Winchelsea Archaeological Society (WAS), which runs guided tours of the town’s famous medieval wine cellars and is now adding ship graffiti to its tour attractions, expressed surprise, but also delight, at the size of the turnout for its tour last Sunday (July 26) despite the torrential rain. Sixty people turned out for the cellar tour, even though there was a downpour the whole day. We were amazed. Fortunately, two guides had been arranged, despite thinking that the monsoon would keep many people away. It was all very British.
The next tours of Winchelsea’s cellars by WAS will be August on 8 and 31 and tours continue into October. These start in Castle Street at 2pm. The cost is £5, which goes towards archaeology in Winchelsea. WAS has guided some 500 visitors through the cellars so far this year. Winchelsea has over 50 medieval cellars, more than anywhere else in the country other than the cities of Bristol, Norwich and Southampton, and they are thought to date from 1290-1300. WAS says that many visitors are not even aware of the existence of the cellars.
WAS has recently announced that there will be additional free tours of the cellar under Blackfriars Barn. This is only opened by the National Trust a couple of times a year. It is a very different cellar to the others in Winchelsea, having three chambers, windows and a fireplace. It also contains some very unusual and recently discovered medieval ship graffiti. These extra tours will take place at 2pm and 3:30pm on August 8 (in addition to the regular tour of other cellars) and, as part of Heritage Open Day, at 11am and 2pm on September 13. For the tours of Blackfriars Barn cellar, just turn up at the ruins on Rectory Lane. Unlike the regular tours of the other cellars, the one under Blackfriars Barn is more accessible, having a staircase with handrails.