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- Next Meeting: 10 September 2018: Lewes Heritage Talks
- The Lewes Town Hall Pictures
- John Button’s Academy
- The Military Steam Lorry
- The Pells Paper Mill (by Barbara Merchant)
- A Trotting Match at Lewes
- Kate Fowler-Tutt, public speaker
- Next Meeting 7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m. Monday 10 September
Three talks on aspects of Lewes Heritage
John Downie Lewes Public Clocks
Judy Mackerras The Turkish Baths, Friars Walk
Marcus Taylor The Gundrada Chapel, Southover Church
In tribute to the forthcoming Lewes Heritage Weekend our meeting this month will comprise three short talks about aspects of our town’s built heritage. First John Downie will give a short talk about some of the principal public clocks in the town, explaining what their purposes and why communities paid for them. In a pictorial stroll that will encompass both ancient mechanical clocks and those with modern electronic movements, he will focus on the older ones, such as those on St Thomas a Beckett church, Cliffe, and the Market Tower. Some traditional movements have been replaced by auto-rewinding gear, or even by electronics, but a few still require manual winding.
Judy Mackerras will then turn the spotlight onto the Victorian Turkish Baths in Friars Walk. These have already been put to quite a range of different uses, and the building will shortly begin yet another chapter in its life. Finally Marcus Taylor will tell us about the Gundrada Chapel in Southover Church, constructed to house the remains of the Lewes Priory founders after their rediscovery by railway workers creating the Lewes to Brighton line in 1845. Two consequences of this discovery were the building of this Romanesque chapel and the foundation of the Sussex Archaeological Society. The chapel is only eleven feet square, but packed with history and architectural detail, a unique Victorian tribute in stone. Marcus is the custodian of this chapel, which is only occasionally open to the public. These two Victorian buildings were constructed quite some time apart, but share the same local architect.
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.
- The Lewes Town Hall Pictures
Lewes Town Council owns an impressive collection of over 30 antique and modern pictures, usually on display in the Town Hall. Some of them have been on display for more than a century, and over that time their condition has deteriorated. Councillor Mike Turner, when mayor, identified the need for at least some of the most important artworks in the collection to be restored, and it was his initiative that led, eventually, to the award of a substantial Heritage Lottery grant that has enabled three of the most important pictures to be restored over the past year by a team led by Rupert Featherstone at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge, a department of the FitzWilliam Museum. The completion of the project has been marked by the publication by Lewes Town Council of a book by Sarah Bayliss entitled ‘The Lewes Town Hall Pictures. Stories behind our paintings.’ Copies of this excellent book are available from Lewes Town Council.
The three pictures chosen for restoration were:
- Archibald Archer’s painting of the 22 October 1830 visit of King William IV and his wife Queen Adelaide to Lewes, when they were entertained by the borough at Nehemiah Wimble’s house called The Friars.
- The Protestant Reformers, a mid-17th century painting of 18 heroes of the Protestant Religion.
- An imagination of the Battle of Lewes painted by a Victorian artist.
Archer’s painting of the 1830 visit is the largest and perhaps the most remarkable of these paintings, and was in the most fragile condition. King William’s visit took place shortly after his accession and at a time of both political and economic turmoil. Graham Mayhew tells me that this was the first visit by a reigning monarch since Henry VIII was entertained by Thomas Cromwell on 1 August 1538, at the former home of the Prior of Lewes that he had obtained at the Priory’s dissolution. The picture shows about 120 individual figures of people who figured in the visit (including the members of the town band) and Archer provided a key identifying 85 of them. There were of course no cameras in 1830, but Archer called many of the local participants back into his studio after the event to create individual portraits for inclusion in his masterplan. Some of the 85 were courtiers and officials accompanying the King and Queen on their visit, but the majority were prominent members of the town community.
