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The history of Winchelsea

A town planned: the defences

The new town was surrounded by a ditch, wall and four main gates, three of which (Strand Gate, Ferry or Pipewell Gate, and New Gate) are standing today. There were also various sally ports and posterns gates to allow access to the wells outside the town wall and other areas. Work on the town defences probably started in 1295 and may have been completed by 1330, when the New Gate was built.

Key sections of the town wall --- those near to the Strand and Ferry Gates --- were built of stone and were crenellated, and had occasional half-tower bastions. The gates and stone walls would have been rendered and whitewashed. The rest of the walls were earthworks, possibly with wooden palisades. Little remains of the town wall, although it was substantially in place, albeit in a ruined state, as late as the end of the 16th century. A ditch, called the Town Dyke, ran around the western, southern and eastern base of Iham Hill.

Strand GateThe Strand Gate (also known as the East Gate and Watchbell Gate) was built around 1300 to protect the entrance from the harbour at the bottom of Strand Hill. It was at least a third higher than it is today, and incorporated two portcullises and a pair of gates. There was a porter’s lodge inside the northeastern tower, and a room for the portcullis winding gear on the first floor. The town wall joined the northwestern and southeastern towers. The Strand Gate incorporated decorative stonework, some of which is still visible, suggesting that it was seen as the main entrance into the town (as it is today). As with other buildings, the Strand Gate would have been rendered and whitewashed, while the decorative stonework would have been picked out in colour.

The Ferry Gate or Pipewell Gate (also known as the North Gate and Land Gate) was built to defend the entrance from the road to the ferry across the Brede. It was therefore less important than the Strand Gate and was accordingly plainer in construction. It had a crenellated battlement but there was no portcullis, only a pair of external gates. The Ferry Gate was badly damaged in the Franco-Castillian raid of 1380 and is believed to have been repaired in about 1400 by the then Mayor, John Helde, whose name (I.HELDE) and crest can still (just about) be seen above the gateway.

New GateThe New Gate (also known as the South Gate) was the last town gate to be completed (in about 1330, although it was subsequently substantially altered). It guarded the southern entrance into the town and now stands on its own in Wickham Rock Lane. The gate is impressive in size but utilitarian in construction. It had a pair of gates but no portcullis. The gate was built at the angle formed by the town walls. In front of the gate, a causeway spanned part of the Town Dyke with a bridge spanning the gap. The New Gate is famous in local legend as the gate through which the French and Castillians entered in 1380 with the aid of treachery.

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Click to enlarge the plan of the strand gate

Plan of the Strand Gate (copyright Archaeology South East)

Click to enlarge the plan of the ferry gate

Plan of the Ferry Gate (copyright Archaeology South East)

Click to enlarge the plan of the new gate

Plan of the New Gate (copyright Archaeology South East)