Lewes History Group: Bulletin 105, April 2019

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  1. Next Meeting:  8 April 2019: Beverley Elphick ‘Historical Fiction: What comes first
  2. The Government of the Borough of Lewes in 1805
  3. Thomas Henwood, Freemason (by Sarah Bayliss)
  4. Reverend Peter Guerin Crofts
  5. The origins of Lewes Little Theatre
  6. Lt.-Col. Charles Doland Crisp (by John Davey)


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

Beverley Elphick      Historical Fiction: What comes first, research or imagination?

Based on her two Lewes-based novels featuring the character of Esther Coad, ‘Three Round Towers’  and ‘Retribution’, Beverley Elphick’s talk will explore whether research or imagination is the key to establishing the framework for successful historical fiction. She will share details of her research material that put the stories into context. Beverley also had another valuable source of information: “My memories of growing up in Lewes really helped to mould the key character, as well as creating an atmosphere conjured up by the landscape.” The talk will include drone footage of Hamsey, the roofscape of Lewes town, the river Ouse as it makes its way to Southease and one of the round towered churches which plays a significant role in her tale.

Copies of Beverley’s books will be available for purchase.

Beverley Elphick with her book 'Retribution'
Beverley Elphick with her book ‘Retribution’

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. The Government of the Borough of Lewes in 1805

It was resolved on an appeal to Parliament in March 1736 that the right of elections is in the inhabitants, being householders paying lot and scot. The number of voters at the last election was nearly 350, and its present representatives are Lord F.G. Osborne and Henry Shelley Esq.  

As is usual in places of great antiquity Lewes lays claim to some particular privileges of internal government, and produces by the town records satisfactory evidence of its having anciently possessed certain powers similar to those of a body corporate, it having been (as was common with Saxon boroughs) governed by a fellowship consisting of a company of twelve and a company of twenty four, as they were then called, the former chosen from the latter, and had the two constables at their head.  

Some of the ancient powers of this body are still exercised, particularly the levy of a tax annually for town charges. To what extent they can be carried will be probably soon ascertained, as the question is now at issue whether it be possible to raise a tax for defraying the expenses of lighting and repairing the town without application to parliament.  

The chief officers are two Constables and two Headboroughs.

Source: J.V. Button, ‘The Brighton and Lewes Guide’, printed and published by J. Baxter in 1805.


  1. Thomas Henwood, Freemason (by Sarah Bayliss)

In a history of the South Saxon Lodge of Lewes Freemasons, compiled by Ivor Grantham in 1964, Thomas Edward Henwood (1797-1861) is listed as a member, joining the Lodge in 1824, with his profession listed as ‘artist’, resident in Seaford.

The book is an analysis of the Lodge’s records, including minutes of meetings which, in November 1827, were being held in the Eastern tower of Lewes Castle. On page 52 it records a meeting on November 6 with nine members of the Lodge present: ‘A conversation arose respecting ornamenting, painting & beautifying the Lodge room. Whereupon Brother Henwood and Brother Griffiths offered to ornament it with Symbolical paintings, and Brother Griffiths to paint the walls and marble the frontispiece, etc; others of the Brethren volunteered to render their services as occasion might require during the alterations, which was immediately resolved upon; for the purpose the Lodge room was ordered to be cleared of the Furniture; and that no Lodge would be holden until it was finished was determined on by the Brethren present.’ On 18 December at a meeting with nine members present: ‘The Thanks of the Lodge were then given to Brothers Henwood & Griffiths for beautifying & rendering the Lodge comfortable. The comfort of the Lodge being again spoken of, thanks were voted to Brothers Henry Winton, Worshipful Master, & George Penfold for their handsome conduct and assistance during its reparation.’

The book’s list of members for 1796-1879 includes Thomas Henwood’s father-in-law George Peckham, a ‘music master’ of Lewes who joined in 1823 and Edwin Peckham who joined in 1827. Only Edwin’s age is given on joining, aged 25. George PECKHAM’s daughter Ellen had married the artist Thomas Henwood in 1819 when she was just 18 years old [See LHG Bulletins nos.103 & 104].

The book’s title is Records of the South Saxon Lodge No 311, compiled by Worshipful Brother Ivor Grantham OBE, past Grand Deacon, second edition, printed in 1964 for private circulation. A copy was kindly given to me by members of the current Lodge on an open day for public buildings in Lewes in 2018. In 1961 Ivor Grantham gave to the Borough of Lewes the large painting of The Visit of King William IV and Queen Adelaide to Lewes on 22 October 1830. Ivor Grantham was the great-grandson of George Grantham, the junior high constable depicted in the painting as receiving the royals at the top of the steps of The Friars.


  1. Reverend Peter Guerin Crofts

There were two men of this distinctive name who were Rectors of St John-sub-Castro from 1774-1784 and 1799-1847 respectively. They were father and son, and both have prominent memorials in the church.

