lane, there is Wesley's Chapel. This Methodist chapel was built in 1785 and was actually used by John Wesley (although he more famously gave his last open-air sermon in Winchelsea).
Walking down Hiham Gardens, you will find the New Inn at the end of the street on the right. The New Inn is ‘new’ only in Winchelsea terms. It was rebuilt in 1720. This is an opportunity to buy lunch or stop for a drink. There is also a garden at the back if you wish to sit outside.
Cross the road from the New Inn to the diagonally opposite corner. The old stone building on the other corner is the Court Hall. This is the headquarters of the Corporation of Winchelsea, the last unreformed corporation left over from the Reform Act of 1832 and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1883. It lost its civil and judicial powers under the Act of 1883, becoming an Exempt Charity whose role is to maintain Winchelsea’s membership of the Cinque Port Confederation and take responsibility for certain ancient monuments.
The Court Hall was originally the house of Gervase Alard. It subsequently became the house of King's Bailiff. The building was used as the town hall from 1538. The present Court Hall was originally known as the Freemans Hall and the original Court Hall was an extension built over what is now the garden of the Court Hall. The extension was demolished in 1666 and the Freemans Hall took on the name of the demolished Court Hall. Part of the building served as the town gaol from about 1760 to 1879. Sometime between 1810 and 1812, the cash-strapped Corporation sold the freehold of the building to Sir William Ashburnham (who coincidentally held the title of King s Bailiff) and rented the building back. In 1886, the Corporation terminated the lease. However, the local MP, Frederic Inderwick QC, and the Town Clerk, Walter Dawes, persuaded Edwin Freshfield (of the City law firm of that name) to purchase the building in 1890 and bequeath it to the Corporation. So the building came back into the possession of that body.
Underneath the Court Hall is a cellar, now filled with rubble, which is thought to have been the Bailiff s dungeon. On the other side of the building is a set of steps leading up to a doorway on the first floor. This may have been the route by which prisoners were taken from the dungeon to appear before the Bailiff in the upper room. Since 1953, the upper room - which is accessed by the staircase from the garden - has contained a museum. This is open from May to September (10:30 to 12:30 and 14:00 to 17:00 from Tuesday to Saturday and on Bank Holidays, and from 14:00 to 17:00 on Sundays).
You now have two choices. You can finish your tour or you could continue your tour by taking a second walk, this time, going south out of Winchelsea and then skirting it on the eastern side, following the Royal Military Canal and re-entering the village by the Strand Gate.
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