Lewes History Group: Bulletin 75, October 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: 10 October 2016: Brigitte Lardinois, ‘Lewes remembers life during WW I
  2. Correction (Bulletin no.73)
  3. LHG Visit to Bridge Cottage, Uckfield (by Neil Merchant & Jane Lee)
  4. The East Sussex Coroner and the Russian Soprano
  5. Irish Rebels held in Lewes Prison (by Stiofan O’Comhrai)
  6. Highways in the past and in the present (by Chris Smith)


  1. Next Meeting 7.30 pm,  Monday 10 October

Brigitte Lardinois:  Stories seen through a glass plate: 1916: Lewes remembers life during World War I

Brigitte Lardinois will speak about the latest Reeves lightbox exhibition that will take place in the town from 29 October – 19 November and which aims to show the life of the people left behind when so many men were away at the front. She will give an update on the progress and share the hopes for the next stage of the Reeves digitisation project.

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.

Membury's Group outside Castle Gate HouseA 1917 Edward Reeves photograph of a motor car with a lady driver outside Castle Gate House


  1. Correction (Bulletin no.73)

In Bulletin no.73 the ebay seller of the plate commemorating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee was Tony Durrant, not Tony Duc.


  1. LHG Visit to Bridge Cottage, Uckfield (by Neil Merchant & Jane Lee)

On a warm August evening 31 members gathered for the private Lewes History Group tour of Bridge Cottage in Uckfield. Tree ring dating of the cottage’s timber frame showed that Bridge Cottage was built, probably for a wealthy yeoman, in about 1436, during the reign of Henry VI. It originally had 4 bays with the two central ones making the hall, open to its crown-post roof and heated by a fire burning on a central open hearth. The bays at either end were 2-storey – at the upper end was private accommodation for the owner, and at the lower end unheated service rooms. This recently-restored example of a medieval Wealden hall-house is due to open to the public in September 2016 so LHG members got a sneak preview, including a very interesting talk by Mike Harker (chairman of the Bridge Cottage Heritage Centre) and a self-guided tour.

Mike told us about the 500-year history of the house from a time when Uckfield was just a clearing in the most wooded part of the country, through to almost terminal decay in the 1970’s. He also told us about the work that has recently been done to restore it. The Uckfield Preservation Society saved it from demolition (to make way for a new road) and successfully applied for a £1.5M grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore it and develop it as a community asset. The cottage is fitted with the latest 21st century technology to make it sustainable and eco-friendly. It boasts LED lighting, under-floor heating from a ground source heat pump, sheep’s wool insulation and, of course, lime plaster & limewash paint. Despite many alterations and repairs, it still includes a good number of original timbers dating back to 1436, especially in the roof and the upper parts of the house. The roof timbers above the open hall are deeply blackened from their long exposure to the smoke from the open fire burning below.

Bridge Cottage Uckfield talk


  1. The East Sussex Coroner and the Russian Soprano

Edward Hillman (1828-1899), son of Cliffe barge master Samuel Hillman, joined the Cliffe legal practice of John Auckland Tattersall as an articled clerk when still in his teens, and rose to become first a partner and then the principal of the firm. He married twice, each time to daughters of prominent Lewes businessmen, and had seven sons, several of whom followed him in the law. The firm expanded to include an Eastbourne branch from 1878. Edward Hillman and his family lived in North Street, Cliffe [Malling Street] in 1861 & 1871, but College Road, Eastbourne, in 1881 & 1891. However, there was a good train service between the two towns, and he continued to play a prominent part in the life of Lewes. He was elected to the Borough Council in 1887 (when he topped the poll), made an alderman in 1890 and chosen as mayor for 1892 and 1893. He continued as a member of the Borough Council until his death, and was joined on the council by his eldest son George Edward Hillman, who lived with him at Eastbourne.

