Lewes History Group: Bulletin 78, January 2017

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  1. Next Meeting:  9 January 2017: Christopher Whittick, ‘The People of Southover Grange’
  2. Dating the Priory Mount
  3. The Lewes-Uckfield Railway Bridge across Lewes High Street
  4. Lewes postcards on ebay
  5. The fertility of Thomas Berry’s daughters
  6. Training the Royal Sussex Artillery Militia
  7. The Lewes Arms
  8. New Christ Church publications


  1. Next Meeting              7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.                   Monday 9 January      Christopher Whittick               The People of Southover Grange

The remarkable Elizabethan stone house at the bottom of Keere Street set in extensive gardens is one of Lewes’s gems and underwent considerable renovation in 2016. It was purchased by the Borough Council after World War II, passed to Lewes District Council and was recently exchanged to East Sussex County Council for The Maltings. For over 250 years it was called Southover Priory and the home of the Newton family. Thereafter, in less than a century, it passed through the hands of a number of remarkable individuals, including a millionaire who spent a fortune improving it but never actually moved in, three pioneering women and a croquet international credited with the fine state of the lawns. Christopher Whittick, a senior county archivist, will bring its residents to life.

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. Dating the Priory Mount


As part of a national project on the history of monumental mounds Dr Jim Leary and his team, from the University of Reading, have been studying the Priory Mount, off Mountfield Road.  The team visited Lewes and drilled two boreholes into the Mount, one down from the summit, and a second a little down-slope. A large number of charcoal fragments were extracted in their laboratory and submitted for radiocarbon dating. The results showed that charcoal from a range of sources had been incorporated into the Mount during its construction, with the dating showing unambiguously that it was built at some point after the mid-15th to early 16th century. This means that the Mount was created either right at the end of the life of the Priory or, perhaps more likely, shortly after the Dissolution when the site became part of the gardens of a substantial house called the Lords Place. The Mount was thus probably built as a Tudor garden feature.

Jim Leary and his colleague Elaine Jamieson are scheduled to report on their work in more detail to the Lewes Archaeological Group at 7.30 p.m. on Friday 17th February in Lewes Town Hall Lecture Room.

Source: Lewes Archaeological Group Newsletter no.153, November 2016, by kind permission of Paula Stanyer.


  1. The Lewes-Uckfield Railway Bridge across Lewes High Street

 When I first visited Lewes is the early 1960s this low bridge across the High Street, next to the Fitzroy Library and carrying the Lewes-Uckfield railway, left a lasting impression – my main memory of the town. In the 1960s Lewes High Street was also the A27, the main national route along England’s south coast. The postcard view featured below, offered for sale on ebay in autumn 2016 and sold after spirited bidding, must have been taken before 1898 when the Seveirg Building (the owner’s name backwards) was constructed on the site now occupied by Boots the Chemist.


The Sussex Express photograph below (left) shows much the same view in the 1960s, with the Seveirg Building now in place. The iron panels of the railway bridge now have a different design. The maximum height sign prominently displayed on the bridge suggests a possible explanation for this change.

The second image (below right), reproduced from Bob Cairns’ excellent book ‘Lewes through Time’, gives an Edwardian view of the feature corner of the Seveirg Building as seen from Friars Walk. Behind, down Eastgate Street, is the chestnut that still stands in front of Waitrose.



  1. Lewes postcards on ebay

A good number of old Lewes postcards that I have not seen before were offered on ebay during the autumn of 2016. The first card below, which carried no publisher’s name, shows the cattle market down near the Pells, operated by Cheale & Sons in the late-Victorian era. The large houses of Wallands Crescent loom on the skyline, beyond the railway line.


The second card, below, featuring the railway station, was postmarked 1913.



  1. The fertility of Thomas Berry’s daughters

Thomas Berry (1749-1830) was one of six sons of a Ringmer carpenter-wheelwright. Three of his brothers remained with the family business there and a fourth, evidently a maverick, became a blacksmith, moved to Pyecombe and is credited with the design of the Sussex shepherd’s crook. However, Thomas and his younger brother James (1762-1847) moved the few miles from Ringmer Green to the bottom of Malling Hill where they pursued their careers in the timber business on a larger scale than was possible in a village. They became prosperous timber merchants and builders, diversifying in the next generation into a wider range of commercial interests including brewing. Thomas and James Berry and their families became non-conformists, worshipping at the Cliffe Chapel and later at Tabernacle.

The South Malling Berrys proliferated impressively. Thomas Berry and his wife Elizabeth had at least seven children, three sons and four daughters. All four daughters married the sons of other leading chapel families in the area around Lewes.

Hannah Berry (1793-1885) married surveyor Richard Mannington and bore him 15 children prior to his sudden death from apoplexy while riding past the Cock Inn, Ringmer, in 1841.

Martha Berry (1795-1847) married Waldron farmer Isaac Mannington (Richard Mannington’s cousin) and bore him 13 children.

Elizabeth Berry (1803-1852) married Lewes butcher Benjamin Morris and bore him 14 children.

Catherina Mercy Berry (1814-1853) married Lewes stone mason and slate merchant John Latter Parsons, and bore him just eight children before dying in her late thirties after a protracted illness.

