Lewes History Group: Bulletin 84, July 2017

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 July 2017, Mary Burke ‘Tom Paine in Lewes’
  2. A Quaker view of Trafalgar
  3. The British School in Lancaster Street
  4. A Gospel Preacher and a Rogue
  5. Rush hour traffic near St Anne’s Church a century ago
  6. St Peter’s Church, Lewes
  7. Southover Church (by Marcus Taylor)
  8. Screen Stories


  1. Next Meeting             7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.                               Monday 10 July

      Mary Burke                   Tom Paine in Lewes

Tom Paine (1737-1809) is probably the best known of all former Lewes residents, internationally at least. Born in Thetford, Norfolk, and described as “a corset maker by trade, a journalist by profession and a propagandist by inclination”, he came to Lewes as an exciseman and lived here between 1768 and 1774, playing an active part in town life.

The connections he made while here led to his emigration to America in 1774, to become one of the emerging republic’s founding fathers. He then moved on to Paris in the early days of the French Revolution, penning ‘The Rights of Man’ in its defence against its critics. Arrested and imprisoned by Robespierre and convicted of seditious libel in his absence in England, he returned to America where he died in 1809. His polemic against organized religion, ‘The Age of Reason’, led to only six people attending his funeral.

Tom Paine portrait by Auguste Millierre

A portrait by Auguste Milliere, based on a contemporary likeness

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. A Quaker view of Trafalgar

The Lewes Quaker minister William Marten recorded in his diary:

“1805, 11 mo.11. The English having gained a victory at sea, over the French, the town was illuminated as a testimony of rejoicing. Oh that men would learn the religion of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, then would they cease to rejoice at the destruction of their fellow-creatures.”

Source: William Marten, ‘Selections from the Diary and Epistolatory Correspondence of the Late William Marten of Lewes’ (1828), Harvey & Darton. When giving dates Quakers avoided using the names of the months, or the days of the week, because of their associations with pagan Gods.


  1. The British School in Lancaster Street

Free education for the children of the Lewes poor took a step forward with the opening in 1809 by the Royal Lancasterian Society of a day school for boys and girls in Lancaster Street. The movement had begun a decade earlier in Southwark where the Quaker Joseph Lancaster had opened his first school, run on the principle that one master could teach the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic to a group of able teenage boys, and that these monitors would then pass on what they had learned to larger groups of younger children within a big schoolroom overseen by the single master. Financial contributions from the children’s parents were voluntary, and Joseph Lancaster went bankrupt in 1807, but his debts were paid and his ideas promoted by a group of wealthy Quaker philanthropists.

The Lewes Lancastrian School, later called the British School, was housed in an octagonal building, and was one of the earliest outside London. There were 107 local subscribers, headed by the borough’s two MPs. In 1863 the Quaker Burwood Godlee of Leighside donated £500 to add an infants’ school. By the late Victoria period the British School educated up to 400 Lewes children. It was popular with the many non-conformists in the town as an alternative to the Anglican National Schools.

Joseph Lancaster did not allow corporal punishment in his schools, but discipline was maintained by means that might not find favour today. The Lewes schoolroom had ‘Good Boys’ painted on one wall and ‘Bad Boys’ on the opposite one. A Victorian headmaster, who started his career as a monitor in the school and went on to become a member of the Borough’s Education Committee between the wars, remembered punishments including being suspended from the rafters in a basket high above the heads of the other children and being made to walk round with a block of wood chained to an ankle.

The Lewes Quaker minister William Marten recorded in his diary:

 “1809, 7 mo.10. A school for poor children, on the plan of Joseph Lancaster, to be supported by annual subscription, was opened in Lewes today. About two hundred children of both sexes attended, and behaved in an orderly manner. Be pleased, O Lord, to bless this institution, and grant that many of the present generation, and also thousands yet unborn, may, by the instruction therein afforded, be brought to the knowledge of Christ their Saviour.” 

“1809, 7 mo. 26. Called in at the subscription school and heard the girls repeat Watts’ hymn ‘On Lying’. After which I remarked to them, that, although we might deceive our fellow- creatures by falsehood, yet God, who knows our hearts, would punish liars.”

The Quakers did not use the pagan names of the days and months of the year, referring to Sunday as 1st day and  January as ‘1st month’, etc. William Marten (1764-1822) had been born in Barcombe. His father was a General Baptist, his mother an Anglican, and as a child he attended the parish church with her in Barcombe. He then came to Lewes as a young teenager to live and work in the shop of an uncle who was a Quaker. He attended first the General Baptist chapel and then a Calvinist meeting in the Cliffe, before joining the Quakers. He was happy to adopt Quaker dress, but initially concerned how his customers would react to the Quaker refusal to follow the general custom of men doffing their hats to others as a gesture of respect. He became a Quaker minister, although until 1817 he was also in business as a shopkeeper, initially in partnership and then on his own account. 

