Hastings Battleaxe recommends the Winchelsea Cellars tour

All this time in Hastings, and we’ve never been to the Winchelsea Cellars before. One advantage of having friends to stay is that you do some of these ‘touristy’ things. Our one-time neighbour Bill was down from Birmingham, so off we went…

     The cellars are really old – the ones we saw dated from the 1290s, and most have been unaltered since they were built. They aren’t just any old cellars, they are very large, vaulted and finished like churches with dressed Caen stone imported from France.  I won’t go into details about the history here, or how they were built – here is the link to the excellent Cellar Tours website which gives all the information you need.

     The cellars were constructed at the first stage of the building of the new town of Winchelsea, from 1288 onwards, following the inundation of Old Winchelsea by the sea. The cellars came first, then houses were constructed on top. In those days, the cellars were independent of the houses, with steps running straight down from the streets. They were rented out to individual merchants, many of whom were French.
The cellars were used primarily to store wine imported from France – in those days, nobody drank water, everyone either drank wine or ale. The wine trade was enormous, in one season alone, 1306/7, over 736,000 gallons of wine are recorded as coming from Bordeaux to Winchelsea.
Even given the extent of the trade, the ornateness of the cellars is something of a mystery – some have arched niches in the wall.

     One, the large Salutation Cellar, has this surviving carved corbel. It is thought that some cellars were used as showrooms as well as stores.

      However, the decline of Winchelsea as a major port was precipitious, by the end of the 1300s, the harbour was silting up…
We toured the cellars in a group of about 25 with a very nice, and knowledgable man from local group FOAM (Friends of the Ancient Monuments). All the cellars are now privately owned by the owners of the houses sited above them – not, of course, the original houses. About 50 are recorded, of which only a few are available to view. We saw five.

      It must be quite a responsibility to care for one of these cellars, of course they are listed and preserved. We saw one that was used – as a wine cellar but also as a games room.

      Most still have at least some of their original steps, cracked, worn and treacherous after hundreds of years of wear. The cellar tour is not for those with limited mobility, and we all had our won torches.

At the end, we came out into the light in the middle of a beautiful Winchelsea garden…

      It was all very interesting – Battleaxe would recommend!
Following the tour we had lunch in the very pretty walled garden of the excellent New Inn. It is one of my favourite pub gardens ever. It is dominated by a huge, multi-trunked bay tree, and I have borrowed the idea to make a similar, if much small ‘bower’ under the bay tree in our garden.This photo of the bay tree in the New Inn gsrden was taken on an earlier visit.


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