Lewes History Group: Bulletin 108, July 2019

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: 8 July 2019: Paul Myles ‘The Rise of Thomas Paine’
  2. Lewes Racecourse History (by Barry Foulkes)
  3. LHG Street Stories Research Training (by Peter & Sarah Earl)
  4. Public Amusements in 1805
  5. A Victorian cheque drawn on the Lewes Old Bank
  6. Civic Insignia and Plate of the Corporation of Lewes
  7. Dr Nicholl senior and Dr Nicholl junior (by Paul Nicholl)
  8. The Fitzroy Library (by John Davey)


  1. Next Meeting                7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.                  Monday 8 July       Paul Myles                     The Rise of Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine artist unknownThomas Paine, the political activist and a founding fathers of the United States, lived in Lewes from 1768-1774, during which time he wrote ‘The Case of the Officers of Excise’, a pamphlet condemning corruption within the customs and excise service, and developed some of the ideas that ultimately led to American independence.

In this talk Paul Myles, a native of Lewes, will discuss the research for his new book on Paine, exploring the influence of radical newspaper The Sussex Weekly Advertiser and the revolutionary spirit of Lewes, as well as the wider political situation that inspired Paine to leave England for America.

Image above: Tom Paine, by an anonymous artist, SAS collection

Copies of ‘The Rise of Thomas Paine and the Case of the Officers of Excise’ by Paul Myles will be for sale on the day.

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 Racecourse History (by Barry Foulkes)

The Lewes Racecourse History group would like to invite LHG members to its Lewes racecourse Exhibition, which will be held at Kings Church, Lewes on the 14th September, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The exhibition will feature over 200 years of memorabilia of the racecourse and will be showing  – for the first time – a very rare coloured film of the last day’s racing. Visitors will also have the opportunity to chat with many Lewes racing people, and jockeys that rode on what was the fourth oldest racecourse in the country.

Tickets are available free of charge from Barry Foulkes, providing you apply before 31 July.

Barry can be contacted 01825 761727 or beejaysfencing@aol.com.

The Lewes Racecourse History website is lewesracecoursehistory.co.uk.


  1. LHG Street Stories Research Training    (by Peter & Sarah Earl)

We had done a very limited amount of research on previous owners of our house in East Street about 30 years ago at The Maltings, the previous home of the East Sussex Records Office. Then our daughters arrived… However, when LHG announced its 4-day House/Street History Research course this year we enrolled, although research hadn’t been top of our agenda at that moment.

Day 1

Day one of the course was at The Keep with 16 members present, each interested in investigating the story of a street or house. First were the introductions. The challenge of trying to fit in what street/house/area we were planning to research; what had inspired us; what hurdles we anticipated; and what we expected to learn from the course into a 2-minute introduction was a tall order!

Next we heard three case studies delivered by members who had already produced Street Story material. Chapel Hill‘s Mary Benjamin, Sun Street’s Rosemary Page and Heather Downie of South Street took us expertly through the highs and lows of their unique research journeys and were full of tips on how to avoid pitfalls. One thing we realised is that it’s important to record your data correctly, so we decided that we must use the template forms already developed by LHG members. Led by Ian McClelland, we then brainstormed topics we could include in our projects. This was all new to us.

After lunch, we were treated to a fascinating session from archivist Andrew Lusted, on how The Keep could help us, and for each person he had identified a relevant item to get us started. One of the most salient points Andrew made was about the importance of preserving documents for posterity, which made us think that the bonfire archives which we currently hold should be deposited in the more secure environment at The Keep.

Day 2

Part two was also at the Keep, in groups of eight this time. It was a hands-on session using reference room PCs. Drew Boulton, the archivist, showed us how to use The Keep’s online catalogue and ordering system and how to find the resources suggested previously by Andrew Lusted. The aim was for everyone to order at least two original items and see the ordering process from start to finish.

Day 3

The next part was a couple of hours in the Sussex Archaeological Society library. We climbed the creaky polished stairs of Barbican House to find another world of maps and books. The wonderful voluntary staff, Esme and Gill, shared their vast experience and knowhow with a focus on the value of maps.

