We find in the Tate Gallery records of Turner’s Sussex sketchbook, a note on ‘The Pipewell Gate, Winchelsea’ (c. 1806-10) by David Blayney Brown.
The plate was based on drawings in Turner’s Sussex sketchbook and published in 1812 in the Liber Studiorum. It includes a tower, which also appeared in the sketchbook. Brown notes that this tower cannot be accounted for today and comments that: “The Liber compositions are much romanticised while the supposedly on-the-spot drawings in the sketchbook might also contain some artistic licence.” So did this Tower exist during Turner’s visit?
A map of Winchelsea dated 1763 (at the front of Malcolm Pratt’s book on Winchelsea, (2005)), sheds light on this question. It shows at Point N the Land Gate (Pipewell Gate), at Point K the Wind Mill and at Point L ‘The Round Tower’- in the corner of Roundal piece.
In the King George III Topographical Collection at the British Library is this drawing, entitled “Ruin of St Leonards church at Winchelsea, Sussex, 1794”. It looks north towards the Brede valley from near where the Beacon stands today.
The drawing shows the ruins of St Leonards’ church in the foreground, and in the distance and to the right, a windmill and lower down a round tower.
In his book ‘History of Winchelsea 1292 – 1800’, Homan mentions on page 168, that in 1788 one great wall of St Leonard’s Church was still standing, and so was the circular stone tower, known as the Roundle. This is consistent with this drawing of 1794. Homan believed that the tower was originally the stone mill mentioned in the description of the Liberty of Winchelsea in 1330. If so, it would have been one of the oldest structures in Winchelsea when it was destroyed about 1840.
We can find more about the tower in the book on Winchelsea by F A Inderwick (1892). He notes on page 24, “Following the line of that masonry (part of the town wall) to the corner of the field in which it stands, there will be found the ruined remains of what was, within the recollection of some of our old inhabitants, a circular watch tower called the Roundel, from which the guardian of the port could survey the whole extent of his harbour.” On page 7, he refers to it as the harbour-master’s tower.
An additional piece of information comes from the book by William Durrant Cooper on Winchelsea published in 1850. On page 36 he mentions “Until 1828 there stood a round or watch tower, called the Roundle, of which we subjoin an engraving from a drawing made by the late Mr Stileman”.
He mentions that its exact site is as shown on the 1763 map of Winchelsea. Later in the book he refers to a 1748 survey, preserved among the records of Hastings, which describes the tower as a round stone conick building called the Roundle and on page 190, he mentions that “The Roundle is supposed to have been a watch tower or a windmill”.
From this evidence, it appears that the tower did exist when Turner visited Winchelsea in 1806 – 1810. The outstanding question is whether it would have been visible from the Pipewell Gate.