Lewes History Group: Bulletin 90, January 2018

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  1. Next Meeting:  8 January 2018: ‘The Roman settlement at Barcombe Mills’
  2. Reminiscences of Lewes at the Pictures
  3. Non-conformists in early 18th century Lewes
  4. The Jireh Chapel Memorials
  5. Lewes Inns in 1823
  6. Lewis Carroll meets Miss Perfect in Lewes (by Al Dawson)


  1. Next Meeting             7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.              Monday 8 January

      David Millum & Rob Wallace The Roman settlement at Barcombe Mills

The Lewes area was already well-populated in the Roman era. Caburn was already an ancient feature in the landscape. The field systems created by Romano-British farmers are evident on Malling Down, and the footings of their roundhouses have been discovered in local digs. There were Roman villas at Plumpton, Barcombe, Ringmer, Laughton and Beddingham and a surprisingly large detached bathhouse was discovered near the medieval Barcombe church. There were iron workings in the Weald and Roman roads criss-crossed the district.

However, King Alfred’s burh at Lewes was still many centuries in the future, and four years ago David and Rob told us about the discovery of the major Roman settlement on the navigable Ouse, at Bridge Farm, near Barcombe Mills. It was created soon after the Roman invasion and remained active for the greater part of the Roman occupation period.

Since then the Culver Archaeological project, led by David & Rob, has completed four more seasons of excavation at the site. They have used geophysical techniques to explore the neighbourhood, to establish the extent and nature of the settlement and its relationship to the local road and river transport systems. In this talk David ad Rob will be telling us what they now know, and what remains to be learnt from future work.

Culver Archaeological project at Barcombe Mills

Visualisation of an aisled building as once existed at Bridge Farm
David Millum excavating a Roman well
Rob Wallace with Roman timber from the bottom of a post hole


  1. Reminiscences of Lewes at the Pictures

In the presentation by the Reel Lewes team at our June 2017 meeting we were shown a few short clips from the filmed reminiscences of older local residents of their personal experiences attending Lewes cinemas. However, what was shown was only a small proportion of the material collected by the team about this aspect of Lewes history.

The complete film ‘Big Screen Memories’ celebrating cinema going in the town runs for 56 minutes, and was seen by many visitors to the Depot in the new cinema’s opening fortnight in May 2017.  We have now been able to arrange a repeat screening of ‘Big Screen Memories’ at the Depot open to everyone for 11 a.m. on Thursday 1 February 2018.

Tickets are available via the Depot Box Office at £6 (£4 for concessions).


  1. Non-conformists in early 18th century Lewes

In 1724 Bishop Bowers, the Bishop of Chichester, surveyed all the parishes in his diocese to establish how many families there were in each parish, and how many of these families dissented from the established Church. Bishop Bowers’ writ stopped at the River Ouse, but in 1717 Archbishop Wake had asked his clergymen in his South Malling Peculiar on the east side of the Ouse much the same questions, and putting the answers together we can get some picture of the state of religious dissent in this period, despite some of the responses being suspiciously round numbers:

Parish Families Papists Quakers Anabaptists Other dissenters
All Saints 54 0 1 0 10
St John-sub-Castro 56 0 0 1 6
St Michael 100 0 2 0 25
St Anne 50 0 0 1 9
Southover 64 0 1 2 15
Cliffe 101 0 4 1 15
South Malling 22 0 0 0 2


Taking the responses at face value, this indicates a total of just under 450 families in the early 18th century town. As the Cliffe response helpfully adds that the 101 families there comprised about 500 souls, this would suggest an overall population for the area of modern Lewes of about 2,000-2,500.

About 95 of these families (roughly 20%) were non-conformists, of whom the great majority were either Presbyterians or Independents. The Anglican clergy identified just 8 Quaker households and 5 Anabaptists. There was apparently not a single Papist anywhere in Lewes, though they were to be found in small numbers in the countryside roundabout, especially in the parishes of the Gage estates based at Firle.

In the following century the dissenters in the town greatly increased their strength. By the 1851 Religious Census there were at least a dozen non-conformist churches active in Lewes and Cliffe: Quakers, Baptists, Unitarians, Wesleyans, Primitive Methodists and at least seven congregations of generally Calvinist Independents. The newly-rebuilt barn-like St John-sub-Castro expected 800 at its evening service, the only one held, but the other Anglican churches were pleased to see as many as 200 at their morning or afternoon services. St Michael’s claimed 50 at the sole service on census day, but admitted this was “above the average”. By contrast Tabernacle claimed 700 and Jireh 650 at their morning services, and most of the other chapels had congregations in the hundreds.

Sources: Sussex Record Society volumes 78 and 75.


  1. The Jireh Chapel Memorials

Jireh chapel did not have its own churchyard, but to the west of the chapel, now in the grounds of Huntington Court, is a large concrete vault with five memorial panels. Three of the panels are to the first three ministers serving Jireh and their families. They were:

  • Rev Jenkin Jenkins, pastor of Jireh, who died 1 September 1810 aged 59. He had been pastor of the old Cliffe Chapel on Chapel Hill until in 1805 when he had a disagreement with the trustees and led the secession of part of the congregation to found Jireh. Huntington gave him the initials WA, for Welsh Ambassador.
  • “WHSS” [William Huntington, Sinner Saved], “the Coalheaver”, who died 1 July 1813 aged 68. He was a powerful Calvinist preacher recruited by Jenkin Jenkins to help found the new chapel.
  • Rev John Vinall, minister for over 45 years, from 1811 to 1856, who died 3 March 1860 aged 77. His section also remembers his first wife Ann who died 2 December 1823, aged 42; his second wife Anna who died 2 March 1851 aged 64 and his son Benjamin who died 16 March 1856 aged 33. He was briefly succeeded by his son the Rev John Vinall junior, who died in 1859.