On 27 October 1888 George Edward Hillman (1856-1899), Eastbourne solicitor and deputy coroner for East Sussex, married Olga Michailoff of Lewes and Odessa, South Russia, at St Saviour’s church, Eastbourne. He was 32 and she was a decade his junior. The marriage was thought significant enough to be noted by, for example, the 3 November 1888 Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. In the 1891 census father and son, their two wives, another unmarried son and three female servants all lived together in Eastbourne.

The marriage was reportedly initially happy but not, in the longer term, a success. It may not have helped that in 1894 George Edward Hillman’s health took a turn for the worse, though he continued to function as coroner, solicitor and Borough councillor. The 14 January 1898 Kent & Sussex Courier, the 15 January 1898 Sussex Express and many other newspapers across the country carried detailed reports of the case of Hillman versus Hillman & Nelson, an undefended action for divorce brought by George Edward Hillman against his wife Olga on the grounds of her adultery with Dr Joseph Nelson. Dr Nelson by then held an appointment as medical officer with an institution in Warwickshire but in 1894 had been surgeon at Lewes Infirmary. Evidence was given that Dr Nelson and Mrs Hillman had stayed together as husband and wife at a hotel in Southend. It was noted that after George Edward Hillman’s health had broken down, Dr Nelson had accompanied the couple on a visit to Russia as Mr Hillman’s medical attendant. Dr Nelson & George Hillman were of course well acquainted, as the Infirmary surgeon would give evidence at the coroner’s inquests.

George Edward Hillman was granted a decree nisi and costs. He died less than a year later, very shortly after his father. On 28 July 1898, two days after receiving her decree absolute, Olga Hillman, nee Michailoff, of 20 Duke Street, St Marylebone, married Henry Joseph Wood (1869-1944), musical conductor, of 1 Langham Place, St Marylebone. Henry Wood  was already well known as a conductor after the inauguration of the promenade concerts that today bear his name and Olga Michailoff was one of his singing pupils, a soprano for whom he acted as accompanist. They often performed together after their marriage, including at the 1905 British premiere of Mahler’s 4th symphony at a promenade concert, when Henry Wood conducted and his wife sang the soprano part that is a feature of the final movement. The 26 February 1906 Edinburgh Evening News, noting a forthcoming concert, describes Mrs Henry Wood, the Russian singer, as regarded as the chief exponent in the country of Russian songs and her husband as perhaps the most popular British conductor.

Mrs Olga WoodMrs Olga Wood died aged 40 after a short illness in December 1909. The London Daily News described her as a famous singer and a Russian princess. Henry Wood frequently referred to Olga as the Princess Olga Ourousoff, but according to his biographer she was entitled to neither the rank nor the surname. Her mother actually had been a real Russian princess. Olga did not attain the title of Lady Wood either, as Sir Henry was not knighted until after her death.

Mrs Olga WOOD

In 1911 Henry Wood married his secretary, by whom he had two daughters. The couple fell out in the 1930s, when his second wife decamped to Canada with most of his money and refused to grant him a divorce. He then formed a new partnership with a new ‘Lady Wood’, though without benefit of clergy.

Sources: Introduction to the ESRO Hillman archive; the Wikipedia entry for Sir Henry Wood; certified copies of Olga Michailoff’s two marriages in the City of Westminster City Archive D.Misc/136/1-2; Lewes & Eastbourne census entries; and local newspaper reports accessed via the British Newspaper Archive.


  1. Irish Rebels held in Lewes Prison                             (by Stiofan O’Comhrai)

Following the 1916 Rebellion in Ireland a number of Irish political prisoners who had taken part in the Easter Rising were moved to various prisons in England. Early in 1917 they were brought together at Lewes Prison. About 30 years later the Irish Government arranged to have people who had taken part in the War of Independence interviewed. These interviews were collected under the title of witness statements and are held in the Irish Bureau of Military History.

