Spotlight On Battle
Situated in East Sussex, Battle is named after – no surprises – the infamous Battle of Hastings. The town is built on the site of the fight between the Harold Godwinson, the Saxon king, and his Norman invader nemesis, William II of Normandy. We all know how that ended, but there is much more to Battle than the events of October 14th 1066, and it is a unique and inspiring place to visit.
History in Brief
Before 1066, there was no town of Battle. It was only after William the Conqueror’s history-making victory that the town began to grow. It started with William’s abbey (Battle Abbey), which was built between 1070 and 1094. The king had vowed that he would build a tribute to his conquest, and it is thought that the high altar of the abbey is built directly on the spot where his enemy died. Over time, more and more buildings were erected in the area, including the impressive abbey gatehouse, which was built in 1338.
Most of the cottages that can still be seen around the ruins of the abbey date from about 1700, although the church is a 12th-century building which includes 14th-century wall paintings and a lovely Norman font.
Collectively, Battle’s architecture is a mix of ages and styles, but the town’s atmospheric and historical air all stems from that fateful 1066 day.
Things to Do
- Battle Abbey
Now owned by English Heritage, the remains of Battle Abbey are open to the public. Take a wander through the evocative ruins, and stand on the very spot where King Harold is said to have breathed his last breath – infamously dying from an arrow shot through his eye (or so the legend tells us). As well as the abbey itself, there is a stunning walled garden to enjoy. This is a recreation of the Duchess of Cleveland’s garden, and it is where the abbey’s honey bees thrive. There are often themed days and events here, and when all the excitement and information becomes a little too much, there is a café to stop and relax in too.
- The Battle Museum of Local History
There is perhaps no other place in the UK that has quite so much local history relating to it – or rather to one hugely significant historical event. The Battle Museum of Local History does concentrate mainly on the Battle of Hastings, although there are some other exhibitions too, and includes the only weapon ever to have been excavated on the battle site. This ancient axe head was even featured on television’s Time Team!
- St Mary’s Church
St Mary’s Church has been at the centre of religious life in Battle since it was built in around AD 1115. This is where you can spot the rare wall painting of St Margaret of Antioch, which dates back to the 1300s. Once, this church was famed for its stunning interior, and although this is now somewhat faded, it is still possible to see much of its former glory.
- Almonry Gardens
These lovely gardens and the house that goes with them were some of the very first structures to be built in Battle – after the abbey was completed in 1090, the almonry was built in that same year. Despite its name, this house never was an actual almonry (the place where alms were given out), although it’s likely it did have links to the church.
- Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard
Just a little way down the road in Robertsbridge is Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard. This is England’s oldest vineyard, having been established in 1979, and visitors are encouraged to take the self-guided trail through the vineyards to understand exactly how the wine here is made. And of course, wine, beer, cider and juice tastings are a regular occurrence.
- Corner Shop Gallery
The Corner Shop Gallery is where local artists can showcase their pieces and their crafts. Anything and everything is welcome here, from paintings to ceramics to glass and sculpture. The lovely thing about the Corner House Gallery is that nothing is out of budget; everything is priced so reasonably that everyone can buy some local art and enjoy it.
- Nobles Restaurant
Nobles Restaurant is a contemporary restaurant that manages to remain in harmony with the ancient buildings that surround it. This recently refurbished restaurant is comfortable and relaxing, and the food is seasonal and local – just the way everyone likes it. Dishes on the menu include Wealdway Ash goats cheese and sunblush tomato risotto; local roast Romney Marsh lamb saddle with asparagus, puy lentils, dauphinoise potato and rosemary gravy; and apricot bread-and-butter pudding.
- The Netherfield Arms
The Netherfield Arms dates back to 1725, and the lovely building is a pleasure to step into. There is a beautiful inglenook fireplace and the entire pub oozes with charm and atmosphere. Luckily, there is an excuse to linger longer here, as food is served along with the wide range of drinks. The menu has a number of tempting offerings including tempura battered vegetables served on a bed of leaves and drizzled with a sweet chilli sauce; the Sussex smokie – smoked haddock in a mushroom, wholegrain mustard, white wine and cheese sauce with a crunchy crisp top with melted cheese; and raspberry and white chocolate meringue roulade served with fresh cream and a raspberry coulis.
- Pilgrims Rest
Pilgrims Rest is one of the oldest buildings in Battle, and is at least 800 years old. It is a pleasure and a privilege to enjoy a meal in these memorable surroundings. Food includes ‘scrumpet’ – two toasted crumpets with melted cheese, crispy bacon and salad; and ‘the hungry monk’ ploughmans – hand-raised local pork pie of the day, mature cheddar, ham, pickled onion, gherkins, apple, celery, salad, pickle, bread and butter.
- BBK 10K // Sep
The BBK 10K is a road race that takes runners through the historic town of Battle. It is suitable for both serious and fun runners, and winners receive trophies. Everyone who takes part receives a medal, and many people run in this event for charity.
- The Big Green Cardigan Festival // Sep
This is a music festival for music lovers – there is no theme, and acts performing every type of genre are welcome to attend. This is an ‘old school’ festival according to the organisers who simply want people to be able to listen to good music in a relaxed environment.
- Battle Re-enactment // Oct
Every year the Battle of Hastings is played out as it would have been in 1066 – and every year the event is a huge draw.
Of all the many interesting places in Battle, the one that stands out as being the most thought provoking and evocative has to the battlefield itself. This is where thousands of men fought for their country, and where thousands of men, including the king of England, died. It is eerie and beautiful all at the same time.
Did You Know?
There was once an establishment called the Swan Inn that could be found on the high street in Battle. Unfortunately, a stray German bomb destroyed it during World War II.