Lewes History Group: Bulletin 115, February 2020

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  1. Next Meeting: 10 February 2020: Dan Swift, ‘Lewes between the Twittens’.
  2. Thomas Start, Lewes Swordsman and Pugilist (by Claire Morley)
  3. The Cliffe Feoffees’ properties
  4. Cliffe as seen by Mark Antony Lower in 1834
  5. A Timberyard in the Cliffe
  6. Lewes Bridge (by John Farrant)
  7. Walter Hindes Godfrey
  8. South Downs National Park Design Awards


  1. Next Meeting         7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.                  Monday 10 February     Dan Swift                Lewes between the Twittens

Four Lewes excavations were undertaken between 2004 and 2008 by Archaeology South-East in advance of new development. These were in Styles Field (the new Lewes Library site), the garden of Lewes House, the Baxters site and a site in St John’s Street. These excavations all revealed new evidence of Iron Age, medieval and post-medieval activity in the town. Whilst these archaeological studies fully reflected the importance and standing of Lewes in later Saxon and Norman times, and its continued growth through the medieval period up until the mid-14th century, the revived success of Lewes in the Tudor period, leading ultimately to its elevation in status to County Town by the 16th century, was not so evident.

Dan’s talk will include the post-excavation analysis and research that has been undertaken since the excavations themselves were completed, which make an important contribution to a forthcoming book in the SpoilHeap monograph series, published jointly by Archaeology South East and the Surrey County Archaeological Unit, that pulls together the results of recent archaeological investigations across South-East England.

Lewes House excavation
Archaeology South East excavations in progress near All Saints church


  1. Thomas Start, Lewes Swordsman and Pugilist                    (by Claire Morley)

East Sussex Libraries have recently received an enquiry from a lady in Hertfordshire who is trying to find out more about Thomas Start, a swordsman / boxer who in 1725 fought at James Figg’s Amphitheatre in London 1725. She has given me the following information about him.

Thomas Start was advertised in the 7June 1725 Daily Post as going to fight Edward Sutton on the 9 June at James Figg’s Amphitheatre. In this ad he was stated to have been “from Lewes in Sussex”. Thereafter, the 16 June 1725 Daily Post carried another advert for a further trial of skill between the two, this time on the same day (16th), and again at Figg’s. This second ad called Start ‘the Sussex Champion’. It confirmed that the contest the previous week had occurred, and that this was a return match.

There are a number of 17th &18th century records of men called Thomas Start in Sussex, including a 5 October 1725 Sussex marriage licence for Thomas Start of Malling, blacksmith, to marry Esther Latter, spinster. Have any Lewes History Group members encountered him? If so please contact claire.morley@eastsussex.gov.uk.


  1. The Cliffe Feoffees’ properties

Cliffe was a small and urban parish, with very little agricultural or glebe land to support the parish church or its clergy – its rector was entitled to 10% of all the agricultural produce grown in the parish, which was not a lot. Such urban parishes needed other sources of income. Cliffe parish had acquired, doubtless through bequests, a number of house-properties on all the three main streets. Their legal ownership was vested in a group of trusted parishioners, the feoffees, who arranged for them to be let out to provide an income that was passed to the churchwardens. Some of the properties were used to house poor parishioners for whom the parish was responsible.

A problem with this arrangement is that tenanted property does deteriorate over time, and the cost of major repairs or rebuilding was prohibitive. By the 18th century the feoffees had come up with a solution. The various properties were let on long leases, typically 99 years. Such long leases could require the incoming tenant to renovate or even re-build the properties, with the rent determined accordingly. The feoffees could then rely on a steady and predictable income.

In 1808 the feoffees drew up a list of all their long leases, the agreed rents and when they were scheduled to expire. They had seven properties in Cliffe on 99-year leases granted between 1732 and 1803 at rents of between £1 p.a. and £12 p.a.; a Malling Street property in South Malling parish that had been let on a 21 year lease in 1799 at £25 p.a. (half their total  income); and a small plot of arable land on the Broyleside, Ringmer, that they had acquired as a consequence of the Broyle Enclosure Act and which they had let for 50 years in 1802 for just half a crown a year. All these properties would fall back into their hands sometime in the 19th century.

However, they also held one other property in the North Street of the Cliffe that had been let for a term of 500 years from Lady Day 1694 at £3 p.a. This was a house that had been called the King and Queens Head, built at the time this lease was granted, though it was noted that in 1794 the inn sign had been changed to the Swan. There had been an earlier inn called The Swan at 33 Cliffe High Street, but that had closed in 1778. The inn owned by the feoffees was at 15 Malling Street. They noted carefully that the lease was due to expire in 2194. That must have seemed a long way away then; indeed it still seems a long way away today, well over 200 years later. The £3 p.a. annual rent also buys a lot less today than it did in 1694.

Sources: ESRO AMS 7111/7/2; Colin Brent, ‘Cliffe and Malling House Histories’.


