Although it is an Ancient Town, Winchelsea is home to a modern community with a busy Town Diary and a full calendar of special events that take place every year, including the incredible Winchelsea Streete Game.
With a unique heritage and special quality of life to preserve against the destructive pressures of the 21st century, the residents of Winchelsea are drawing up a Town Plan. This is a type of Parish Plan, also known as a Local Action Plan, setting out the community's vision for the future and an action plan to implement that vision.
Winchelsea is part of Icklesham Civil Parish, along with the villages of Icklesham, Winchelsea Beach and Rye Harbour, but there is a campaign for a separate Winchelsea Civil Parish to allow greater local democracy and more focus on local issues.
In the absence of an effective parish council, many issues of local concern in Winchelsea and other villages are tackled by residents' groups. There are numerous grassroots campaigns running in Winchelsea against, among other things, more mobile phone masts, street clutter and traffic speed.
Winchelsea is blessed with a generally low crime rate, but we still need to be vigilant. There is a very active Neighbourhood Watch scheme in operation which has had several successes against burglars and other criminals. The Winchelsea Neighbourhood Watch also runs a No Cold Calling Zone within the citadel area, to deter cold callers and rogue traders.
Community Speed Watch
The problem of traffic 'rat-running' through Winchelsea is being tackled by a group of volunteers operating a police-sponsored Community Speed Watch scheme to monitor and report speeding vehicles. The drivers of reported vehicles receive a letter from the police asking them to desist from speeding. If they are reported again within a certain period, they will receive a second letter warning them that they may be targeted by the police and will be prosecuted if they are caught speeding. Winchelsea is the only village in Rother currently operating Community Speed Watch.
Winchelsea Emergency Plan
Winchelsea has prepared for a civil emergency by drawing up an Emergency Plan, which has been endorsed by the emergency planning team at Rother District Council, and setting up an Emergency Group to assist the community and emergency services during a civil emergency.
Rights of Way Group
This is a group of volunteers who assist the County Council in monitoring and maintaining the footpaths in and around Winchelsea.
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Winchelsea in numbers
Winchelsea is a village of 278 houses with a population of about 580 people, of whom, some 400 are registered electors. About 10% are aged 16 years or under, over 50% are retired or semi-retired, and about 20% are not full-time residents.
There are an amazingly large number of clubs and societies in Winchelsea.
There are various community facilities in the village:
- Winchelsea has a village hall, called the New Hall, which is available for public hire at £11 per hour May to September; £13.20 per hour October to April, plus £16 for use of the premises licence and £30 for the use of the audio system. The hall is not insulated and gets rather cold between events. However, the heating system has been revamped and is now being turned on ahead of events to try to warm the place up. The facilities are basic (no dishwasher, two domestic cookers and fridges, and odd cutlery and crockery) and the New Hall Management Committee insists on vetting the purpose of your booking.
- The parish church is St Thomas the Martyr (C of E). This can be hired for suitable events at £14 in the summer and £18 in the winter. The nearest Roman Catholic church is in Rye (St Anthony of Padua). The Methodist Chapel in Winchelsea is no longer in regular use but the local Methodist circuit holds regular events.
- Winchelsea has a primary school, St Thomas's, which is Church of England-aided.
- There is a small museum about the former Winchelsea Corporation, which is open from the end of April to the end of September (10:30 to 16:30 from Tuesday to Saturday and on Bank Holidays, and from 14:00 to 17:00 on Sunday).
Winchelsea is very fortunate to still have a village shop, sub-post office, butcher, tea room and pub.
The village shop (the Little Shop) was rescued from closure in 2002 by the community and run as a community-owned business until it was bought out in May 2007 by the new owner of the shop building. The community sold the shop at a profit and apparently have an option to repurchase the business should the new owners lose interest in the business. The net proceeds of the sale are being retained by the community as a contingency fund for this purpose (under the auspices of the Winchelsea Little Shop Association, the co-operative which used to run the business when it was a community shop).
The new owner of the village shop is the trading subsidiary (Winchelsea Farm Foods) of a trust set up by a retired hedge fund manager who lives in a neighbouring village. Winchelsea Farm Foods also own the former farm shop between Winchelsea and Icklesham.
The post office was re-opened in new premises in 2005 (having been closed in 2000) under an initiative by the Winchelsea Community Office and was run as a community-owned business attached to the Little Shop until 2007, when it was also purchased by Winchelsea Farm Foods. In 2008, the post office was into the building next door. The net proceeds of the sale of the post office have been added to the community's shop contingency fund.
Winchelsea's butcher was owned from 1987 by Jamie Wickens, a Rick Stein Food Hero and one of the The Times top 10 UK butchers. He was bought out by Winchelsea Farm Foods in 2009 and his shop moved into the former post office in the High Street. Jamie was sacked by Winchelsea Farm Foods in January 2011, but is now a partner in a restaurant/cafe/bar/delicatessen/butcher at the refurbished Ship Inn in Winchelsea Beach.
Jamie's former premises in the Castle Street were converted initially into a garden and gift shop into which a tea room was subsequently inserted. This appears to be closed for the winter.
The previous village tea room in Winchelsea ceased trading in March 2007, shortly before being bought out by Winchelsea Farm Foods. The front of the premises have been converted into a delicatessen (Winchelsea Farm Kitchen) and an off-licence. The tea room is now at the back. This is open to 4:30pm each day except Sunday.
The sole remaining pub in Winchelsea is the New Inn. At the end of 2011, it was taken over by new tenants, John Towler and Declan Clancy, and has been transformed into a pleasant local, with excellent food.
Winchelsea's war dead are commemorated on the war memorial in the northwest corner of the churchyard, in the Church and in the Methodist Chapel. There is a Roll of Honour of some of those who served their country in the Court Hall.
In the church, above the three tombs along the north wall, there is the stained glass window commissioned by Lord Blanesborough and executed by Douglas Strachan to commemorate the tragic loss of the Winchelsea lifeboat, the Mary Stanford, and her crew of 17 local men on 15 November 1928. It was dedicated by the Archibishop of Canterbury in 1933.