This front cover of the book shows a section of the painting of the 1830 visit. The King is mounting the steps to the Friars, tipping his hat. He is about to pass Lady Shelley, wife of one of the two Lewes MPs. At the bottom of the steps are Thomas Partington of Offham House, chairman of the East Sussex magistrates and (in a black cloak) Rev Evan Jones, the minister at Tabernacle. In the brown coat is the 3rd Earl of Chichester, half bowing to Queen Adelaide, who is just out of view. The central figure of the nine men in the back row is John Ellman, who made a national reputation as an agricultural improver farming at Glynde, but had by 1830 retired to Albion Street, in favour of his son. A digitally cleaned version of this painting was included in Lewes History Bulletin no.60.
The intention was that the borough would pay Archer for his work, and be reimbursed by donations from those featured. That plan did not work out, and it seemed by 1833 that Archer would be left with the picture on his hands. About 1839 it was acquired by George Grantham, a coal and timber merchant, who was one of the two borough high constables who stood at the top of the Friars steps to greet the King, holding their wands of office. The Granthams prospered, and for the best part of a century the picture hung in their country house, Barcombe Place. In 1937 it was given to Lewes Borough Council on permanent loan by George Grantham’s grandson, and in 1961 the loan was converted into an outright gift by his great-grandson.
The second restored picture is much older, thought to date from the 17th century. The artist is not known. It features portraits of 18 leading Protestant reformers who lived at various dates from the 14th to the 17th centuries gathered round a table. They include such figures as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer and John Knox. The reformers are pictured as wise scholars exerting their authority over four scurrilous figures in the foreground who represent Roman Catholicism – one a red-hatted cardinal and another a caricature pope. The picture, donated to the Borough Council in 1893, had hung for many years in the entrance hall of the Star Inn, which in 1893 had just been transformed into the new Town Hall. It was in the cellars of the Star that the Marian martyrs are believed to have been confined before they were burnt in the fires nearby. A total of about 30 similar paintings, by a range of hands, are known across the world, including one in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries, London, that is almost identical.
The donor of this picture was Thomas Reader White (1834-1917) who came to Lewes in 1861 as assistant schoolmaster at William Button’s Academy in the Cliffe. He succeeded as headmaster in 1865. He later became headmaster of the Lewes Grammar School, a role that required him to be a practising Anglican. In 1878 he became master of the South Saxon Lodge, and at his death he was president of the Lewes Liberal and Radical Association. In 1888 & 1889 he was Mayor of Lewes.
The third restored picture was a 19th century interpretation of the 12 May 1264 Battle of Lewes, that was presented to the Borough of Lewes in 1913 by another mayor, George Holman. He said that he had only recently acquired it, but it was identified as having been lent by the brewer William Harvey for exhibition at the Mechanics Institution in 1844, and again in 1848 at an early meeting of the Sussex Archaeological Society (of which William Harvey was secretary). A plaque on the painting states ‘Hardy pinxit’ and a report of the 1848 exhibition attributes it to an otherwise unknown artist called Mr T. Hardy. Mysteriously, a newspaper report at the time of its donation attributes the work to the local artist Thomas Henwood (1797-1861), known to have been active in the area in the early 19th century. However, Henwood usually worked in watercolour, and this painting is much larger in scale than his other known works.
The book also features many other artworks from the Town Hall collection. Perhaps the most distinguished artistically are a pair of portraits of Arab chieftains by the Belgian artist Nicaise de Keyser, which came from the collection of King Wilhelm II of the Netherlands, and were presented to the Borough Council in 1896 by the solicitor Montague S. Blaker, who was also town clerk. No connection with Lewes is known. The collection also includes, as might be expected, a number of portraits of prominent citizens, several donated by the sitters. These include Tom Paine, the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle, William Nevill (5th Earl and 1st Marquess of Abergavenny; the only man who appears twice), Nehemiah and Audrey Marchant Wimble (the 1830 owners of the Friars), the Lewes MPs Henry Shelley and Sir Henry Fitzroy, several members of the Baxter family and two Borough Council mayors in full regalia (Wynne Baxter and George Holman). Perhaps a conscious homage to Archibald Archer’s work is a 2008 picture by Julian Bell, titled ‘Lewes Listens’. This features an imaginary planning meeting held in the Town Hall to discuss replacing the town’s redundant Norman castle by a new Barrett Homes housing scheme. Julian included in the audience 80 actual Lewesians, friends and acquaintances, including Sarah Bayliss and several members of our History Group.
