Lewes History Group: Bulletin 118, May 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. Living through History
  2. A Busy Day on the High Street
  3. The Defence of Sussex against Bonnie Prince Charlie
  4. Jireh Chapel as seen from Malling Street
  5. Rev Robert Scarlett Grignon, Rector of St John-sub-Castro 1851-1867
  6. Rev Kenneth Rawlings and the Lewes Little Theatre
  7. Sale of a Chariot
  8. Alderman Every’s thoughts on New Housing


  1. Living through History

We all find ourselves living very different lives from those we anticipated at the start of the year, and the way forward, both for our country and for the Lewes History Group, is far from clear. However, it does seem clear that the resumption of events such as our Monday evening meetings is some way from the top of our government’s current priorities. Our April and May meetings have of course been cancelled, and prospects do not look at all good for June and July. Let us hope that changed circumstances will permit a September resumption. Meanwhile, do stay safe.


  1. A Busy Day on the High Street

Cars on Lewes High Street, inter-war photo

This inter-war view of the High Street was posted on the Lewes Past Facebook page by Susan Lamb in October 2019. Doug Kilburn suggested that it must have been taken on a Lewes race day. Vehicle registrations beginning with the letters PM were issued in East Sussex.


  1. The Defence of Sussex against Bonnie Prince Charlie

John Fuller of Brightling was the owner of Heathfield Furnace, where he cast cannon that were shipped through Lewes to Woolwich by the Lewes merchants Ambrose Galloway and Richard Cardin. In a 14 October 1745 letter to his Woolwich agent he wrote:

 “We had an Association at Lewes last Friday and subscribed about £7,000 for Immediate Service to raise 1,200 men for the defence of Sussex against all the King’s enemies.”

Charles Stuart had arrived in the Western Isles in July 1745, and in September he had defeated the only government army in Scotland at Prestonpans, to establish himself in Edinburgh. In October his Scots Council determined to invade England, on his assurance that a French army would simultaneously invade southern England. The Jacobites advanced as far as Derby by   December, but gathering little English support, and with no sign of the promised French invasion, they then turned back. They were crushed at Culloden in April 1746.

John Fuller was an ardent Tory, and in the strongly fought 1734 Sussex election his father had contested the Sussex county seat against Henry Pelham, who was by 1745 the Whig prime minister. The Tories were suspected of Jacobite sympathies, but when put to this test most, like John Fuller, proved loyal to the crown.

A local consequence was something of a rapprochement between the Sussex Tories and the Pelhamite Whigs. In 1747 Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle and Henry Pelham’s brother, agreed with the Tory Thomas Sergison, who had built up a considerable interest in Lewes by assiduously acquiring houses in the town, that they would avoid the trouble and expense of another election by each nominating one of the two Lewes MPs. Thomas Sergison nominated himself, and remained MP for Lewes until his death in 1766. He and Newcastle became political allies. Although he had spent 15 years and a small fortune building up his influence in Lewes before becoming an MP, and then remained an MP for Lewes for nearly twenty years, Thomas Sergison apparently never actually spoke in the House of Commons.

Sources: David Crossley & Richard Saville (eds), ‘The Fuller Letters, 1728-1753’, Sussex Record Society vol.76 (1991) letter 601; www.historyofparliamentonline.org


  1. Jireh Chapel as seen from Malling Street

Jireh Temple Lewes postcard

This postcard of Jireh chapel by an anonymous publisher was sold on ebay in January 2020.


  1. Rev Robert Scarlett Grignon, Rector of St John-sub-Castro 1851-1867

Robert Scarlett Grignon was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on 8 July 1821. He was sent to school in Islington and entered Trinity College, Cambridge, as a sizar in 1839. He graduated in 1843 with a respectable second in Classics and as a Junior Optimes in the Mathematical Tripos. After a short gap he was ordained deacon in 1846 (by the Bishop of Norwich) and priest in 1847 (by the Bishop of Llandaff). After a short spell as curate at Shermanbury, Sussex, he was Vicar of Dedham, Essex, 1848-1849, and Vicar of Long Bennington, Lincs, 1849-1851, before becoming Rector of St John-sub-Castro in August 1851. He was regularly noted in the local press as conducting weddings and funerals at his church in the 1850s and early 1860s, but retired in 1867 when in his mid-forties, apparently on the grounds of ill-health. He lived on for another 18 years, dying in 1885.

