Lewes History Group: Bulletin 89, December 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.

  1. Christmas Meeting:  11 December 2017: Street Stories updates
  2. A Stocking Filler!
  3. Screen Stories Film
  4. A landslide on Cliffe Hill
  5. The Winterbourne in flood
  6. Turnpike Trust accounts
  7. Martin’s Garages
  8. Trouble at the Races
  9. The theft of Government Stores (by Hilary Smith)
  10. A.G.M Reports (by Ian McClelland, Ron Gordon, Neil Merchant, Barbara Merchant & Jane Lee)

Christmas Meeting 7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.              Monday 11 December
Ian McClelland                          The Lewes Street Stories Project
Heather Downie                        The South Street Story

The theme for our December meeting will be the progress of our Street Stories project. Ian McClelland will give a brief overview of progress to date, and then Heather Downie will tell us about her work on the history of South Street. I think it is fair to say that South Street is by some margin the most ambitious of our Street Stories to have reached the reporting stage. It is a long street, with back yards on the west side of the street that go right back to the river, and have played an important role in Cliffe’s commercial history. It is also very long established, with a history that stretches back to medieval times.

For the A.G.M. reports please see the final section of this Bulletin. As this is the Christmas meeting we shall be serving mulled wine and mince pies between 7.00 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. and there will be no entry charge for members.


  1. A Stocking Filler!

If you are looking for a Christmas gift for the person who has everything, then how about the LHG book, ‘Screen Stories: Lewes goes to the pictures’? People from all over the country have told us how the book has evoked their own experience of going to the cinema in the 1940s-60s.

Visit leweshistory.org.uk/screen-stories/ to place your order. We’re offering a special price of £8.50 each (RRP £8.99) if you buy 5 or more copies! Or come along to our Christmas meeting and buy copies there.


  1. Screen Stories Film

At our June meeting the Reel Lewes team showed some short excerpts from the film they have produced about the history of cinema in Lewes. There will be an opportunity to see the whole film and, for those who have not done so, to experience the facilities at the new Depot cinema, Pinwell Lane, at 11 am on Thursday 1 February 2018. There will be a brief introduction by the Reel Lewes team. Tickets will be £6 (£4 concessions).


  1. A landslide on Cliffe Hill

Landslide on Cliffe Hill, Lewes, postcard circa 1910

This excellent postcard of Chapel Hill by an anonymous publisher was posted in 1910. It is an excellent view of the houses on, and set back from, Chapel Hill, but was published shortly after a landslide in the chalk face that looks as if it jeopardises the foundations of one prominent Georgian house and has deposited a great deal of unwanted chalk in the garden of another.  The postcard was offered on ebay in Nov 2017 and sold for over £50. I have seen another copy previously, but this image is particularly sharp.


  1. The Winterbourne in flood

Winterbourne in flood, Lewes, postcard

This postcard shows the Winterbourne, in winter flood, washing  across Bell Lane at the bottom of Rotten Row. The pedestrian must either brave the water or take a long way round.


  1. Turnpike Trust accounts

When Geoffrey Preston was recently clearing the basement of a local solicitor he discovered an abandoned document that proved to be the summarised accounts of seven Sussex turnpike trusts for the year ending Michaelmas 1832. The accounts list for each trust their income (including both tolls and new loans they had raised) and expenditure on repairs, payments to officers and interest payments to investors. The amount of accumulated debt from previous years was also shown. The tolls themselves were not usually collected directly, but the right to collect them was auctioned each year to a contractor.

Turnpike Trust Length Tolls Change since 1831 Repairs
Miles £ £ £
Offham to Witch Cross (A275) 15 1,233 -60 712
Malling to Witch Cross (A26) 15 1,813 -149 1,753
Ringmer to Hurst Green (B2192) 25¾ 1,803 -43 1,888
Uckfield to Tunbridge Wells (A26) 14 314 -92 358
Hodges to Cuckfield 19 392 +8 387
Offham to Ditchling (B2116) 141 -10 89
Lewes to Brighthelmston (A27) 8 1,186 -20 834

The rural economy was hard-pressed in the early 1830s. Most trusts were in deficit, and only the last two had proved profitable in both 1831 and 1832, the Offham to Ditchling road achieving its surplus only because it had failed to pay the interest due to its investors. Repair costs alone could exceed income, especially for the Wealden routes. The Malling to Wych trust made a loss despite including as ‘income’ a new £500 loan from John Rickman and a security deposit from the new contractor of the Stoneham turnpike gate.

