Lewes History Group: Bulletin 94, May 2018

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:  14 May 2018: Debby Matthews, ‘The Station Street Story’
  2. Lewes Wesleyan Church
  3. Henry Manning of Southover, Sheriff of Sussex
  4. Royal Visits to Lewes (John Geall)
  5. A Water Snake in the Cockshut Stream
  6. Lewes Shipbuilding after 1856
  7. Invitation to Bull House


  1. Next Meeting         7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.                  Monday 14 May
    Debby Matthews                    The Station Street Story

Following an earlier LHG talk when Debby outlined the early history of what was St Mary’s Lane she will now update the story from the coming of the railway station to the present day. She will describe the growth of Station Street, its shops and businesses, and some of its characters and events. Often overlooked, Station Street has many local residents, (Debby included), two pubs, two religious establishments, two restaurants, two cafes (with possibly a third coming soon) and at least a dozen other businesses of differing sorts. The story of its development over the years may enlighten even those local residents of the town who recall it when it was a two way thoroughfare.  This history is a developing ongoing project which has already resulted in two previous public exhibitions and is one of the LHG Street Story projects. Any new pictures or memories are welcome, bring them to the talk at the Kings Church, phone 01273 483228 (you can leave a message) or email debby [dot] matthews [at] yahoo.co.uk. 

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. Lewes Wesleyan Church

Lewes Wesleyan Church, postcardThis postcard of the Lewes Wesleyan Church on Station Street and its Sunday School, postmarked 1906, was sold last year on ebay. The publisher did not include his name on the postcard.

The Wesleyan Methodist chapel shown was built in 1867 on the site of an earlier chapel with quite a complex history. The Methodist chapel closed in 1973 and the congregation merged into the United Reform Church now housed in modern premises at Christ Church on Prince Edwards Road.

The former chapel has now been converted to one of the many Lewes antiques emporia – Church Hill Antiques Centre, 6 Station Street. Only the chapel itself survives – the Sunday School was demolished.


  1. Henry Manning of Southover, Sheriff of Sussex

Theoretically the sheriff of a county is the judicial representative of the monarch, but by the 18th century the role had become largely a ceremonial one. A new sheriff is appointed annually in November to serve for a year from the following Lady Day, 25 March. Up to 1751 Lady Day was the first day of the new year. The sheriff of Sussex chosen in 1790 was Henry Manning of Southover, esquire.

There were two Henry Mannings of Southover, father and son, but as the 1776 will of Henry Manning the father was proved in 1779, this honour went to the son. Both father and son had careers as Lewes surgeons, but each in turn retired to a genteel life in Southover.

Henry Manning of Lewes, apothecary and surgeon, purchased a genteel house on the south side of Southover High Street in 1744. Initially he leased it to tenants, but in 1757 he passed on his house and pharmacy in Lewes High Street to his son and retired to Southover. Thirty years after his purchase, and towards the end of his life, he ambitiously rebuilt the house, to create the present Southover Old House, with a fairly modest mathematically tiled front but a much more elaborate rear facing the brookland. Detailed accounts survive.

Photograph of rear aspect from 27 Apr 2015 The Argus. Image at The Argus website

The younger Henry Manning inherited Southover Old House from his father in 1776, and extended it over the following decade by adding the properties to the west and east, demolishing them to create an elaborate stable block and a garden. He seems to have moved to live there only after his mother’s death in the mid-1780s – he was still Henry Manning of Lewes, surgeon, in 1783, but had become Henry Manning of Southover, esquire, by 1785. He then lived there until his own death in 1810. The value of his household furniture and effects was then assessed at over £800, while his overall estate was sworn as “under £50,000”.

He left no wife, children or brothers, and the surname Manning then dies out in Lewes. His will distributed his estate between a number of relatives. The principal beneficiary, who inherited Southover, was another surgeon, his nephew John Ingram of Steyning. The Ingram family remained at Southover Old House into the 20th century, adding their own extensions to either side of Henry Manning’s 1774 house. It became part of Southover Manor School in the 1920s, but is now again a private house.

