Court Hall Museum
East Sussex TN36 4EA
The Museum in High Street is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Winchelsea. It was drastically restored in the 16th century but parts of it date back to the town’s foundation in the 13th century.
Over 700 years of Winchelsea’s fascinating history is displayed using maps, models, pictures, seals, pottery and items used in daily life. One of the most noteworthy exhibits is the list of Mayors of Winchelsea shown on a series of oak boards. The list is complete from 1430 and is partially complete from 1295 when Mayors first replaced the King's Bailiffs.
Initially the Cinque Ports consisted of the five Saxon towns of Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich. Shortly after the Confederation was formed, the two Ancient Towns of Rye and Winchelsea were added.
The role of the ports was to protect the King and the country from seaborne attack, and also provide transport for the King, his family and armies between England the continent of Europe.
In return for the provision of men and ships, the ports received extraordinary privileges. They were given the right to self-government; exemption from taxes and tolls; permission to levy tolls; the right to exact punishment and deliver justice (including execution); and the right to take possession of lost goods that remained unclaimed after a year, goods thrown overboard and floating wreckage.
The King relied totally on his Cinque Ports not only for protection but for trade as well. Unfortunately the south-east coast was subject to a natural phenomenon called Longshore Drift. The great shingle bank that protected the estuarine ports was being pushed east and north by the sea current. Hastings harbour started to silt up and Winchelsea became the Head Port.
The problem was exacerbated by disastrously stormy weather from 1233 to 1288. During one of these storms Old Winchelsea was submerged by the sea. So important was Winchelsea that King Edward I immediately came to the rescue, acquiring Ilham Hill for the new town.
During the 14th century, Winchelsea suffered French raids, bubonic plague and silting of its harbour. Despite this the Corporation survived largely because of the right of its freemen to elect two members to Parliament.
Those seats were lost in 1832, and in the 1880's Parliament agreed that Winchelsea could keep its mayor and remain a Head Port of the Confederation, although the Corporation ceased to have local government powers.
On Easter Monday each year a new Mayor is elected and takes his seat beneath the oak boards listing his predecessors. The Corporation still meets in the Court Hall and its silver regalia are on display for visitors to admire. Two of the maces date from c.1485 and c.1550.
To read more about the interesting history of Old and New Winchelsea visit Web: Winchelsea History Website External Link
Plan Your Visit
Winchelsea Guided Tours
Winchelsea Archaeological Society Guided Tours (Winchelsea Guided Tours) are a great way to find the hidden treasures of the town. They will take you inside some of the great vaulted medieval wine cellars used to store Gascony wine. The average cellar could store over 120 hogsheads (6,300 gallons) of wine These tours are very popular and pre-booking is recommended.
May to September
Tuesday - Saturday & Bank Holidays: 10:30-12:30; 14:00-17:00.
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1797 226 382
Court Hall Museum website External Link
Google Maps - Court Hall Museum