Lewes History Group: Bulletin 74, September 2016

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: 12 September 2016: Bob Cairns, ‘So you think you know Lewes?
  2. Heritage Open Days – Lewes Street Stories Exhibition (by Jane Lee)
  3. A Highway Robbery on Malling Hill
  4. St Michael’s Church, South Malling
  5. Henry Fitzroy and the 1841 election
  6. Empire Day


  1. Next Meeting 7.30 p.m.                                           Monday 12 September

      Bob Cairns                    So you think you know Lewes?

Our next meeting will encourage audience participation as Bob Cairns, using images from his extensive collection of postcards and photographs, tests our knowledge of Lewes past. Some images will be appear familiar but still require thinking about to pinpoint their locations, others will be more challenging and test even the best informed local historian whilst some may prove impossible to locate even though they are attributed to being ‘Lewes’. Bob doesn’t have all the answers either, so the evening could lead to some interesting discoveries. A major part of Bob’s presentation will show material not previously published.


Thomas Riekie’s shop stood at the junction of High Street with Station Street.


  1. Heritage Open Days – Lewes Street Stories Exhibition (by Jane Lee)

The Lewes Street Stories project was set up by the Lewes History Group and teams in South Street and Grange Road, at opposite ends of the town, are the latest to exhibit their discoveries. Located in the Town Hall as part of the Heritage Open Days, the event runs 10 – 11 September & entry is FREE.

The exhibition will display archive documents and photographs that reveal more about the houses and their residents. The groups are keen to research who the early residents were, their jobs and businesses as well as family sizes and where children went to school.

South Street has a long history as it was one of the original medieval routes into the separate community of Cliffe. Heather Downie and her team have made a start by collecting maps, photos, census returns, newspaper cuttings and recording the memories of those who have South Street connections. Heather explains: “South Street was never a home for the gentry, but a working place, with timber yards, river wharfs, boat yards and chalk pits. There has been almost continual development of housing, often replacements for earlier buildings, right up to the present with the Grand Designs’ Rusty House finished in 2015.”

South Street and Grange Road Lewes

South Street: Bliss postcard from the Linda Weller collection
Grange Road: a Funnell’s Series postcard

Grange Road was first developed in 1865 from land sold by two estates: the Acland Estate and the Southover Priory Estate. At that time it straddled both St Ann’s and Southover parishes.

The team leader, Bridget Millmore says, “We’ve uncovered stories of everyday and unusual events, including details of bonfire preparations, an accident involving an overturned grape lorry and evacuation by boat during the 1960s flood.”

The Streets Stories Exhibition is in the Yarrow Room, Lewes Town Hall; See the Lewes Heritage Open Days Leaflet 2016


  1. A Highway Robbery on Malling Hill

At about 9 p.m. on 13 June 1836 John Gallop, a middle-aged labourer who lived near the Cock in Ringmer, was returning home from Lewes with some medicine he had purchased for his wife when he was set upon by two young men. He was felled by a surprise blow on the side of the head, and one of the attackers forced a handkerchief into his mouth to prevent him summoning assistance. He tried to fight back, eventually removing the gag and crying “murder”. The assault continued, leaving him covered with blood, and his assailants took his purse, containing three sixpences and some halfpence, his knife and his hat. The two men fled when another man, Timothy Turner, arrived on the scene, heading north along the turnpike road to London (now the A26). Both the victim and the witness were able to describe the assailants’ clothing. The handkerchief, which one had been wearing round his neck, was left behind.

It did not take the amateur constable and his headborough long to identify the perpetrators as James Elphick, a young married man aged 25, and George Powell, aged 19. They came up with a whole host of witnesses to track their movements and confirm what they were wearing – they were still in the same clothes at their trial more than a month later. James Elphick’s neighbour, John Smith, was standing outside his own house on the evening in question when he saw Elphick & Powell arrive at Elphick’s house a little before 9 p.m., and then a few minutes later depart in the direction of Cliffe Bridge and Malling. Both Gallop and Turner saw them head north towards Ringmer after the attack. Thomas Moorey and Eliza Cheale, who had been to the celebrations of the Anchor Benefit Club at Barcombe, met them near the South Malling turnpike gate at Stoneham as they returned home to Lewes. A young lad called Henry Orton who had been at the Anchor celebrations but left about 10 p.m. met them heading towards the Anchor as he left. The foreman at the Barcombe Oil Mill saw them both at the Barcombe Club meeting at 10.30 p.m. and noticed Elphick was not wearing a handkerchief. The Barcombe constable also saw Elphick at the Barcombe Club meeting about 3 a.m., and he also noticed he was not wearing a handkerchief around his neck.

