Lewes History Group: Bulletin 114, January 2020

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: 13 January 2020: Stuart Billington, ‘History of St John-sub-Castro’.
  2. A.G.M. Report
  3. Collapse of part of the Lewes Castle curtain wall
  4. A new Saxon coin minted at Lewes
  5. The Lewes & Brighthelmston Flying Machine
  6. Local Lottery Winners
  7. View across the brooks to Malling Down
  8. Lewes Turnpike Gates
  9. LHG Workshop: Reading Deeds and Manorial Registers (by Sarah & Peter Earl)


  1. Next Meeting         7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.                  Monday 13 January     Stuart Billington       The History of St John-sub-Castro church

St John-sub-Castro has a dramatic site, on a low but defensible cliff overlooking what John Bleach has suggested was the original entrance to Lewes from the east, before the medieval causeway on which the Cliffe is built was constructed. There was a pre-Conquest Saxon church here, the oldest Lewes church of which we have any record. It survived the reduction in the number of Lewes churches consequent on the Reformation, despite a period when it fell into disrepair. Owing to the rapid population growth in its parish in the early1800s the old church became too small, so it was demolished in 1839, to be replaced by the present much larger church. The building of the Wallands and the Landport Estate had a major impact on parish life in the 20th century, as did the high cost of maintaining such a large building. Major changes followed in the 2010s, with the formation of Trinity Church and the transformation of the building into the church and cafe that we see today.


  1. A.G.M. Report
  • The Annual Reports, as printed in Bulletin no.113, were approved.
  • Appointment of officers. The following officers were elected for 2020:
    • Chair for evening meetings: Sue Berry
    • Chair of executive committee: Ann Holmes
    • Secretary: Krystyna Weinstein
    • Treasurer: Ron Gordon
    • Exec committee: John Kay, Jane Lee, Ian McClelland, Barbara Merchant & Neil Merchant
  • Membership subscription. It was agreed that the annual subscription should remain at £6 p.a. per member and that admissions charges should remain unchanged.
  • Members were asked /whether they had any questions but were content to move on to the lecture on Public Art by Andrew Buxton.
  • Before the meeting commenced, the audience was reminded that the Group is now a decade old. Jane Lee’s article was handed out and a looped presentation also celebrated this very considerable achievement.
  • A copy of the Powerpoint of the AGM presentation has been sent to Barbara Merchant for record on the LHG Intranet.


  1. Collapse of part of the Lewes Castle curtain wall

Lewes Castle curtain wall before and after collapse Nov 2019
Lewes Castle curtain wall before (left) and after collapse (right) of November 2019
Images from Sussex Past & Present no. 149

The sudden and unexpected collapse of a section of the curtain wall between Castle Gate House and Castle Ditch Lane made the national news in November. This was one of the last remaining full-height sections of the castle’s curtain wall. It was thought to be contemporary in date to the castle itself and was about 10 metres high. The reason for its collapse has not yet been established. It was in the care of the County Council, which has for safety reasons since demolished much of what survived the initial collapse.


  1. A new Saxon coin minted at Lewes

Saxon coins find, one minted in Lewes

Michael Heim, a Texan Baptist preacher, came to Shropshire for a relaxing metal detecting holiday. In two days working in a nondescript field near Oswestry of no known historical importance he discovered 6 Saxon coins from the reign of Edward the Confessor.

One of the coins he discovered had been minted in Lewes, an addition to the very small group of surviving pre-Conquest Saxon coins known to have been minted in the town.

Source: 15 November 2019 Shropshire Star, posted on the Lewes Past Facebook page by Stephen Hutchings. See the Finds database for some examples of other Saxon coins minted at Lewes in the 10th & 11th centuries and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.