Day 4

The final afternoon was at Lewes Library where we were warmly welcomed by Michele Brooker and her assistant. On the recently refurbished upper floor, they took us round the local history section and showed the databases available for free: Find My Past, Ancestry and the British Newspaper Archive. This software overlaps with that available at The Keep and might allow us to work nearer home.

We must conclude by saying how grateful we are to all the people mentioned, including Jane Lee, who did so much towards the logistics, and to any anonymous ‘others’ who worked behind the scenes to make this course happen. It was invaluable and we feel rather indebted, so much so, that we have agreed to put on a little exhibition in the Town Hall’s Yarrow Room on 15 September, as part of the Lewes Heritage Open Days. Thanks to everyone. 

Editor’s note: there is a fuller account on the LHG website.


  1. Public Amusements in 1805

The theatre is a small neat building, built in 1789 by the late Mr Fox, builder of the present theatre at Brighton, it has for many years past been supplied by the company of Messrs Jonas and Penley. Assemblies are very frequent during the winter, and held in the Star rooms. A spacious bowling- green has been long enclosed within the precincts of the castle, for gentlemen who are fond of that salubrious and scientific game. A Library Society has been established within the town for nearly 20 years and can now boast a excellent collection of books in the different branches of science; and much entertainment can be derived from Baxter’s circulating library, and those of Bennett and Budgen, at the usual terms of subscription. The walks and rides in the vicinity are agreeable in every direction, and those on the verdant carpet of the Downs, hardly to be equalled in the kingdom, from whose lofty eminences may be seen, the richest and most extensive prospects, which amply repay the toil of climbing to the summit. Two in particular may be named, Plumpton Plain, from which the eye in a clear horizon descries the hills of Surrey and the Isle of Wight, and Mount Caburn. 

Those to whom the ascent would be fatiguing, may enjoy from Lambert’s garden, (a spot of ground, enclosed from the hill, at the bottom of the Cliff), a beautiful view of the town and its environs, to which access may at all times be had, as the garden was left for public inspection by the gentleman whose name it bears. Mr Lambert’s celebrity as a artist, stands very high, his proficiency in landscape painting was very high, and solely derived from his own taste and application; his merit as a painter, gained respect, his amiable qualities as a man, entitled him to esteem. 

Under the heads of amusements may be classified the Races, which are held for three days, usually in the first week of August, and which attract a numerous concourse of spectators, amongst whom the equipages of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales are particularly conspicuous.

Source: J.V. Button, ‘The Brighton and Lewes Guide’, printed and published by J. Baxter (1805). Original punctuation.


  1. A Victorian cheque drawn on the Lewes Old Bank

This 1893 cheque drawn on the account of the Fitzgerald Charity, Seaford, at the Lewes Old Bank, was offered for sale on ebay in March 2019. The Lewes Old Bank merged into Barclays in 1896.


  1. Civic Insignia and Plate of the Corporation of Lewes

Civic Insignia and Plate of the Corporation of Lewes, by L. S. Davey, 1967, book coverThis is perhaps the least known of the books about Lewes written by the late Leslie Davey, published in 1967 by W.E. Baxter Ltd. It was published to mark the centenary of the death of George Baxter, the Lewes-born artist, engraver and inventor of colour printing, who was the son of John Baxter, the founder of the Lewes printing business. Publication of the 32-page volume was sponsored by the Mayor of Lewes, Alderman H.A. Baker.

The book includes detailed descriptions of 63 items or groups of items then in the possession of the Borough of Lewes, which was created in 1881 and lasted until it was incorporated into Lewes District Council in 1974. They range from large pieces in gold and silver, which are individually described, to collections of staves of office handed down from before the Borough was formally incorporated in 1881 and such items as a collection of 19th & 20th century ceremonial medallions, official keys, silver- plated spades such as that used by the then Princess Elizabeth to plant a tree in Southover Grange gardens in 1951 and a collection of 18th century weights and measures.

