Lewes History Group: Bulletin 110, September 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: 9 September 2019: Sarah Bayliss & Wenda Bradley, ‘Town Hall Paintings’
  2. Heritage Open Day Weekend (by Judith Davies)
  3. The North Street House of Correction
  4. Facing up to War in Europe
  5. Smugglers versus Excisemen
  6. The Perfect MP for Lewes
  7. The Road to Offham
  8. Lewes Societies Fair 2019 (by Ruth O’Keeffe)
  9. Rowland Hawke Halls


  1. Next Meeting             7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.           Monday 9 September

Sarah Bayliss & Wenda Bradley         Stories behind the Lewes Town Hall Paintings

Pictures have hung in Lewes Town Hall for more than 120 years and an analysis of the collection helps tell the history of our town. Three of the most important oil paintings (‘The Battle of Lewes’, ‘The Protestant Reformers’ and ‘The Visit of William IV and Queen Adelaide’) have recently been restored with Heritage Lottery funding and their subjects stand out as depicting key moments and influences on local as well as national culture. Other paintings in the Town Hall collection contribute to a rich visual heritage, ranging from images of famous men and two women, shipbuilding, orientalism, cricket, Bloomsbury and Bonfire.

A book has been written about the collection by journalist Sarah Bayliss, with educational materials prepared by Wenda Bradley of Artemis Arts. Their talk to the Lewes History Group will reveal colourful stories about the paintings’ subject matter, the artists and the generous benefactors who have donated such a variety of art to the people of Lewes.

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. Heritage Open Day Weekend                                                      (by Judith Davies)

 The Heritage Open Day Weekend has now become a regular feature of Lewes life. This year’s event will take place 12-15 September, when 18 historic Lewes venues will be opening their doors. Some are not normally open to the public, and others will be waiving their usual entrance charge. There are also a range of guided tours. For some venues and events you can just turn up on the day, but for others, such as Lewes Prison, advance booking is essential.

This year’s programme includes the magnificent grade 1-listed Jireh Chapel, and such gems as Lamb House in Chapel Hill, the neighbours Sussex House and Trinity House at 212-213 High Street, Gideon Mantell’s birthplace at 23 Station Street, Jonathan Swan’s 18th century shop at 164 High Street, Edward Reeves’ shop at 159 High Street, the Round House on Pipe’s Passage, the Freemason’s Hall at149 High Street, St Anne’s church (the oldest surviving church building in Lewes) and The Croft nearby, built for the iron founder John Every.

For full details about booking in advance see: https://friends-of-lewes.org.uk/hod2019/ .


  1. The North Street House of Correction

One of the archaeology firms that competes for local contracts for archaeological assessment and exploration in advance of new development is Thames Valley Archaeological Services (TVAS) which, despite its name, has a Sussex branch based in Hollingdean managed by Sean Wallis.

In theory the archaeological investigations are all reported back to the county archaeologist and available to the public via the rarely-consulted condition discharge applications on the planning authorities planning portals. Only a few of the most major excavations are formally reported in journals such as Sussex Archaeological Collections. However, to improve access to this accumulating information, TVAS also publish all their completed reports on their own website, tvas.co.uk. This website now carries a number of reports of investigations in the Lewes area.

One such TVAS investigation was an exploration of the site of the southern half of the North Street House of Correction, carried out in advance of the construction of the Lewes Police Station. This identified some of the footings of the old prison, surviving under the demolition rubble, and also a number of medieval rubbish pits on the site. These dated from between the 10th and 14th centuries, but the majority were from the 11th-12th centuries. They contained domestic refuse such as sherds of pottery, butchered animal bone and fish bone and small amounts of slag produced by local craft workers. There were also a few post holes, but no systematic evidence of medieval development, and very little surviving evidence of any use between the Black Death and the late 18th century.

North Street House of Correction, Lewes, excavations
(Left) Brick footings revealed by excavation
(Right) A large 11th/12th century pit, half excavated, in the prison floor

Archaeologists have to be good historians too, and the TVAS report includes a full account of the history of the 18th century buildings, garnered from careful study of the available maps and records. The House of Correction was built in 1793 to the design of William Blackburn, with the builder his brother-in-law William Hobson. It replaced an earlier House of Correction in Cliffe High Street. As well as two 3-storey wings of cells, there were a keeper’s house, chapel, infirmaries and baths and four airing yards. It remained as the county prison until replaced by the present Lewes Prison in 1853, but underwent many changes in that period. In 1817 24 more cells and three dayrooms were added to meet increasing need, followed in 1820 by a building with 5 cells for solitary confinement. In 1822 a treadmill that drove a corn mill was installed, and by 1833 there were three wheels for this form of hard labour. A growing population brought more clients, and in 1833 another 65 cells were needed, together with a chapel, wash house and laundry. By 1845 two further wings had been added and one of the original wings extended.

