Lewes History Group: Bulletin 111, October 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: 14 October 2019: Joanna Hodgkin, ‘The Godlees of Bear Yard’.
  2. Lewes History Group: our first decade
  3. North Street House of Correction (by Sean Wallis)
  4. Ouse and Uck: Sketch of a Sussex catchment (by Neil Merchant)
  5. How Gideon Mantell became a Geologist
  6. The Perfect Rector for St John-sub-Castro
  7. Auctioning your Wife
  8. Bridge House
  9. Has your house ever been a haven? (by Gaby Weiner)


  1. Next Meeting             7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.                         Monday 14 October

    Joanna Hodgkin          The Godlees of Bear Yard: an intimate family portrait

The Godlees of Bear Yard in the Cliffe were a Quaker family of merchants and bankers, remarkable for the wealth of archival material they left behind. They and their Rickman relatives wrote copiously – letters, journals and poems – so they have left us a unique window into their world. Fascinating glimpses of everyday life are interspersed with disaster and celebration, heartache and triumph. During the 1820s John Godlee’s business teetered on the brink of collapse, forcing his children, Mary Ann and Sarah, Burwood and Rickman, to shoulder the responsibility for the family. How the siblings met these challenges, while still finding time to enjoy themselves whenever possible, provides a vivid picture of a vanished world. The Godlees and the Rickmans were members of the Society of Friends, but very different from the stereotypical image of the early nineteenth century Quaker.

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 History Group: our first decade

The very first Lewes History Group Monday evening meeting took place on 12 October 2009, when Helen Poole spoke to us about ‘Medieval Lewes, Castle and Priory’. This was the first of nine talks on successive October, November & December Mondays that included John Bleach on the separate origins of Lewes and Cliffe; Diana Crook on Mrs Alice Dudeney’s Lewes Diary; Simon Stevens on recent archaeological excavations in the Lewes twittens; John Kay on Lewes churches and chapels; Miles Jenner on Lewes & Cliffe Breweries; Sarah Hitchings on the Phoenix Ironworks; Geoff Bridger on the Lewes soldiers who died in the Great War; and Christopher Whittick on Sussex records.

In 2010 we progressed to our present pattern of one evening meeting per month, except in August when Paul Myles led us on a visit to the former Newhaven Union Workhouse. The first meetings were held in the old King’s Church building, now a vacant site awaiting redevelopment, but in May we moved (with the church) into our present venue. The first of these Bulletins, a single page, appeared in August 2010 and our accounts for 2010 show the first expenditure on our website. Early in 2011 we became a properly constituted organisation, with Ian McClelland becoming our first Chair. The rest is history.


  1. North Street House of Correction                         (by Sean Wallis)

In the Thames Valley Archaeological Services excavations on the site of the North Street House of Correction carried out in 2010 in advance of the construction of the new Police Station [Bulletin no.110] we encountered two rooms that had concave floors. These might be rooms that had housed treadmills on which the prisoners sentenced to hard labour were put to work.

North Street, House of Correction, Lewes, excavation, concave floors


  1. ‘Ouse and Uck: Sketch of a Sussex Catchment’   (by Neil Merchant)

Prendergast book on the Ouse and UckHew Prendergast, chair of the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust (OART), is the author of ‘Ouse and Uck: Sketch of a Catchment’, published by Essedon Press on behalf of OART.

This book (64pp, amply illustrated in colour), takes an appropriately meandering journey along the two rivers’ courses, comprehensively taking in social, industrial and natural history, mills, locks and navigation, geography, catchment management and floods, pollution, farming, and conservation. For anyone with an interest in the rivers’ historical, economic or social context it serves as a good introduction, and also provides food for thought on ways to engage in protecting their future. Copies are available at £7.00 including P&P from Hew at hew.prendergast@btinternet.com. All profits go to OART, a body worthy of generous support.


  1. How Gideon Mantell became a Geologist

While but a youth Gideon Mantell was walking one summer evening with a friend along the banks of a stream running into the Ouse, when his sharp eye rested on an object that had rolled down from a bank that overhung the stream. He dragged it from the water and examined it with great attention. His friend naturally enquired what it was. His reply was “I think it is what they call a fossil. I have seen something like it in an old volume of the Gentleman’s Magazine”. The curiosity was borne home in triumph, and proved to be a fine specimen of an ammonite. From that moment young Mantell became a geologist.

