A project to clear rubbish from a cellar in the English village of Winchelsea has led to the discovery of a series of medieval graffiti inscriptions that are being hailed as being nationally significant.
The inscriptions, located in a medieval undercroft beneath Blackfriar’s Barn, were first identified by builders carrying out repair work prior to the National Trust opening the cellar to the public this summer. A recent survey of the inscriptions, undertaken by medieval graffiti specialist Matthew Champion, has identified a whole series of large-scale medieval ship inscriptions; leading to the discovery being referred to as Winchelsea’s ‘Lost Fleet’.
The undercroft at Blackfriar’s Barn is believed to have been built in the early fourteenth century, dating back to the time when Winchelsea was a bustling south coast trading port. The town was constructed on the orders of Edward I after the former settlement of ‘old winchelsea’ was lost to the sea, and it soon became one of the busiest ports in southern England. However, a series of French seaborne attacks, culminating in their sack of the town in the 1380s, led to the slow decline of this once bustling port into the picturesque village that survives today.
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