His parents William Stanford Grignon and Elizabeth Anglin Scarlett married at Montego Bay, St James, Jamaica, in 1812. Captain Francis Scarlett took part in the 1655 capture of the Spanish island by the British and was rewarded with a large grant of land there, and the Scarletts were plantation owners resident in Jamaica through the 18th and into the 19th century. Elizabeth Anglin Scarlett’s mother’s first husband was killed in front of her in a slave uprising, but she remarried Robert Scarlett two years later. They had a large family, with Elizabeth Anglin Scarlett the youngest daughter. An elder brother ran the family estates, another brother became Jamaica’s Chief Justice, while a third, James Scarlett moved to England, was educated at Trinity College Cambridge, and became one of the country’s most silver-tongued barristers. In 1812 the barrister James Scarlett of Abinger Place, Surrey, joined his brother-in-law Thomas Read Kemp in standing for election as MP for Lewes on a radical Whig platform, but he was narrowly beaten for the second place by George Shiffner of Hamsey. He was narrowly defeated again by Sir John Shelley in an 1816 by-election. He later entered Parliament for another seat, served as MP from 1819-1834, was Attorney General in the Tory governments of Canning, Goderich and Wellington, and was created Lord Abinger in 1835. In 1834 he left Parliament to take a senior judicial post as Chief Baron of the Exchequer. Robert Scarlett Grignon thus had an influential uncle.

Robert Scarlett Grignon’s father, William Stanford Grignon (1784-1843), became an attorney living at Montego Bay, in St James parish. He was not himself a plantation owner, but as the sugar trade became less profitable in the early 19th century and many of the plantation owners retired to England, attorneys such as William Stanford Grignon took over their management. By 1817 he was managing several plantations in St James, including some belonging to the Scarlett family. In 1818 he became a member of the parish assembly, and from 1820-1831 he represented St James in the Jamaican Assembly. He vacated this seat in October 1831.

An 1807 Act abolished the slave trade throughout the British Empire, but slavery itself continued in Jamaica for another 25 years. By 1831 opposition to its continuance was gaining strength in Parliament in London. The 30,000 white Jamaica residents were barely a tenth of the island’s population. The slaves had seen some amelioration in their conditions, and were anticipating bigger changes. The last few days of the year saw an uprising called the ‘Baptist War’, the origins of which are traced by some sources to an event on 16 December 1831, when William Stanford Grignon detected a female slave on one of the estates he managed stealing sugar cane and attempted to have her whipped, provoking a hostile demonstration against him from other slaves. What was intended by its leaders to be a large but peaceful Christmas demonstration in St James turned violent, with more than a dozen estates torched and their mansions burned. These included two properties owned by the Scarlett family. A small number of the white residents were killed or taken captive, and at least one white woman was raped. Colonel William Stanford Grignon was the senior officer in the field commanding the St James militia, which confronted the slaves, but was forced by their numbers to retreat. The militias of all four parishes of the Jamaican county of Cornwall were raised, some regular reinforcements and two Royal Navy ships arrived, and the uprising was crushed. Some summary justice was administered, about 200 slaves were killed in the suppression of the rebellion and a further 300 executed afterwards. The Jamaican Assembly estimated the damage to property as amounting to more than a million pounds.