Source: anecdote recounted by Mark Antony Lower in his essay on the South Downs included in his ‘Contributions to Literature’ (1854) p.176.


  1. The Perfect Rector for St John-sub-Castro

Rev Arthur Pearson Perfect (1838-1910) was rector of St John-sub-Castro for 42 years. Appointed in 1867 when in his late twenties, he continued to hold the living until his death at the age of 71. In 1891 he was additionally appointed as rural dean, though he retired from that post a few years before his death. In 1903 he was also given the Chichester Cathedral prebend of Heathfield, making him Canon Perfect, and he also held that role until his death. He was remembered by a stained glass window in the north side of the church nave installed in 1911.

He was born in Bath on 13 April 1838, the youngest of the four sons of Robert Perfect, who served as Liberal MP for Lewes from 1847 to 1852. The family’s main home was in Somerset (initially in Bath, but later Woolston Hall, North Cadbury) but they also kept houses in London and Brighton. The 1841 census catches the family life style. Arthur, aged 3, and his baby sister were with their parents in their London house in Albemarle Street, St George Hanover Square; a teenage sister and a brother aged 6 were at home cared for by servants at Walcot, near Bath; while the two oldest brothers aged 14 and 9 were both scholars at a private boarding school in Corston, Somerset, that in 1835 had 16 boarders. When Marlborough School opened in 1845 his second eldest brother was one of the first entry, and Arthur joined his second and third brothers there in April 1846, when he was just 8. He remained there for only 5 terms before transferring, with his third brother, to Westminster School.

His eldest brother went to Cambridge and Lincolns Inn and became a barrister, but Arthur followed his second and third brothers into the church. The second brother was trained at King’s College London, becoming a Theological Associate. The third brother took a more traditional route, attending Exeter College, Oxford, where he took both a BA and a MA. Arthur Pearson Perfect followed his second brother in qualifying as a Theological Associate at King’s College London in 1861. He was ordained as a deacon in the same year, and as a priest by the Bishop of Worcester in the following year.

On 10 April 1861 he married Fanny Maria Pemberton at St John’s, Kensal Green, London. Her father was the vicar there, but the service was conducted by Arthur’s second brother. He returned the favour the following year by officiating when the brother married at Clifton, Somerset. Arthur Perfect’s career and his family both then developed rapidly. The first daughter was born nine months after the marriage, and nine more followed over the next 15 years. The first two were baptised in Worcestershire (where one of Arthur’s clerical uncles held a living) in 1862 and 1863. The next three were baptised at St Peter’s, Brighton, in 1864, 1866 and 1867. Brighton was then one huge parish under the care of Rev H.M. Wagner, and technically Arthur Perfect was one of his many curates, but when he was given an 1867 leaving present of silver plate, a set of robes and a purse (presumably not empty), the donors were the long-serving ‘incumbent’ (Rev Thomas Cooke) and congregation of St Peter’s. Crockfords records him as curate and lecturer at St Peter’s. Five further children were born after he had moved to Lewes as rector of St John-sub-Castro. One of his first acts after being appointed was to acquire a parcel of land in St John Street for a new National (Church of England) school for his parish.

St John-sub-Castro was quite a good living, as the parish included Landport Farm and also a detached area of farmland the other side of Hamsey, now the parish of St John Without. It was reckoned to be worth about £250 p.a. plus surplice fees of £30 p.a. It also had an acre of glebe land valued at another £30 p.a., though of course it was also a populous parish, and if a curate was employed his services had to be paid for. While substantially higher than the income of most of his parishioners, it was perhaps not as much as a gentleman with a large and growing family might need to maintain his wife and children in the manner they might expect.

St John-sub-Castro was, following the 1839 re-build, the largest church in the town and had a large churchyard, and so the natural home for the larger-scale civic services. It was Rev Arthur Perfect who was invited to preside at the opening service for the new Lewes Town Hall in 1893, and the annual Borough civic service held each November was most often held in his church.

