Lewes History Group: Bulletin 51, October 2014

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  1.  Next Meeting, Monday 13 October: Kevin Gordon, ‘A Quirky Guided Tour of Lewes’
  2. LHG membership (Neil Merchant)
  3. The third Lewes cinema (Brian Beck)
  4. The brig ‘Halifax’ (David Simkin)
  5. The business interests of the Hillman family
  6. Fisticuffs at the Star
  7. Brewer drowns in beer (Mathew Homewood)
  8. South Malling Brewery sale
  9. Lewes from the 1867 Kelly’s Directory: Lewes Schools
  10. Mechanics Institution lecture


  1. Next Meeting 7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.                      Monday 13 October          Kevin Gordon           A Quirky Guided Tour of Lewes

Every summer Kevin Gordon leads guided walks around Lewes. In this talk he gives an opportunity to take a stroll around the town without the need to climb any hills! This virtual tour includes four graveyards (All Saints, the Quaker churchyard, St John sub Castro and St Michael’s) where Kevin will point out some headstones of interest and talk about the etiquette of death. We will also visit one of the town’s twittens where he explains the tell-tale architectural features which show how rich the original owner was. Along the way we’ll meet a few Lewes characters, such as X-it the dwarf who made his living in a most extraordinary way and local school teacher and guardian of Lewes virtues, Kate Fowler Tutt.

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. LHG membership                                                               (by Neil Merchant)

LHG memberships fall due for renewal on 1 January 2015. You will be able to renew at the October, November, December and January meetings, where new membership cards will be waiting for you. Fees are unchanged at £8 for the first member and £4 each for others at the same address.


  1. The third Lewes cinema                                                  (by Brian Beck)

In addition to the Cinema de Luxe on School Hill and the Odeon on Cliffe High Street, there was once a third cinema in Lewes. It was the County Theatre, in Watergate Lane. There is a photograph in Bob Cairns’ ‘Lewes through Time’ that shows three uniformed commissionaires standing outside. It closed in the late 1920s and was later used by an amateur theatre group formed in 1929 called the Lewes Players (who later became the Lewes Theatre Club). It was subject to a compulsory purchase order in 1936 and was demolished to allow the County Council to add the council chamber to Pelham House. It was also called St Michael’s Church Hall.

Additional source: Archives of the Lewes Theatre Club, ESRO/LTC.

  1. The Brig ‘Halifax’                        (Information from David Simkin)

The 1 February 1841 Sussex Advertiser carried a short article noting:

During the night of Sunday 24th ult, the brig Halifax, belonging to Mr John Hillman, merchant of Lewes, picked up, in the North Sea, the crews of two vessels which had come into collision and both sunk.”



David Simkin writes: “I have come across another photograph which appears to have been taken by Edward Miller of Lewes. The photograph of a two-masted ship appears on the Lewes Rowing Club website. The following text appears alongside the photograph:”

This interesting old photograph shows ‘The Halifax’ berthed approximately where our club stands today. The picture has been the source of many enquiries over the years, since it came into the collection of L.S. Davey from E. J. Bedford, a Lewes photographer who died in 1940. The picture was not one of Mr Bedford’s, but had come into his possession from a Mr E. Miller who died in the 1880s (Edward Miller died in 1891), who was probably the original photographer. The only information passed down with the picture was that it was believed to have been one of the earliest photographs taken of a ship, a statement that we find hard to believe. The boat is a Brig or Snow, a common type of two masted sailer of those days. We think the picture was taken about the 1850s. Has anybody else got any other theories or ideas?”

  1. The Business Interests of the Hillman family

The 4 January 1840 Sussex Agricultural Express noted that Mr John Hillman of Cliffe (1780-1864) had resigned the business of lime burner, coal merchant, etc, that he had carried on for many years, in favour of his sons Thomas (1810-1856) and Robert (1816-1884) Hillman.