The British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, to be implemented in 1834. Slave owners were compensated for their slaves being freed. William Stanford Grignon of St James received £635 in November 1835 for the freedom of 31 slaves he owned at Montego Bay and a further £515 in February 1836 for a further 23 at Barneyside Pen in the nearby parish of Westmoreland, which he had acquired in 1832. 18 slaves at Upton, which he owned from 1817, had been inherited by his wife from her mother. It appears that the owners were paid about £20 per slave – comparable to what a Sussex farmer would pay for a cow at that date.

William Stanford & Elizabeth Anglin Grignon had at least seven children born at Montego Bay between 1813 and 1828, including an earlier Robert Scarlett buried there a year before the subject of this article was born. Elizabeth and the six children who survived to adulthood all came to England in the two decades after the Baptist War. The eldest, James, might at 18 just have been old enough to join his father in the St James militia in the Baptist War. In 1833 he purchased a commission in the 37th (North Hampshire) Regiment of Foot, buying his way up to the rank of Captain but leaving his regiment in 1842. His regiment was based in Ireland. An active promoter of railways shares in the mid-1840s, he then entered the consular service in 1847, serving as vice-consul in Venice, and then consul in Portland, Maine, the Canaries and finally, for many years, in Riga. Probate of his estate was registered in the UK principal registry in 1880.

The next son was Robert Scarlett, who was schooled in Islington before entering Trinity in 1839. The two younger boys, William Stanford junior (born 1824) and Montague Findlater (born 1828) were both at school in Islington in 1841. William Stanford Grignon junior followed his Uncle James and elder brother Robert Scarlett to Trinity College, where he graduated with a first in Classics in 1846 and took an MA in 1849. He also studied at the Inner Temple and took Holy Orders, but followed a career as a schoolmaster, teaching classics at Brighton College before becoming headmaster of first the Collegiate School, Sheffield, and then Felsted Grammar School in Essex. He successfully built up Felsted over the next 20 years, becoming a founder member of the Headmasters’ Conference, with a strong following amongst his boys, their parents and his fellow headmasters, but unfortunately fell out so badly and so publicly with his governing body that, despite his success, he was dismissed in 1875. The rights and wrongs of his dismissal were thoroughly debated in the press, including the letters columns of The Times, and in a special debate in the House of Lords. He spent the rest of his life travelling in Europe and the Near East, or living in retirement, taking private pupils, in the West Country. He died in Torquay in 1907. The main hall at Felsted School is still called the Grignon Hall today.

His younger brother Montague Findlater Grignon broke with family tradition by graduating from Pembroke College, Oxford, and he too became a schoolmaster, teaching classics at Cheam School for many years before he too retired to the West Country. He died at Bedford in 1900. His mother and two sisters are not found in the 1841 census, and may not have come to England until after the 1843 death of William Stanford Grignon senior. In 1851 the elder sister, Elizabeth Scarlett, and her mother, were living at Long Bennington with the bachelor vicar, Robert Scarlett Grignon. In 1853-4 William Stanford Grignon junior married and had a baby daughter but lost his wife in childbirth. It was Elizabeth Scarlett who stepped into the vacant role, and for the rest of her life, until her 1882 death, she kept house for him. The younger sister Mary was in 1851 a visitor in a Plymouth household. By 1871 she had moved to Weston-super-Mare, living with a young woman who had been a toddler in the 1851 Plymouth household, and who she described as her niece. She was still living at Weston-super-Mare at her 1885 death, an event noted in the Morning Post, the St James’s Gazette, and the London Daily News as well as the local Western Mercury.

Robert Scarlett Grignon was appointed as Rector of St John-sub-Castro by Peter Guerin Crofts of Malling House, whose family had owned the advowson for more than a century. He had served as rector of St John-sub-Castro himself for almost half a century but now, in his mid-seventies, had retired. He was however in his prime when Robert Scarlett Grignon’s uncle James Scarlett stood unsuccessfully for election in Lewes, though at that date they would have been on opposite sides of the political fence. Robert Scarlett Grignon presumably brought his mother and sister with him from Long Bennington, and they initially set up house in Coombe Cottage, in Malling Street. It was at Coombe Cottage that his mother died in 1854, at the age of 64 – probably not the only former slave-owner to have been buried in abolishionist Lewes. In 1855 Robert Scarlett Grignon put the contents of Coombe Cottage up for sale, and the 1861 census finds him lodging at 188 High Street, in his own parish.

