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A walk within Winchelsea

Turn left into Friars Road. On the left-hand side, you will see a white weatherboarded house called The Little House. Formerly called the Bungalow, the house was built in 1782 by General Prescott, later to become Governor General of Canada, and is a replica of a Canadian frame house (although the verandah - which was the reason behind its original name - has been removed). However, the house is famous as the home of the writer, Ford Madox Ford, from 1901 to 1907. His occupancy is commemorated in a blue plaque. Ford's name was originally Francis Hermann Hueffer. He changed it in 1921 - adopting the name of his grandfather, the famous artist and supporter of the Pre-Raphaelites, Ford Madox Brown - having refused to bow to anti-German sentiment during the First World War (in which he served as an officer in the British Army). Ford came to Winchelsea in 1891 to visit his sweetheart, Elsie Martindale, daughter of the local doctor (and the original author of The Extra Pharmacopoeia, a list of new drugs still being published today and known colloquially as the Martindale). He subsequently eloped with her in 1894, but returned to live in Winchelsea once relations had been repaired with her family. However, the marriage was not a happy one (for a start, Ford had an affair with Elsie s sister) and the couple were eventually estranged.

Ford Madox Ford wrote about Winchelsea in two books and brought a number of other writers to Winchelsea, including Joseph Conrad. Indeed, Conrad rented a cottage on the other side of Friars Road - the second from the left, Greystones (No.5) - during a collaboration with Ford. It is often suggested that Conrad wrote part of Nostromo in Winchelsea, but alas the evidence is to the contrary.

At the end of Friars Road is Greyfriars. The house is built on the site of the monastery of the Grey Friars which had been established in New Winchelsea in 1285 but dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538. Many of the buildings were demolished to provide stone for Camber Castle and the site was sold off by the Crown in 1545. The remains of the cloisters and cells were removed in 1737. The surviving buildings were converted into a private residence but this was demolished in 1819 to make way for the present house.

Like Glebe, Greyfriars featured in Thackeray's unfinished novel, Denis Duval. Thackeray used the fact that Greyfriars (then called The Friars but which he called The Priory) had actually been the home of two brothers called George and Joseph Weston. The Westons were outwardly respectable citizens (George was a churchwarden) but they had a criminal past - including fraud, obtaining money by threats (while one of them was Chief Constable of Manchester), highway robbery and smuggling. Eventually, George Weston was recognised by a sheriff and followed to church. When the two brothers emerged, bibles in hand, they were confronted. Although they managed to escape, they were pursued and arrested. The brothers were sentenced to death, but escaped from Newgate Gaol. Joseph shot and wounded a porter who tried to stop them. However, they were recaptured, taken to Tyburn "kicking and struggling and biting their captors" and hanged in September 1782, George for forgery and Joseph for the shooting (he had  been acquitted of forgery). In Thackeray's novel, the Westons were portrayed as members of the local smuggling gang (the so-called "Mackerel Fishery"). Joseph was shot in the face by Denis while attempting to rob a stagecoach on which Denis, the Rector and the other Weston brother were travelling to London. Thackeray also introduces two other real figures into his story, Chevalier de la Motte and Captain Lutterloh, both spies. The former was executed for high treason in 1781.

Walk to Friars Road

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5 Friars Road

The Little House, Friars Road: home of Ford Madix Ford
The Little House - home of Ford Madox Ford, 1901-07

Greystones, Friars Road: where Joseph Conrad stayed
Greystones: where Joseph Conrad stayed