Lewes History Group: Bulletin 109, August 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. No meeting in August
  2. Battlefield Walk (by John Freeman)
  3. Holocaust Memorial Day (by Gaby Weiner)
  4. The House of Correction in 1805
  5. Julius Berncastle: a Lewes lad who left
  6. Lewes marks Queen Victoria’s Funeral
  7. Leslie Stuart Davey (by John Davey)
  8. Visit to Regency Town House (by Ann & Peter Holmes)


  1. No meeting in August

As usual, we not shall have an evening meeting in August. Our next meeting will be on Monday9 September, when Sarah Bayliss and Wenda Bradley will speak to us about the Lewes Town Hall picture collection.


  1. Battlefield Walk                                                                     (by John Freeman)

There will be a Battlefield Walk on the site of the Battle of Lewes on Sunday 11 August. The walk will start at 2 pm at the entrance to the County Hall Car Park at the west end of the town (BN7 1UE). It will cover the battlefield site on the Downs above Lewes, with splendid views, and will last approximately 2½ hours. It will be led by John Freeman, Battlefields Trust Sussex coordinator. A donation of £5 per adult towards the work of the Battlefields Trust, a registered charity, would be appreciated.

The Battle of Lewes was a key battle between King Henry III and his supporters and Simon de Montfort, leading a coalition of rebel lords and Londoners. De Montfort’s victory led to the first representative Parliament being held in January 1265, before his bloody downfall at the Battle of Evesham later that year led to the reinstatement of King Henry III.

John Freeman, Downsview House, North Chailey, BN8 4DH, 01825 722612
Battlefields Trust Sussex coordinator  johnfreeman11@hotmail.co.uk


  1. Holocaust Memorial Day (by Gaby Weiner)

The Lewes Holocaust Memorial Day group aims to raise awareness and understanding of the events of the Holocaust as well as other genocides, emphasising the importance of educating subsequent generations in its continued relevance today.  Each year the group organises a weekend of events around the Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz Death Camp.  As part of the January 2020 programme, we hope to stage a Candlelight Walk next January to commemorate those in Lewes and the surrounding area who provided shelter for those fleeing persecution – religious, political, or other. We would therefore like to hear from any Lewes residents who have such stories in their family history or who have been researching the history of their houses or roads and have found refugee stories that can be shared.

Please contact: Gaby (gaby.weiner@btinternet.com) or Tim ( timothy.locke@talktalk.net).


  1. The House of Correction in 1805

The House of Correction is a commodious prison, built about 12 years ago on the plan recommended by the philanthropic Howard. It contains 32 cells, a chapel, and other accommodations for the prisoners, with a keeper’s apartments. The regulation of this goal, tend greatly to the comfort and cleanliness of the prisoners and do great credit to the keeper and the magistrates.

Source: J.V. Button, ‘The Brighton and Lewes Guide’, printed and published by J. Baxter in 1805. This is the prison on North Street.


  1. Julius Berncastle: a Lewes lad who left

The population of the county town of Lewes rose rapidly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, reaching almost 10,000 by 1851. It was then more than five times as big as other local towns, such as Uckfield, Seaford and Hailsham (all below 2,000 in 1851). However, the Lewes population then stalled, a change that it is hard not to correlate with the arrival of the railway in 1846, while the others grew apace. Uckfield, Seaford & Hailsham all doubled in population by 1901 and they have now all increased their population tenfold since 1851, while other local towns like Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill, Heathfield and Polegate have sprouted from nowhere. In a dramatic contrast, Lewes has spread across its surrounding Downs and brookland, but even with all the redevelopment currently planned the town’s population will remain a good way short of double its 1851 level. The high survival of 18th century and earlier buildings in the town may be at least in part a consequence of this Victorian and later downturn in prosperity.

People from country villages continued to move to their local town and Lewes has continued to be a reasonably healthy place to live, so the only explanation for this failure to thrive can be that many Lewes residents, and especially Lewes youngsters, chose to move elsewhere where they judged prospects were better. One such lad was Julius Berncastle, the son of Cliffe watchmaker and jeweller Solomon Nathan Berncastle. Julius’s father was born in Trier, Germany, but came to Cliffe by 1805. Because Julius was born before civil birth registration was introduced and his family was Jewish there is no record to tell us exactly when he was born, but his ages given later in life narrow it down to the years after Waterloo. He will have spent his early childhood in Cliffe.

In 1824 his father left his Lewes business in the hands of a partner and moved to Brighton, and later to London. Julius however roamed far further afield. He trained as a doctor at the University of Paris, and later at Guy’s Hospital. In 1841-2 he served as Assistant Colonial Surgeon for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), then populated by a few free settlers aided by mainly convict labour. He returned to England, being in practice in Croydon by 1845 and noted in Brighton in 1846. He practised as a surgeon and apothecary in a Croydon partnership until this was dissolved in 1848 after a scandal concerning his alleged neglect of a patient in labour in the Union workhouse there. The 1851 census finds him as a general practitioner in St Pancras. In 1854 he established himself as an oculist and aorist in Sydney, and in 1867 he moved on to Melbourne. In 1858 he married the widow of a prominent Australian explorer, and they had at least one child. He died at Melbourne in 1870, when he was in his early 50s.