Coombe Cottage, Malling Street, Lewes
Coombe Cottage

In 1865, now well into his forties, Robert Scarlett Grignon married. His wife was Mary Augusta Currey, the daughter of the late Colonel Sir Edmund Currey of Erlwood House, Windlesham, Surrey, and the elder sister of the wife of his brother William Stanford Grignon. Robert Scarlett Grignon had officiated at his brother’s marriage at Windlesham twelve years earlier, and now his headmaster-brother, being in Holy Orders, was able to return the compliment. There were other connections between the families. Lady Louise Currey, the bride’s mother, had been born Louise Scarlett, and was a daughter of James Scarlett, Lord Abinger, so that the two brothers who married her two daughters were her cousins. In addition in the 1850s the ecclesiastical lawyer Edmund Charles Currey, a nephew of Sir Edmund Currey and doubtless named after him, had come to Lewes to join one of the town’s legal practices, and had established himself at Malling Deanery.

Two years after his marriage Robert Scarlett Grignon resigned his living. The 1871 census finds him, his wife and two servants living in a large house at 4 Wallands Crescent, overlooking his former church. In 1881 they were in lodgings in Paddington. In 1884 his wife died at Penistone in Yorkshire, aged 54, and Robert Scarlett Grignon’s own death was recorded in 1885 in the Kensington registration district. He was a scholarly man, and a talented linguist. His obituary in the 17 January 1885 Hampshire Advertiser records that when the Finnish prisoners of war were confined in Lewes during the Crimean War he, from his knowledge of Finnish, used to accompany them and act as their interpreter. He is best remembered today as a translator of Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ and of two of Martin Luther’s books, ‘Concerning Christian Liberty’ and ‘On the Babylonish Captivity of the Church’.

Robert Scarlett and Mary Augusta Grignon had no children. His parents William Stanford & Elizabeth Anglin Grignon raised six children to adulthood, but both daughters and their youngest son remained unmarried, while their eldest son is not known to have married, and his executor was his headmaster-brother. Their only known grandchild was thus Adelaide Eliza, the daughter of William Stanford Grignon junior. She lived into her nineties, dying unmarried in Bristol in 1947.

Sources: Familysearch; British Newspaper Archive; Anglin/Scarlett family history webpage; Wikipedia articles on the Baptist War and the 1st Lord Abinger; Christer Petley, PhD thesis, University of Warwick; historyjamaica.org; compensation payments to British slave owners.


  1. Rev Kenneth Rawlings and the Lewes Little Theatre

Reverend Kenneth RawlingsWhen Rev Kenneth Rawlings (1886-1969) arrived in Lewes in 1925 to take up his new post as Rector of St Michael’s he was appalled to discover that there was no theatre in the town. He promptly established the Lewes Players, whose early performances were in such venues as St Michael’s church hall, Watergate Lane, and the Town Hall.

However, the Lewes Players soon decided that a permanent venue was needed. This became especially urgent after St Michael’s church hall was the subject of compulsory purchase by East Sussex County Council in 1936.

It would be fair to say that Kenneth Rawlings initially found Lewes a challenging place in which to minister, and that he was regarded by Lewesians with mixed feelings. He was the younger son of a Birmingham estate agent and had graduated from Durham University’s Hatfield Hall in 1909. He was ordained a priest in 1910 and divided the following decade between two Birmingham curacies and wartime military service, in which he enlisted as a private soldier but was later commissioned. He married in 1920 and from 1920-1925 he was Vicar of Washwood Heath, also in Birmingham. In Lewes he continued the High Church practices that distinguished St Michael’s from most other Lewes churches and chapels. It did not help that in a conservative market town he was a Christian Socialist, or that his military service had made him an ardent pacifist. He was not by character a man who kept his views to himself, or one for whom discretion was the better part of valour. The “No Popery” of Lewes Bonfire was incompatible with his Christian convictions, and his failure to attend a Martyrs Memorial event in his first year in Lewes attracted trenchant criticism from the Jireh minister, Rev Leonard Atherton.

