Winchelsea is today a small village of some 280 houses and about 600 residents. It is however the relic of a major planned medieval town and port founded in 1288 by Edward I to replace a nearby town of the same name that was overwhelmed by the sea. For 200 years, Winchelsea was one of main Channel ports, until its harbour silted up.
Accordingly, modern Winchelsea is the guardian of one of the most important historic areas in East Sussex. Among other things, Winchelsea uniquely preserves its original grid-iron medieval street plan and its landscape setting on top of a hill surrounded by largely undeveloped marshland. It retains part of a large medieval church and the ruins of three town gates, as well as other medieval, Tudor and Georgian domestic architecture in a picturesque village setting. Winchelsea’s heritage is officially recognised in its designation as a Conservation Area and an Archaeologically Sensitive Area, as well as the inclusion of four Scheduled Ancient Monuments and some 120 listed buildings. Winchelsea is also part of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Most of the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust and is part of Wickham Manor Farm.
Many residents celebrate Winchelsea’s historic status as a town. When Winchelsea was absorbed into Icklesham Parish in 1886, its corporation ceased to be elected or hold civic authority, but was preserved as a charity in order to maintain the membership of the Cinque Port Confederation, of which the ‘Ancient Town of Winchelsea’ was a Head Port.
Modern Winchelsea has a largely retired, older and relatively affluent population. There is a high proportion of second homes (20-25%). However, Winchelsea is an active community, with many clubs and societies, and has retained many services and facilities that have been lost in neighbouring villages. Facilities include a village hall, large parish church, Methodist chapel, primary school, cricket field, bowls green and three allotments. The facilities and clubs and societies have wide catchment areas, so Winchelsea, in many respects, acts as a local hub.