The History of Winchelsea
A town planned: houses and shops
From the rental list of 1292, it is possible to identify the 15 leading citizens of New Winchelsea (and probably of Old Winchelsea as well). The most important were the Alards, seven of whom were among this elite. This family was of Saxon origin (the name derives from Aethelwald) and provided several mayors, including the first recorded mayor of new Winchelsea, Gervase Alard junior. Other leading citizens were Thomas Godfrey, Vincent Herberd, Paul de Horne, Henry Jacob, James Paulyn, Walter Scrappe, William Burgeys and Henry Broun. Herberd’s descendants rose to become Earls of Winchilsea [sic] in 1628 (but they had ceased to have anything to do with the town well before then).
The domestic houses of New Winchelsea were likely to have been of many types. The leading citizens of the town would have had substantial stone-built houses. Of the first houses to be built in New Winchelsea, the best survivals are: The Armoury on Castle Street; Blackfriars Barn on Rectory Lane; the Court Hall on the corner of the High Street and Hiham Green; and Firebrand on the corner of the High Street and St Thomas’s Street. There are significant fragmentary remains of early houses incorporated into Old Castle House and St Anthony’s on Castle Street, and in the stone gable of an early house left standing in North Street. Many domestic houses were timber-framed and little or no evidence is left.
Large houses would have been centred on an open hall, with attached ranges containing smaller rooms on two floors at one or both ends. The halls were either alongside the street or set back behind a row of shops. A notable feature is the number of fireplaces: these did not become commonplace until the 16th century and their frequency in New Winchelsea is another reflection of its early wealth.
It has been suggested that, in contrast to the leading citizens of New Winchelsea, many townsfolk may have been so financially distressed by the destruction of their property in Old Winchelsea that they were forced to build temporary accommodation. According to this theory, large parts of the town may consequently have resembled a collection of shanties. Few of these structures would have been rebuilt following the later decline of the town and its depopulation, and so little evidence would have been left.
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