Lewes History Group: Bulletin 53, December 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 8 December: ‘The Story of Sun Street’
  2. Seasonal Benevolence
  3. Murder in the Grey Pit (Hilary Smith)
  4. Lewes Public Establishments, 1867 Kelly’s Directory
  5.   Important Vaccination Case
  6. Lewes Postcards on Ebay
  7. Work on the Railway
  8. The Fox Inn, Southerham
  9. Chair & Executive Committee Reports for 2014 (Ian McClelland)
  10. Treasurer’s Report for 2014 (Ron Gordon)


  1. Christmas Meeting    7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.       Monday 8 December         A.G.M.
    Sue Weeks, Rosemary Page and team              The Story of Sun Street

As part of the Lewes Streets Stories project, Rosemary Page and Sue Weeks set up a team of six back in October 2013 to research the history of the buildings and occupants of Sun Street, past and present. Following the very successful exhibition held in the Lewes Little Theatre foyer in September, the team will now be presenting their findings to a wider audience, with each member of the team describing what they have discovered so far. These include some delightful personal stories and a few surprises. They will explain the area’s original role, the origins of the street’s diverse architecture and its building materials. The old Police Station also has an intriguing past and there will be a glimpse at some of the crimes and scandals reported in the press. The project is still work in progress, so they will be seeking information from former and current residents that would help fill gaps. To bring the research to life, the team has put together a fascinating exhibition of their discoveries about Sun Street for people to view before and after the talk.

As usual the meeting will be at the King’s Church building, Brooks Road, and all will be welcome. This will be our Christmas meeting and there will be no entry charge for members. The charge for visitors will remain at £3. We shall be serving mulled wine and mince pies, instead of coffee and biscuits, from 7 pm.

Photo of Sun Street, Lewes


  1. Seasonal Benevolence

Source: The 13 December 1873 Hastings and St Leonards Observer

LEWES: Seasonable Benevolence. Mr Christie, the Conservative candidate for the Borough, has presented £25, to be distributed amongst the deserving poor of the town. The money has been apportioned to the seven parishes, according to their respective size.”

William Langham Christie of Glyndebourne was the elected M.P. for Lewes from 1874 to 1885.


  1. Murder in the Grey Pit                              (information from Hilary Smith)

The Lewes news in the 6 June 1919 Sussex Express was dominated by an account of the murder of a rag and bone collector called Robert Nye in a small open-fronted shed in the Grey Pit, Southerham. The victim, aged 62, had lived in the town for many years, but was of no fixed abode, and had no known relatives. He was known to most people as ‘Brummie’. Robert Nye and another rag and bone dealer called ‘Curley’ Rushen had spent the evening at The Fox public house in Southerham, together with a Canadian soldier called William Jordan, who was stationed at Seaford.

The coroner’s inquest heard that the three men had shared a few pints in the crowded inn, but the evidence from the publican and his wife, John & Ellen Brooker, and from a cement worker also drinking there, was that they were all sober. The two rag and bone men were evidently regulars, but the landlady said she had never seen them the worse for drink. ‘Curley’ Rushen had wanted to sing about 9 o’clock, but the landlady had asked him to go outside, leading to an argument in which the soldier had threatened John Brooker with a pint glass. Brooker had sprung at him, taken the glass and removed him from the inn, and there was no further trouble. The three men then retired to the shed in the Grey Pit, where Nye and Rushen were in the habit of sleeping. Rushen confirmed that there was no quarrel at all between them as they made their way to the pit.

In the middle of the night Rushen was woken up by a rain of blows on his face, to find William Jordan attacking him violently. He lost three teeth and quite a lot of blood, but made his escape, and ran to the town to get help from the police station. On the way, at 12.30 a.m. in South Street, he encountered a man called Herbert Duncan, who was on his way to work in the Lime Works at Southerham. When two policemen arrived at the Grey Pit, about an hour later, they discovered ‘Brummie’ Nye’s body in the shed. He was obviously dead, with his head so completely beaten in as to make him almost unrecognisable. Extreme violence had been used, and the police surgeon thought the damage could have been inflicted by the face being stamped on, forcibly and persistently, with heavy boots. He thought a good many of the injuries could have been inflicted after death. The body was wearing a grey flannel shirt, a waistcoat, two pairs of serge trousers, stockings and boots.

There were a number of bags of rags about the shed, but no sign of any weapon. Herbert Duncan was summoned to help, and it was he who at daylight discovered Jordan, the Canadian soldier, asleep under a wagon nearby. He had bloodstains on his clothes, his right knuckles were skinned, he had ‘Brummie’ Nye’s watch and chain in his pocket and he was wearing ‘Curley’ Rushen’s jacket. He behaved quite passively when discovered, enquired whether he was under arrest, and why, and asked where ‘Curley’ had gone. When charged with murdering Robert Nye at South Malling on 30 May 1919, Jordan denied having done it, or even knowing anything about it until the morning. He was taken to Portsmouth prison, and declined the opportunity of attending the inquest. The coroner’s jury took only a few minutes to conclude that Robert Nye had been wilfully murdered by William Jordan, and he was committed to the Assizes. Robert Nye was buried by the parish in Lewes cemetery.