The oldest item in the collection is a pair of 15th century brass seals bearing the Lewes coat of arms, the larger used to seal official documents and the smaller, the ‘vagabond seal’ used to stamp the passes of vagrants and paupers travelling through the town on their way to the home parishes responsible for their care. At the other end of the scale were several items from the 1960s, including a silver cup presented in 1964 by the Mayor, commissioners and citizens of Lewes Delaware to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes and a silver cigar and cigarette casket bearing the Borough arms presented by the staff of W.E. Baxter Ltd to commemorate the mayoralty of Councillor A.C. Barber, a Labour mayor who was a long-serving employee of the firm.

A number of the items had been inherited by the Borough from other local organisations that had ceased to exist. These included a large silver cup and a silver tankard from the Bundle of Stick Society, a political group formed in 1820 to promote political candidates for the borough seats in Parliament that closed in 1885, when the modern Lewes constituency was formed and the electorate expanded to include most male householders, about half of all adult men. They also included an elaborate silver-plated inkstand used by the Assizes judges when they held court in the old Sessions House that stood (up to its demolition in 1812) in the middle of the High Street near the White Hart. There was also a large silver cup that belonged to the Royal Sussex Regiment, which in 1960 donated a piece of its ceremonial silver to each of the Sussex towns that had awarded the regiment the freedom of the borough, on the occasion of the closing of the regimental depot in Chichester, the last in the county.

The only gold items in the collection were the mayor’s 18 carat gold badge and chain presented in 1881 to the first mayor by William Langham Christie of Glyndebourne, then MP for Lewes, and the smaller chains and medallion available for use by the mayoress. The oldest of these was given in 1888 by Alderman Joseph Farncombe, then mayor, to mark the silver wedding of the then Prince and Princess of Wales, later Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. However, there were many pieces of silver gilt and solid silver, which must have today a considerable value, so they will doubtless have to be kept securely away from public view.

In 1974 most assets of the Borough of Lewes went to the new Lewes District Council, but Town Clerk Steve Brigden confirms that these particular items were passed on to Lewes Town Council. 

Many of the more important silver items in the collection are illustrated in Leslie Davey’s book, and a few are shown here.

Page showing silver items from L.S. Davey's book on Lewes Civic Insignia and Plate, 1967(9) The Blunt cup, given in 1611 by the burgess Thomas Blunt to the constables and burgesses of Lewes.
(10) The 1830 cup, presented by the inhabitants to mark the visit to Lewes by King William IV and Queen Adelaide.
(11) The Grantham goblet, an 18th century Florentine cup given to the Borough in 1887 by Mr Justice Grantham, to mark his first visit as an assize judge to his native town.
(13) The Holman cup, presented in 1911 by Alderman George Holman and designed as a companion to the Blunt cup.
(15 & 16) The Harrison Weir and John Jenner Weir tankards, two 18th century tankards presented in 1894 by the artist Harrison Weir, a native of Lewes. No.16 was presented in memory of his brother.
(21) The Royal Sussex Regiment cup.
(23) The Battle of Lewes anniversary cup, a 1964 gift from Lewes, Delaware.

In 2011 Lewes Town Council published an updated version of ‘Civic Insignia and Plate of Lewes Town Council’ by Councillors Micheal Turner and Michael Chartier. The booklet was designed by Michael Hawksworth and illustrated by photographs taken by Tom Reeves. The cover below shows the top of the large silver gilt mace presented to the newly-incorporated Borough by Mr Christie.

Civic Insignia and Plate of Lewes Town Council, 2011, by Micheal Turner and Michael Chartier, book cover

Sources: Many thanks to John Davey for providing me with a copy of the book by his father and to Steve Brigden, Lewes Town Clerk, who provided me with a copy of the 2011 booklet.