Former Providence Baptist Chapel, Lancaster Street, LewesThere is however no doubt that Kenneth Rawlings was a very talented amateur actor, and his leadership of the Lewes Players brought him some influential friends. One of these was the economist and Bloomsbury Group member John Maynard Keynes, who rented Tilton Farm from the Firle Estate. In 1937 Rawlings was able to purchase the derelict Providence Baptist chapel in Lancaster Street that was in use only as a workshop for Ruggs Garage, with a loan of £125 from Keynes and a £250 bank mortgage. The property was purchased in Rawlings’ own name, but neither he nor the Players had the income to cover the mortgage payments. A Coronation appeal to raise the funds to convert the old chapel into a theatre failed. Eventually the work was done, but the planned September 1939 opening had to be cancelled due to the outbreak of a war of which Rawlings did not approve, and which did nothing to improve his popularity in the town. It eventually opened as a private club in November 1940, although there were only a few performances at irregular intervals in its first few years. The ownership of the property was then transferred to the Lewes Little Theatre Club, with Keynes’ loan converted into a gift. Kenneth Rawlings remained Rector of St Michael’s until 1968, a year before his death.

Sources: Paul Myles, ‘Lewes Theatre Club: The Genesis of a Theatre’ (2014); stmichaelinlewes.org.uk; ESRO LTC 1/2 & 8/2; Familysearch; Crockford’s Directory; Former Providence Baptist Chapel image from Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Sale of a Chariot

The Lewes auctioneers Verrall & Son advertised in the 4 May 1836 Sussex Advertiser that at 4 p.m. on the following day they would be selling a pair of Bay carriage horses, 15½ hands high, warranted sound and quiet, and also a handsome town-built chariot, with a dickey in front, and a pair of brass-mounted harness. This was the property of a gentleman leaving Lewes. Hacks, etc, would continue to be sold as usual on stock market days. A chariot was a light coach with four wheels but only the two forward-facing seats. The driver sat outside, exposed to the elements.



  1. Alderman Every’s thoughts on New Housing

By the end of the Great War one of the problems faced by the government was a great shortage of housing in Britain, and one of a series of lectures at Westgate Chapel in early 1919 was devoted to this topic. This lecture was given by Alderman John Henry Every, proprietor of the Phoenix Ironworks, a former mayor of Lewes, a magistrate and a member of the Westgate congregation. An excerpt from his lecture reads:

The Government Scheme to build 300,000 new houses is a very bold one, but it is doubtful if sufficient thought has been given to it. It will mean the moving of at least 68 million tons of building material. This fact alone is sufficient to indicate the necessity of stipulating that local material shall be used. Moreover, it is certain that a scheme of such magnitude can only be satisfactorily carried out if there is a proper development on the lines known as ‘Town Planning’, that is, designing and laying out should not be left to chance, but should be dealt with systematically by definite well thought out schemes.  

  It should be noted that the cost of 300,000 houses, say, at the price of £300 each, would be equal to 90 millions of money. In round figures 100 millions, that is 20 days’ cost of the war. For any scheme or schemes to be a success it is necessary to purchase ground in large areas. It should be bought at agricultural value or little over, so as to secure any unearned increment in value to Local Authorities and not to private individuals. A considerable distance away from the town is of very little importance if one bears in mind modern methods of locomotion, trams, buses and the useful cycle.”

These views of one of the town’s leading Victorian capitalist entrepreneurs are surprisingly Stalinist when viewed from a modern perspective.

Source: J.M. Connell, ‘Problems of Reconstruction’ (1919) published in Lewes by W.E. Baxter Ltd.


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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