He is best remembered today as an author, rather than as a doctor. He published an article in The Lancet in 1842 on the value of potatoes in preventing ‘sea scurvy’. He was author of ‘A Voyage to China’ (2 vols., 1850); ‘The Revolt of the Bengal Sepoys’ (1857); ‘The Defenceless State of Sydney’ (1865); ‘Australian Snakebites’ (1863) and ‘The Use and Abuse of Tobacco’ (1868). His ‘Voyage to China’, which was via Bengal, is still widely quoted in 21st century academic studies, because his insightful descriptions of his experiences as a traveller make him an excellent witness to those Imperialist years.

Principal source: Philip Mennell, ‘Dictionary of Australasian Biography’.


  1. Lewes marks Queen Victoria’s Funeral

Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901 and her funeral was held on Saturday 2 February. By the command of her son, the new King Edward VII, all business was suspended for a day of national mourning. In Lewes the mayor, George Holman, decided the occasion would be marked by a solemn procession followed by a 2.30 pm memorial service at St John-sub-Castro church, the largest available. All the town’s shops and businesses were closed; flags including the royal standard were flown at half mast; Gabriel, the town bell, was tolled from 11 am until 2 pm, accompanied by muffled bells from other churches; and almost the entire population wore mourning attire for the day. The other Anglican churches all held their own memorial services. The non-conformists held a combined service at the Wesleyan church, apart from Jireh, who held their own.

At St John-sub-Castro there were seats for 850 people, but it was estimated that about 1,000 were crammed in. The procession assembled in the Town Hall and Corn Exchange, where the doors to the entrance hall were draped in royal purple, and Queen Victoria’s bust was draped in fabric of the same colour, with a large laurel wreath at its base. The procession set off headed by the town band, followed by the mace-bearer carrying the crepe-covered mace and then the mayor himself. He was followed by:

  • the aldermen, councillors and borough officers,
  • the magistrates,
  • the prison governor,
  • the poor law guardians and their officials,
  • the officers of the town burial boards,
  • the directors of the Victoria Hospital,
  • the hospital nursing staff,
  • the Lewes nursing association,
  • the churchwarden, overseers and assistant overseers of the different parishes,
  • the staff of the town’s gas and water companies,
  • the inland revenue and excise officials,
  • the post office staff,
  • the officers of the civil prison,
  • the officials of the county council,
  • the railway staff,
  • the masters and mistresses of the elementary schools,
  • the artillery volunteers,
  • the rifle volunteers,
  • the South Saxon lodge of freemasons,
  • the Pelham lodge of freemasons,
  • the Odd Fellows,
  • the Foresters,
  • the Lewes Orange lodge,
  • the Equitable Friendly Society,
  • the cadet corps,
  • the fire brigade and, bringing up the rear,
  • the borough’s workmen.

The procession allowed half an hour for its march via Market Street, West Street, Mount Pleasant and Abinger Place, while the town band played Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’. The service was conducted by the long-serving rector, Rev Arthur Pearson Perfect, accompanied by his curate.

George Holman and his staff had just one week to make all the necessary arrangements, doubtless carried out by post. He had other duties too. In between Queen Victoria’s death and her funeral he also received from the High Sheriff of Sussex the royal proclamation of Queen Victoria’s death and Edward VII’s accession, and he had to arrange its formal reading in various parts of the borough, starting with the Town Hall steps. Again the mayor, aldermen, councillors and staff assembled in full regalia, all the various people and organizations who needed to know were notified, and the buglers of the Lewes company of the Cinque Ports Rifles summoning the citizenry. Gabriel tolled, the Union Jack was lowered to be replaced by the Royal Standard and ‘God Save the King’ was pronounced.

George Holman was assisted by his town clerk, the attorney Montague Spencer Blaker, and his staff but the speed and scale of the organization involved was impressive. Could we do as well today, even with the benefit of instant electronic communication?

Source: Verena Smith (editor), ‘The Town Book of Lewes, 1837-1901’, published as Sussex Record Society volume 70.


  1. Leslie Stuart Davey                                                                          (by John Davey)
Leslie Davey in 1996

Leslie Davey in 1996

Les Davey was not by birth a Lewesian. He was born in Harrow-on-the-Hill on 5th October 1909, the second of three sons of Frederick William Davey and his wife, Evelyn. In 1912, when he was just 3 years old the family moved to Lewes and took up residence at 19, St John’s Terrace. He attended the Pells School and won a scholarship to attend the Uckfield Grammar School, travelling to and from Uckfield each day either by bicycle or train.

