The History of Battle
Battle is a small town in East Sussex and is the site of the historic Battle of Hastings , where William, Duke of Normandy, defeated King Harold II to become William I of England. Before the battle, the site was nothing more than hills, woods and fields. King Harold chose Senlac Hill to fight the battle, a place that was along the Hastings to London road. After Harold’s defeat at the hands of William The
Conquerer , the Normans established Battle Abbey on the site of their victory. The abbey was founded to commemorate the battle of 1066. It was also built as penance by order of the Pope, because the Normans killed so many people in the conquest of England. Finished after the death of King William and during the reign of his son King Rufus , it was first dedicated to St Martin in 1095. The high altar of the Abbey church was deliberately placed on the exact spot where Harold died. Although responding to a holy order in this instance, the placing of the abbey was typical of the Norman style. They would deliberately knock down important existing homes and buildings and replace them with their castles. The Normans would build their abbeys and churches right on top of existing ones, all part of a policy of designed to stamp their authority on the conquered people.
The town of Battle gradually evolved around the Abbey. Never really a natural location for a big town to develop, the village of Battle grew to become a relatively small town and at the 2001 census recorded a population of just over 6,000. The Abbey passed into private hands after King Henry VIII ’s dissolution. The Abbey gateway is still the dominant feature of the south end of the main street in present day Battle, although very little remains of the rest of the Abbey buildings. After World War I , the surviving cloisters which once formed part of the west range, were leased to Battle Abbey School . The school have held the buildings to this day and the Abbey grounds are now under the care of English Heritage.
Battle developed a reputation for the production of fine quality gunpowder. The first gunpowder mill there was opened in 1676 after John Hammond was granted permission to build a mill on Abbey land. A gunpowder works was located in the aptly named Powdermill Lane. Parts of the building still stand and now form sections of a hotel . In 1722 Daniel Defoe wrote about Battle saying it was: "remarkable for little now, but for making the finest gun-powder, and the best perhaps in Europe". The gunpowder business came to an abrupt end after an several mishaps, including the incident in 1798 when more than 15 tons of gunpowder were left in an oven too long and exploded. The Duke of Cleveland, fed up with these antics, finally refused to renew the licence in 1874. During the 1700s Battle supported five watchmakers in the High Street, a sign of the town’s modest and yet thriving local economy.
During the First World War, Battle provided shelter in tunnels that still exist to this day. Leading from various fields and cellars to Battle Abbey itself, the tunnels are unfortunately now deemed unsafe and are closed. Battle grew gently and, after the loss of its gunpowder industry, it discovered the tourism business which is what
drives the local economy there today. The fame of the battle that gave the town its name and existence still keeps it alive today. Battle literally owes everything to October 14, 1066 and the Battle of Hastings.