  1. Lewes Public Establishments, 1867 Kelly’s Directory
  • Corn & Hop Exchange & Assembly Rooms (adapted for all descriptions of entertainments, lectures, sales &c.), Robert Geer, Star hotel, High street
  • County Court (held monthly at the County hall), William Furner, esq. judge; Edgar Blaker, esq. registrar; John Lewis, esq. high bailiff; Thomas Mantell & Robert Mantell, bailiffs
  • County Hall, High street, Frederick S. Holman, keeper
  • County Gaol & House of Correction for the Eastern Division of Sussex, Commander Alfred P. H. Helby, R.N. governor; Rev. Richard Burnet, B.A. chaplain; Richard Turner, esq. surgeon; John W. Streeter, clerk; Mrs. Jane Anderson, matron
  • Naval Prison, North street, Captain Charles Maxwell Luckraft, R.N. governor; Rev. G. A. M. Litle, M.A. of Christ’s College, Cambridge, chaplain; Richard Turner, esq. Surgeon
  • Depot of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Mrs. Francis, 175 High street
  • Consistorial Court for the Archdeaconry of Lewes, Messrs. Hunt & Currey, High street
  • Lewes Castle, Duke of Norfolk, Earl of Abergavenny & Earl De La Warr, Lords of Lewes; George Pettitt, warder
  • District Registry of H.M. Court of Probate for the Eastern Division of Sussex, 2 Albion street, Bernard Husey-Hunt, esq. registrar; office hours, 10 to 4
  • Dispensary, High street, Montague Spencer Blaker, esq. hon. sec.; George Marshall Crockford, surgeon
  • East Sussex Constabulary office, North street, Lieut. Col. Henry Fowler Mackay, chief constable; Thomas Ellis, superintendent & clerk
    Divisional Office, 4 East street, James Jenner, superintendent
    Police Station, East street, William Peacock, sergeant in charge
  • Fire Engine Station, Fisher street, Wm. Duplock, superintendent
  • Freemasons’ Hall, 149 High street
  • Sussex Archaeological Society Museum, Lewes castle, William Harvey esq. local secretary
  • Lewes Cattle Market & Fat Stock Show, Henry J. Bartlett, secretary, Station street
  • Fitzroy Memorial Library, John C. Lucas, esq. secretary; Robert Crosskey, esq. treasurer; Mrs. Mary Card, librarian, High street
  • Lewes Swimming Baths (erected by public subscription), at the Town brook, George Watts, bath keeper
  • Lewes Union, Mr. H. J. Bartlett, clerk to the board of guardians
    Workhouse, South street, Cliffe, I. J. Morris, master; Martha Bristow, matron
    Workhouse, St. Nicholas lane, E. N. Rolfe, master; Elizabeth Rolfe, mistress
    Workhouse School, St. Anne’s, George Rossiter, master; Charlotte Rossiter, mistress
  • Town Clerk’s Office, High street, John Lewis, esq. Clerk
  • Posting House, Star hotel, Robert Geer, High street
  • Mechanics’ Institution, Museum & Library, West street, Charles A. Wells, secretary; John Edwd. Miller, librarian
  • Ouse Navigation Co., John Lewis, solicitor, 85 High street
  • Royal Sussex Artillery Militia, Lieut.-Colonel William Augustus St. Clair, commandant; Capt. H. T. Settle, adjutant; depot, High street, Southover; Richard Turner, esq., assistant surgeon
  • St Michael’s Almshouses, Keere street
  • Stamp Office, 17 High street, J. Smith, distributor


  1. Important Vaccination Case

Source: The 2 December 1876 Hastings and St Leonards Observer

“LEWES. Important Vaccination Case – At the Lewes Petty Sessions on Tuesday, before the Earl of Chichester and a full Bench of Magistrates, John Smith, hairdresser, the Cliffe, Lewes was charged with neglecting to have his child, Percy Smith, vaccinated.”


  1. Lewes Postcards on Ebay


This postcard by the Photochrom Company of Tunbridge Wells includes an interesting view of The Maltings, for about 30 years the home of the East Sussex Record Office but in 2014 transferred from the County Council to the District Council, in exchange for Southover Grange.


This Edwardian postcard by the Mezzotint Company of Brighton features ‘Ye Olde Shoppe’ at Cliffe Corner, then occupied by R.T. Hayler, baker & confectioner and offering refreshments.