The document has been deposited at The Keep where it has the reference ESRO Acc.12950.


  1. Martin’s Garages

Martin's Garage, Lewes, advertisement 1935

This advertisement for Martin’s motor engineers was published in the Sussex County Magazine in 1935, when there was a showroom on the Cliffe side of the bridge and a repair workshop on the Lewes side.


  1. Trouble at the Races

While the Lewes races helped enliven the town’s social year, and contributed to its economy, race meetings also attracted undesirables from a wide area. The news item below, from the 16 August 1846 Sussex Advertiser and reporting a case brought before the Lewes magistrates, is typical of many others. There was always a heavy East Sussex Constabulary presence at such events after the formation of the force in 1841.

 “John Green, who stated himself to be a native of Southampton, was brought up in custody of Police Constable Cheesman, E.S.C., charged with stealing from the pocket of Mr T. Cotton of Lewes a silk handkerchief, value three shillings. Mr Cotton deposed that he was on Lewes race course about 6 o’clock on Wednesday, and felt a pull at his pocket. He instantly turned round and saw the prisoner put his handkerchief in his pocket. Prosecutor thrust his hand into his pocket but could not find the handkerchief. He gave him into custody to Cheesman the police; Captain Bolton came up and saw the handkerchief at the bottom of the prisoner’s trousers. The prisoner was minutely searched at the Station House, where there was found upon him three thimbles, three peas, three dice, a counterfeit sovereign and a duplicate for a coat at Southampton. The prisoner, who made no defence, was committed for trial at the next quarter sessions.”

A duplicate was a pawnbroker’s ticket given when items were pledged to raise cash.


  1. The theft of Government Stores                                 (by Hilary Smith)

Source: 24 Aug 1917 Sussex Express 

“At the County Hall, Lewes, yesterday morning, Alderman G. Holman, who sat with the Mayor (Councillor A.E. Rugg), intimated that, as thefts of government stores had become so frequent, the bench had decided that fines were useless, and that, if possible, pilfering must be stopped by imprisonment. The remark was made at the conclusion of a case in which Arthur Leonard Clemence, a ship’s fireman, was charged with having stolen 3½ lb of sugar, value 1s 9d, government stores, at Newhaven on 22 August. 

Detective James Homerstone, London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Police, gave evidence that early that morning defendant was one of a number of men who alighted from a train at London-road Station, Brighton. In the booking hall defendant placed under a seat a bag of sugar which he took from his overcoat. Witness said to defendant, “I saw you put this bag under that seat”. He replied “You are mistaken” and persistently denied any knowledge of the bag. Particles of sugar having been found in his overcoat, defendant said “I did take that bag from my overcoat and place it under the seat in the booking hall. I was at work on a ship in Newhaven dock and I saw a quantity of sugar lying loose in the hold. I saw an opportunity of having some, so I took it.” 

Detective-Sergeant Coles, New Scotland Yard, said that at Lewes police station at 8 o’clock that morning he told defendant he would be arrested for stealing the sugar. He replied “I will tell you the whole truth. I was working in a transport and in the forepart of No.1 hold on the port side I saw a bag of sugar which had a hole in it. About 30lb of sugar had run out. I took some of the sugar and was stopped by the Railway Police at London-road. I did not burst the bag.” Defendant, who pleaded guilty, asked for leniency on account of his wife and family. Detective-Sergeant Coles produced a receptacle which he said appeared to have been made specially for holding sugar, and which had evidently been dropped by a man who did not wish to be found by the police with sugar on him. Alderman Holman said the Bench had had before them many cases of pilfering from government stores, and fines did not seem to have any deterrent effect. There was plenty of money and the fines were always paid. The bench felt that they should refrain from imposing fines. Defendant would be sentenced to 14 days hard labour. Defendant: “How will my wife and children get on?” Alderman Holman: You should have thought of that before. This practice must be stopped. We are determined to stop it in some way.”  