Southover Old House frontage

Southover Old House frontage; © Nicholas Chadwick, with permission

Sources: The Lady’s Magazine for 1790; Judy Brent, ‘Southover House Histories’; title deeds in the ESRO SAS/I series, that include the 1810 will of Henry Manning the younger.


  1. Royal Visits to Lewes                                (Information from John Geall)

Our present Queen has visited Lewes more than once, but records of visits to the town by previous monarchs are comparatively scarce. Queen Elizabeth I planned to visit Lord Buckhurst’s new house in Southover, constructed from the Prior’s lodgings, in 1577, but the visit was cancelled due to an outbreak of plague. Both the Prince Regent and Princess Victoria visited the town prior to inheriting the crown, but neither is recorded as repeating their visits as monarch. The visit of King William IV to the Friars in 1830 is well-recorded, but for other visits by reigning monarchs we have to go back to medieval times.

The Norman Kings were regular visitors to Sussex, on their travels to and from Normandy. King Stephen is recorded writing a letter from Lewes Priory where he was staying in 1153. King John spent several days in Lewes in 1205. He stayed overnight at South Malling (presumably at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace there) in April 1206, and he was in Lewes again in April 1213 for an overnight stop. King Henry III and his son Edward, Prince of Wales, were famously in Lewes in 1264, the King spending the night before the battle in the Priory while his son stayed in the Castle. After his defeat he returned to the Priory and after some days of negotiation was forced to sign the Mise of Lewes. Despite this negative experience, Edward I returned to Lewes at least twice as King, returning for a few days in 1299, again in 1302 and then again for a final visit near the end of his life in 1305.

Source: Brigid Chapman, ‘Royal Visitors to Sussex’ (1991).


  1. A Water Snake in the Cockshut Stream

The 31 May 1793 Stamford Mercury reported that in the previous week a farmer’s servant, crossing the Cock-shoot stream in Southover, near Lewes, with two horses, “was actually beset by a large water snake, that greatly alarmed the horses”. The Cockshut stream once formed the southern boundary of Lewes Priory.


  1. Lewes Shipbuilding after 1856

The port of Newhaven (which includes Lewes and Brighton) maintained a register of the sea-going ships based there, and the volume that commences in 1856 survives in The Keep [ESRO RSS/3/1/1]. The register distinguishes sailing ships from steam ships, and indeed steam-paddlers from steam-screw ships driven by a rear propeller. There were many steam-paddlers, most of them owned by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway and all built on the Thames or in Scotland. The tonnage, dimensions and dates and places of construction of the ships registered at Newhaven are also given, and changes in ownership are carefully recorded – each ship was held as 64 shares. The reasons why their registration ended is also noted.

It seems to have been the practice of Edward Chatfield (1814-1885), apparently the main Lewes shipbuilder, to register his new ships at least initially at Newhaven. Eight Chatfield-built sailing ships appear in the register, though the majority were quickly sold on and re-registered elsewhere.

The ‘Richard & Emily’, 82 tons, built in March 1862. This was initially owned in equal shares by Edward Chatfield and his business partner Alfred King Sampson. In 1865 Edward Chatfield sold half his 32 shares to a master mariner from Boston, Lincs, providing him with a mortgage to facilitate the purchase. He sold his remaining 16 shares to the same man in 1869.

The ‘Eagle’, 141 tons, built in May 1863. He sold this to a London man in September 1863.

The ‘Alexandria’, just 16 tons, built in 1864. He sold this in March 1865 to a London barge builder.

The ‘Susannah’, 26 tons, built in February 1865. Edward Chatfield retained only 21 shares in this ship, and sold his interest to a co-owner, a Newhaven shipping broker, in July 1866.

The ‘Wallands’, 98 tons, built in February 1866. He retained ownership of this ship, illustrated in Bulletin no.87, until 1874 when he sold it to a Wartling farmer, again providing him with a mortgage to facilitate the purchase.

The ‘Number One’, 27 tons, built February 1866. He sold this in May 1867 to a London barge builder.

The ‘Chance’, 34 tons, built in March 1869 and sold the following month to barge owners based at Poplar on the Thames.

The ‘Beauty’, 21 tons, built in April 1872. This was quickly removed from the register, because it was to be employed solely for inland navigation. Its operator in March 1875 was Charles Brown of Lewes.

