Lewes History Group: Bulletin 112, November 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: 11 November 2019: Sue Berry, ‘Victorian & Edwardian Suburbs of Lewes’.
  2. A.G.M. Notice
  3. John Tilbury
  4. Archaeological Remains at the West Gate
  5. Transported for Theft
  6. Thomas Paine, Engineer
  7. Markets and Fairs, 1805
  8. The Croft, the Every family and the Phoenix Ironworks (by David Attwood)


  1. Next Meeting             7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.                      Monday 11 November

      Sue Berry          The Rise of the Victorian and Edwardian Suburbs of Lewes

The landscape of Lewes was so transformed during the later 19th and early 20th centuries that by 1914, a visitor from the early 19th century would have been very surprised, especially by the house styles and the innovations such as sewerage and fresh water. Access to the railway became key for businesses while householders preferred living away from the noise and smells of the iron foundry, breweries, leather processing and horse dung in the town centre.

Sue will explore the development of these suburbs, considering the impact of new legislation on house building projects such as the Wallands, Pells and Grange Road and the difficulty of making them both profitable for their builders and suitable for their occupants.

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. A.G.M. Notice

This year’s A.G.M. will be held at the start of our meeting at 7.30 p.m. on Monday 9 December.

Your Executive Committee anticipates being in a position to nominate candidates for our statutory positions and the Committee reports will be published in the December Bulletin, so we anticipate this part of our December meeting will be brief.

Any additional nominations for the offices of chairperson, secretary or treasurer, or to serve as members of the committee, should be sent to our secretary Krystyna Weinstein, to reach her at kwein@virgin.net no later than Friday 22 November. Nominations should be proposed and seconded by two current members and accompanied by the consent of the person nominated.


  1. John Tilbury

John Tilbury, who died in October aged 86, came to Lewes in 1960 to work as an auctioneer for J.R. Thornton & Co at Lewes cattle market. He afterwards established the Tilbury & Co estate agency, with its main office near the War Memorial and branches in Newhaven, Ringmer and Newick. He was chosen as Mayor of Lewes in 1971, and was the last surviving mayor of the old Borough of Lewes.
Source: Obituary in the 11 October 2019 Sussex Express


  1. Archaeological Remains at the West Gate

146-147 High Street, Lewes, at Westgate, archaeology, mapAmongst the Lewes investigations carried out in advance of development by Thames Valley Archaeological Services and published on their website was a 2017 study of a 19th century stable & store building and a yard with a cellar under it to the rear of 146 & 147 High Street. These are a pair of early-19th century 3-storey houses with cellars built on the north side of the High Street immediately west of the old town wall. The cellar of no.147 includes part of the footings of one of the gate towers of the old West Gate, demolished in 1777, and both cellars include the supports for the old bridge that carried the High Street across the ditch that ran immediately outside the town wall. The Battle of Lewes is believed to have culminated in the successful storming of the West Gate by Simon de Montfort’s army, leading to the capture of the walled town. According to the Historic England listing, the party wall between 147 High Street and the Freemason’s Hall (148 High Street) contains considerable remains of the old West Gate. The stable and store building also backed against the old town wall. (Image above: 1873 O.S. map of the area, click to enlarge)

The view from Westgate Street to the stable and store, proposed to be demolished and replaced by a new house, is shown below. The structure backed against the old town wall.

146-147 High Street, Lewes, at Westgate, archaeology, Stable Block

To the north of the stable and store belonging to 147 High Street and the yard formerly part of 146 High Street was the White Lion public house and a row of cottages on Westgate Street, all now demolished and replaced by a car park. These too backed against the old town wall.

Below the yard behind 146 High Street is an extension of the house’s barrel-vaulted cellar. 146 High Street was reportedly used for many years as a wine and spirit merchant’s premises.

146-147 High Street, Lewes, at Westgate, archaeology, celler, looking south, and southwest
Cellar, looking south (left), looking south west (right)

Source: Thames Valley Archaeological Services reports HSL17/196 by Genni Elliott & HSL17/196b by Sean Wallis


  1. Transported for Theft

The 8 January 1827 Sussex Advertiser reported the names and punishments of a long list of local men sentenced to hanging, transportation or imprisonment after their conviction at the Sussex Winter Assizes, held in Lewes. Amongst the convicts was Thomas McCoy, a young labourer aged 14, who was found guilty of having stolen in the Cliffe three shillings and two sixpences belonging to Henry Green. His punishment was to be transported for seven years.


