Voices of past brought back to life in lecture


In desperation, John Eagles wrote from a condemned cell at Newgate Prison to the overseers at Winchelsea seeking poor relief for his wife and two children.

Eagles entertained hopes that his sentence would be commuted to deportation to Botany Bay, Malcolm Pratt, guest speaker at Bexhill Museum’s lecture series, recounted.

Malcolm Pratt served Winchelsea Corporation as Honorary Town Clerk between 1984 and 2012, having previously served for more than 20 years as clerk to the town’s parish council. He is the author of two books about the Cinque Port’s history and was awarded the MBE in the 2010 Birthday Honours List for his services.

A total of 350 letters to the overseers survive in the county archive. The ever-active retired deputy headmaster researched every single one. He was delighted when in 2011 the Sussex Record Society published his work.

Mr Pratt is currently delving into the historic town’s inquest archives. He gives his fees as a speaker and the proceeds of the books to a fund dedicated to conserving Winchelsea’s historic buildings.

As a charity, Winchelsea Corporation has to raise the money for projects such as much-needed work on the Pipewell Gate, rebuilt around 1404 after a destructive Spanish raid.

The Liberty of Winchelsea was responsible for an area stretching from Camber to Icklesham. At one stage half the population were receiving poor relief.

Most of the revenue to meet the £4,000 a year cost came from the wealthy farming community.

As for John Eagles - the story did not have a happy ending, Mr Pratt confided.