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Things to do in Battle, East Sussex

Battle is a small town in East Sussex which grew up on the site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It is 49 miles southeast of London and six miles inland from Hastings.

Battle Abbey Gate House / Entrance ©  Kevin Dyke
Battle Abbey Gate House / Entrance © Kevin Dyke

Even today Battle remains a fairly small community of just over 6,000 residents. It has two secondary schools and is home to the Battel Bonfire Boyes, the oldest of the Sussex Bonfire Societies.

Every November 5th the societies arrange a series of festivals to remember Guy Fawkes with bonfires, parades and, of course, fireworks.

The town is dominated by the abbey which stands at the south end of the main street. Part of it is still occupied by the Battle Abbey School.

Other local landmarks include the windmill and Telham Hill where William the Conqueror first saw the English army approaching.

Things to do in Battle

A visit to Battle Abbey is a must for most visitors.

Now in the care of English Heritage, it is partly a ruin but has an excellent Visitor Centre, a Museum of Abbey Life, a rib-vaulted undercroft of the monk's dormitory and a mediaeval monk's gateway which houses many historic artefacts from the area.

Battle, viewed from in front of the Abbey ©  Kevin Dyke
Battle, viewed from in front of the Abbey © Kevin Dyke

The Abbot's House and cloister is in good condition but all that remains of the abbey are the foundations outlined in the grass.

The town has three areas of Special Scientific Interest - Blackhorse Quarry with is many fossils and crocodile teeth, Hemingfold Meadow and Darwell Wood.

Being just six miles from the coast, there are many small towns and beaches to visit, including Eastbourne, and the historic town of Brighton.

History of Battle

This was the historic area where King Harold II was defeated and saw the commencement of Norman rule under William the Conqueror. Battle Abbey now marks the spot and is an imposing castle-like structure dedicated to St Martin.

Battle Abbey was said to have been built by William the Conqueror as penance for causing so much bloodshed during his conquest of England. It was completed in 1094, after his death, and was consecrated by his son, William Rufus.

Remains of Battle Abbey ©  Kevin Dyke
Remains of Battle Abbey © Kevin Dyke

The abbey was largely destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and from 1719 was the home of the Battle family until 1858. After changing hands several times, Sir Augustus Marfleet Battle bought it back in 1901.

The town of Battle gradually built up around the abbey and historically was known for its fine gunpowder, hence the name of Powdermill Lane.

Inevitably there were several mishaps including one event in 1798 when 15 tonnes of gunpowder were left too long to dry in the ovens and exploded!

Finally, the Duke of Cleveland withdrew the licence in 1847 after too many mishaps and the town moved on to its other trades including watchmaking during the 18th century.

The surrounding woods provided timber for naval warships along with gunpowder and cannonballs for cannons.

During World War I various underground tunnels were dug connecting cellars and fields to the abbey.

During World War II it was a girls' school and was used occasionally for hiding troops. The tunnels were eventually deemed unsafe and are now closed.

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