  1. Cliffe as seen by Mark Antony Lower in 1834

 “CLIFFE: The eastern suburb of the borough of Lewes, in the hundred of Ringmer, and rape of Pevensey, which contains 219 houses and 1362 inhabitants. The town, which consists principally of one street, has of late been greatly improved and modernized. It was anciently denominated Clyve, and receives its name from the craggy overhanging height, called ‘Cliffe Hill’. The church is dedicated to St. Thomas-a-Becket, and was formerly a chapel-of-ease to South Malling; it has lately undergone material alterations, and now is one of the neatest parish churches in the county. The interior is elegant, and contains a good organ, and an altar piece representing the ascension.”  

“The parish of Cliffe appears to have rapidly increased in population after the Norman Conquest, and was of sufficient consequence in the reign of Henry IV to obtain a charter for holding a weekly market and two fairs annually. Till recently the prison for the eastern division of the county stood within its limits. Market on Tuesday.” 

Source: Mark Antony Lower, ‘Sussex’ (1834), p.266. This was Lower’s second published attempt at a county history, when he was aged 21. His first attempt was published in 1830, when he was a teenager. His third version, published in 1870, was heavily based on the Sussex Archaeological Collections, published by the Sussex Archaeological Society, which he co-founded in 1846. The 1834 edition was funded by over 250 subscribers, who each pre-ordered a copy.

Mark Antony Lower (1813-1876) was born in Chiddingly, where his father Richard Lower was schoolmaster. He taught at a sister’s school in Alfriston, before in 1835 marrying and establishing his own school in Lewes.


  1. A Timberyard in the Cliffe

Timberyard in the Cliffe, 1830s watercolour
© Sussex Archaeological Society

This 1830s watercolour in the Sussex Archaeological Society collection was reproduced as a postcard in the 1980s. It shows the view from a South Street timberyard on the River Ouse across what was to become the Railway Land towards Lewes Castle. The name of the artist is unknown. The Society has a remarkable collection of historical artworks housed at its Barbican House headquarters.


  1. Views of Lewes Bridge in the 1790s                                     (by John Farrant)

In the December 2019 Bulletin no.113, John Kay reproduced a watercolour of Lewes Bridge by Alexander Monro, held by the Yale Center for British Art and attributed to Monro on the strength of its provenance. He observed that it was remarkably similar in composition to the much finer watercolour by J. M. W. Turner owned by the Tate Gallery and reproduced in Bulletin no.45.

Lewes Bridge by Alexander Monro
Lewes Bridge by Alexander Monro. Undated watercolour.
Image credit: Yale Center for British Art | Licence: Public Domain, Yale Center for British Art

A Bridge at Lewes, Sussex by JMW Turner ~1896
A Bridge at Lewes, by J.M.W.Turner, c. 1896  Tate Gallery TB XXXII B
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

There are in fact six drawings of the bridge to consider. The starting point is the picture below held by the Sussex Archaeological Society [LEWSA.VR 3199]. It shows Lewes Bridge (now called Cliffe Bridge) before it was widened in 1808 and the brick-and-stone parapets replaced by railings. The artist was at the south-east corner, perhaps on the ground floor of the Bear Inn, the site now occupied by the Argos catalogue shop. In pencil and grey wash, on three pieces of paper glued together, 150 x 250 mm, it is clearly a field sketch, as it is marked up with codes for a later fair copy (‘b’ for brick, ‘t’ for tile, ‘w’ for white).The inscription reads: ‘Lewis Bridge Sussex Wedy Sepr 29 1790 – 28 & last’.

Lewes Bridge field sketch 1790, possibly by Michael Rooker

The pictures’ similarity lies not in the bridge and buildings (several artists could have independently chosen the same vantage point) but in the staffage, in particular the horses and wagon toiling up the bridge, the men at the apex of the bridge, and the boat on the river. The three can be connected as follows. Alexander Monro (1802-44) was the youngest son of Dr Thomas Monro (1759-1833), from 1791 Principal Physician to the Bethlem Hospital, then in Moorfields, London. From 1793 at the latest and over the next few years, Dr Monro invited young artists to his home on winter evenings to study and copy his collection of paintings, drawings and prints, and also drawings borrowed from his artist friends. He did this partly to help them learn, but mainly to increase his own collection, as he kept copies that they produced of borrowed pictures. Turner and Thomas Girtin were among the young artists who gladly accepted a half-crown and an oyster supper for attending, as it came to be known, ‘the Monro academy’.

So the SAS picture, or more likely a worked-up version, was in Dr Monro’s hands by the mid-1790s, and was copied by Turner and later by his son. Who then was the artist in Lewes in 1790? My suggestion is Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker (1746-1801). From 1779 until the mid-1790s Rooker was scene-painter at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Each year from about 1788 he made a sketching tour in the mid- or late summer, carefully dating and numbering his sketches. In 1792 his pictures in the Royal Academy’s exhibition were of Winchelsea, Battle Abbey, Pevensey Castle and the coast of Sussex, and in the following year included Camber Castle and Hastings, suggesting that he had travelled from London to Rye and followed the coast westwards to Lewes where, after a stay at the Bear Inn, he took a coach homewards.