One of the former prisoners held in Lewes Prison gave an account of his time in Lewes Prison. He was Gerald Doyle, a Dublin plasterer who was an Irish Republican volunteer in the 1916 Easter rising. The number of his Witness Statement is W.S.1511. After initially being held in Dublin jails, where the ringleaders were executed, and then a spell in the isolated Portland or Dartmoor prisons, the Republican prisoners were moved to Lewes, where the regime was more relaxed. Guards smuggled in Woodbines for the prisoners in exchange for potatoes purloined from the cookhouse. The prisoners did cleaning duties, sewed mail bags or made woollen mats with hand looms. The prison governor, Captain Marriott, realised he had amongst the prisoners men of the highest education and integrity, and visited them in their cells to speak to them. The men sent to Lewes included Eamonn De Valera, who quickly became the spokesmen for the Irish prisoners, and led a secret group called the Irish Republican Brotherhood into which many were recruited.

Sometime in 1917 the governor approached De Valera to say he would like to have his house painted, and some ceilings repaired. All the local tradesmen had joined up, so a group of prisoners with the right skills, including Gerald Doyle, were appointed to do the work. They were rewarded with extra food. The men, left a free hand as to design, painted the house in Republican colours, blended carefully so that Captain Marriott would not realise. An Inspector from the Board of Works who was visiting the prison came over to the house, gave his approval to the workmanship and said there would be work for them all in his Board when they were released. The front of the house was quite close to the main road, and while working there they saw lorry loads of German prisoners passing through.

De Valera and his officer corps began to demand political prisoner status for the Irishmen. The first campaign was for an improvement in the food, which resulted in some salad and cheese being provided, along with some inedible red herring. The men, encouraged, then refused to accept prison discipline or to work, and campaigns causing deliberate damage to the prison were started. Having broken all his cell windows, Doyle was rewarded by a thunderstorm that flooded his cell.  One Lewes prisoner, Joseph McGuiness, stood as a Sinn Fein candidate in a by-election for the Irish seat of Longford, and was elected after a recount. The organisers, including De Valera and Gerald Doyle were then taken away to other prisons – Doyle was returned to Portland.

Source: Gerald Doyle’s statement W.S.1511, which was made in the 1950s [Irish Bureau of Military History].

  1. Highways in the past and in the present                            (by Chris Smith)

The ways that people used to get from A to B are an important part of our history. Whether they are called roads, bridleways or paths, they are all highways.  Common law says that once a route is a highway it will always be a highway, unless there is a legal event such as a stopping up order, which closes it. But at the end of 2025 this rule comes to an end.  Any highway which existed before 1949 but is not on the definitive map of rights of way or the adopted roads map will no longer be a right of way. There are routes that are in every-day use that are threatened, as well as lost ways that need to be reclaimed.

Here are some examples in Lewes:

  • The alley between Grange Road and the Course in Southover is used by hundreds of people each day, but it is not on the definitive map or the map of streets, so from 2026 it could be blocked up.
  • Love Lane, the well walked route between Winterbourne and Hope in the Valley via the allotments, is only on the definitive map for half its length, although railway deposited plans and early maps from the 1840s suggest that it was formerly a highway its whole length.
  • A path leaves Juggs Lane, heading straight for Kingston. It is only a right of way as far as the Lewes border, though the Kingston inclosure order shows it going right to Kingston village.
  • There are comparatively few rights of way on Mount Caburn, even though tithe records and other historical documents suggest that there are a number of highways on the hill.

Lewes-Kingston rights of way, and Grange Road twitten to The Course
Left: Lewes-Kingston Rights of way on the ‘Definitive’ map
Right: The twitten between Grange Road and the Course

Experts estimate that in a typical parish there are around 6 or more rights of way that will be lost at the end of 2025 if action is not taken.

A small group of ramblers, equestrians and others has been formed in Sussex to claim these routes as rights of way before it is too late.  We need your help if you have experience of, or are keen to learn, historical research which will help us to claim these routes. If you would like to help, please contact Chris Smith.


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

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




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