The Court Hall is one of the oldest buildings in Winchelsea though it was drastically restored in the 19th century.
Parts of it are probably as old as the town itself and it may incorporate still earlier materials. The notable crown-post roof is 15th century and there is a fine medieval chimney. Unfortunately the cellar is filled with rubble but the entrance is visible at the west end of the building. The lower rooms were the Town Gaol in the 18th century, and are now used for meetings and functions.
The Museum is housed on the upper floor and is well worth a visit. It contains many interesting exhibits, mostly local, and is open throughout the summer. One of the most noteworthy features is the list of Mayors of Winchelsea shown on a series of oak boards. This list, far fuller than that of most towns, is complete from 1430 and is partially complete from 1295 when Mayors first replaced the King’s Bailiffs.
The Court Hall is still the meeting place of the Corporation. Here, on Easter Monday each year, a new Mayor is elected. Winchelsea Corporation, like the City of London, elects Freemen from whom up to 12 Jurats are selected annually at the Mayoring to assist the Mayor. There are also a Town Clerk, Chamberlain and Sergeant at Mace.
The Corporation regalia includes two maces, one c.1485 and the other c.1550, both made of silver with an iron core. There is a small sergeant’s mace or “silver oar” as it is sometimes called. This is silver with a lead weighted iron core. The arms of John Carryll who was bailiff of Winchelsea until 1763 are engraved on the top. Another interesting item is a mayor’s round seal. It bears the arms of the Cinque Ports. It is late 14th century but unfortunately very worn.
The Mayoring is a very ancient tradition. It has been enacted on Easter Monday for 700 years and, probably in this hall since 1665.