In 1854 the government bought the redundant prison from the county authorities, and from 1854-1856 it was used to house Russian prisoners of war from the Crimea. It briefly became a Royal Marine barracks, but from 1857-1859 it was used by the Directorate of Convict Prisons as a temporary infirmary for invalid convicts. From 1862 to 1910 it was used as a Royal Navy prison, and from 1911 to 1963 it was the drill hall for the Sussex Territorial Army. After demolition in 1963 this part of the site was used as a car park. Each new use required new modifications.

Source: TVAS report NSL05/113c


  1. Facing up to War in Europe

When the Revolutionary French government executed King Louis XVI many of its royalist neighbours were outraged. Britain expelled the French ambassador. In response on 1 February 1793 France, already at war with several other European countries, declared war on Britain and the Netherlands. British ships in French ports were seized and their crews imprisoned. Unarmed civilian coastal shipping was at the mercy of French privateers. The French Minister of War was said to have claimed that following the introduction of conscription he had a hundred thousand men stationed along the coast between Dieppe and Havre de Grace [Le Havre].

The 18 March 1793 Sussex Advertiser described the response to these new circumstances. The Duke of Richmond, based at Goodwood, was in overall command of the defence of the Sussex coast. Under him was General Sir William Meadows, who had arrived at Eastbourne a few days previously, reviewed the four companies of the West Kent Militia stationed there, and declared himself highly satisfied with the military appearance and steadiness of these part-time soldiers. He then departed for Hastings, where he planned to reside. Meanwhile General Sir William Howe, who was to be the commander (under the Duke of Richmond) of the western part of the Sussex Coast, was expected to arrive shortly to take up residence in Lewes. Devils Dyke was considered a good location for a military encampment. The national Commander in Chief was rumoured to intend honouring Seaford or Blatchington with his occasional residence in the summer.

Three English sailors had come ashore at Eastbourne in a French fishing boat. They claimed to have been part of the crew of a London ship impounded in Dieppe, to have escaped from prison, and then commandeered the fishing boat to escape back home. They also brought a first hand account of 800 French National Guards having marched into Dieppe. The Sussex Advertiser thought their story was very credible, but nevertheless commended the Eastbourne authorities for keeping them under guard until it was confirmed. Perhaps the most concerning local news was that, as a result of the interference with shipping, the price of sea coal in Lewes had rise to an astonishing 55 shillings per chaldron. This was however expected to fall again when a convoy of colliers making their way around the coast from the Tyne were able to land their cargoes.


  1. Smugglers versus Excisemen

The following item of Lewes news was published in the 16 September 1797 Hampshire Chronicle. Punctuation and grammar are as in the original, but the letter ‘s’ has been changed into the modern format.

 “One day last week a seizure, consisting of six horses laden with contraband spirits and tobacco, was brought into this town by some excisemen, who deposited the same with Mr Cullen, at the Swan Inn, in Southover, from whose stables the horses were all stolen the next night. One of the smugglers, in attempting to ride off with his cargo, had his horse shot under him; but the poor animal galloped half a mile afterwards, when he fell and instantly died.”

Very similar items appeared in the Bath Chronicle published two days previously and in the Reading Mercury published two days later. Many 18th century local newspapers mainly comprised unattributed reports copied from other newspapers. Some items are copied in dozens of different newspapers, incorporating variations arising from Chinese whispers as they spread. Today we call it “going viral” on social media.

A decade earlier the 30 January 1786 Sussex Advertiser reported as part of its Lewes news that:

“Messrs Cullen and Williams, Excise Officers of this town, seized at Falmer three casks of spirits (Coniac Brandy and Geneva) about 500 weight of currants and three boxes of manna. The whole of which they safely lodged at Newhaven Custom house.”

The surname Cullen is not common in Sussex, so do both items perhaps refer to the same man?

I was familiar with ‘manna’ only from reading Exodus, but apparently the name is also used for a sweet gum derived from the sap of certain European ash trees, and used as a mild laxative.


  1. The Perfect MP for Lewes

In March 1847 Mr Robert Perfect of Marine Parade, Brighton, was elected unopposed as the MP for Lewes in the Liberal/Whig interest, following the resignation of the radical Whig Sir Howard Elphinstone, who had inherited his father’s baronetcy in 1846. A rumoured Tory challenge did not materialise. Robert Perfect stood again at the general election later that same year, together with Henry Fitzroy, who had originally been elected as a Tory, but after a spell as a Peelite had become a Liberal. At this election Robert Perfect’s address was given as Bryanston Square, Middlesex. The Liberals triumphed, taking both Lewes borough seats – Fitzroy gained 457 votes and Robert Perfect 402 votes, against 207 & 143 respectively for the two Tory candidates. In 1851 Robert Perfect announced that he would be standing down at the following year’s election in favour of a local candidate, Henry Brand of Glynde Place. After representing Lewes for 5 years he seems to have taken no further interest in national politics.

