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The history of Winchelsea

The Napoleonic War

Royal Military Canal beyond WinchelseaThe Napoleonic War brought more money into Winchelsea, notably from the building of the Royal Military Canal between 1804 and 1809 and, from 1805, the construction of the chain of Martello Towers. The Canal runs from Shorncliffe in Kent, following the ancient shoreline around the top of Romney Marsh, to join the River Rother at Iden. It incorporates the Rother as far as Rye and then the Brede as far as Winchelsea, after which, it runs along the eastern side of the town and on to the Cliff End. There is a spectacular engraving by JMW Turner (now at Hastings Museum) of an incident at the junction of the Canal and the Brede below Winchelsea, when a temporary dam protecting the construction of the junction was swept away by the spring tide. Eight Martello Towers were built between Rye and Pett Level, of which, only one remains: No.28 at Rye Harbour, the wonderfully named Enchantress.

The war also brought a garrison of 500 infantry between 1794 and 1814. Together with soldiers’ families, the garrison would have doubled Winchelsea’s population. Many soldiers were billeted in the cambric factory in what consequently became known as Barrack Square: married men and their families on the ground and first floor; and unmarried men in a dormitory running the whole length of the top floor. Some officers bought, built or rented houses. Others were billeted in the Court Hall. Many of the present houses and street names in Winchelsea date from the period of the Napoleonic War garrison, including The Armoury, Barrack Square, Cooks Green, Magazine House and Tower Cottage. 72 soldiers who died from their wounds after being repatriated from the Peninsular War are buried in the churchyard.

Winchelsea itself raised No.4 company of the 3rd battalion of the Cinque Port Volunteers, a militia regiment. While waiting for Bonaparte, the officers founded the Winchelsea Cricket Club in 1796.

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