  1. The Lewes & Brighthelmston Flying Machine

Messrs J. Tubb and S. Brawne advertised in the 14 June 1782 Sussex Advertiser that the new Lewes & Brighthelmston Flying Machine would be serving the route from the Golden Cross, Charing Cross, via Uckfield to the White Hart, Lewes, and the Castle, Brighthelmston. It was very neat and commodious, hung on steel springs, and would carry four passengers. It would travel down to Sussex on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and return to London on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Inside passengers would be charged 13 shillings to Lewes, or 16 shillings to Brighthelmston. Children travelling on someone’s lap or outside passengers paid half price. Each passenger was allowed fourteen pounds of luggage free, but a penny per pound was charged above that. Half the fare was to be paid to book a place, and the other half on entering the machine. Parcels could also be sent. The proprietors would not accept responsibility for any losses of “plate, jewels or writings” unless entered as such and paid for accordingly.


  1. Local Lottery Winners

The 29 November 1784 Sussex Advertiser reported that Mr Stephen Gourd and Mr Thomas Pockney, two stage coachman who had for several years driven the Lewes and Brighthelmston coaches, were the owners of one fourth part of lottery ticket number 23,148, which had on the previous Friday been drawn in London as the winner of a twenty thousand pound prize.

The lucky ticket had been purchased for them by another coachman who in the summer season drove the light coach from Lewes to London. He delivered the ticket to Stephen Gourd on Saturday afternoon, and soon afterwards the news of its winning the prize also reached him. He immediately set off for London in a post-chaise, accompanied by Mr Tubb, one of the stage coach proprietors.


  1. View across the brooks to Malling Down

Malling Down, Lewes from Landport, postcard postmarked 1913

This postcard view taken from the lower slopes of Landport across the Brooks to Malling Down was postmarked 1913. The photograph was relatively recent, as there is no sign of Malling Mill, burnt down in 1908.


  1. Lewes Turnpike Gates

The various local turnpike trusts were private companies, who built and maintained the main roads and were in return entitled to collect tolls from horse-drawn traffic passing through their turnpike gates. The trusts did not collect the tolls themselves, but leased the right to do so to contractors. An advertisement in the 28 March 1819 Sussex Advertiser invited bids for the coming year’s leases of the various toll gates in the Lewes area. The previous year’s successful bids were listed for guidance. The highest price was £924 for the Ashcombe & Brighthelmstone gates. Malling & Ringles Cross gates on the turnpike to London via Uckfield had been let for £836. The Ringmer paygate had been let for £922. Others were let for much less, e.g. Short gate, at the top of the Broyle between Ringmer and Halland, had been let for only £320.


  1. LHG Workshop: Reading Deeds and Manorial Registers    (by Sarah & Peter Earl)

This LHG workshop was run on 6 December 2019 by Caroline Adams. Understanding the parcel of deeds relating to our property in East St had always been on the backburner until we started looking at the history of our street in 2018. Then the realisation dawned that paperwork of this kind is better kept in The Keep, so before we hand them over we wanted to decipher and tap them for any relevant information they might hold. We therefore signed up for this three-hour course. I had already attended Caroline’s Palaeography day earlier in the autumn, and that had revealed a whole new world behind ancient calligraphy.

Caroline had what, superficially, might have appeared to be a clear brief: to explain how to understand deeds and manorial records. She gave us a framework for the key elements of old property deeds. However, there are many different types, plus the requirements of her audience were tremendously varied both in terms of location, era, and whether the documents they needed to access referred to urban or rural property.

The first new word, of many, I learned during the morning was ‘messuage’- a dwelling house with outbuildings and land assigned to its use. Apologies to any reader who knew this already, but this does illustrate my starting point. Next Caroline tackled the topic of manorial registers. For this she had constructed a fictitious manor (Maiden Heaven) to illustrate the key points and considerations using a subtle level of humour to retain our attention. We were lucky to have other delegates who had more than a passing acquaintance with the subject and their contributions were gratefully received, but really served to show how complex and varied this area of historical research is. Caroline, from her work as an archivist, illustrated how important the ability to decipher these documents can be in modern day life, as well as for historical research. She described a case where lack of attention to their detail had resulted in the acquisition of a field for a building project with a single access track to which the new owner had no right to use, and hence no ability to carry out the intended development.

Caroline did succeed in allowing us to unlock our own pile of deeds and the one we unfolded for the first time at the workshop revealed a contract between two women in the mid-19th century. It related to the sale of outbuildings in what had been the end of our garden and is now under the tarmac of Little East Street. Fascinating reading, but not easy!


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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