The smaller ‘sailing ships’ seem in reality to have been little more than sea-going barges. There may of course have been other ships and barges, not included in this list, either because they were sold new to owners who registered them elsewhere, or they were intended for use solely on the Ouse. A brief biography of Edward Chatfield, in 1867 described as a coal, timber, & slate merchant, steam saw mill proprietor, ship & barge builder & ship owner, North Street, is included in Bulletin no.88.

Three other Lewes-built sailing ships are noted in the register without any apparent link to Edward Chatfield. Two were really barges. The ‘Serf’, 22 tons, was built in Jan 1867 and registered initially to the Lewes architect and builder Charles James Berry, who owned all 64 shares. In 1871 he took a £70 mortgage secured on the ship from ironfounder Ebenezer Morris. The mortgage was discharged in 1879, but thereafter the shares were sub-divided between a number of owners. The ‘Serf’ remained on the register until 1913. The ‘Servitor’, 17 tons, built in Lewes in 1868, was registered only in May 1879 to joint owners Ebenezer Morris and stonemason Charles Parsons. North Street, Lewes, bargeman Charles William Hemsley took a minority interest of 9 shares on the same day. For its first decade it may have been used only on the river, and this may have been sensible – it was lost in July 1881 when it foundered at Hope Gap, Cuckmere.

The last Lewes-built ship recorded was the ‘Harriet’, 178 tons, said to have been built at Lewes in 1848 (before this register commenced) but registered at Newhaven in September 1875 by Thomas Fieldgate, a master mariner based in that town who owned all 64 shares. It had presumably been registered elsewhere until then. The ‘Harriet’ remained registered until November 1893, when it was stranded and wrecked at Coatham, near the mouth of the Tees.


  1. Invitation to Bull House

On 15 October 1923 Alderman John H Every wrote the letter below to the Mayor of Lewes, Councillor William Canadine, suggesting that the American ambassador, who had accepted an invitation to open the new Ringmer village sign, might wish to stop off to visit Bull House, Lewes, because of its connection with Thomas Paine. We know that the invitation was accepted, because a later letter from E.M. Reeves, listing the negatives taken on the day, includes one of the ambassador at Tom Paine’s house [negative 13223A]. In another letter Councillor Canadine (chosen as Mayor in 1922 according to the list in Bulletin no.69) describes the visit as one of the highlights of his year in the office. Quite why the local dignitaries present at the formal opening of this village sign were the assembled members of Lewes Borough Corporation rather than the local parish council remains unexplained. It may be relevant that the Ringmer parish council chairman in office at that date was a farm carter, who was also a Labour party and Trade Union activist.

“Dear Mr Mayor 

I note with much interest that H.E. The American Ambassador will be passing through Lewes on his way to Ringmer to the function to which, as a Member of the Corporation, I happily have an invitation. 

I am the owner of Bull House, St Michael’s, Lewes, which has recently been restored, and which was at one time the residence of the celebrated Thomas Paine, who, at the time of his residence there, was an Exciseman. Falling out with the Authorities, he went abroad and took part in the French Revolution. Later he went to America where he fought with pen and sword, and it is stated he took part in drawing up the Declaration of Independence. Would Mr Harvey be interested in viewing this house? If so it could be readily arranged if he had the time at his disposal. It need not delay his journey to Ringmer by more than, say, 15 minutes. 

Apart from its historical interest, the house is well worth a visit as a specimen of an old English home, which, by the way, was formerly an hostelry known as ‘The Bull Inn’ and was probably erected about 1450/1500.  

I make this suggestion with all deference and am, 

Yours faithfully 

John H. Every”

The letter survives because it was passed to Lady Demetriadi, the donor of the Ringmer village sign, and included in a collection of her momentoes of the day preserved by Ringmer parish council and now to be deposited at The Keep. Alderman Every’s haziness about the relative dates of the American War of Independence and the French Revolution can be excused, given that his main role in life was as a captain of 20th century Lewes industry.



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
The Arts Society: Uckfield & Lewes – meets 2nd Wed. Guests £7 per talk

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Twitter: https://twitter.com/LewesHistory




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