Lewes History Group: Bulletin 37, August 2013

Please note: this Bulletin is being put on the website one month after publication. If you would like to receive the Bulletin as soon as it is published, please contact the Membership Secretary about joining the Lewes History Group.

1.   No August meeting
2.   Lewes Heritage Open Days (from Judith Davies)
 The Cliff (from Paul Dunvan)
  Ring-ousels in Georgian Lewes (from the Rev Gilbert White)
5.   Can anyone identify a Lewes artist? (from Nicola Rains)
.   Lewes County Grammar School for Girls (from Yolanda (Fran) Laybourne)
7.   Houses on St Anne’s Hill
Church Lane, South Malling
9.  Members visit the Public Library (from Ian McClelland)

1.   The Lewes History Group will not meet in August

Our next meeting will be on Monday 9 September when David Millum of the Culver Archaeological Project will speak to us about Roman activity along the River Ouse.


2.   Lewes Heritage Open Days, 12-15 September 2013        from Judith Davies

Sixteen historic Lewes buildings and one very interesting modern structure will be opening their doors over this long weekend. Some are not normally accessible, and for others there is usually an entry charge. There are a range of guided tours, and for some advance booking is essential. An opportunity not to be missed. For full details consult the attached leaflet or visit the website. A new edition of the east Sussex volume of Pevsner’s ‘Buildings of England’ was published this year, and copies will be available at a discount from the Skylark bookshop in the Needlemakers during the weekend.

Lewes_Heritage_Open_Days_2013 map

 The Cliff

Source:  ‘History of Lewes & Brighthelmston’ by Paul Dunvan (1795), pp.307-314

“The town, borough and parish of the Cliff, within the hundred and manor of Ringmer and the Rape of Pevensey, and the Deanery of South Malling, lies for the most part in a swampy vale between the down called Cliff-hill and the elevated ridge on which the town of Lewes stands. It is bounded on the north and east by the parish of South Malling and on the south and west by the River Ouse, which divides it from the parishes of All Saints in Lewes and Southover. This town is denominated from a romantic Cliff which forms its eastern boundary: and its name is generally written Cliffe, even at this day, in the antiquated extravagance of Norman corruption.”

“The site of this town had long been buried under the spreading waters of the Ouse, and the tides of the British Channel, which certainly rose higher in distant ages than at present; for as that channel grew wider by the mouldering of the cliffs on either shore,   the swell of the flowing tide became less in proportion: and the fertile vale now called Lewes Level ceased to be a creek or arm of the sea. In process of time, the British inhabitants of Lewes made a causeway across this level from School-hill to Cliff-hill, and at the same time a bridge over the narrowed current of the river.”

“After the conquest of this tract by Ella and his Saxon followers, about the year 490, the Cliff seems to have become or continued part of the great manor of  Malling; but whether it was transferred with the rest of that manor to Christchurch in Canterbury, in the ninth century, would perhaps now be an object of fruitless enquiry. A considerable part of the parish seems indeed to have been attached to the Royal Manor and Borough of Lewes; for we find in Domesday that thirty-nine inhabited messuages, and twenty uninhabited ones, in the Rape of Pevensey belonged to the Lord of Lewes, and had, in the time of the latter Saxon princes, been appreciated with that Borough. Those messuages must have been in its vicinity: and that they were in the Cliff, the relative situation of both places and the context of Domesday, will warrant our conjecture. It must however be observed that whatever part of the Cliff had been severed from the manor of Malling, now that of Ringmer, was afterwards restored to it, for I find that at present the whole of that parish belongs to that manor and hundred.”

“The increasing population of the Cliff induced some Archbishop of Canterbury to erect a parish church there, and dedicate it to St Thomas the Martyr. It is now a discharged living, of the clear yearly value in the King’s books of £31 17s 8d, and continues a peculiar in the see of Canterbury, exempt from all jurisdiction or visitation of the diocesan. The present rector is the Rev R. Cecil, M.A.”

“In the year 1410, it appears that the Cliff was a place of sufficient consequence to require a market: and accordingly Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, obtained from Henry the Fourth a charter for holding a weekly market there on a Wednesday, and two yearly fairs, viz on the feast of St Mark the Evangelist, the day before and the day after it, and on the eve and feast of St Matthew, and the day after.”

“A weekly market is now of little or no convenience or advantage to the town, inasmuch as there is a daily one in Lewes. The May fair, which is chiefly for black cattle, is still held in the Cliff and lower parts of Lewes-street on the sixth of that month. The sheep fair, which is held on the twenty second of October, was, about 1747, moved to a field of Mr Trayton’s, and since to a field called the Paddock, belonging to Henry Shelley, Esq, north of the town of Lewes. A more convenient situation for a sheep fair could not have been chosen, nor a more beautiful subject for the pencil of a landskip painter, be well conceived, than the booths, sheep-pens and bustling crowd on the verdant acclivity of this paddock, and the scenery around it, on the day of the fair. As there is no convenient place for holding this fair in or near the Cliff, it is likely always to continue to be held in this romantic spot.”


