By Cliff McCarthy, 2016
In 1998, I received an email from a Mary Windsor which said that a little book in her possession, called “A History of Pett” stated that:
‘About 1600 the old Ship Inn and a farm were built on an island, probably by a Welsh cattle drover named Cooke, who brought a herd of Welsh Blacks along the green roads from Wales to be pastured on Romney Marsh. He probably obtained some opportunity to settle on land reclaimed from the sea and his descendants remained there until the old Ship Inn and farm were washed away in 1921.’
However, a more reliable source of information is the following piece, researched and written by John and Rosemary Moon:
The Old Ship Inn, Winchelsea Beach
The old Ship Inn was built about 1742. It was originally called The White Hart. When it changed is unknown, and why it was built on the beach at least two miles in any direction from habitation seemed a mystery. Mike Saville gave us his thoughts on the subject. In about 1740 a new Harbour for Rye called Smeaton’s Harbour was being built. The work force would have come mainly from Winchelsea and the shortest way to the work site was the footpath across the marsh to the beach, which was right where the Ship Inn was built. The new Harbour was abandoned as a disaster by 1788. From early 1795 defence work started all along the coast which included the Royal Military Canal, and the Martello Towers. This gave the Ship Inn it’s customers for the next 100 years. Firstly the Army and then the Coastguards. By 1841 there was quite a settlement around the Ship Inn. It was damaged by a number of storms in the early thirties. It was finally destroyed by a storm in November 1931. The owners had the inn rebuilt at Winchelsea Beach, using a lot of the old timbers. George Hickman was still the landlord.
The old Ship Inn was popular with artists and authors. Gracie Fields had a Caravan at Three Gates, just along from the Inn and was known to have sung there. Also tales of chorus girls doing workouts on the sand. Aviator Geoffrey de Haviland once telephoned an order for a meal, from near London and landed on the beach thirty minutes later. The atmosphere would have been distinctly bohemian.
Now there is nothing to show that the Ship Inn, the five or six buildings that stood near it, or the eight Martello Towers that ran along the shoreline ever existed. The last building on this site was Parish Cottage (Lookers hut, Fisherman’s hut), which was demolished in 1947, when the new sea wall was built. The compensation that the Pett parish council received for the demolition of its property was used to purchase the land for the Pett recreation ground.
The Martello Towers were built between 1805 and 1812, as a defence against Napoleon. No.’s 31 to 38 spaced at equal intervals on the two-mile stretch of coast in front of Pett Level. These towers housed the bulk of Pett Level’s population at that time. They were built directly onto the shingle and sea erosion swept them away. At least three were blown up by the Royal Engineers because they were unsafe. These were No. 37 in June 1864 and No.’s 35 and 38 in April 1872.
For more photos of the old Ship Inn, and more info on Pett and Pett Level, see the Pett & Pett Level Facebook Archive.