Lewes History Group Bulletin 2, 11 September 2010

1. Next Meeting, Monday 13 September

2. Rev Thomas Walker Horsfield, FSA

3. Lewes articles in Sussex Archaeological Collections

4. No research group meeting is planned for September. Next meeting October.

Next Meeting: 7.30 p.m., Monday 13 September, King’s Church Building, Brooks Road

This Monday we shall have three short talks (15-20 minutes each), reporting the results to date of research being undertaken by Lewes History Group members.

Ian McClelland has been creating a catalogue of the available maps of Lewes. Ian’s database will be made available on our website, leweshistory.org.uk, and will list what maps are known to exist, which parts of the town they cover and where they can be found. This is an excellent example of the kind of work that a local history group should undertake, because it makes life so much easier for people undertaking other projects (including the two below).

Sue Weeks’ topic is the street where she lives, St John Street, which runs between West Street and Lancaster Street in St John sub Castro parish. Today it is only a short residential street, with a mixture of modern and older housing, and is at first sight much less ‘historic’ than some other parts of the town. However, when carefully explored, it is astonishing just how much history it has.

Ron Gordon will be telling us about the windmills that were for centuries present in the town and on the downland immediately surrounding it, prominent landmarks that would have been known to every Lewesian until a century ago. They were of course in competition with each other (and large scale businesses up and down river at Barcombe and Tidemills) so their individual fortunes waxed and waned.

We hope that such short talks about research work in progress will become a regular feature of our Monday evening programme.

Rev Thomas Walker Horsfield, F.S.A.

Thomas Walker Horsfield (1792-1837) was born in Sheffield and was christened in the cathedral there, but became a non-conformist minister. He came to Lewes as a young man in 1818, when he accepted the ministry of the Westgate Chapel. He also ran a private school, one of many in the town, and quickly made a positive impression. After a decade at Westgate he moved away, and is known to have been living at Taunton in 1835 and was at Chowbent, near Wigan in Lancashire, when he died in 1837.

His lasting memorial is the two books he wrote on the basis of research carried out while he lived in Lewes. He published the first volume of his ‘History & Antiquities of Lewes’ in 1824, and the second volume in 1827, shortly before he left the town. In 1835, when in Taunton, he followed this by a massive two volume ‘History, Antiquities & Topography of the County of Sussex’. These huge works show exceptional scholarship for the period, and he became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in between the dates of publication of his two Lewes volumes. His Lewes book is still one of the most important, and most readable, sources for the history of the town today. One of our History Group’s tasks is to produce a bibliography of what has already been written about the town, and although his book is not quite the earliest history known (Paul Dunvan’s history was written thirty years earlier), it still has pride of place.

It is for these history books that Thomas Walker Horsfield is still remembered today. He appears in Mark Antony Lower’s ‘The Worthies of Sussex’ published in 1865, and in George Holman’s ‘Some Lewes Men of Note’ first published in 1915. There is a tablet to his memory in Westgate Chapel, though it was not erected until 1927, 90 years after his death. He has an entry (written by John Farrant) in the Dictionary of National Biography, and another in Wikipedia (the ultimate accolade today?). His histories are in all good local libraries and regularly turn up at Gorringe’s auctions, where they usually command three-figure sums. I have not noticed any on ebay as yet.

Lewes articles in Sussex Archaeological Collections

The annual volumes of the Sussex Archaeological Collections published by the Sussex Archaeological Society ave now been published for a century and a half, and contain a huge amount of historical information about our town. One of the key steps in compiling a Lewes bibliography will be to identify the main articles available in this journal. This will require scanning through the article titles and indexes of each volume, to identify just where the key information is – not too huge a task and perhaps one suitable for the autumn and winter months. Do we have any members who would be willing to undertake at least this initial screen for us?

Next Research Group meeting: October

As several key people are away or otherwise occupied this month, the next Research Group meeting will be on the third Monday in October.

John Kay

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