Lewes History Group: Bulletin 6, (6 January 2011)

1.   Next meeting on Monday 10 January: Debby Matthews, ‘A tour around Gideon Mantell’s Lewes’
2.   Lewes Floods of 1911
3.   Godlee’s Quaker School, 1826
4.   Elizabeth Ollive’s School, 1769
5.   Life in Lewes Jail in 1824
6.   North Street before its reconstruction by the Luftwaffe
7    Cliffe Fair update
8.   Add a friend or unsubscribe
9.   February meeting date

1. Next meeting on Monday 10 January

The speaker at our next meeting will be Debby Matthews, who will give an illustrated talk entitled ‘A tour around Gideon Mantell’s Lewes’, based on Mantell’s original guide-book to Lewes. Mantell’s book was in turn based on a visit back to his home town in 1846. He describes the town as it was during his childhood in the 1790s, and as it developed during the years in which he practised medicine at Castle Place. Mantell grew up in St Mary’s Lane [now Station Street], and Debby now lives in the house in which he was born. Debby has many other roles in Lewes, including Director of the South Downs Council for Voluntary Service, newsletter editor for the South Street Bonfire Society, a town tour leader, member of the Oyster Project team and presenter on Rocket FM.

As usual the meeting will be held in the King’s Church Building, Brooks Road, and all are welcome.


2. Lewes Floods of 1911

Flooding at Malling Brooks 1911This postcard, offered for sale last year on ebay, shows a steam engine creating a substantial bow wave as it pulls a train across the flooded Malling Brooks. Would today’s electrified railway service prove so resilient? Silly question!

3. Godlee’s Quaker School, 1826

Nearly two centuries ago the elegant Dial House in the pedestrian precinct was a Quaker school for young ladies. The Quaker businessman John Godlee had four daughters, and when in 1826 a friend died, Godlee’s wife suggested that the friend’s two motherless children should be taken in and educated by her daughters. The school grew from this small beginning to have 20 pupils.

Quaker education was thorough, encompassing reading aloud, an emphasis on correct spelling and writing in a good clear hand. The syllabus included geography, grammar and of course scripture, with enough French to be able to read a book and some Latin. Hymns and poems were committed to memory. Excellent needlework was considered important, and the girls made garments for the poor. The Friends did not approve of music, so that was not taught, but painting was an admired accomplishment.

The girls were a visible presence in the town, walking two by two from the school and along Friars Walk for meditation and worship at the Friends Meeting House.

Sources: The July 1934 ‘Sussex County Magazine’ and John Eccles’ column in the 2 Oct 2009 Sussex Express.


4. Elizabeth Ollive’s School, 1769

In his recent article on Tom Paine in Lewes, Colin Brent noted in passing that in January 1769 Elizabeth Ollive had advertised the opening of a new school for young ladies in Lewes High Street. Elizabeth Ollive had been born in 1749, so was herself still a minor at this time, but she did have some experience – she had previously taught in Miss Ridge’s school. The Ridges were at this date the principal family supporting the Westgate Chapel, and the Ollives also attended Westgate, immediately adjoining their shop. The new school was perhaps intended to replace Miss Ridge’s school, which had closed on her retirement.

This new venture was short-lived. Six months later Elizabeth Ollive’s father died, and she took over his shop, in partnership with Thomas Paine. In 1771 the couple were married.

Source: Colin Brent, Sussex Archaeological Collections vol.147, p.154. (See Lewes History Group Bibliography for more details)


5. Life in Lewes Jail in 1824

This account comes from the Rev Thomas Walker Horsfield, minister of Westgate Chapel. The jail he is describing is the one on North Street, built in 1793 and extended to 70 cells in 1817.

“The keeper’s apartments and culinary offices form the central part of the building, over which is a convenient chapel, where service is performed every week by the Rev W. Gwynne, the chaplain to the prison. The male and female prisoners are separated from each other by a lofty partition during the hours of divine service. Above the chapel are two rooms appropriated to the sick prisoners, and in which they are enabled to benefit by the instructions of the chaplain without leaving their apartments. The southern wing of the prison is devoted to the male prisoners; and the northern wing is appropriated to the females.”

“The whole building comprehends 70 cells; twenty six of which are in the newly erected part. Fourteen of the cells are solitary. Each cell is nine feet long and seven feet in width, and about eleven feet high, and has in one corner a branch of water and in the other a close-stool. The mattress of the bed is composed of straw, which is changed as often as is requisite to preserve the health of the prisoners.”

The prisoners are divided into ten classes, five male and five female. For each class is a day-room, in which the inmates assemble to their meals, and a fire is allowed. The classes are: 1st, prisoners committed of felony; 2nd, prisoners convicted of misdemeanours; 3rd, prisoners committed on charge or suspicion of felony; 4th, prisoners committed on charge or suspicion of misdemeanours; 5th, vagrants. The following rules relate to the classification of prisoners in regard to their meals and treatment.”

