“Thirty years ago or so Henry James lived at Rye. I had a house at Winchelsea” (Ford Madox Ford, “Return to Yesterday”, Chapter 1.
“Winchelsea stands on a long bluff, in shape like that of Gibraltar.” (ibid, Chapter 2)
It seemed a good idea to walk across the marshes from Rye to Ford’s house at Winchelsea one summer afternoon, in the footsteps of Henry James and Ford Madox Ford, so last weekend I did.
It’s an easy flat walk, except the last bit up to the town.
“There is only one Winchelsea, and there is no place like it, no place that so effectually and so pleasantly teaches us the lesson that we most need in these days of hurry and forgetfulness.” Ford, from the Introduction to his “Cinque Ports”.
Put another way, I saw two people this Sunday afternoon in July: there was a chap sitting outside the church and a man washing his car.
Down past the church and almost leaving town, is Ford Madox Ford’s house:
“The Bungalow was in fact a small house, built for his retirement by the first governor-general of Canada ‘in exact imitation’, Ford said, ‘of a Canadian (clap board) framed house.’ It had a verandah, across the front, now gone, over which hops grew and on which Ford and Conrad sat talking in the warm summer nights. It was later enlarged by Elsie and later still was bought by an old school friend of Ford’s, Charles Kinross, who in 1955 had a plaque commemorating Ford put on the front. Now called The Little House, it is, despite alterations, more or less as when Ford and Elsie lived there.” (Alan Judd, “Ford Madox Ford”)
The plaque, in the style of the well-known Blue Plaques, is over the front door. It has been painted over.
No plaque over this house, No 5., which is where Joseph Conrad lived. It is almost opposite. (There is a bit of my finger top left which I have left unedited for reasons of authenticity and laziness).
Out through the Strand Gate as I wanted to go back to Rye by another path.
The gates at Winchelsea are much-photographed, but one more won’t hurt.
Down the hill, turn right and head for Winchelsea Beach, a recent settlement that’s only possible since the waters receded. Where the road goes sharp right we carry straight on…
… back towards Rye via Camber Castle which has nothing to do with Ford or Conrad, but which was built by Henry V111. (I expect he had help).
The present custodians are not much interested either way.
I won’t burden this with lots of links – Wikipedia is your friend! – but www.winchelsea.net is full of goodies. Thanks to the people behind that.
Ford Madox Ford’s best-known books are “The Good Soldier” and “Parade’s End” (which is actually 4 books but usually sold in a single volume these days). “The Good Soldier” seems as though it is going to be a late-Victorian tale of morals and manners, but as the body-count rises… I won’t spoil it for you. “Parade’s End” is a masterpiece.