Lewes History Group: Bulletin 48, July 2014

Please note: this Bulletin is being put on the website one month after publication. If you would like to receive the Bulletin by email as soon as it is published, please contact the Membership Secretary about joining the Lewes History Group, and to renew your membership at the start of the calendar year.

  1.  Next Meeting, Monday 14 July: John Turley, ‘Racing into History’
  2. Members Survey Results (by Neil Merchant)
  3. Lewes Racing Ephemera
  4. A Jailbreak
  5. Special Trains for Lewes Races
  6. Guns for Sale
  7. Dusart’s Fire, Lewes High Street
  8. The Cinema de Luxe, School Hill
  9. The Odeon and the Cinema de Luxe (by John Holder)


  1. Next Meeting 7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.    Monday 14 July

John Turley: ‘Racing into History: the inside track on the Lewes horseracing industry’

Lewes Racecourse was the fourth oldest in England. From the early 1700s until September 1964 it attracted top thoroughbreds, famous jockeys and large crowds of race-goers, including royalty. At one time in the 19th century racing became the biggest employer in Lewes, in competition with the flourishing local iron and brewing industries. John Turley’s talk traces the history of Lewes Racecourse and its impact on the town, as well as looking at some of the characters associated with this once-thriving industry.

As usual the meeting will be at the King’s Church building, Brooks Road, and all will be welcome. We shall be serving coffee and biscuits prior to the meeting.


  1. Members’ Survey Results                        (by Neil Merchant)

Over the winter, we asked lecture attendees to complete a questionnaire about LHG’s program of events, activities and benefits. This is a brief report on the results, and how we’ve reacted to them. About two thirds of those completing the survey were LHG members. Those that were not gave a variety of good reasons for not joining.

Viva Lewes and Sussex Express are currently the most common sources of information about our events, with Lewes News, our bulletin and our website the next most popular. We’ll keep using these channels for our publicity. We’ve also decided to be more active in inviting new/occasional visitors to sign up for email updates on our program.

Respondents suggested a wide variety of topics for future lectures: we’ve addressed some of them already (local businesses (2), the Priory), and more will follow. The core of our public program to date has been our monthly lectures, so we asked what other activities might be of interest. Visits/trips to local places of historical interest were the most popular suggestions, and we’ve addressed this with our Outings program, detailed on our website and in our monthly bulletins, and announced at our lectures. There have only been three outings so far, and uptake has been modest: if you’ve looked at the program and decided not to attend any, we’d like to know why, so that we can better meet your interests. Please let us know.

Finally, the responses showed that our monthly Bulletin is widely appreciated, with very little in the way of suggestions for change. It will continue as a core part of our efforts. The 50th edition will appear later this year, and we will be publishing an index to their content.


  1. Lewes Racing Ephemera

Lewes_Races_Final_Day_Souvenir_Race_CardThis copy of the Souvenir Race Card from the final day of Lewes racing was offered for sale on ebay in November 2013. The image on the front of the race card comes from a 1951 race, the Falmer Selling Plate.

The photograph of race-goers and bookmakers below, taken at Lewes Races in August 1949, was placed on the Lewes Past Facebook page by Steve Dumbrell’.


This final picture is from an undated postcard, of rather disappointing quality, offered for sale on ebay in March 2014.