No Lewes collection would be complete without representations of Bonfire. There are several, mostly from the 21st century but including a view of the 5 November 1853 procession painted in 1949 from an old lithograph by Thomas Henwood. There is also a watercolour of a cricket match at the Dripping Pan, c.1850, attributed to Henwood. There is a second, 20th century, imagination of the Battle of Lewes, and a number of local landscapes, including a Victorian watercolour of military exercises on the Race Hill, three watercolours of the surrounding countryside by Henry George Hine and two by Elizabeth Lucy Gabell Smith. There is an oil painting of Edward Chatfield’s Lewes-built ship ‘The Wallands’ at sea under full sail; a small 1887 watercolour of Anne of Cleves House and another of Cliffe Corner. Bloomsbury is represented by a 1970 Nerissa Garnett painting of members of the circle gathered round the dining table at Charleston.
- John Button’s Academy
In July 1792 John Button (1761-1825) opened his new Academy at 86 High Street, a large house leased from Lord Pelham. He was aged 30. He told the Sussex Weekly Advertiser that he would be teaching a classical knowledge of English through grammar and a critical acquaintance with the best English authors, in both prose and verse. He would also teach ancient and modern history, geography, graceful recitation, writing, arithmetic and book keeping, all as required by his pupils’ career plans. Greek, Latin and French were available at an extra cost for those who required them, but he saw no point in teaching classical languages to boys with no need of them. His fees were in guineas, as usual for a professional man – 4 guineas a year for day boys, 18 guineas for boarders and up to 30 guineas for those from wealthy families requiring special attention and a room of their own.
By 1794 he had commissioned larger premises in a field near St Anne’s church but this project was ill-fated – first the new building was blown down in an autumn gale while under construction, and then when almost complete it was destroyed by a fire. Plan B was to move his Academy to Cliffe High Street, where it was established in 1796 at 33 Cliffe High Street, opposite Cliffe church, that had once been the Swan Inn, and since a girls’ school. The house was rebuilt, with bay windows and an imposing front door, and in 1806 John Button purchased the freehold of the property from the surgeon James Moore, to whom Gideon Mantell was later to be first apprentice and then partner.
As an advertisement for his Academy John Button had his pupils provide a public entertainment by declaiming well known works at the Star Assembly Rooms. The young Gideon Mantell, born in 1790, was a pupil from 1797 to 1802. He participated in these entertainments, reciting a tale from ‘The Iliad’ at the age of 7 and at the age of 12 telling the story of an imaginary trip to Revolutionary Paris to denounce the vile treatment there of English tourists. As a prominent Baptist dissenter and an openly radical Whig, John Button was regarded by the authorities as a suspect character, but his educational approach appealed to enough of his contemporaries for it to prosper. He continued his school until his death – he was buried at Lewes All Saints on 2 May 1825, aged 63.
In 1807 John Button’s eldest son, John Viney Button, was awarded the town’s Steere Exhibition to attend Queens College, Cambridge. In those days only Anglicans could attend the two universities, and after graduating he was ordained an Anglican minister. However, after John Button’s death his Academy was continued for a further 40 years by another son, William Button (1791-1883), who followed his father as a radical Baptist. At his 1865 retirement William Button was succeeded by Thomas Reader White, who kept the school open until 1880, making it one of the longest-lasting educational establishments in Lewes history. The Victorian Academy had a Spartan regime. A young boarder at the Academy in the 1850s recalled that the day started with a splash under the pump in the school yard, followed by a walk up to the top of Mount Caburn and back before breakfast. Delia Button, a daughter of John Button born in 1794 when the family lived in St Michael’s parish, married the wine & spirit merchant (and later brewer) John Harvey at Cliffe church in 1813 – at that time even such life-long dissenters had to marry in an Anglican church. She was John Harvey’s second wife, and the mother of his 13 children.
