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The history of Winchelsea

The foundation of the new town (1288-94)

The site chosen for New Winchelsea was hill of Iham (from which is derived the modern name Hiham that has been applied to numerous streets in the modern village of Winchelsea). This was located inland from Old Winchelsea, about 3 miles to the northwest of the old town. The hill is at the eastern extremity of a Wealden ridge that projected like a spur into the estuary of the River Brede. Thus, New Winchelsea was a river port rather than a coastal port like Old Winchelsea. South of Winchelsea was a tract of marshland called Spadlond, protected from the sea by an embankment called the Daunswall. This had been cultivated by the people of Old Winchelsea and continued to be cultivated by those of the new town.

On the northwestern corner of Iham Hill, was the ‘little town of Iham’ gathered around the Saxon church of St Leonard, with a small harbour in the tidal creek at the bottom of the western side of the hill. Just under half of the hill was occupied by the Manor of Iham. Another 28 acres were owned by John Bone of Wickham. In about 1285, he had granted 4 acres of this land to the Grey Friars to allow them to relocate from Old Winchelsea. A further 35 acres or so were occupied by sundry persons.

All this land, with the exception of the settlement of Iham, was acquired by the King’s commissioners by purchase or exchange. It totalled about 151 acres (of which some 87 acres was built upon). The settlement of Iham, which was subsequently still owned by the Abbey of Fécamp, remained outside the new Liberty of Winchelsea. Indeed, it was part of the Liberty of Hastings until the late 19th century.

In October 1283, the King instructed his commissioners --- Henry le Waleys, Gregory de Rokesle and Stephen de Pencester --- to lay out the new town and harbour. Some 12 acres were to be retained for royal use.

In July 1288, on behalf of the King, Sir John de Kirkeby, the Bishop of Ely and Treasurer of England, granted seisin of the site (full title and possession) to the residents. This is therefore the date of the formal foundation of New Winchelsea, although many people look to 1292, when the first rent roll was drawn up (residents paid ground rent to the Crown from 1295 after a seven-year grace period).

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Click to enlarge Old Winchelsea and the camber picture

Old Winchelsea and the Camber c.1520 (copyright Archaeology South East)’