  1. Dr Nicholl senior and Dr Nicholl junior                              (by Paul Nicholl)

Sixty years ago this month my father, Dr Pat Nicholl, became Mayor of Lewes. He had originally arrived in the town as a four-year-old with his family some thirty-five years earlier and was to serve the people of Lewes as a doctor all his working life. But the story does not begin there, for the Castle Lodge Surgery where my father worked had been established by his father, Dr Joseph Nicholl. The casualty department of the Royal Sussex County Hospital is where my grandparents met. She had been nursing there for some time during the First World War, while it was his first posting after he had gained his medical qualifications from Queens’ College Cambridge and the Middlesex Hospital. They were married in 1918 but were soon parted by a stint of military service in the Royal Navy, where he was a Surgeon-Lieutenant.

When peace came, they moved to Orpington where he took up the position of cardiologist to the Ministry of Pensions. My father was born there in 1921, but in the following year the family went out to India. My grandfather had been born in Amritsar, the son of a missionary mother and civil engineer father, but it was to Quetta that he took his family to as a missionary-doctor, and it was there that my Aunt Joanna (later Joanna Hallett, who also served as Mayor of Lewes) was born. The family returned to England in 1925, and this is where their connection with Lewes began. The medical practice at Castlegate House was up for sale and my grandfather was able to take it over, moving across the road to Castle Lodge a few years later. In 1929 my Aunt Charitie, who died last year, was the first member of the family to be born at Castle Lodge. The house had earlier been owned by Charles Dawson, the originator of the “Piltdown Man” hoax. I can recall my father telling me how as a child he found an interesting selection of skulls in the cellar – perhaps evidence of Dawson’s handiwork?

My grandfather is recorded in a fascinating little volume of 1935 entitled “Who’s Who in Sussex”. He is listed as Hon. Surgeon at the Victoria Hospital; Senior Surgeon to East Sussex Constabulary; Surgeon to Post Office and H.M. Prison. His sporting prowess also gets a mention with his appearances for the Eastern Counties (1914) and Kent (1919) rugby teams. When the Lewes Rugby Club was founded in 1930, he was its first chairman. My father played for Lewes and Sussex as a goalkicking hooker, and when he was Mayor, the club held a special Boxing Day game, after which he was given a commemorative mayoral chain, made of cardboard, which still survives in the club archives. My mother has a photo of the event in her bedroom. Five years later I was able to play alongside my father in the Boxing Day game, making my debut at the Stanley Turner Ground.

Nicholl family, 1958 photo taken at Castle Lodge, LewesWhen I was a child, we lived at Castle Lodge and my grandparents at Warren House on the Brighton Road. It had previously been called “Holme”, but was renamed as people got muddled between going there and going home!

My grandfather named it after his mother’s maiden name, and although the house has long since been demolished, the name lives on with Warren Close and Warren Drive.

This photograph was taken at my grandparents’ ruby anniversary celebrations in 1958 at Castle Lodge. My father is at the right-hand side of the back row while I am sitting on the floor at my grandfather’s feet.

Dr Nicholl senior and Dr Nicholl junior, as they were known, worked together at the Castle Lodge Surgery during the 1950’s, but my grandfather died in 1961. There is a memorial to him on a wall in South Malling Church, where they had both served as churchwardens. The surgery remained at Castle Lodge until it moved to the purpose-built new premises at River Lodge in 1988. My father died the following year, but four generations of his family are currently patients at the surgery. The family also continue my father’s bonfire traditions, by marching with the Borough, and were at Windsor with the society to help launch the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations.

When, after seventy years, the time came for the family to leave Castle Lodge, I was able to locate a vast treasure trove of old family documents and letters in the loft of the Stable Wing that has provided valuable resources for two books: Anthony Meredith’s ‘The Pilot and the Commando’ and my own ‘Young Airman’.


  1. The Fitzroy Library (by John Davey)

Fitzroy Library, Lewes, photo taken between 1862 and 1868

This photograph of the Fitzroy Library from the collection of my father Leslie Davey must have been taken after 1862, when the Fitzroy Library was built, but before 1868, because the Lewes-Uckfield railway has not yet been constructed across the High Street. The photograph shows, beyond the Fitzroy Library, the houses that had to be demolished to make way for the railway.


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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