Thomas Berry, constable of the Hundred of Ringmer (which included South Malling and Cliffe) set men to watch the suspects’ houses and went to interview John Gallop. Gallop’s wife gave him the handkerchief, which Elphick’s wife’s washerwoman confirmed was very like one she had washed for them. The Barcombe headborough apprehended Elphick at a house in the parish on 14 June, and confirmed that he was still without a handkerchief, and that he had blood on his trousers and his smock-frock. Powell was arrested by another headborough, with two sixpences and the knife in his possession. Gallop’s hat was recovered from where it had been secreted in a roadside ditch.

There was not much of a defence. A girl at the Barcombe Club gave evidence that she had taken James Elphick’s handkerchief from his neck and put it around her own. Henry Elphick said that someone had hit James Elphick in a fracas at the Club meeting, which might explain the blood. However, the judge’s summing up left the jury with an easy decision – both the prisoners were found guilty and sentenced to death. At the end of the assizes, the sentences were commuted to transportation for life.

After a period in the hulks at Portsmouth James Elphick was transported to Australia and assigned to work for the son of the Governor of New South Wales. Records retained by the authorities note that he was 5 feet 6 inches tall, had brown hair, brown eyes, ‘sandy whiskers’ and an impressive selection of tattoos. After serving as a convict for 14 years he was pardoned, with the condition that he should never return to Britain. He married again in Australia, had a large family and died there.

James Elphick had been baptised at Barcombe on 16 December 1810. He married Elizabeth Cosham at Ringmer on 29 October 1832, when both were said to be ‘of that parish’, but their son was born the following year in Lewes St Michael. James was obviously still living in Lewes in 1836. His conviction would have left his wife in a difficult situation – there were few ways his Elizabeth could have supported the family in his absence, but the only help available under the New Poor Law, put into effect the previous year, would be to enter the prison-like Union workhouse. An article in the 19 September 1836 Sussex Advertiser reporting the petty sessions suggests she tried an alternative route:

Elizabeth Elphick was charged with keeping a house of ill fame in the parish of St John[-sub-Castro], Lewes. It appeared from the evidence that the house kept by the prisoner was the resort of persons of loose character, and from which expressions of the most vile description were heard by persons outside. Mr Cobbett having addressed the jury for the defence, the prisoner was found guilty and sentenced to nine months hard labour in the Lewes House of Correction.”

Her son Stephen Elphick can be found in the 1841 and 1851 censuses living with his father’s sister Jane Yeomans and her husband – in Ringmer in 1841 and South Malling in 1851. Soon afterwards he emigrated to Australia as a free migrant, where he lived within visiting distance of his father, now a free man. Stephen married, had a large family and prospered.

Sources: The 27 June 1836 & 1 August 1836 Sussex Advertiser and information from parish records and James Elphick’s descendants, Australians Karen Wenke and Gary Somerville.


  1. St Michael’s Church, South Malling

Reproduced with permission

This original pen and ink drawing of South Malling Church, dated 12 April 1915 but by an anonymous artist, was offered for sale on ebay in July 2016 by Somerset & Wood Fine Art [http://somersetandwood.com]. The quality of the draftsmanship can be seen by comparison with the hand coloured photographic view from the Mezzotint Company Edwardian postcard below.

South_Malling_Church Mezzotint postcard


  1. Henry Fitzroy and the 1841 election

The Honourable Henry Fitzroy (1807-1859) was MP for Lewes in the Conservative interest from 1837-1841 and then again from 1842 until his death in December 1859 at the age of 52. He was a younger son of Lieutenant-General George Fitzroy, 2nd Lord Southampton, and a great-great grandson of Charles II and his mistress Barbara Villiers.

