The public toilets on the outskirts of Winchelsea have always been infamous. Opposition to the proposal to build the facilities in the 1970s led to Winchelsea being ridiculed as the Clochemerle of southern England by the national press.
Then, within a few years of having been built to serve traffic on the A259, the route of the A259 was moved, leaving the toilets isolated from most of its intended customers. Subsequently, the building has gained notoriety as a venue for casual sexual liaisons, advertised on gay websites, causing alarm and concerns to nearby residents and other users, and attracting regular visits by the police.
In recent years, councillors and residents have been complaining to Rother District Council about the eyesore caused by the council’s recycling bins and the multiple (but pointless) signs that they insisted on erecting by the bins, as well as the extra litter attracted to the site by the bins. Rye News has reported on Rother’s promise to install larger bins and the subsequent refusal of its amenities division to honour that promise (see report).
In 2000, the owner of Greyfriars House planted a row of Leylandii around the site to screen his view. Despite complaints and the fact that the site was a scheduled ancient monument, no action was taken by the planning department at Rother. The roots of the trees have gradually broken up the foundations of the toilets, leading to subsidence and structural damage. Local conservation group Winchelsea Heritage followed up the issue but Rother has refused to have the trees felled. The current owners of Greyfriars agreed to have the trees lowered by a few feet, but they have since grown back and are still causing damage.
Meanwhile, Winchelsea Archaeological Society complained to Rother about probable damage to the remains of the medieval townhouse under the toilets, only to be told that the council had no record of any archaeological remains. The society had to send Rother a copy of its own excavation report.
Rother has discussed repairing the building but appears to lack the funds. Last year, the damage to the toilets had become so bad that it was forced to close the disabled and men’s compartments.
A spokesman for Winchelsea Archaeological Society bemoaned the fact that the town’s toilets are “going down the pan” through Rother’s neglect. When asked for a comment, a spokeswoman advised, “Antisocial behaviour is never acceptable and incidents should always be reported to the police. We would be happy to discuss options with any interested parties willing to take over the toilets.”
Photo: Richard Comotto, who is a member of Winchelsea Heritage group