  1. Thomas Paine, Engineer

Thomas Paine is best known as a radical philosopher and campaigner, who had trained as a corset maker and while in Lewes an exciseman and a shopkeeper. However, he was also an imaginative engineer who in 1788 (after his return from the USA but before his departure for revolutionary France) was granted a patent for a revolutionary design of iron bridge.

The first iron bridge in Britain was the revolutionary design built over the Severn at Coalbrookdale in 1779 by Abraham Darby, and based on five semi-circular ribs of forged iron. The semi-circle was known by the Romans as a stable way to bridge a gap, but the problem was that its span determined its height, and it only really worked for bridges spanning steep gorges such as the Severn Gorge at Coalbrookdale.

Thomas Paine bridge design based on chord of a circleTom Paine’s idea, developed during the 1780s, was to base the iron arches supporting the bridge on a circular form, but instead to use a chord of an imaginary circle designed to fit the geography of any particular situation. He claimed his idea came from his close examination of the design of a spider’s web. Maybe there was a link to his original training as a corset maker.

His patent was developed for a new bridge proposed to cross the River Don in Yorkshire, but that ever came to fruition. To prove the concept he constructed a large (100 foot) model on a bowling green behind a pub in Lisson Green, London. His idea attracted international interest, but no actual contracts. After a year the model had to be dismantled and the elements were sent back to the manufacturer, who reportedly used them in the second iron bridge built in England, at Wearmouth, Sunderland, in 1796 (then the widest single-span bridge in the world). The design (below) was attributed to Tom Paine, though he had left England before it was built and others took the credit. The bridge attracted the attention of J.M.W. Turner, who sketched it in 1817, was strengthened by Robert Stephenson in 1859, and survived until after the Great War.

Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland, design attributed to Thomas Paine, image 1791
Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland, design attributed to Thomas Paine, 1791

After Tom Paine had narrowly escaped the guillotine and returned to the USA he continued to promote a number of large scale bridge projects based on his design, but nothing came of any of them until after his death.

Source: Patrick Sweeney, ‘Tom Paine’s Bridge


  1. Markets and Fairs in 1805

The market is daily supplied with necessaries for the table, and that held for corn on Saturdays is very respectably attended by the farmers of the neighbourhood. There are two fairs for black cattle on May 6 and Whitsun Tuesday, and a large sheep-fair on the 2nd of October. This fair was formerly kept in the Cliff, but being so much increased by the celebrity of the Southdown sheep is held at present (for want of a convenient place in the Cliff) in a field above Shelley’s Paddock and annually draws together from 50,000 to 80,000 sheep. From the bustle and gaiety of the scene it offers an interesting subject to the pencil of the artist.

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


  1. The Croft, the Every family and the Phoenix Ironworks (by David Attwood)

The Croft was built in 1898 for John Henry Every (1857-1941), the third in a line of ‘John Everys’ associated with the iron industry in Lewes.

The Croft, Lewes, and John H. Every in garden 1920s
The garden front of The Croft, ESRO early colour photograph (left)
John H. Every in the garden, 1920s (right)
Click image to enlarge

The first John Every (1796-1887) was born in Hampshire, where he served an apprenticeship in an iron foundry. In 1818 he married Ann Davies, and they had two children, one of whom was John William Every (born 1819). About 1830 John Every moved to Lewes with his young family to work at Ebenezer Morris’s foundry in Foundry Street, Cliffe.

In 1835 he started his own business at what he named the ‘Phoenix Foundry’ in North Street. An advertisement in the Sussex Advertiser shows that typical products were ornamental railings, domestic stoves, agricultural equipment and builder’s items. In 1839 the foundry moved to the High Street, on a site behind where the Superdrug store is now.