The 1841-1842 gap in his representation of Lewes is accounted for by the 1841 general election, in which Sir Robert Peel’s Tories gained control of the House of Commons from the coalition of Whigs and Liberals led by Queen Victoria’s favourite Viscount Melbourne. In Lewes the vote went against the national trend. The two Liberal candidates, Mr Summers Harford and Mr Howard Elphinstone, polled 411 and 409 votes respectively, narrowly defeating the sitting Tory members Henry Fitzroy and Viscount Cantelupe (son and heir of Earl De La Warr), with 407 and 388 votes.

The 1841 election was notoriously corrupt, notably so in Lewes. Indeed Lewes stood third in the list of boroughs whose electoral practices were investigated by an 1842 Select Committee that heard evidence from Messrs Harford and Elphinstone, Henry Fitzroy and a selection of their agents. The Committee’s attention was attracted by a May 1842 petition by the losing candidates alleging that the Liberals had gained their seats by bribery, corruption and illegal treating, resulting in a compromise at the courtroom door in which an artificial retrospective scrutiny of the votes led to a handful of disqualifications and Summers Harford being placed one vote below Howard Elphinstone and Henry Fitzroy, so that from 1842 each party had a single Lewes seat. The Committee’s 34-page report, recorded in the House of Commons Papers (available online), explains in detail how a Lewes election was managed. The evidence of Lewes solicitor Arthur Rennie Briggs, who acted as local agent for the Liberal candidates, was especially revealing. His frankness can be accounted for by those witnesses who satisfied the Committee of their truthfulness being granted immunity from criminal prosecution.

Elections in Lewes, with an electorate of about 850, were well known to be expensive. Summers Harford agreed in advance to put up £1,500 and Howard Elphinstone £1,000, but in the end the total Liberal election bill came to over £5,000, not all paid a year later. Defending the subsequent petition cost the Liberals another £1,200, with thousands more at risk had the case gone to court. The money was funnelled via respectable national agents to more anonymous local agents like Briggs, who in turn passed it on via a shady network of sub-agents and local activists, so the genteel and honourable candidates were thoroughly shielded from any impropriety.

The principal cost was in the election campaigns themselves, but between elections the sitting MPs and potential rivals were expected to provide continuing benefits for their supporters and subscribe generously to local good causes. The Liberals maintained a ‘Bundle of Sticks’ society (with 200 members) for their electors while the Tory ‘Constitutional Pruning Society’ masqueraded as a Benefit Society with unusually favourable terms (subsidised by Tory candidates and wealthy local supporters) confined to about 160 Tory-voting electors. Any member voting the wrong way was expelled. Mr Fitzroy stated that there were about 10 benefit societies in Lewes and that he subscribed to all of them. Poorer voters of both parties received free coal at Christmas and a half sovereign of lying-in money went to the wife of every poor voter who gave birth during the year.

The total cost of a Lewes election amounted to over £10 per elector, at a time when a labouring family might live on £40 per year. This must have provided a substantial and welcome boost to the town economy whenever an election was contested. It must have been a disappointment when, as in 1840, the sitting Liberal, Sir Charles Blunt of Heathfield Park, died and his replacement by the Tory Viscount Cantelupe was unopposed. Elections came round quite frequently – two in 1837 alone – so it was lucky that Henry Fitzroy was married to a Rothschild.

According to Arthur Rennie Briggs about £2,000 of the Liberals’ expenditure was incurred by ‘treating’. The candidate would speak to the electorate at one of the ten nominated Liberal public houses, with his audience liberally supplied with beer and tobacco paid for by the local agent. The publican and his staff received a generous tip. Treating was perfectly legal up to the date on which the election writ was issued, but Mr Briggs had discovered that half had been spent after this date without his authority. Most bills had nevertheless been paid – “A gentleman who represents a Borough does not like to quarrel with his friends”. Henry Fitzroy complained that the traditional Lewes practice of supplying beer and tobacco had escalated to spirits, punch and even supper. Not all the treating was in liquor. The Monday before the election the Tories had gone round the borough presenting, in the name of a local lady, a gift of a pound of tea to the wives of all electors who would accept it. The Liberals had immediately followed suit, “adding to it some sugar to sweeten it with.” This alone had cost them £130. The Liberals’ treating exceeded the Tories’ only in that they were also expected to fund an evening of victory celebrations. Mr Briggs’ view was that the treating made no difference to the voting, providing each side matched the other, but that to abandon it would have been fatal to the cause.