John Hillman senior, from a long-established Cliffe family, was reportedly a self-made man as a corn, coal and lime merchant, a ship-owner and a farmer, and was at this time progressively handing over different areas of his business to his various sons. Two others, John junior (1812-1889) and Alfred (1825-1887), owned and managed the Southdown Brewery, Thomas Street, Cliffe. Only his eldest son, Alexander (1808-1863), left the town to pursue his interests elsewhere. Two of John Hillman’s daughters had married professional men in the town, veterinary surgeon John Grover and doctor George Scrase. John Hillman senior, his sons and his sons-in-law were all active in the town’s trade, and also in its Conservative Association, supporting the protection of agriculture by the Corn Laws. After his retirement John Hillman senior continued to live in the Cliffe until his death.

John senior, Thomas and John junior farmed the Gote Farm, Ringmer, in partnership from 1833-1840, when they were given notice to quit. They were successful stockbreeders, winning prizes for their Southdown sheep and their cattle in local shows, but the Glyndebourne Estate agents felt that as farmers and corn-merchants they focused too much on wheat, not properly rotating their crops, and leaving the daily management too much in the hands of their bailiff. John Hillman junior, who lived at Gote Farm for some years, moved on to Landport Farm. Then from 1855 to after 1871 he lived at Lower Stoneham Farm, South Malling, which he farmed in partnership with his brother Alfred. In 1874 he sold his interests in the brewery to Alfred, and at about the same date retired to Wallands Crescent. The Southdown Brewery was owned by Alfred Hillman and then his son Bernard until finally sold in 1895. After Thomas Hillman’s death in 1856, his brother Robert Hillman ran the South Malling chalkpits and lime kilns, until his own death in 1884. The 1881 census notes that he and his daughters lived at 104 High Street, in St Anne’s parish, and described him as a lime and coal merchant employing 60 labourers. However, his only son died young, so he had only his five daughters to succeed him.

John Hillman senior was buried at Cliffe, presumably in the graveyard extension that he had himself sold to the church trustees, but his sons Thomas, John and Alfred, and many of their families, have memorials in South Malling cemetery.


  1. Fisticuffs at the Star

An election-time dispute at the Star Inn (the Tory headquarters) rumbled on to culminate in a court case reported in the 30 July 1842 Sussex Express. Mr John Hillman, coal merchant, brewer and farmer, his son Thomas Hillman and his son-in-law, veterinary surgeon John Grover, were accused of having assaulted a Mr Harvey. It was alleged that Thomas Hillman and John Grover had held Harvey’s arms, enabling John Hillman to strike him, cutting his eye and leaving him with a bloodied face. The motive was alleged to be that Harvey had ‘turned his coat’ from the Tories. Thomas Berry gave evidence that immediately after the event Harvey had retailed the story to him, but there was no other first-hand evidence to support the victim against the accused men’s denials, so the verdict went in favour of the Hillman party.

It isn’t clear whether this Mr Harvey was of the rival brewery, but Thomas Berry (coal and wine merchant, later a brewer, but also a non-conformist and a Liberal) was both a business and a political rival of the Hillmans. The big political issue at this date was the Corn Laws, over which the interests of a brewer and a farmer might be expected to clash. The Tory party was in turmoil about this issue, with the free-trader Robert Peel leading an administration committed to their retention. We know from other sources that John Hillman and his family were leading figures amongst the town’s protectionists. This was an issue over which feelings ran very high.


  1. Brewer drowns in Beer    (information from Mathew Homewood)

In the first week of February 1863 the Sussex Express and other newspapers across the nation carried brief reports of the death of William Gresham Wiles, a brewer of the firm of Gresham Wiles & Brown of South Malling, or Cliffe, or Malling Street, Lewes (in different reports), who had been found drowned in a tun of beer on the previous Friday afternoon. He had been talking to some of his men, and had then gone upstairs to skim. It was conjectured that he had fallen into the tun while doing so. The inquest, held the same afternoon, concluded that he had perhaps been overcome by carbon dioxide.