Peter Guerin Crofts - elder and younger, memorials
Memorials in St John-sub-Castro to Peter Guerin Crofts the elder (left) and the younger (right)

The first Peter Guerin Crofts (c.1745-1784) was a son of the wealthy London attorney John Crofts, who in 1741 had purchased the advowson of St John-sub-Castro, and had immediately appointed his brother-in-law, Daniel Le Pla, as rector. A few years later, in 1748, John Crofts also purchased a substantial downland estate at Sompting Abbotts, near Lancing. There is an 18th century family portrait on the Sompting Estate website showing John & Ann Crofts and eight of their children, four sons and four daughters. Peter Guerin Crofts, one of the younger sons, was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, before being ordained a deacon on his graduation in 1768 and as a priest in 1770.

John Crofts bequeathed the Sompting Abbotts estate and the advowson to his eldest son, another John Crofts, but he provided for Peter Guerin Crofts by appointing him as Rector of St John-sub-Castro. However, he had to wait for his uncle’s death in 1774 for the position to become vacant, so he first took employment as domestic chaplain to the 4th Earl of Peterborough and as a curate in Essex for a modest stipend of £30 p.a. In 1772 he married Sarah Strudwick by licence at Lewisham in Kent.

It isn’t clear how soon after he received the rectory he moved to Lewes – many 18th century clergymen were absentees, delegating the clerical duties to a curate paid a small proportion of their income from the benefice. His eldest daughter was baptised at St Anne, Soho, in January 1774 and his eldest son at Hertford in March 1775, but two younger sons, born c.1778 & c.1780 were both born in Lewes. The manor of Southover court books record that in 1778 Charles Nash, the incumbent there, had died, and that Peter Crofts had been appointed sequestrator of the Southover glebe land – Hennessy includes Peter Crofts in his list of Southover rectors. The land tax shows that Peter Guerin Crofts then occupied the house previously occupied by Rev Nash, 162 High Street, in St Michael’s parish. This house was owned by the Glynde Estate, and Rev Peter Guerin Crofts continued as tenant there until his death in 1784, at the age of 39. Mrs Crofts remained there in 1785, but by 1786 was replaced as tenant by the attorney William Balcombe Langridge. In 1787 she remarried the Rev James Smyth of Raunds, Northamptonshire – he was Vicar of Raunds, but also simultaneously Vicar of Tilworth, Bedfordshire, and Rector of Great Addington, Northamptonshire, until his death in 1799.

Peter Guerin Crofts the younger (1775-1859) was baptised at Hertford in 1775. He will presumably have lived in Lewes with his parents as a young boy but left with his mother after his father’s early death. He later attended Tonbridge school, and was described as of Hertfordshire when admitted to Queen’s College, Cambridge, in 1794. On graduating in 1798 he was also ordained deacon and licensed as curate of East Tisted, Hampshire, at £45 p.a. On 17 March 1799 he was ordained as a priest, and eleven days later appointed Rector of St John-sub-Castro on the presentation of his uncle, displacing the previous rector, who was also Rector of West Dean and had employed curates at St John-sub-Castro.

Rev Peter Guerin Crofts remained unmarried for more than a decade after his institution as Rector. I have discovered little about his activities in this decade. Rev Peter Crofts of Lewes took out a game certificate in 1802. He was the occupier of 5 East Street in 1805 (but others were in residence there up to 1803 and after 1809), and he was appointed as curate of St Michael’s in 1805, all of which suggest he was living in Lewes. Then in January 1812 he married Harriet Campion, daughter of William Campion of Lewes and granddaughter of William Campion of Danny. The marriage settlement, signed two days before the wedding, shows that she had a substantial marriage portion of £10,000 [ESRO SAS/CO 4/191]. Sadly the marriage was to last only 14 months before she died in childbirth at her father’s house in Lewes, two hours after she delivered a stillborn child.

Three years later he married again, his second wife being Elizabeth Frederica Law, daughter of the owner of Horsted Place in Little Horsted and the granddaughter of an Archbishop of York. He was now over 40, but she was twenty years his junior, and produced seven children over the next twelve years. They were all baptised at St John-sub-Castro, although he never seems to have actually lived in the parish. From 1816 to 1821 he lived at Delves House, Ringmer Green – conveniently located between his church at Lewes and his wife’s family home in Little Horsted, and an excellent location for the country sports he loved. Then from 1821 to 1827 he rented 141 High Street, in St Anne’s parish. Finally he moved to Malling House, in South Malling parish, at that time in a country location with no immediate neighbours but just a short walk from his church. Initially he was a tenant there but when Captain Henry Hume Spence’s trustees auctioned his estate in 1842 he became an owner occupier of the house and about 20 acres of land nearby.

The population of his parish grew substantially during his tenure of the rectory, perhaps the fastest ever period of Lewes population growth, and the old Saxon church was far too small to accommodate the new parishioners at services. It was therefore decided to demolish the old church and to build an entirely new one, the present St John-sub-Castro, nearby, partly on a piece of the glebe land. The old church was conventionally aligned east-west, but the new church was aligned north-south. The floor of the old church, which includes the Crofts family vault, was retained. Rev Peter Guerin Crofts laid the first stone of the new church [13 Jan 1840 Sussex Advertiser] and the new church was consecrated a few months later [4 Jun 1840 Brighton Gazette].