Bribery of course was never legal, but was found in numerous shades of grey. At the start of an election campaign numerous agents, sub-agents and ‘messengers’ were employed by both parties, not all of whom fulfilled any actual duties. A tradesman with customers on both sides might balance his votes against past favours or future promises. Creditors saw elections as a chance to recover otherwise hopeless debts, as neither party in a close run contest would wish to lose voters to the debtors’ prison. Outright negotiation for votes was delegated to others further down the line. A ‘well-known’ but un-named local tradesman was very active in the Liberal cause, leaving Mr Briggs able to deny any knowledge of the details. His London superior and the candidates themselves were entirely insulated from charges of bribery carried out without their knowledge or approval. Mr Briggs estimated that £1,200-£1,500 had been expended on about 50 Liberal voters in this way. Up to £25 had been paid for a single vote. Mr Briggs was sure that a petition would have been able to prove illegal Liberal treating in 1841, but that no bribery charges could have been traced back to his candidates. He was also certain that his rivals were equally guilty. Mr Fitzroy denied absolutely any such malfeasance on his side’s part: “I am quite positive of what I stated in the House, that no man ever received any money for voting for me”, though he excepted the provision of beer and tobacco to those who had to listen to a long speech.

Not all the scores of sub-agents and messengers employed by the parties were idle. Henry Fitzroy stated that one of the most expensive aspects of the election was putting Lewes in a state of siege for a week before the election. Every crossroads leaving the town had to be watched to prevent voters being forcefully carried off and ‘cooped’ until the election was over. Others acted as ‘bullies’, hunting down and following the more vulnerable voters whenever they left home, treading on their toes, enticing them into public houses, disturbing their sleep and generally tormenting them. The town was patrolled, day and night, by bands of partisans. To avoid this treatment a dozen voters went off to stay in the Globe in Brighton, kept by a former secretary of the ‘Bundle of Sticks’ society, but the Tory ‘bullies’ discovered where they were. Armed with bludgeons, they tried to storm the premises to capture them. The police had to be called. Mr Briggs said he could never leave his house without being followed by Tory ‘bullies’ who reported back on his every move. At the hustings themselves, where men went to declare their votes, there was fighting in the crowd.

In response to the question “I suppose you know the politics of every voter in Lewes?” Mr Briggs replied “I do not suppose there is any borough in England where the voters are more accurately known.” He also agreed that there were a significant number of voters, enough to tip the balance, whose votes were available to the highest bidder. In his view the final outcome after the petition, with each party having one MP, was a fair one, given the balance of opinion in the town

Source: House of Commons Committee Reports on Election Petitions and Proceedings, February-August 1842, volume 5. You can read the full evidence online.


  1. Empire Day

lewes-empire-day,Bliss photoThe Edwardian photograph by A.M. Bliss & Co, 34 Lansdown Place, and the 1920s postcard titled ‘Children of Empire, Lewes, 6’ were probably both taken to celebrate Empire Day, 24th May.

Empire Day was marked throughout the first half of the 20th century, starting in 1902. Its goal was “to promote the systematic training of children in all virtues children-of-empire-lewes-postcardwhich conduce to the training of good citizens”, spelled out by its watchwords ‘Responsibility, Sympathy, Duty and Self-Sacrifice’. School children throughout the Empire gathered together to salute the union flag, and sing patriotic songs such as ‘God save the King’ and ‘Jerusalem’.

A tea was also, of course, provided and the sun always shone. Both items have appeared on ebay this year.


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
Uckfield & Lewes Decorative & Fine Arts Society – meets 2nd Wed. Guests £7 per talk

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Twitter: https://twitter.com/LewesHistory




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