Lancastrian schools taught a non-denominational version of Christianity. William Marten records later in his diary that he discontinued his first day school because most of his pupils also attended the Lancastrian school, and they had to report to that school on a first day and then march off to their respective places of worship. This Lancastrian school was established before there were any Anglican National Schools in Lewes.

Sources: Brigid Chapman, ‘The Schools of Lewes’ & William Marten, ‘Selections from the Diary and Epistolatory Correspondence of the Late William Marten of Lewes’ (1828), Harvey & Darton.


  1. A Gospel Preacher and a Rogue

The Rector of St Michael’s parish noted in his register the burial on 1 January 1796 of:

                        “William Hattrell, a Gospel Preacher and a rogue”

Source: James P. Huzel, footnote 26 of ‘Population Change in an East Sussex Town: Lewes 1660-1800’, published in Sussex Industrial History, vol.3, pp.2-19.

The first sight of this intriguing character in St Michael’s parish is his marriage to Elizabeth Constable at St Michael’s church on 26 March 1758. This marriage was followed by the baptisms in the same church, at entirely respectable intervals, of three children, William, Elizabeth and John in January 1759, February 1762 and October 1764. The parish officers of St Michael’s evidently had their doubts about young William, as in August 1758, shortly after his marriage, they took the precaution of obtaining a removal order for William and Elizabeth Hattrell to his legal parish of settlement, which was Bishops Waltham in Hampshire. Like many such orders, this was not actually put into effect, and the St Michael’s parish chest also contains a June 1761 settlement certificate from Bishops Waltham parish accepting legal responsibility for William Hattrell, cordwainer, his wife Elizabeth and their son William, aged 2, while they lived in St Michael’s. William was not necessarily an immigrant from Bishop Waltham – there was an earlier William Hattrell with a wife Elizabeth who had children baptised in the Cliffe in the 1730s and 1740s – but he had done enough to establish a settlement there, perhaps by serving his apprenticeship.

William Hattrell, cordwainer, seems to have acquired a modest degree of prosperity in the following decades. He qualified as a self-supporting ‘inhabitant’ so was eligible to cast his vote in the 1780 election to choose the borough’s members of Parliament, and he took on an apprentice in 1782. He made a will as William Hattrell of Lewes, cordwainer, on New Year’s Day 1785, and when it was eventually proved by his executors on 8 March 1796 the value of his estate was a respectable £300 [ESRO PBT 1/1/67/207].

One wonders exactly what it was that this independent shoemaker, a contemporary in St Michael’s of Tom Paine, had done to so attract the ire of his rector. He evidently did not share Tom Paine’s religious views, but a man of his class would not have been permitted to preach the gospel in the established church. He was presumably a non-conformist, though apparently not sufficiently prominent to have come to the attention of Rev. J.M. Connell or Jeremy Goring in their accounts of the town’s religious history. Tom Paine’s political views were much more widely shared in Lewes, and shoemakers were often reckoned as dissenters in both politics and religion. In 1780 William Hattrell cast one of his votes for the relatively radical Thomas Kemp.


  1. Rush hour traffic near St Anne’s Church a century ago

Traffic near St Anne's Church Lewes

Is this another James Cheetham postcard, recently offered for sale on ebay?


  1. St Peter’s Church, Lewes

The church of St Peter stood party on the scite of the parsonage-house of St Anne’s parish, and nearly opposite the present Free Grammar School. Scarcely a vestige is remaining of the old building, although in 1773, as will appear from the accompanying sketch of the ruins, copied from a drawing then made by Lambert, a part of the tottering edifice had been converted into a dwelling house.”

St Peter's Church, Lewes, from Horsfield

Source: Rev T.W. Horsfield, ‘History and Antiquities of Lewes’ (1824), vol.1. 

  1. Southover Church    (by Marcus Taylor)

Southover Church, Lewes, Nibbs engraving

This engraving of Southover Church by Richard Henry Nibbs (1816-1893) was made after 1848 but before the 1884 addition of the chancel. His first series of engravings of Sussex churches was published in 1851.


  1. Screen Stories

‘Screen Stories: Lewes goes to the pictures’ is the second volume on Lewes history to be published by the Lewes History Group. Copies are available at our monthly meetings or via the website.

Screen Stores book poster


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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