“The prisoners are divided into three classes. The first class consists of felons convict, or convicts for fraudulent misdemeanours, during the first two months of their confinement, and until reported by the gaoler to the visiting magistrates as having behaved orderly and regularly; refractory servants and apprentices; idle and disorderly persons; refractory paupers in workhouses; fathers of bastards, committed for punishment for disobedience of orders; persons running away and leaving their families to the parish; vagrants; mothers of bastards committed for punishment; prisoners of any description, having attempted to escape or otherwise misbehaved themselves while in custody, during such time as any one or more of the visiting magistrates shall direct.”

“The second class consists of felons convict, or convicts for fraudulent misdemeanours, after two months confinement, and having been reported as aforesaid; all other prisoners committed to hard labour, under the provisions of any statute, whether absolutely for a certain period, or for a certain period, unless some penalty be sooner paid (and not included in the description of class 1). The third class includes all other prisoners not included in either of the above descriptions.”

“Each class of prisoners has a separate airing-yard, in which they are permitted to take exercise at all hours of the day; but no game of any kind is allowed.”

“Every prisoner of the first class is allowed two pounds of bread daily, and no other provisions except Sundays, when the allowance is one pint of soup and one pound and a half of bread.”

“Every prisoner of classes 2 and 3 is allowed one pound and a half of bread, and one pint of soup daily; and all prisoners of classes 1 and 2 are strictly confined to the gaol allowance, and are not suffered to purchase, have or receive any articles of provision whatsoever, except by the direction of the surgeon, or a visiting magistrate. But the prisoners of class 3 are permitted to purchase, or receive from their friends, any article of dressed provision; but no cooking is allowed in their rooms, nor any spirituous liquors, or fermented liquors except small beer, is allowed to be brought into the gaol, on any pretence whatsoever.”

“The visiting magistrates are authorised to direct such extra allowance to prisoners of the first and second class, sentenced to hard labour, during such time as they are actually employed in work requiring extraordinary bodily exertion, as may appear necessary to enable them to perform it without injury to their health. The soup provided for the prisoners is made with three ounces of meat to the pint or mess, with a proper proportion of vegetables.”

“All prisoners of class 1 and 2 are compelled to wear the gaol dress (but the same in cases of vagrants may be dispensed with at discretion, and in other special cases may likewise be dispensed with by order of a visiting magistrate) and not permitted to retain by them any clothes, or any money, or other article of value; but all articles are retained by the gaoler, and re-delivered to the prisoner when discharged, together with a share of his or her earnings, viz, one half thereof, if committed to hard labour, and two thirds thereof if not so committed, and employed in any profitable work or employment; prisoners not within those classes, and employed in any kind of work, do, in like manner, receive two thirds of their net earnings; provided that the share of earnings of any prisoner committed for deserting his wife and family, or so much thereof as may be necessary to indemnify the parish for any expense incurred in their maintenance in consequence of such desertion, is paid to the officers of the parish who shall have maintained such family, and the residue (if any) to the prisoner himself; the gaoler is especially directed to keep an account of all such earnings, to be exhibited to prisoners at the time of their respective discharges, and likewise to the visiting magistrate from time to time, as required.”

“Prisoners more closely confined, or punished for misconduct by the keeper, are reported to a visiting magistrate within 24 hours, who gives such direction thereon as he thinks proper.”

Horsfield notes the numbers of prisoners admitted each year from 1815 (305) to 1823 (675). There seems a steady upward trend, though the highest total was 830 for 1821. He notes that a treadmill had been installed in 1822, which required 18 men to operate it. “The males only are doomed to labour at this machine; the female prisoners being employed in a variety of domestic operations.”

He notes that, compared with former times, and with some contemporary prisons, the discipline of the prison was excellent. He ascribed this to the gaoler, Mr Jones, who united affability and benevolence with firmness of decision and character. Horsfield thought it might be even better if the interactions between prisoners, allowed under existing regulations, were done away with. “Good cannot be expected to result from a communion of vicious characters. They necessarily corrupt each other by association.” Horsfield, who was of course minister of Westgate Chapel, also recorded that three years previously some benevolent ladies had proposed forming a society to visit the female prisoners, instructing them in needlework and other domestic duties and teaching them to read the scriptures. However, this proposal had come to nothing, “because the doctrines of the Church of England were not to be exclusively impressed on the prisoners “.

Source Horsfield (1824) vol.1, pp.218-9. Full reference in the bibliography on leweshistory.org.uk

6. North Street before its reconstruction by the Luftwaffe

North Street, Lewes, pre-World War IIThis postcard shows the pre-war view down North Street, with the Stag Hotel sign on the right.

The shop on the far left survives, but the terrace beyond had to be demolished after the German bombing raid. The telephone exchange and the new police station now occupy the space. Beyond these houses is part of the 1793 prison, at this date taken over by the Royal Navy. The fire station can just be made out at the end of North Street.


7. Cliffe Fair update (from Ron Newth)

Re Cliffe Fair (Bulletin no.5). I have had the privilege of reading the Charter at the fairs still held every year at Cliffe Church.


8. Add a friend or unsubscribe

To add a friend to this email distribution list, please send their email address back to me. To unsubscribe from this list, please reply to this email, changing the email title to ‘Unsubscribe’.


9. February Meeting

Please remember that next month’s meeting will be on the 3rd Monday, rather than our usual date. This is to avoid a clash with Valentine’s Day. There will be no research group meeting in February.

For our full 2011 programme see Meetings page.

John Kay

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