In 1844 this foundry was destroyed by a serious fire. Although the pattern store (the models from which the different products were cast) was saved, the after-effects were such that John Every went bankrupt in 1848. However, when the firm’s assets were advertised for sale by auction, they were bought by his son John W Every (JWE), who had been working with his father since 1835. The business then prospered again, and by 1856 the workforce had risen to 30 men.

JWE married in 1844 and in 1857 a son, John Henry Every (JHE), was born. In 1861 the Phoenix  Works moved to a large new foundry and iron works on the wharf near North Street. Eventually this would extend south from the river as far as what is now Phoenix Place (on the site of the proposed North Street Quarter development). JWE continued to build up the business, opening a warehouse in Brighton and expanding the works in the 1870s and 1880s. His son JHE joined his father and grandfather in the business in 1872. John senior died in 1887 – his gravestone can be seen in the churchyard of St John sub Castro.

With JHE’s involvement the business continued to thrive. In 1896 the Phoenix Institute was opened, a recreational club for foundry workers which included a hall seating 200. In 1900 the firm began to produce constructional steel for the first time. It was in this context that in 1898 JHE commissioned this ambitious house from the Brighton architect Samuel Denman, whose other notable achievement in Lewes was the conversion of the old Star Hotel into the Town Hall in 1893.

When JWE died in 1900, JHE took over the business and continued its expansion into the 1930s. Apart from the iron and steel business, he was a prominent Lewesian. He served on the Borough council from 1901 to 1934. He was mayor from 1903-05, and made a freeman of the borough in 1926. A non-conformist Unitarian and a pacifist, he paid for the remodelling of Westgate Chapel in 1912 and the restoration of Bull House in 1922. Until later house-building, The Croft’s garden extended as far as Rotten Row, and was often opened to the public for fetes and similar events. When he died in 1941, JHE left his impressive collection of Wealden fire-backs and other ironwork to the Sussex Archaeological Society, and some of them are on display at Anne of Cleves House.

On JHE’s death, the business passed to his son John Morris Every (1886-1964) who had for some time helped to manage it. As well as its more usual products, the company made parts for mines during the war, and for prefab housing afterwards. John Morris Every went to Oxford and was musically gifted. He was perhaps less suited to managing a foundry than his father, but the industrial climate was also much less favourable by his time. In 1948 there was another serious fire, from which the business never recovered. It was bought out of liquidation in 1951 and renamed the East Sussex Engineering Co Ltd. It prospered again for a time, but by the 1970s most of the assets had been sold off and most of the employees had lost their jobs, although the non-ferrous metal side continued on a small scale until 1986.

Many of the iron products manufactured by the company over the years can still be seen today, including lamp posts in several Sussex towns, Brighton and Eastbourne piers, other decorative ironwork in Brighton and Hove, and at Lewes and other railway stations. Railings, manhole covers, fire grates, window-frames and boot-scrapers can also still be identified.

After World War II, The Croft was taken over by East Sussex County Council’s Public Health Department, and it was used as council legal offices until 2002. It was then sold to Andrew and Heather Davies, who began the lengthy process of converting it back into a private home. There are still signs of council occupancy: marks where fluorescent lights hung from ceilings, and a box with 20 phone lines connected to the main council building. There is now a small indoor swimming pool where the boiler-room once stood, but the innovative underfloor heating system installed by JHE still works. The house was bought by its current occupants in 2017.

In 2006 The Croft was listed Grade II by English Heritage (now Historic England). It noted the special architectural interest of the exterior, with its brick and tile-hanging, timber-framed gables and elaborate two-storey wooden verandah; and also the ‘unusually complete interior of the period’, including elaborate stained glass, fireplaces, plastered ceilings and door fingerboards.

The adjacent single-storey ‘motor house’ (built in 1905) was listed at the same time as the house. JHE was one of the first people in Lewes to own a car. He and his wife were also keen cyclists, and the building had a bay for bicycles. There are signs of earlier modes of transport in the curbing stones at the sides of the main entrance and the nearby stone mounting-block (which is also listed).

Source: Adapted from the handout provided for Lewes Heritage Open Days visitors, 2019. For a detailed history of the Phoenix Ironworks see Sussex Industrial History No.45 (2015).


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

Lewes History Group Facebook, Twitter

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