Sources: Brigid Chapman, ‘The Schools of Lewes’ (2012); Jeremy Goring, ‘Burn Holy Fire’ (2003); Dennis R. Dean, ‘Gideon Mantell and the Discovery of Dinosaurs’ (1999); Colin Brent, ‘Georgian Lewes’ (1993); Colin & Judy Brent, ‘Lewes House Histories’ [The Keep, and online at Sussex Archaeological Society]; FamilySearch
- The Military Steam Lorry
Bob Cairns, Tony Elphick & Peter Earl all commented that they thought that the photograph of the military steam lorry included in Bulletin no.97 was taken in northern France or Belgium, not Lewes. Their evidence was the architectural style of the houses, with shutters and ornate eaves, and the arrangement of the paving stones in the footpath.
- The Pells Paper Mill (by Barbara Merchant)
There is more to the photo of the Pells Paper Mill in Bulletin no.97 than meets the eye. A closer look reveals the words ‘LEWES OLD MILL’ above the first floor windows, and above the ground floor windows it says ‘LEWES STEAM FLOUR MILL’. This image must date from the 1860s.
This Paper Mill was in operation by 1802 and continued to work into at least the 1840s. For a time it was the official paper maker to the Prince of Wales. In 1857 the decaying mill, which had been untenanted for many years, was sold to Arthur Smith. By November 1860 Smith had fitted out his building as a steam flour mill, but needed to obtain a further mortgage with the mill machinery as security. In February 1861 he was made bankrupt, and in July 1861 the Steam Flour Mill, together with the machinery recently fitted, was again put up for auction.
By then, solicitor Edmund Currey was the owner of Malling Deanery, and also the piece of land directly across the river, adjacent to the Steam Flour Mill. In June 1868 Currey bought the mill for £300. He immediately auctioned off the contents of the mill, consisting of steam engines, stones, and sacks, most of which had not been used. He then sold off the building materials “to the ground line”. He built a wooden footbridge over the Ouse from the Deanery, and having removed the mill, Currey now had clear access from his bridge into Lewes via the path shown in the photo, which still runs beside the wall of the Pells Pool. Bulletin no.61 (August 2015) includes an article about the Deanery footbridges with images of Currey’s bridge. We recently located its footings.
Sources:South Malling 1703-1951, a manuscript volume held at the Sussex Archaeological Society Library; 20 & 27 Sep 1802 Sussex Weekly Advertiser; ESRO BMW/C/15/3/2.
- A Trotting Match at Lewes
Source: 20 May 1864 Pembrokeshire Herald (quoting the Sussex Express)
“On Monday a trotting match, which had excited great interest in this neighbourhood and at Brighton for the past month or so, came off near this town, at the early hour of five o’clock a.m. It seems that some time ago a conversation took place at a Brighton sporting house as to the merits of certain trotters, and an assertion was made that a mare belonging to Mr Evans could trot 17 miles within the hour.
A match was soon afterwards made, Mr Reed of the Greyhound, Brighton, betting £75 to £50 on time. The mare was sent to Mr T. Abraham’s training stables at Lewes in order that she might be got into proper condition for the task she had to perform. As soon as four o’clock in the morning Lewes was quite alive with visitors from Brighton, and not a few of our own townspeople were on the qui vive to see this interesting match. The ground selected was 8½ miles on the Ringmer and Laughton Road, and the start, as arranged, took place at the top of Malling Hill.