Almost all Victorian MPs for country boroughs were gentlemen. In the days before the secret ballot deep pockets to ‘encourage’ Lewes residents to deliver their votes were essential. Some local MPs (like Henry Brand) were from long-established Sussex families with local influence. Others (including both Sir Howard Elphinstone and Henry Fitzroy) were drafted in from elsewhere.

Wealthy country gentlemen usually leave plenty of traces in the historical record, but Robert Perfect is surprisingly hard to track down. The ages ascribed to him when he matriculated at Queen’s College, Oxford, in the 1851 & 1871 censuses and at his death in 1875 all indicate that he was born about 1799, while his entry in ‘Alumni Oxoniesis’ identifies him as the son of William Perfect of Wandsworth, Surrey, gent. The censuses record his birthplace as Wandsworth. He graduated from Queen’s College, Oxford, in 1823 with a second in Classics and was awarded his MA in 1825. According to a note in Rev Ponting’s article, cited below, both his father and his grandfather were physicians, while his great-grandfather was a Dorset gentleman. His grandfather practised in Wincanton, Somerset, while his father practised in Bath. His great-uncle Rev Caleb Perfect (c.1706-1743) was vicar of Mere, a small town in Wiltshire, for the last decade of his life.

Within a few months of taking his MA in 1825 Robert Perfect married Eliza Harriet Butt. The marriage took place at St Nicholas church in Brighton, but the report of the marriage in the 1 September 1825 Brighton Gazette describes Robert Perfect as of Portland Place, Bath, and his wife as also of that city. She had been born in Southwark, a daughter of James Strode Butt, who had married a Miss Davis and become a partner in Davis’s Wharf there, but had also established a reputation as an expert in the development of the astronomical instruments then used in navigation. By his death in 1826 James Strode Butt had retired to Bath, but both he and his father are remembered by a plaque in the north aisle of the parish church of Mere, Wiltshire.

By the time he became MP for Lewes in 1847 Robert Perfect had established himself as an active Liberal in Somerset, where he was both a magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant. He had founded the East Somerset Registration Society, with the aim of maximising the number of Liberal voters in that county, and had moved his family to a suitable country house, Woolston Hall. He was evidently wealthy – in May 1847 he subscribed £8,000 for 400 new shares in the Birmingham and Oxford railway. The 1847 edition of Dod’s Parliamentary Companion gives him two additional addresses to Woolston Hall – 29 Marine Parade, Brighton, and 35 Bryanston Square, London.

Robert and Eliza Harriet Perfect had seven children between 1826 and 1840, all born in Bath. His eldest son, William Hampden Perfect, became a barrister but his other three sons all became beneficed clergymen. Is it a complete coincidence that Viscount Hampden was the title of the Trevor and Brand families of Glynde Place? After retiring from Parliament, Robert Perfect is glimpsed living at Woolston Hall, in Bath and at Torquay. He died in 1875 in Kensington.

Sources: Familysearch website; British Newspaper Archive; Alumni Oxoniesis (online version); Dod’s Parliamentary Companion (1847); and C.E. Ponting, ‘Parish Church of St Michael, Mere’ in Report of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, vol.86, pp.20-69 (1896).


  1. The Road to Offham

Downs towards Offham near Lewes, postcard

Some Lewes views have changed more than others over the past century, as is well illustrated by this postcard (offered for sale on ebay in July) showing the view along the A275 towards Offham

The reverse of the postcard says it was published by E. Funnell of 172 High Street, Lewes, but the face of the postcard carries the monogram of the Valentine company, with a number that indicates inter-war publication. This is confirmed by the car, the lady’s hat and the roadside electricity poles.


  1. Lewes Societies Fair 2019 (By Ruth O’Keeffe)

The LHG will again participate in this year’s Lewes Societies Fair, which is to be held in the Town Hall from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Saturday 7 September. This event is an excellent introduction to the many Lewes organisations and social groups that make the town such a vibrant community.


  1. Rowland Hawke Halls

Rowland Hawke Halls (1879-1919) was a Lewes architect working in the Arts & Crafts tradition. An example of his work was shown in Bulletin no.15. To celebrate the centenary of his death his grandson David Scott Cowan will give an illustrated talk about his work at 5.30 p.m. on Wednesday 18 September at The Keep, Falmer, and there will be a Lewes Town Hall Exhibition open on weekdays between 10-16 September.


 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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