  1. Work on the Railway

Source: 14 December 1844 Sussex Express

Lewes and Hastings Railway: Works have now begun at Southerham, on the eastern side of the River Ouse, being the first commencement of the Hastings line. Upwards of 100 men have already been engaged, and in the few days they have been occupied they have completely changed the face of the country on which they are at work. Heavy cuttings have been made, and large embankments already show themselves. We understand that, as soon as the legal arrangements can be completed, the works will be prosecuted with vigour at Bexhill and other parts on the line.”

The railway service from Lewes to Hastings began in 1846. Despite today’s mechanical equipment, could we deliver a new route to such a schedule today?


  1. The Fox Inn, Southerham


This photograph shows the Fox Inn, Southerham, and the nearby toll house for the Lewes to Eastbourne turnpike. Prior to the creation of the Lewes by-pass this was the main route in to Lewes from the east. Both buildings were owned by the Firle Estate. The photograph is from Bill Young & David Arscott, ‘Lewes Then and Now, Volume 2’ (2004), a fascinating volume illustrating both how much Lewes has changed, yet also how much remains very recognisable today.

  1. Chair & Executive Committee Reports    (by Ian McClelland)

This report covers the second year of the Lewes History Group (LHG) as a ‘formal’ group. As noted in last year’s report the main motivation for this change was to encourage the LHG to become more active participants in understanding the history of the town. To this end we set out two important aims for the Group which remain the focus for the LHG:

  • To make the history of Lewes accessible to the general public,
  • To promote projects that engage local people in the development and dissemination of knowledge about the history of Lewes.


The most important initiative taken during the year was the continued development of the Street Stories project and our attempts to get both Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and South Downs National Park (SDNP) funding. Unfortunately our first submission to the HLF was turned down as was our subsequent resubmission. The main reasons given were that there was stiff competition for limited funds and there were several other projects that had ‘more tangible’ outcomes. Our submission to the SDNP was also turned down because the project was limited to only Lewes. However in spite of these disappointments we decided, together with all those members who want to participate, to continue with the Street Stories project. The LHG will support the project financially through the LHG Development fund as far as we are able and by seeking external funding for more specific elements as and when appropriate.

The LHG is solvent and we now have sufficient funds to set up a modest Development Fund to support members’ projects.


The steady growth in both membership and public meeting attendance that we saw in 2013 continued into 2014. This clearly confirms that the LHG is indeed filling an important role in the life of the town.


The talks at our monthly meetings covered a wide variety of topics and in general were very well received by our audiences. An important, if less well known, part of the Group’s work is the Research Meetings programme. The purpose of these meetings is to enhance the expertise of members who want to undertake investigations. Topics have included Genealogy, Oral History, dating Victorian & Edwardian photographs and the Street Stories project. Each meeting attracted about 15 members and all were well received.


Our regular marketing activities continue to build awareness of the Group and to attract large numbers of members and visitors to the monthly talks.

Digital Presence

We have established our online presence effectively with our website linked to Facebook and Twitter. These three are helping us to publicise events, and raise our profile, and they bring us new audiences in the UK and abroad. Our statistics continue to show a healthy growth in their usage. We have also created an online document repository which helps us to manage the business of the Group.

LHG Executive Committee

The focus of the LHGEC work in 2014 has been primarily on developing the organisation. This will continue but with a significant shift of focus in 2015 towards encouraging the development of research activities. The LHGEC continues, unfortunately, to operate without a Secretary. I hope that suitable candidates come forward in 2015 and that we can fill this position. Both Ron Gordon as Treasurer and myself as Chairperson are happy to continue in post for 2015. It is with regret that I have to report that Paul Waller, co-opted EC member who took charge of our Outings programme, has decided to resign from the LHGEC because of other demands on his time. The LHGEC will miss his enthusiasm and his contribution towards the development the LHG.


I would also like to take this opportunity, on behalf of all LHG members, to record thanks to the following for their valuable contributions to the work of the LHG during 2014:

  • To your Executive Committee for all their hard work
    • Ron Gordon, Ann Holmes, John Kay, Jane Lee, Barbara Merchant, Neil Merchant and Paul Waller.
  • To all our speakers, at our public meetings and our research meetings
  • To all the people who have helped to run the Public Meetings.
    • Tessa Bain; preparation and mounting the LHG display,
    • Peter Holmes; preparation of the meeting room,
    • Anna Kay & Jan Osborne; refreshments,
    • Dee O’Connell; admissions desk
    • Ashley Dowlen for his preparation of 5 Viva features
    • and everyone else who has helped out over the last year. My apologies to anyone in particular I may have unwittingly omitted.
  • To Mike Stepney for auditing our accounts.
  • And most importantly, to yourselves for your continued support; the members, the attendees at our meetings and the many on our list of friends.