The remaining panels remember two of the first chapel trustees, both large scale tenant farmers of Downland farms. Thomas Hooper, who died on 27 May 1830 aged 72 had (along with his brother Cleeve Hooper, another chapel trustee) farmed the Glyndebourne Estate’s Old House and Gote Farms from 1790 to 1810. Both their wives were called Mary, one being the Mary Hooper who played a leading part in the 1805 secession from Cliffe Chapel that led to the foundation of Jireh. The other, Thomas Marchant senior, had extensive farming interests based at Southerham Farm and Upper Stoneham Farm, South Malling, and died on 2 February 1832 aged 70.

The memorial vault

The chapel proved extremely popular, and was extended in 1826 so that it could accommodate a congregation of 1,000 in its box pews and galleries beneath a barrel-vaulted timber roof. It is a timber framed Georgian structure, clad in mathematical tile. It is a classic of its type, and was listed grade 1 in 1952.

Before the creation of the Phoenix Causeway Jireh chapel was much less prominent in the streetscene than it is today. It was a backyard development, accessed from Malling Street.

William Huntington SS portrait
William Huntington SS, whose portrait hung in the chapel for many years

Jireh Chapel and its Sunday School, viewed from Malling Street

The foundation plaque, visible in the photograph above, read:

Jireh Temple Lewes foundation plaque

with the
Voluntary Contributions




  1. Lewes Inns in 1823

The list of Lewes inns below comes from one of the first county directories, Pigot’s, published in 1823. Only 21 inns were identified and their licensees named, though there may of course have been other drinking establishments considered not to deserve a mention (or unwilling to pay for inclusion). However, this early list lacks several of the Lewes Inns prominent later, such as The Elephant and Castle and the Prince of Wales (not yet built), the Snowdrop (avalanche still in the future), and the Railway (not yet arrived).

Bear (John Vincent) Lamb (William Rogers) Stag (Thomas Bollen)
Black Horse (Jonas Cooter) Lewes Arms (G. Robinson) Star (Richard Insoll)
Brewers Arms (John Wood) Lewes Castle (William Kemp) Swan (John Blake)
Crown (John Beckett) Old Ship (John Ellis) Thatched House (R. Dray)
Dolphin (James Penford) Pelham Arms (S. Garnham) Wheatsheaf (James Brown)
Dorset Arms (John Hall) Royal Oak (W. Bridger) White Hart (John Pollard)
Fountain (Barn. Garnham) Running Horse (R. Roberts) White Swan (George Weller)


 Lewis Carroll meets Miss Perfect in Lewes       (by Al Dawson)

Miss Amy Sophia Perfect (1875-1960) was the youngest daughter of Rev Arthur Pearson Perfect (1838-1910), who was Rector of St John-sub-Castro from 1866 until his death. Her grandfather was Robert Perfect who, though he never lived in Lewes, represented the Borough in Parliament in the Liberal interest from 1847 to 1852. She was a lifelong resident of Lewes, living initially with her parents in the Rectory, then with a brother who ran a private school in St Anne’s parish and finally at 70 Prince Edwards Road. She shared 70 Prince Edwards Road with her older sister Caroline up to Caroline’s death in 1939. She was an enthusiastic worker for the church and its Sunday School and was well known as a singer. She was a keen member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

She first met Lewes Carroll at Eastbourne on 27 July 1895, when they were introduced after she had sung some solos in an operetta presented by a local girls’ school. Almost a year later, on 22 June 1896, Charles Dodgson sent her a brief letter from his Oxford college.

Dear Miss Amy

  (That looks a little less formal than “Miss Perfect” and I do so hate formality!) I’m glad you would like to have the Logic – I almost, but not quite, screwed up enough effrontery to call last October but feared that, not having the pleasure of knowing your parents, it would be too much of a liberty. Next time I come South (about the middle of July) I shall be older and, perhaps, more effronterious.

Yours very sincerely
C.L. Dodgson

Later that year, on 19 August 1896, Dodgson penned her a second note, from Eastbourne.

Dear Miss Amy Perfect

 I have a niece (Edith Dodgson) visiting me, and would like to bring her over to Lewes, and have a look at the old castle, and then (if I can summon courage) call and renew the pleasure which our brief acquaintance (I think it has lasted 15 or 20 minutes) has given me, if you would kindly tell me which day in the week is your “at home” day, so that we may avoid it: I dread and shun all such hosts of strangers.”

Charles Dodgson did indeed summon up the necessary courage, as his diaries show that on 22 August he brought his niece to Lewes, where he spent 2½ hours with Miss Amy Perfect, who met them at the castle and then took them to the Vicarage where they met her two sisters. The St John-sub-Castro rectory was then in Prince Edwards Road. Amy Perfect was the ninth of ten children, and had more than two sisters, but the two who were unmarried and lived at home at that date were Miss Caroline Perfect (1866-1939) and Miss Mildred Perfect (1870-1917), who later became a mission worker in Islington.

The two original letters are preserved in the Fisher rare Book Room, University of Toronto, but are reproduced in Morton L. Cohen, ‘The Letters of Lewis Carroll, 1886-1898’, published by Oxford University Press in 1979. Al Dawson has an MA in Victorian History and lives in Iowa City.


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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