The 1861 census finds the household of William G. Wiles, a brewer, wine and spirit merchant employing 3 men and 3 boys, at the Cliff Brewery in South Malling parish, entered on North Street, immediately before the Tanners Arms. He was aged 26 and a native of St Neots, Huntingdonshire. His household comprised his young wife, his widowed mother (described as a ‘proprietor of houses’) and a teenage servant. Leslie Davey’s book ‘The Inns of Lewes, Past and Present’ identifies the Tanners Arms (named after Baxter’s tannery across the road and later called the Brewery Tap) as at no.135 Malling Street, between the Wheatsheaf at no.123 and the Prince of Wales at no.163. This identifies his brewery as that later called the South Malling Brewery on Malling Street. By 1867 Alexander Elmsley, brewer, maltster, wine & spirit merchant, and agent for Bass’s and Allsopp’s pale ales and Guinness’s stout, was proprietor of the Cliffe brewery, Malling Street.


  1. South Malling Brewery Sale

The 9 April 1904 Sussex Express noted that the freehold property known as the South Malling Brewery, with a 66 foot frontage to Malling Street and an overall area of 1,165 square feet, was to be sold by auction on Tuesday 19 April 1904. The Edwardian postcard below shows it bearing the sign of the ‘County Town Mineral Water Works’.



  1. Lewes from the 1867 Kelly’s Directory: Lewes Schools

Listed under the heading ‘schools’ were the following

  • Free Grammar, High street. Rev. Frederic Woolley, M.A. B.C.L. head master
  • British, Lancaster street. James Richmond, master; Mrs. Eliza burrows, mistress
  • National, Lansdowne pl. James Cresswell Clough, master; Miss Charlotte Jackson, mistress
  • Infant, Church street. Miss Willing, mistress
  • South Malling Parochial. Miss Harriet Hewett, mistress
  • Industrial (supported by subscription), St. John street. Mrs. Martha Ann Tomset, mistress

While these were the only schools listed in the main Lewes section of the directory, there were many other schoolteachers listed in its commercial section. The seminaries mentioned are private schools for young Iadies – post-Reformation Lewes was never a centre of education for the priesthood, and that type of seminary would not have had a female head. I particularly liked the ‘Trusted & Speciall’ establishment.

  • Blunden Elizabeth (Mrs.), seminary. 13 North street
  • Cooke Barbara (Mrs.), seminary, Castle banks
  • Cooke Walkinton (Mrs.), seminary, Castle gate
  • Dudeney John, boarding & day school, Abinger place
  • Figg John (Mrs.), seminary, 81 High street
  • Fox John Charles, professor of the german & french languages, St. Anne’s terrace, High street
  • Griffiths Daniel, academy, 1 Station street
  • Henwood George Felix, teacher of music, 93 High street
  • Jones Mary & Annie (Misses), ladies’ boarding school, 222 High st
  • Jones Helen (Miss), ladies’ boarding school, Albion house, Albion street
  • Lower Mark Antony, M.A., F.S.A. & F.A.S.L. English continental boarding school, St. Anne’s house
  • Mullens Annie (Miss), seminary, 83 High street
  • Page Alfred Clark, professor of music, 84 High street
  • Randall Emily & Sarah (Misses), gent’s preparatory school, 169 & 170 High street
  • Rooke Esther (Miss), seminary, 17 East street
  • Speciall Caroline (Miss), ladies’ boarding school, 165 High st
  • Trusted & Speciall (Misses), young ladies’ boarding school, Watergate lane
  • White Thomas Reader, young gentlemen’s boarding school, Cliffe house, High street, Cliffe


  1. Mechanics Institution Lecture

Source: 27 February 1865 Sussex Advertiser

“LEWES: Mechanics Institution. On Thursday evening last a lecture Law and Lawyers was delivered by Mr Wynne Baxter of Lewes. The subject was made interesting by the various sketches given of the lives of some of our most eminent lawyers.”


John Kay

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

Sussex Archaeological Society
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Lewes Archaeological Group and go to ‘Lectures’
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