4.   Ring-ousels in Georgian Lewes

Source: Rev Gilbert White’s letter to Thomas Pennant, 15 March 1773, published in his ‘Natural History of Selborne

“A young man at Lewes, in Sussex, assured me that about seven years ago ring-ousels abounded so about that town in the autumn that he killed sixteen himself in one afternoon: he added further, that some had appeared since in every autumn; but that he could not find that any had been observed before the season in which he shot so many. I myself have found these birds in little parties in the autumn cantoned all along the Sussex Downs, wherever there were shrubs and bushes, from Chichester to Lewes; particularly in the autumn of 1770.”

Gilbert White was in the habit of paying regular visits, on horseback, to his aunt Rebecca Snooke at Delves House, Ringmer.


5.   Can anyone identify a Lewes artist?                                        from Nicola Rains

South_Lewes_from_the_River painting

I’ve attached a photo of a painting which we were told was by a local artist. There’s no signature, just a pencil note on the back of the frame (which is unfortunately a little distressed now and needs some repair): “South Lewes from the River”. Someone else has scratched in that it’s the River Ouse. It’s hard to date the picture, but I would hazard a guess that it might have been painted early 19th century. If anyone can shed any light on who this local artist might be I’d be delighted.

This request from Nicola was received through our website. Neil Merchant identifies the barn shown as at Hamsey Place Farm on the Hamsey cut (dating from the 1790 Upper Ouse Navigation Act) rather than the Ouse itself. The house just visible behind the barn (today converted to a house) would then be Hamsey Place, the lane on the left that leading to Hamsey church and the chalkpits in the distance those at Offham. This is of course north, rather than south, of Lewes.


6.   Lewes County Grammar School for Girls               from Yolanda (Fran) Laybourne

The County Grammar School for Girls celebrates its centenary with what may well be its final Old Girls’ reunion on 14 September 2013. I am putting together a brief history of the school to be included in the programme. Can anyone help with the completion dates of the two extensions to the original building? The first included the science labs and the gym (late 1930s I think) and the second had additional classrooms and the library (late 1950s?). I’d be grateful for this or any other relevant information. Email yolanda.laybourne[at]btinternet.com.

7.   Houses on St Anne’s Hill

Houses_on_St_Anne's_Hill Lewes

This Reeves of Lewes postcard attracted very competitive bidding on ebay in Autumn 2012.


8.   Church Lane, South Malling


This postcard published by F Douglas Miller, Haywards Heath, with a 1910 postmark, was also very much sought after when offered for sale on ebay recently.


9.  Members visit the Public Library                                     from Ian McClelland

Following the Street Stories initiative meeting earlier in July a small group of LHG members got a very informative tour of the Lewes Public Library led by Michele Brooker, the Manager of the Local Studies Section. The purpose of the visit was to help those interested in participating in the Street Stories initiative to get ideas about where they would need to go for information. Michele gave us a valuable insight into the Local Studies collections and resources held in Lewes and what was accessible on-line from the computer terminals within the Library that could help with future investigations. The general collection includes:

  • a large number of books dealing with local topics,
  • Lewes District Council reports on the Lewes Conservation Area – a very useful source of background material on the history of Lewes streets,
  • Street and Trade Directories from the early 19th Century,
  • Census returns form 1831 – the first census,
  • local newspapers from the early 19th Century on microfiche

The resources on-line cover a variety of national archives and resources that are invaluable to the local historian such as the British National Newspaper Archive, Census data, Parish records and several others. The Library has license agreements for many of these resources so, as Library members, visitors have free access to these via the terminals in the Library. There is also free WiFi within the Library so for those Library members with their own laptops it is possible to use the same on-line facilities via your own machine.

Currently the Library also has a dedicated terminal which provides access to part of the ESRO digital archive. Michele told us that the terminal will be available at least until ESRO has reopened in the Keep later this year. The ESRO terminal includes a fascinating collection of old ‘tithe maps’ and a large collection of photos.

The Library also has a ‘Clippings file’. This includes cuttings from local papers, postcards, photographs etc covering a myriad of topics – great for browsing on a wet afternoon!

There is much more to help the local historian than this brief description. More information can be found on the Library web site at http://www.eastsussex.gov.uk/leisureandtourism/localandfamilyhistory/default.htm
The Library recognises that until you get to know your way around the collection it is not always easy to find what you want. Michele emphasised that she, or one her colleagues, are always willing to help visitors find their way and are happy to help look for particular documents if necessary. If help is needed please just ask. But it is always helpful if appointments can be made in advance.

So to summarise, the Library is a great resource for the Group and we got a very informative and useful tour. So many thanks to Michele for looking after us so well.


John Kay

Contact details for Friends of the Lewes History Group promoting local historical events

Sussex Archaeological Society
Lewes Priory Trust

Lewes Archaeological Group and go to ‘Lectures’
Friends of Lewes
Viva Lewes questions (and answers) about local places, customs and history

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