Between them these four daughters presented Thomas and Elizabeth Berry with 50 grandchildren. Two of the sons also married and provided a further dozen. This helps to explain why the town’s population rocketed in the early 19th century. At a lower social level children were typically born 2-3 years apart, with breast feeding effectively reducing the fertility of women with inadequate nutrition. If a young woman deferred marriage to her mid-twenties, family size was rarely more than seven or eight. However, in prosperous families like these marriages were often early (Elizabeth Berry was still in her teens) and the arrival of a new baby could be an almost annual occurrence. Such frequent child-bearing took its toll on women’s health – Hannah was the only one of the four sisters to outlive her husband.

Source: family reconstitution, with some help from Ancestry


  1. Training the Royal Sussex Artillery Militia

When the Duke of Richmond, as Lord Lieutenant, informed the town authorities that the militia would be training in the town for a month in 1854 the Senior Constable, R.W. Lower, suggested to his fellow townsmen that they should provide some alternative activities to prevent the militiamen spending their leisure hours “in vice and debasing crimes”.

At a meeting of about 50 of the principal inhabitants of Lewes, they came up with the following ideas. They would open a reading room, to be provided with newspapers and suitable books, together with classrooms for instruction in reading, writing and ciphering. They would provide facilities for the outdoor amusements of cricket and football. They would provide a mess room for the soldiers to dine in a body, instead of being subject to ill-cooked food.

A house was hired for the reading room and classrooms in Market Street. A kitchen was hired for cooking the daily rations in Market Lane, and a large portion of the Market House was fitted up with tables and seats, to serve as a mess room. The Mechanics Institution was placed at use of the committee for concerts and lectures. All of these were reported to be well used. Mr Alfred Langford allowed the free use of the Mount Field in Southover for outdoor amusement. At the close of the month’s training the militiamen formed up on their parade ground and they were each presented with a copy of the New Testament provided by the ladies of the town. The Senior Constable thanked them for their good behaviour and hoped that the gift they had just been given would leave a pleasing remembrance of their visit to Lewes.

Source: the Lewes Town Book


  1. The Lewes Arms

The earliest reference to what was to become the Lewes Arms is a pair of grants of adjacent plots of land from the manorial waste between Brack Mount and the common way called the Back Lane recorded in the court books of the manor of Lewes in 1722 and 1725. The first plot was 30 feet x 15 feet, the second 30 feet x 25 feet, and both were in St John-sub-Castro parish and granted to a man called Seth Turner, who died just a few years later, to be held by copyhold tenure. It is only in 1796 that the manor court books, recording a later transfer of ownership, refer to there being a messuage [house] and buildings called the Lewes Arms on this property, but manor court book entries are notorious for repeating long-out-of-date descriptions of properties from entry to entry. The earliest identified reference to this public house by name occurs in the overseer of the poor’s accounts for St John-sub-Castro parish, which mention two shillings of parish money being spent at the Lewes Arms in a 1770 entry.

In 1811 Thomas Beard acquired the Lewes Arms copyhold property, and ownership was retained by Beards Brewery until its chain of pubs was sold to Greene King in 1998. They were granted a licence to pull down the 18th century building on the site in August 1823, and the construction of the present building was completed by December of that same year. From 1844 to 1914 the adjacent Brack Mount was used as a pleasure garden or tea garden by the Lewes Arms. There were summer houses and amusing games, and ornamental trees and flowers were planted. From 1905-1914 the Foresters’ Quoit Club used the Lewes Arms as their headquarters and the Mount as their ground. However, in 1937 Mrs Henry Dudeney purchased the freehold of the Mount from the lords of the manor of Lewes, and transferred ownership to the Sussex Archaeological Society, in whose hands it remains today’

Source: John Magill, ‘A Chronology of the Lewes Arms’ (1981); a pamphlet in Lewes Library


  1. New Christ Church publications

To mark the November 2016 bicentenary of the foundation of Lewes Tabernacle, Christ Church have published three new booklets recounting the history of two of their predecessor chapels in Lewes. The authorship of all three booklets is credited to Cliff Geering, who was Christ Church secretary from 1972-1977 and died in 1993. They are based on his notes and research papers, handed to the church by his daughter, which were in turn based on the church minutes and vestry books, surviving letters and legal documents and items published in the local press. Cliff Geering’s records were transcribed and prepared for publication by a team comprising Nick Armstrong, Alan Pett, David Smith, Robert Smith and Norman Vance. The booklets are available online:

Geering, Cliff, with Armstrong, Nick; Pett, Alan; Smith, Robert; Smith, David (transcribers and editors), The Cliffe Chapel: A Historical Sketch, Christ Church, Lewes, 2016.

Geering, Cliff, with Armstrong, Nick; Pett, Alan; Smith, David (transcribers and editors); Vance, Norman (research and bibliography), The Tabernacle 1816-1829, Christ Church, Lewes, 2016.

Geering, Cliff, with Armstrong, Nick; Pett, Alan; Smith, David (transcribers and editors); Vance, Norman (research and bibliography), The Tabernacle 1829-1864, Christ Church, Lewes, 2016.


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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