A fourth version of the same view was acquired by East Sussex Record Office in 2009 [ACC 10262].

Lewes Bridge Sussex 1791, possibly by E.E.

It carries boldly on the front the inscription ‘1788 by E. Edwards’. If this is intended to refer to Edward Edwards (1738-1806), it is improbable. Edwards was a professional artist, an Associate of the Royal Academy since 1773, at the height of his career around 1790. The quality of this picture is far below that of his work, his topographical style being described as very close to that of Paul Sandby. However he generally signed with initials and these are almost identical with the monogram of Edward Eyre, a landscape and architectural painter working between about 1771 and 1792. H. L. Mallalieu, in The dictionary of British watercolour artists up to 1920 (Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1976), 91, 95, comments ‘his buildings are good, but his figures poor.’ An example of his work in Brighton Museum [RPAM 100585] is definitely superior. More plausible is an indistinct inscription on the front, left-hand bottom corner, trimmed by cutting to fit the mount: ‘…es Bridge Sussex 1791’. This date, and near identical coding for the building materials, suggest that the view was copied from the SAS drawing by a pupil of Rooker’s, known only as E.E.

The fifth picture is British Library, K. Top. 42.22-n :

Lewes Bridge Sussex, possibly by Michael Rooker 1790

I attribute this drawing also to Rooker. It was perhaps 27th in the sequence of drawings from his 1790 tour. It shows some sort of mechanical device with a large wheel. I tentatively suggest that Rooker was on the site of today’s NCP carpark, on the west bank north of the bridge and was looking across to where Harvey’s Brewery stands today with, to the right, the Bear Inn at the south-east corner of the bridge. Compare with James Lambert junior’s view of the bridge in 1781 [SAS, 3171, LEWSA 1997.7, 64; H. Poole, Lewes past (Chichester: Phillimore, 2000), dustjacket]. However, the outline of the building at the south-east corner does not match the earliest photograph of which I know of the inn, c. 1900: B. Cairns, Lewes. The postcard collection (Stroud: Amberley, 2015), 25. And Richard Budgen’s plan of Lewes, inset on his 1724 map of Sussex, carries a symbol perhaps representing a similar wheel, but  on the west bank, south of the bridge, raising the possibility that both Lambert’s and Rooker’s viewpoint was in Bear Yard, behind Argos.

The sixth and final picture is a slight pencil outline of the bridge [Tate Gallery D40250; TB XXXIV D]. This is undated, and catalogued as by a pupil of Turner’s, presumably copied from Turner’s watercolour above. Although Turner did not visit Lewes in the 1790s, he did do so c.1806-10, and there are eight rapid chalk and graphite sketches in Tate Gallery, none though including the bridge [TB CXI 31-38].

My case in relation to the pictures, other than those by E. E. and Turner’s pupil, is made at length in J. H. Farrant, ‘Turner’s debt to Rooker: further evidence in Lewes Bridge, c. 1796′, Turner Society News, 97 (2004), pp.6-9 (pdf available upon request to john.h.farrant@gmail.com). For the four earliest surviving pictures of Lewes by an artist’s hand, see J. H. Farrant and J. Bleach, ‘John Baptist Malchair, musician and artist, in Lewes, 1754-7’, Sussex Archaeological Collections, 157 (2019), 229-36.


  1. Walter Hindes Godfrey
Walter Hindes Godfrey

Photograph: Sussex Record Society

I was quite shocked to realise recently that a passing reference in John Davey’s biography of his father Leslie Davey in Bulletin no.109 was the first mention in these Bulletins of the distinguished Lewes conservation architect and historian Walter Hindes Godfrey CBE (1881-1961).

Born in Hackney, and from 1915 resident in Buxted, he was well into middle age when in 1932 he moved his practice to Lewes House, School Hill. His local projects include the restorations of Anne of Cleves House, Lewes Priory, Michelham Priory and Herstmonceux Castle and his many publications include what was for several decades the standard guide book to Lewes. His reputation stretched across England, and he was a moving spirit behind National Monuments Record during the war. He has entries in both the Dictionary of National Biography and in Wikipedia. He was a stalwart of the Sussex Record Society, with 25 years as its chairman.

In 2006 the County Record Office acquired a substantial archive of his professional and personal papers, now housed at The Keep. These are not comprehensively catalogued but include a biographical sketch by his daughter-in-law, a large collection of diaries and notebooks and many files of photographs and drawings. Would any of our Lewes History Group members be interested in exploring what this archive has to tell us about this remarkable man?


  1. South Downs National Park Design Awards

The results of the first SDNP Design Awards were announced in November 2019. Winner in the residential category was The Riverside House, South Street, Lewes, better known to most of us as the Rusty House. The new housing on Timberyard Lane was highly commended.

The Depot was highly commended in the non-residential category, where the winner was Ditchling Museum (well worth a visit).

Riverside House, South Street, Lewes, Rusty 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

Lewes History Group Facebook, Twitter

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