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Here’s what it’s like to live in Battle

PUBLISHED: 13:02 15 October 2018 | UPDATED: 13:02 15 October 2018

Battle Abbey gatehouse (Photo by Johnny Thompson)

Battle Abbey gatehouse (Photo by Johnny Thompson)

Jonny Thompson

A rich local history, thriving annual festivals and a bounty of amenities make this East Sussex town hard to top

Getting there

Nestled in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Battle enjoys spectacular nearby countryside. The town gained its name for being the historic site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Hastings itself is to the south-east.

Battle has its own train station which forms part of the Hastings line, served by direct half-hourly trains to London Charing Cross. The hour-and-a-half journey time makes the town an ideal choice for commuters.

Brighton and Lewes are accessible by train, but with a change at St Leonards Warrior Square. Situated just off the A21, Battle is easily reached by car. It is within a two hour drive of London via the M25, and just over an hour from Brighton via the A27. Lewes is a 45 minutes’ drive away along the A271.

The 304 bus provides an easy link to Hastings. 


History

The infamous battle which gave the town its name took place on 14 October 1066. William Duke of Normandy, also known as William the Conqueror, defeated Harold II, the Saxon king on Senlac Hill after a bloody battle. Battle Abbey was erected by William the Conqueror on the hill to commemorate the bloodshed. The high altar of the abbey allegedly marks the exact spot where King Harold died. However, the precise geographical location of the battlefield remains unknown and is highly contested.

The town was built up around the magnificent abbey, with the gatehouse remaining a prominent feature of the High Street today. The gatehouse was rebuilt in 1338 in order to defend the abbey from French raids during the Hundred Years’ War, and is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of English monastery. In 1538 the abbey fell victim to the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII and was destroyed. Up until this point it had played a central role in the spiritual, economic, agricultural and military life of the area. Just ruins and the gatehouse remain today, but visitors can still explore the English Heritage-owned site.

Battle was at the centre of the gunpowder industry during the 17th century, gaining a reputation as the best supplier in Europe. The first manufacturing outlet of gunpowder was built in 1676; the original buildings still exist today, and have been converted into the Powder Mills Hotel. The mills in the area supplied the British army up until the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars. It is even believed that plotter Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder came from Battle.

Production ceased in Battle in 1874, following the Duke of Cleveland’s refusal to renew the lease as a result of concerns about the number of deaths being caused by the industry.

The town was bombed during World War II, but mercifully most buildings in the High Street were unscathed. Many of them retain their original timber frames.

Annual Festivals and Events

Battle Festival returns for its fifth year in October 2018. The annual celebration of local arts and music has a real family focus, and consists of demonstrations, workshops and live music.

Battle Scarecrow Festival also took place between 20 July and 5 August, where visitors vote for their favourite scarecrow.

Various events are held at Battle Abbey and Battlefield by English Heritage throughout the year, such as the battle re-enactment on the anniversary weekend in October. There is also a Medieval Fayre during the late May Bank Holiday, where the town is transformed back to its 11th century state, complete with jugglers, jesters and a parade of the Knights of the Realm.

In keeping with the town’s connections to Guy Fawkes there are big annual bonfire night celebrations, led by The Battel Bonfire Boyes. The group’s history can be traced back to 1646. They had their first official chairman, William Brett, in 1830. Today they play a key role in organising the impressive Battle Bonfire and Firework Display. 


Amenities

Battle is more than ‘just’ a battlefield, being well-equipped with pubs, shops and cafes.

The Squirrel Inn is a family-run pub serving excellent seasonal dishes, while The Netherfield Arms boasts a cosy interior and a a site with a fascinating history. Netherfield is mentioned in the Domesday Book, which roughly translates as the Anglo-Saxon for a ‘field of adders’! There are many independent restaurants, such as the Battle Deli and Coffee shop and The Orangery in the Powder Mills Country House Hotel.

There are also numerous places to get your fashion-fix. The High Street is home to a plethora of independent and chain clothing brands. The tourist trade also means that there are plenty of superb gift shops, such as House of Cards which has its own Belgian chocolate counter, complete with more than 50 different handmade chocolates. There are three doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies, hairdressers, a post office, and an Anglican and a Baptist church. 


Meet the Neighbours

Popular rock-band Keane are from Battle. Following their formation in 1995 they released their debut album Hopes and Fears in 2004. It won the prestigious Brit Award for Best British Album in 2005. Battle was also home to pianist, composer, arranger and conductor Frank Chacksfield. He achieved great popularity between the 1940s and 1960s. 


Council

The 6,000-strong population has its own Town Council, with 17 councillors representing the four wards of Watch Oak, Merley, Netherfield and Telham.

The town comes under Rother District Council, and East Sussex County Council.

Battle is part of the Bexhill and Battle constituency. Since the May 2015 election, this has been represented in the House of Commons by Huw Merriman of the Conservative Party.


Insider’s View

Battle holds a special place in the heart of Natasha Williams, the head of historic properties in Sussex for English Heritage.

“I’ve lived in Sussex all my life, and my grandparents lived near Battle, so when I was younger we used to come here a lot,” she says. Battle’s history formed an important part of her childhood, so Natasha knows the town’s unique charm well.

Now responsible for managing the abbey, she recommends paying the site a visit early in the morning: “You get such a sense of peace and serenity. Just the idea that there was this massive bloodshed here all those years ago is a really strange feeling. You can immerse yourself in it.”

Next month marks the anniversary weekend of the Battle of Hastings, and English Heritage are pulling out all the stops to celebrate. “We have Norman and Saxon re-enactors that come and fight and do authentic camping,” says Natasha.

“These re-enactors don’t hold back! They really go for it.”

Not only is the weekend an opportunity to celebrate Battle’s history, but it offers an excuse to rally the community together.

“The town of Battle really gets behind it,” says Natasha. “The anniversary coincides with the Battle Festival, so the whole town comes alive in October”. 


More…

What it’s like to live in Alfriston - Bearing links to some of the county’s famous smugglers, Alfriston is a small village with a lot of history – including an impressive ‘cathedral’

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