Using extracts from various websites including www.winchelsea.com I have put together a brief article about the history of the parish church, an important local landmark in a beautiful and peaceful setting.
The parish church in Winchelsea sits in around two acres towards the centre of the town, named in honour of St Thomas the Martyr who was the Archbishop of Canterbury and murdered in his own cathedral in 1170. The first recorded mention of the church in Old Winchelsea came in 1215, when the town was a flourishing seaport on the shingle, but in 1250 it was battered by a phenomenally high tide which ‘flowed twice without ebbing with a horrible roaring and a glint as of fire on the waves.’ Thirty-seven years later further floods virtually destroyed the town and changed the course of the river Rother and history.
So important was Winchelsea as a seaport that, when Old Winchelsea was washed away, King Edward I wasted no time in finding a safer site on the hilltop of the village of Iham, where the present town and its church still stand.
The town was planned on a gridiron pattern with the church designed on a grand scale and work started in 1288 to erect a magnificent Gothic edifice, with a chancel and choir, two side chapels, a central tower, transepts and a great nave.
Building stone came from Caen in Normandy, marble from West Sussex and timber rafters made of Sussex oak with highly skilled stonemasons working on the handsome carvings in the chancel and side chapel. With the relentless decline affecting the church after the French had invaded and sacked the town, for hundreds of years the church remained in a deplorable state. But in 1850 the perilous condition of the fabric of the church was realised and extensive repairs were carried out. Today it stands well-restored, well-used and much cared for.
You will also find among its many treasures a modern tapestry – the Millennium Tapestry – created by over twenty women of the town to celebrate that occasion and record the face of the town as it is today. There is a guidebook on sale in the church that gives a full account of the history of the church. You will also find more on the church website.
Sadly, like most places of worship, the church is closed due to coronavirus hence the lack of internal description and photographs but this building is spectacular and a visit at a later date is well worth adding to your diary.
Wandering around the town in the early morning I had forgotten how picturesque it is, stunning buildings and a surprise around every corner including this street lamp which I couldn’t resist photographing and including, wrapped in foliage with just the light peeping out of the top. What’s around the next corner?
Image Credits: Nick Forman .