A bastide in true French style was built... in Sussex

Built on a grid... the English town of Winchelsea has been widely rebuilt

Aquitaine’s fortified medieval ‘new towns’ called bastides are well known but Michael Delahaye discovers one in Britain and it has a singular link with the French originals

The town is called Winchelsea and it is in the ‘département’ of Sussex. How and why a French bastide came to be built on England’s south coast is a tale of wine and warfare – and proof, if needed, that Brits and their Gallic neighbours are historically two branches of the same family.

‘Old’ Winchelsea was an ancient settlement on a shingle spit in Rye Bay that was devastated by storms in the late 1200s. It had to be relocated and a nearby promontory of land seemed perfect, but it required the king’s permission to move there.

That king was Edward I, king of England and, like his Plantagenet predecessors, Duke of Aquitaine so ruler of roughly a third of modern France.

He was in the middle of establishing  a string of new settlements across his French domain. These ‘bastides’ were the ‘new towns’ of the Middle Ages intended to corral the local populations and ...

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