When he was first appointed the parish did not have a rectory. The Crofts family, who held the advowson for the parish, and who had for many years provided the rectors from amongst their own number, lived at Malling House. In the 1871 census the Perfect family was living in Southover, and by 1881 they had moved to Albion Street. By 1891 they had moved to the new, more conveniently-located, rectory in Prince Edward’s Road. In 1892 the parishioners subscribed to give their rector a purse containing 150 sovereigns to mark his completion of 25 years in that role.

As noted above, Arthur Pearson Perfect and his wife Fanny Maria had 10 children, six daughters and four sons. One of the daughters died as a small child before he came to Lewes. Two others married, in 1887 and 1895. His eldest daughter married the heir to Beard’s Brewery, but died not long after the marriage, aged 30. Another married a doctor who practised in Reigate. The three remaining Miss Perfects assisted their father with the work of the church, and managed his household after the 1897 death of their mother. Miss Caroline Annie Perfect was the parish organist for 30 years, took an interest in overseas missions and became the local secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Two Miss Perfects, Caroline Annie and Mildred, qualified as nurses. The third, Amy Sophia, an excellent singer, took charge of the Sunday school and the church decoration.

After the death of Arthur Pearson Perfect in 1910 the remaining unmarried daughters had to vacate the Rectory. Mildred went to London as a mission worker, but died during the Great War. Caroline Annie and Amy Sophia assisted a bachelor-brother who established a boarding school in Lewes St Anne’s, but they became redundant when he married and then moved the school to Seaford. They established a home together in Prince Edward’s Road. Miss Caroline Annie Perfect died in 1939, but the youngest daughter, Miss Amy Sophia Perfect, noted in Bulletin no.90 to have attracted Lewis Carroll’s attention when a young woman, continued to live at 70 Prince Edward’s Road until her death in 1960 at the age of 85.

All the four sons were still alive when their sister Caroline Annie died in Lewes in 1939. None followed their father into the church. The eldest, Arthur Strode Ludlow Perfect, became a bank clerk, then a bank manager and a director of the Lewes Old Bank when it was part of Barclays. He lived at 17 Prince Edward’s Road until he moved to Swanborough in 1939. He died in 1952 but his widow was still living in St Anne’s Crescent in the 1960s. The schoolmaster son retired to Elmhurst, North Road, Ringmer [now The Small House] and died there in 1941. A third son qualified as a civil engineer and left England for the colonies, while the youngest son emigrated to the Transvaal where he worked for a gold mining company.


  1. Auctioning your Wife

The following item appeared in the 29 July 1797 Northampton Mercury:

“As morals decline, so vice increases:- the practice of selling wives in public market becomes more frequent than ever – a blacksmith at Cliff, Lewes, and a butcher at Smithfield lately disposed of their wives in this manner.”

There is no more information about the Cliffe case, but the Smithfield man is named. The husband was evidently taken aback that when he “exposed his wife for sale” there were two keen bidders, with the price rapidly reaching four guineas. At this point he had second thoughts, reasoning that if others thought her worth so much, she must be good for something, so he bought her in himself. Four guineas would represent two months wages for a labourer or the price of three or four lambs ready for the butcher, but was considerably less than the normal auction price of a cow or a horse.


  1. Bridge House

This Edwardian photograph by E.J. Bedford from John Davey’s collection features Bridge House, immediately on the Lewes side of the River Ouse. It includes an early motor car to the far right of the picture, but most of the passing traffic is horse-drawn. The car’s registration has a single letter and four numbers, perhaps D7520. The sign attached to Bridge House, just below the gas lamp advertises that it is for sale.

Originally a merchant’s house, in the 18th century this building housed the Bridge Coffee Shop. It later became a grocer’s shop, and from 1780 to 1837 was associated with two Thomas Johnstons, father and son. In the mid-19th century the property was subdivided. Joseph Davey, builder and timber merchant, resided at 223 High Street, Bridge House, and a grocer’s shop continued at 224 High Street, next to the river.

In 1909 Bridge House was demolished and replaced by a row of shops.

Bridge House, Lewes, E.J. Bedford photo pre 1909

Source: Colin Brent, Lewes House Histories


  1. Has your house ever been a haven?                                        (by Gaby Weiner)

The Lewes Holocaust Memorial Day group are looking for any records of refugees having been housed in Lewes in recent times including, but not only, Jewish refugees from Nazism. Please contact Gaby Weiner, gaby.weiner@btinternet.com.


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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