  1. A.G.M. Reports        (editor Ian McClelland, Chairperson)

There are 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.

Membership report (by Neil Merchant): Last year I reported that we had 247 members, and our current 2017 membership is well above that, at 263 (+6%). We’ve seen this incremental growth ever year so far, which is very encouraging. We now have almost 300 (+15%) names on our “Information only” email contact list, also a new high, so we’re in touch with over 500 people in total. 2017 renewals have started better than ever, with approaching 100 people having renewed at the time of writing. If you have not already done so you will be able to renew your membership at our December, January and February meetings, where new membership cards will be waiting for you, or by post.

Membership fees for 2018 are unchanged, at £8 and £4. 

We’ve been issuing membership cards, and assigning membership numbers, since 2013. This is now long enough that length of membership starts to become significant, so this coming year’s cards for existing members acknowledge when you first joined.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone for their helpfulness over membership matters, which has made my job a continuing pleasure.

Meetings: The programme of monthly meetings covered a wide variety of topics and, in general, were well attended and very well received by our audiences. Only once this year has the attendance fallen below 100. The 2017 average is now approaching 150, though this has been boosted by our best ever attendance of 240 for Bob Cairn’s talk in November ‘Lewes Within Living Memory’.

A small but important part of the Group’s work is the Research Meetings programme. The purpose of these meetings is to enhance the expertise of LHG members who want to undertake investigations. During 2017 the focus has been on the regular quarterly meetings for the Street Stories project.

Bulletin (by John Kay): We have continued to publish monthly editions of the Lewes History Bulletin, and assuming this continues we should reach the milestone of 100 towards the end of next year. Barbara Merchant’s magic means that when you make google searches the relevant Bulletin articles generally pop up high on the list, but I maintain for my own use an electronic index of the Lewes people, places and topics mentioned, so if anyone would like a copy of the index for the Bulletins so far I would be happy to email it to you. 

Projects: The EC wants to do more to encourage the active involvement of members in research projects.  Clearly not every member needs to be active but the EC would like to see a broad portfolio of projects evolve over the coming years.

We saw the conclusion to the Screen Stories project, previously referred to as the REEL project, which was completed in cooperation with the Depot. As a result the project produced the book, Screen Stories – Lewes goes to the pictures, the second book to be published by the LHG, which was launched to coincide with the opening of the Depot cinema in May 2017.  The opening of the Depot included a Screen Stories exhibition and a screening of a video showing many of the interviews carried out as a contribution to the content of the book. The Screen Stories project also featured as our contribution to the Heritage Open Days exhibition, again, at the Lewes Depot, in September 2017.

The book was authored by Ruth Thomson ably supported by the ‘REEL team’. Our thanks go to Ruth for all the hard work she put into the book itself and to her colleagues on the REEL Team for all the hard work they also put into the project, the exhibitions and the production of the video. Our thanks also go to the Depot for their help in bringing Screen Stories to a successful conclusion.

The Street Stories project continues to be a key research initiative. We have several active groups and a programme of quarterly meetings to review progress and provide mutual support. A significant milestone for the project has been the sale of all the Sun Street books, so it is now officially ‘out of print’!

Finances (by Ron Gordon): The LHG remains solvent. Last year the Development Fund funded the publication of the Sun Street book and followed up this year with financing a reprint. As a result of the successful sales campaign I can now report that we made a surplus of just short of £300.  This year we also financed the publication of Screen Stories – Lewes goes to the pictures.  Sales for this book are still progressing and we expect to reach a breakeven point shortly.  The Development Fund was also used to support the Reeves Archive project, led by Brigitte Lardinois, an LHG member. Our financial support was critical in enabling the project to secure matched funding from the South Downs National Park Authority. Consequently our contribution was, in effect, doubled in value.  Our support was explicitly focussed on financing the purchase of essential conservation materials and air quality control equipment that will enable the archive to be conserved for many decades to come.