  1. A Jailbreak

Source: March 1814 Sussex Weekly Advertiser

“On Tuesday night last two prisoners, confined in the House of Correction here, on charges of felony, viz Richard Winter and John Gutsell, made their escape by the following means: they took out several iron hooks from the wall of their cell, which had supported the leaden water-pipe, and therewith succeeded in loosening the bricks in the wall, and making an aperture large enough to admit of their getting through into the prison yard, and though the gaoler had made use of the precaution of taking away nearly all their wearing apparel, yet they persevered in contriving to scale the high surrounding wall, and by their blankets torn into pieces suited to the purpose, let themselves down on the outside, and in this almost naked condition passed up the town, along the High-street for a considerable distance, and thence through Southover to Winter’s house in Newhaven. An application was then made to a neighbour’s house to receive them, and on being refused, Gutsell, after staying there about an hour, was furnished with a pair of flannel drawers and in this drew, with a very old worn-out round frock, hat, shoes and stockings, set out to make his way towards Eastbourn and Bexhill, which parts of the country he was acquainted with, and he has not been heard of since. Winter having put on some warmer clothing, quitted Newhaven about three on Wednesday morning, but without having gone any distance off, he returned to his father’s house in Newhaven, and remained there until Thursday evening, when he voluntarily sent for the constable to surrender himself, who thereupon brought him to Lewes again, from whence he was immediately sent to Horsham gaol, to be tried at the assizes. There is great reason to hope that Gutsell will be taken, handbills having been distributed in all directions, offering a reward of forty pounds, and his dress being so very observable.”

This escape with have taken place from the old House of Correction on North Street, now better remembered as the Naval prison. The £40 reward offered would represent the annual wages of a typical labourer.

  1. Special Trains for Lewes Races

The 28 March 1865 Sussex Advertiser noted: “LEWES: The London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Company have, as usual, very liberally, arranged to run special trains on both days between London and Lewes and Brighton and Lewes, for the accommodation of those who have business at the races or are desirous of witnessing the sport.”


  1. Guns for Sale

Source: 31 July 1809 Sussex Weekly Advertiser

“Abraham and Edward Weston, sons and successors of the late Abraham Weston, gun makers, etc, at Lewes, beg leave gratefully to return thanks to the friends and employers of their said late father, for the many favors for upwards of 30 years conferred upon him, and beg leave to respectfully assure the public, that they have a large assortment of double and single barrel guns, made on the newest principle, which are for sale at reduced prices; they have also a large assortment of barrels, locks, etc. Gentlemen may choose their barrels, and locks, and have guns made to their own direction. Guns and pistols stocked and repaired in a manner equal to the first makers in the kingdom. The strictest attention will be paid to the safety of those guns gentlemen trust to their care to be repaired. They have a large selection of powder flasks, shot belts, powder, shot, and every articles in the gun trade. Barrels bored, and made to shoot well. Orders sent by newsmen or carriers will be punctually attended to.”


  1. Dusart’s Fire, Lewes High Street


Postcards featuring this fire, which destroyed the premises of a long established High Street company on 4 October 1904, are relatively common. A photographer from the Mezzotint Company, Brighton, arrived in time to witness the outcome of the best attempts of the Lewes fire service. This one, at a slightly different angle from most, makes it clear exactly where the premises destroyed were located.


  1. The Cinema de Luxe, School Hill

The Cinema de Luxe stood on the site on School Hill now occupied by the uncompromising Temple House office block, until recently the home of the Sussex Express. It was opened in 1912, with 490 seats, and then re-opened in 1934 with a balcony that increased the capacity to 620. This still left it quite a lot smaller than the rival Odeon in Cliffe High Street (also opened in 1934), which could seat almost 1,000 people. The Cinema de Luxe closed in May 1963, and lay derelict for several years before being demolished.


Source: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/. The image is from an undated inter-war postcard, publisher unknown.


  1. The Odeon and the Cinema de Luxe                                    (by John Holder)

I remember well the Odeon cinema in the Cliffe, especially the lady in the booking office – with a congenital squint – asking (with her eagle eyes) – “How old are you?!!” to children trying to get age reductions, or the viewing of `X` certificate films. I believe the Sussex Express” newspaper reported when the Cinema De-Luxe (in School Hill) closed that the Odeon would not also be closed. Alas some years later the Odeon was also closed!

Regarding the Cinema De-Luxe, my father remembered the delivery of the six foot speaker for that cinema. He also told me that the manager recorded Bonfire Night on a cine-camera, showing the results at a special screening presentation soon afterwards. Next door to the Cinema De-Luxe was a sweet shop, called ‘Candies De-Luxe’.

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

Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/LewesHistoryGroup
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LewesHistory




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