As a young adult he developed a fine tenor singing voice and he soon became a leading member of the 30-strong male voice choir at St John-sub-Castro. His first job after leaving school was as a clerk in the Lewes Waterworks that stood on what is now the Lewes Rugby Club headquarters on the Kingston Road. Typically, he became fascinated with the story of the way in which uncontaminated drinking water had been brought to the people of Lewes and he wrote a paper on ‘The History of Lewes Waterworks’

Leisure time during his 20’s was spent on ever increasing involvement with music and with a growing interest in the history of Lewes. He loved writing poetry, and several of his poems appeared in the Sussex Daily News and in magazines like the Sussex County Magazine. He became Secretary of the Lewes Musical Fraternity and, together with other vocalists, he provided the entertainment for many social gatherings in Lewes and the surrounding district as far afield as the London suburbs.

When he joined the staff of the Borough Treasurer’s office in Fisher Street, he was delighted that his new job positioned him right at the heart of the town and he used his lunch hours to seek out elderly residents of the town who might be strolling along the High Street. Having introduced himself, Les would then fire questions at his ‘interviewees’ asking them details about what life had been like in Lewes before and during the First World War. He recorded their answers in shorthand – and much of the information so gathered was to appear many years later in the books that he published about the town’s history.

In 1936, he married Catherine Banks, who ran her own School of Dancing, and the couple made their first home at 9, Nevill Crescent. The couple became leading members of the Lewes Operatic Society as they sang and danced their way into the hearts of Lewes townsfolk. At work, Les began a course of study with the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and passed the Part 1 examinations with distinction, only for his studies to be cruelly interrupted by the outbreak of World War 2.

He served as a Sergeant with the RASC in North Africa and Italy and although he was lucky enough to return home physically unscathed, his wartime experiences left a terrible mark on him and it was not the same carefree and ebullient man who returned home to Lewes in the Autumn of 1945. Today, PTSD would undoubtedly have been diagnosed and treated, but in those post-war years each man affected had to cope without medical help – and Les did so by devoting himself to the people and things that were the love of his life – his family, his job, and his home town. Like so many other veterans, he spoke little about the horrors of his wartime experiences and, as the years went by and memories faded, his health improved and a quiet dignity came to the fore. The tenor voice was seldom heard and poems were written only for very special family occasions, but Les was back home in his beloved Lewes – he never asked for more.

He settled back into his job – now as Deputy Borough Treasurer – and his fascination with the history of Lewes grew ever stronger. He worked with such eminent historians as L.H. Salzmann, Walter H Godfrey, and William (Bill) Rector. With Godfrey, he revised and updated the Town Guide. With Rector and Norris, the curator of the Barbican Museum, he participated in numerous archaeological digs on the site of the Lewes Priory. Together with others, he was a Founder member of the Friends of Lewes Society and after he had written a series of articles for the Sussex Express and County Herald, the Society published his first book called ‘The Street Names of Lewes’ in 1961. ‘The Inns of Lewes – past and present’ followed in 1977 and these delightful little books are still on sale – now in their 6th editions! Shortly before his retirement in 1969, he was invited by the Borough Council to accept the honorary title of ‘Keeper of the Town Records’ and he promptly set about cataloguing all the town’s Civic Regalia and Silverware. He compiled and published a marvellously detailed inventory with the title ‘Civic Insignia and Plate of the Corporation of Lewes’ and it would be interesting to learn whether all the 66 items detailed in this inventory are still held in safekeeping by the present occupants of the Town Hall.

During his long life, Les had walked (and talked!) his way around every inch of Lewes’s streets, lanes and twittens. A walk along the High Street frequently took ages, as he stopped to chat with so many friends and acquaintances. Such was the knowledge that he had acquired, it came as no surprise that, shortly after his death in February 2006, the editor of Sussex Life chose, as the title for a memorial article ‘Remembering Mr Lewes ….’


  1. Visit to Regency Town House      (by Ann & Peter Holmes)

Lewes History Group organised a second trip to the Regency Town House, Brighton in June for twenty four members, following glowing reviews of the November visit.  We were not disappointed.

Nick Tyson of Regency Town HouseNick Tyson (right) was an excellent host.  He put the Regency House, and indeed the history of the Square into the context of the rapid growth of Brighton. The process of renovation, all done by volunteers – many with relevant expertise – was also explained in great detail.

We visited the basement of number 10, now owned by the Trust, highlighting the unsatisfactory conditions endured by those who lived and worked ‘downstairs’, before we moved on to the elegant main rooms in number 13, painted in the original colours after meticulous uncovering of many layers of paint.

Regency Town House kitchen volunteersMore interesting details emerged over an excellent Regency lunch of Charter Pie and Charter Pudding cooked by a team of volunteers (left).   Who knew that shutters were needed in stormy weather because the window glass was so brittle when the houses were first built?  Much more can be seen on the website.


There is also a wealth of information about the History of Brighton on My House My Street made by staff and volunteers at the Regency Town House. 


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


This entry was posted in Biographical Literature, Lewes, Local History, Social History. Bookmark the permalink.