News from the National Trust


Last year, during remedial work to prepare the cellar for opening to the public in 2013, medieval etchings of national importance were discovered in the cellar at Blackfriars Barn in Winchelsea, East Sussex, a National Trust property. It has since been confirmed that the markings depict a fleet of twelve ships and are likely to be the earliest of their kind ever found.

The country’s leading expert, Matthew Champion, of the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey said:

The Winchelsea graffiti is a very significant discovery in terms of medieval inscriptions. Whilst ship graffiti has been found at a number of locations it is extremely rare to be able to give it a firm medieval date. All the examples that we looked at would appear to date to the early 15th century; a time when Winchelsea was still a bustling medieval port. Their size and location, in a medieval cellar, also make them highly unusual and pose a number of very interesting questions. Most obviously, who made them and why? Whilst research into these inscriptions will continue, it is clear that they are an important discovery. To find one or two clearly datable medieval ships would be significant. To find a small fleet of them across a whole wall is simply unique – a fantastic find.’

The history of the cellar

The cellar under Blackfriars Barn dates from about 1330. The site was used as a barn during the 19th century. But demolition of the barn and subsequent fire in the early 20th century revealed that it was constructed around the ruins of a large and significant building dated to the early 14th century. Because of the size, construction and layout of the building, it has been suggested that it may well have been the Guild Hall.

During the post-medieval and Vicotrian periods the cellar was used as a town rubbish dump. With the help of the Winchelsea Archaeological Society, the National Trust cleared it revealing one of the finest and largest of 33 accessible medieval cellars in the town.