The EC is still keen to encourage other members to come forward with project proposals if financial support is required. In addition, as we have made clear on previous occasions, the EC is happy to consider covering reasonable expenses in the pursuit of LHG projects where it is needed.  If you have a need please let us know. 

Communications report (by Jane Lee): Our regular marketing activities continue to attract large numbers of members and visitors to the monthly talks.

In addition a significant effort was put into promoting the book: Screen Stories – Lewes goes to the pictures by Ruth Thomson & her Reel Lewes team. 500 copies were printed and 256 sold at 1/11/17. The book was promoted via…

  • Launch party at Depot + exhibition
  • Flyers & posters
  • News editorial in Sussex Express
  • Book reviews
    • Viva Lewes
    • Sussex Book Club
    • Sussex Past & Present
    • Sussex Life
    • Cinema Theatre Assoc bulletin
    • Media International Australia
    • Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television
  • Lewes News article, May/June
  • LoveLewes podcast, May

Our marketing activities were maintained at similar levels during the year and numbers have grown for both joining and attending. The Sussex Express and Viva are still the prime ways of reaching non-members. LHG promotional activities in 2017 included:

  • Taking a stand at the Societies Fair in Sept.
  • Heritage Open Days in Sept included the Screen Stories exhibition (w/o the film). 109 visitors were logged but the number will have been higher as the exhibition was unmanned in the evenings. 2 DVDs & 4 books sold.
  • Article by John Kay in Lewes News, May, on Lewes Spitfire pilot Claude Wheatley.
  • Talks featured in:
    • Sussex Express
    • Viva Lewes
    • Lewes News
    • Online what’s on pages: Lewes.co.uk, Freegle, LoveLewes.com, LDC (Lewes.gov.uk) & ESCC Library (escis.org.uk)
    • Newsletters & websites of associates e.g. Friends of Lewes, Priory Trust, Sussex Archaeological Society, Lewes Archaeology Group
    • A4 Posters in Tourist Office, Library, Barbican, Bow Windows Bookshop, Bridge Cottage. Also the windows of members in South St, Keere St, Little East St, Friars Walk, St Swithins Terrace, & the Pells. New locations for leaflets found at the Con Club
    • Leaflets placed in locations around town
    • Posting on Twitter & Facebook pages
    • LHG website, event emailings & bulletin
  • Using our social media accounts to promote our own and other local history events.
  • Reprint of 1000 LHG leaflets in Feb.

Website, Facebook, and Twitter (by Barbara Merchant): Usage of our website has plateaued at about 33,800 views in 2017, averaging 95 views per day. An increasing number of people (total 145) have signed on to receive the website’s news and event announcements by email, and our Facebook and Twitter pages have been very successful in magnifying the reach of these announcements, and bringing us to a new audience. We now have 653 (was 489 in 2016) following @LewesHistory on Twitter & 532 on Facebook www.facebook.com/LewesHistoryGroup (was 405 in 2016) as at 15/11/17.  A recent dramatic increase in Facebook reach could lift website usage from its current plateau.

We also compile lists of resources for researching the history of Lewes, and these web pages, the Bulletins, and Street Stories reports topped the popularity list in 2017.

LHG Executive Committee: The ambition of the LHGEC in 2017 continued with encouraging the development of research activities. The LHGEC still, unfortunately, operates without a Secretary. We hope that a suitable candidate comes forward in 2018 to fill this position. Both Ron Gordon as Treasurer and myself as Chairperson are happy to continue in post for 2017.

Thanks 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 2017:

      • To your Executive Committee for all their hard work
        • Ron Gordon, Ann Holmes, John Kay, Jane Lee, Barbara Merchant and Neil Merchant.
      • To all our speakers
      • Our public meetings
      • 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 and others; preparation of the meeting room
        • Anna Kay & Jan Osborne; refreshments,
        • Dee O’Connell; admissions desk
        • Dee O’Connell, Janet Kennedy, Peter Earl, Jennifer Chibnall & Carol Todd; displaying our meeting posters,
        • and everyone else who has helped out over the last year.

My apologies to anyone I may have unwittingly omitted.

      • To Lloyd Raworth for continuing to support us with his design work including, in particular, the Screen Stories book.
      • 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.


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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