Membership – Neil Merchant

Last year I reported that we had 175 members, and that we hoped to reach 200 in 2014. I’m pleased to say that today our membership stands at 218, and already more members have renewed than had by the end of January last time around. We also have over 200 names on our “Information only” email contact list, so we’re in touch with over 400 people in total. Again, I’d like to thank everyone for their helpfulness over membership matters, which has made my job a pleasure.

Bulletin & Meetings – John Kay

We have published an edition of the Bulletin each month, and held eleven evening meetings. Typical attendances are regularly 100+ with February and July giving the largest audiences, nearly 150 in each case. These were for the talks on ‘The history and conservation of No 1 North Street’ by Lewis Orchard and ‘The inside track on the Lewes horseracing industry’ by John Turley.

Communications – Jane Lee

Our regular marketing activities continue to build awareness of the Group and to attract large numbers of members and visitors to the monthly talks. Our marketing activities in 2014 included:

  • Commissioning a refresh of the group’s leaflet from graphic designer, Lloyd Raworth with new images and a text update. 1000 printed
  • Regular activities’ promotion in:
    • Sussex Express
    • Viva Lewes magazine & website
    • Lewes News
    • Online what’s on pages e.g. Lewes.co.uk & LDC
    • Newsletters & websites of associates e.g. Friends of Lewes, Priory Trust, Sussex Archaeological Society, Lewes Archaeology Group
    • Posters & leaflets in Tourist Office, Library, Barbican & in Heritage Open Weekend venues
    • Posting on our Twitter & Facebook accounts
    • LHG website & bulletin
  • Contributing historical features ideas to Viva Lewes to fit its monthly themes. Ashley Dowlen, a former journalist, volunteered to do the writing on our behalf and has published five articles using research contacts supplied by LHG.
  • Using our social media accounts to interact with more tech-savvy audiences. We now have 204 (was 69 last year) following @LewesHistory on Twitter & 150 on facebook.com/LewesHistoryGroup (was 42 in 2013) as at 25/11/14.

In January our survey into what people liked and what they wanted, revealed that 55% of respondents (24) had heard about the talks via editorial in the Sussex Express and the ‘what’s on pages’ of Viva Lewes magazine. Coverage in Lewes News and the LHG Bulletin each accounted for 39% (17) of the votes.

Website and Social Media – Barbara Merchant

The usage of our website continues to grow, with a daily average of 90 views per day for 2014, nine times what it was back in 2010, and amounting to over 30,000 views this year.

2014 has been a big year for history, and particularly in Lewes. Our News section has become a reliable “what’s on” for history events locally, with anything relating to Edward Reeves photos attracting huge attention. We provide access via the website to our own Bulletins, talks, visits and resources and these also received a lot of interest, similarly the research done by our members, such as the Chapel Hill history.

We have been using social media to deliver our news and stories to you, rather than requiring you to visit our website on spec. Social media users can do this by using our Facebook page, and following us on Twitter. You can also register on our website so that we email our news items direct to you. All relevant links are on our website. These online methods have also helped us to reach a wider audience, such as thousands on the new Lewes Past Facebook Group.

Lastly, we have documented the way we run this organisation, using an online repository which helps us to manage the business of the group and to maintain good records.

Outings – Paul Waller

During 2014 we set up our outings programme based on the results of the Questionnaire we circulated at the end of 2013. Unfortunately the level of participation was so low we have decided not to set up a 2015 programme. However we will arrange outings on an ad hoc basis as and when opportunities arise and there is sufficient interest.


  1. Treasurer’s Report for 2014                                     (by Ron Gordon)

Lewes History Group income for the year 1st Dec 2013 to 30th Nov 2014 was £4,362.12 and expenditure for the same period was £2,736.06. Both income and expenditure were higher than the previous year, reflecting increased membership and attendance. Expenditure was higher for room hire and speakers as additional small meetings have been held for research projects. The end of year balance £3,904.62 continues to show a healthy surplus which provides a good base for the group to expand its activities in research projects. It is proposed to retain the same entrance fees and membership subscription for the next year.

Summary of Income and Expenditure 2013/2014
Income 2013/14 2012/13 Expenditure 2013/14 2012/13
£ £ £ £
Membership Subscriptions 1,411.00 1,118.00 Room Hire 1,000.00 575.00
Entrance Fees 2,948.45 2,574.45 Speakers’ Fees 450.00 330.00
Bank Interest 2.67 0.42 Meeting Refreshments 134.00 69.00
Street Stories 595.00 200.00
Publicity and leaflets 236.80 718.27
0.00 Administration expenses 320.26 191.47
Total income for the year 4,362.12 3,692.87 Total expenditure for the year 2,736.06 2,083.74
Surplus of Income over Expenditure 1,626.06 1,609.13
Balance at end of year 3,904.62 2,246.13


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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