1066 Country – Part 2 – Battle
by Peter d’Aguilar
With significant historical importance the charming market town of Battle is a captivating place to visit for holiday goers and locals alike
The picturesque East Sussex town of Battle will forever be associated with the defeat of Saxon King Harold by William the Conqueror in 1066. At its heart sits Battle Abbey, erected by William I in 1070 both as a commemoration of his victory and as a penance ordered by Pope Alexander II for the heavy loss of life during the Norman Invasion.
Battle has subsequently spread beyond the Abbey walls and today offers a diverse mix of attractions. The Abbey still forms the centrepiece of a bustling market town and popular tourist destination – featuring both Georgian and medieval cottages intermingled with a variety of interesting galleries, shops, restaurants, historic pubs and tea-rooms designed to blend in with the town’s traditional architecture. Nestled within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Battle is also the centre point of the thirty-mile 1066 Country Walk between Pevensey Castle and the ancient town of Rye. The local Battel Bonfire Boyes is believed to be the oldest of the Sussex Bonfire Societies.
In the seventeenth century Battle developed a reputation for the production of high quality gunpowder. The town’s first gunpowder mill was built in 1676 on land owned by the Abbey. Powdermill Lane was also the site of a gunpowder works – its remains have since been converted into a hotel. The heavily-wooded countryside round Battle provided timber for Navy shipyards such as Portsmouth and Chatham, as well as fuel for the production of cannons, cannonballs and gunpowder.
Battle Abbey’s gateway is still the dominant feature of the southern end of the main street, although little now remains of the rest of the Abbey buildings. The remaining cloisters were leased to Battle Abbey School shortly after World War I, and the school still remains in occupancy to this day.
There is an award-winning 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield tour, giving visitors the chance to experience the battle through dramatic film, audio tours, interactive exhibits, battlefield walks and a sculpture trail. The Abbey roof offers stunning views of the battlefield.
Also set on the battlefield is the 12th century church of St Mary the Virgin, which features a magnificent Romanesque nave, rare 14th century wall paintings and the stunning Senlac commemorative stained glass window.
The parish of Battle has three Sites of Special Scientific Interest – Hemingfold Meadow, Darwell Wood and Blackhorse Quarry, a palaeontological site that has yielded many fossil bones and teeth from dinosaurs and crocodiles.
Tom Chaplin, Tim Rice-Oxley and Richard Hughes, founder members of the highly successful rock band Keane, grew up in Battle and reference places in their home town in a couple of their songs.