By this time Peter Guerin Crofts the younger had become a wealthy country gentleman. In addition to his own income and the marriage portions of his wives, he inherited the Sompting Abbotts Estate from his uncle, and extended it substantially in 1836. The Tristram family who own it today are his direct descendants. He now figured prominently in the life of the town, making regular donations to public and charitable causes and participating as a leading Tory in public life.

However, neither he himself nor his new church commanded universal approval. Rev Edward Boys Ellman, rector of Berwick, disapproved of him because he had gained his post directly after ordination by family patronage, because he lived in splendour at Malling House rather than in his parish, and because of his passion for fox hunting, which many thought unbecoming of a clergyman. His fellow townsman, the surgeon Gideon Mantell, fell out with him over the arrangements for a family grave, calling him a “proud priest” and regarding him as pompous [Jeremy Goring, ‘Burn Holy Fire’, p.106, quoting Ellman’s reminiscences and Mantell’s diary]. Mark Antony Lower described his new church as a “modern brick structure, which we cannot commend, as it is a kind of hybrid between a castle and a barn”. Murray’s 1868 ‘Handbook for Travellers in Kent and Sussex’ describes it as “modern and ugly”. Pevsner refers to its “good solid barn-roof” with tie beams and “ignorant tracery”. It is, however, grade II listed by Historic England.

In 1847 Peter Guerin Crofts (now over 70) resigned his rectory and, as patron, appointed Rev George Halls to serve in his place. He died at Malling House on 16 July 1859, with the local newspaper reports giving his age as 85, though his memorial says 84. His widow continued to live at Malling House until her own death in 1878. His eldest son and his youngest son both became army officers, rising to the rank of Captain before retiring to country life. His second son inherited Sompting Abbotts when the eldest died childless. His third son entered the church, serving briefly as his father’s curate before spending the rest of his life serving a Lincolnshire parish. His eldest daughter and his clergyman son both intermarried with the Ingrams of Ades, Chailey, while his second daughter’s ten children included the Lewes land agent Reginald H. Powell, who later bought Malling House, and whose Lewes business merged into Strutt & Parker. His youngest daughter died at the age of four, shortly after the family had moved to Malling House. She has a memorial in St John-sub-Castro church, along with her father and grandfather.

There was a third Peter Guerin Crofts who is identified by Google as a young Flying Officer killed in the Battle of Britain on 28 September 1940 aged 22. He was flying a Hurricane of 605 squadron based at Croydon, and on his third mission of the day was shot down over Dallington by an ME109. According to an eye witness he bailed out successfully but was then machine gunned by his assailant while hanging from his parachute. He was a grandson of the youngest son of Peter Guerin Crofts of Malling House. He was buried in Surrey but the roadside cross planted where his body fell has been restored and maintained.

Sources: Familysearch; Colin & Judy Brent, Lewes & Southover House Histories; George Hennessy, ‘Chichester Diocese Clergy Lists’ (1900); Clergy of the Church of England database; British Newspaper Archive; The Keep online catalogue; Crofts family history websites.


  1. The origins of Lewes Little Theatre

Four years ago Paul Myles published an article in The History of European Ideas on the origins of Lewes Little Theatre, based on a series of letters exchanged between 1936 and 1944 by John Maynard Keynes and the theatre’s founder, Rev Kenneth Rawlings. A dramatised reading of the letters, created by Des McAleer and Mick Hawkesworth and edited by Sarah Bayliss, will be performed at Lewes Little Theatre at 2.30 pm on Sunday 7 April. Readers include Des McAleer, Sarah Bayliss, Mick Hawkesworth, Julian Bell, Paul Myles, Cathy Miles and Miles Jenner.

Tickets are available from the Lewes Little Theatre Box Office.


  1. Lt.-Col. Charles Doland Crisp       (by John Davey)

I thought members might like to see this picture of Lt. Col. Crisp (on the phone ) taken during World War 2 in the cellars beneath the Town Hall where the control centre for the Home Guard was operational.  Real life ‘Dad’s Army’ stuff!

Lewes Town Hall Homeguard Control Centre, World War 2, Colonel Crisp

My father features in another photograph and I suspect that the Mayor drew his control centre personnel from the officers of the Lewes Borough Council who all worked in the Fisher Street offices. The man in the foreground is Pat Murphy, the Borough Surveyor at the time. I taught his son, Philip, at the Lewes Grammar School for Boys and now often see him at LHG meetings.

One of my most exciting childhood memories is of being put on a London bound train (at the tender age of 9 or 10) clutching tickets for the Director’s Box at Stamford Bridge, to be met at Victoria Station by an uncle and taken off to watch Chelsea play against Arsenal. The tickets, of course, belonged to Col. Crisp who generously offered them to members of the Town Hall staff whenever he was not using them himself. I made at least 3 such trips and found myself, on different occasions,  sitting among members of the Crazy Gang, Charlie Chester and Arthur Askey, whose autograph I still have in a drawer somewhere.

Am I right in thinking that life was a good deal less hazardous in those days? Attending professional football matches certainly was! 


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

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LewesHistoryGroup
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LewesHistory


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