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Winchelsea Mark II

Saturday’s bonfire was in beautiful, haunted Winchelsea.

The original Winchelsea was an important shipping port next to Rye, on the edge of Rye Bay. Probably. Nobody’s entirely sure, as the sea came in and ate it up one day in the 13th Century.

They saw it coming, though, and had time to build another one. Edward I ordered the new Winchelsea built in a grid pattern, high on a hill nearby.

It was quite a large town by Medieval standards, but it was sacked by the French a couple of times. And then, you know, there was the Plague. That sure wasn’t good for tourism.

Winchelsea today is a tiny place, a fraction of what it was. Walk half a mile over empty, rolling, sheep-covered grass and you’ll find what used to be the farthest town gate.

It’s tempting to call Winchelsea luckless, except what’s left of it is absoLUTEly lovely. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that every building in the town is listed. And everywhere, the sweet, pervasive, inescapable, permeating smell of contemporary money. Gobs and gobs of it.

Winchelsea being Winchelsea, their Guy was a guy. In a Guy Fawkes costume. The good citizens gathered around the town well and put on a little pageant, with the Himself, two guards in 16th Century armor and a narrator. Then they trussed Guy up in a cart with a rope around his neck, and we all marched him around the town to the commons behind a small pipe and drum troupe from the local prep school and had a jolly good bonfire and fireworks display.

They replaced dude with an effigy for the bonfire, of course, but Winchelsea being Winchelsea, it was a really good effigy. Highly realistic. There was more than one gasp and nervous laugh when the Guy caught fire and burned up all convincing-like.

November 8, 2010 — 11:31 pm
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