The betting has varied from about 5 to 7 and 4 to 2, and even 3 to 1 on time; but on the morning of the race there seemed to be a desire to back the mare at lesser odds amongst the numerous company assembled at the starting place. Mr Smith of Bells Life and Mr Stone of Brighton officiated as referees. The start took place at seven minutes past five, the mare being ridden by Mr Abrahams. She went away at a dashing pace, but appeared to be a little stiff. She soon however settled down to an easy trot, being held very hard. The end of eight miles and a half was reached in about 25 minutes without any accident. The return course occupied rather longer, but ultimately the mare came in and won by 20 seconds, the distance having been got over in 59 minutes 40 seconds. She was apparently not distressed in the slightest.
The party then repaired to the Stag Inn, where about forty friends of the interested parties sat down to a champagne breakfast provided in first class style by the host and hostess, Mr and Mrs Abrahams, to which ample justice was done.”
- Kate Fowler-Tutt, public speaker
Miss Fowler-Tutt has appeared previously in these Bulletins as a committed Lewes headmistress, a suffragist and a pioneering female member of Lewes Borough Council. However, local newspaper reports identified using the British Newspaper Archive make it clear that for a quarter of a century, from the mid 1920s to the late 1940s, she was also a very popular public speaker, much in demand throughout Sussex. Her main audiences were Women’s Institutes, Townswomen’s Guilds and church groups such as Sisterhoods but she also spoke to the Band of Hope and the Tunbridge Wells Rotary Club. The reports make it clear that she was forthright in her opinions, an amusing and entertaining speaker and that when she spoke there was rarely a vacant seat.
Some of her topics reflect her known interests. She spoke on infant welfare, children’s health, diet, local government and citizenship and, in particular, the role of women citizens. She placed great store on herbs and fruit, as nature’s remedies. Her emphatic advice to her audience was not to leave local or national affairs to their husbands, but to get fully involved themselves. She did not confine herself to local affairs. By 1933 she was clear that the poor in England were better off than those in continental countries such as the New Germany. By the late 1930s she was speaking on home conditions in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, both of which she had visited. By 1943 she was giving her views on the importance of the Beveridge Report.
She displayed an unexpected interest in local history. She spoke regularly on ‘Old Sussex Industries’ and ‘How Sussex shaped History’. She covered ‘The Wonderful South Downs’, ‘Sussex through the ages’, ‘Our Gourmandising Ancestors’, ‘Sussex Superstitions’, ‘Miracle Lore of Sussex’ and ‘Quaint and Amusing Epitaphs’. She also gave talks on the history of Lewes, emphasising that her version was nothing like that to be found in the town’s guide books. Had the Lewes History Group existed in those days, she would surely have been one of our regular speakers.
Her most popular title was ‘The Romance of the Rag Bag’, or its variant ‘The Magic Stocking’, which described the many ways in which cast-off clothing, and in particular old stockings, could be up-cycled to produce new garments or other useful household items. She also spoke on ‘Fashion down the ages’. However, by far her most common theme was the importance of positive thinking, and in particular the power of laughter. Her firm view was that “All pessimists should be put into an isolation hospital and left to poison themselves”. She believed “Women do not laugh nearly enough. If they would tell one another funny stories, their health would benefit”. She railed against women’s three diseases, the ‘Blue Hump’, ‘Fed Up’ and ‘The PIP’. Regular topics were ‘Why the World Laughs’, ‘Points of View’, ‘Cheerful tonics for Fed Ups’, ‘Tasty Tabloids for Mental Indigestion’ and ‘Irish Wit and Scottish Humour’. She contrasted the value of humerous talk with the uselessness of worry. She spoke on simple psychology, our wonderful brains, the influence of the mind on the body, cheerfulness, the cultivation of happiness and, during wartime, ‘Morale and what it means’ and ‘The Four Apples of Destiny’.
She certainly practiced what she preached. Whether her topic was ‘The Romance of the Rag Bag’ or ‘Why the World Laughs’ her broadsides were noted in the local newspapers as inducing hearty laughter in her audience.
Contact details for Friends of the Lewes History Group promoting local historical events