Lewes History Group: Bulletin 119, June 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. Unlocking from Lockdown
  2. Ousedale House
  3. John Phipps Townshend: the Lewes Pedestrian
  4. A Motor Car Endurance Race
  5. David Pyott, Lewes Watchmaker
  6. Renovations at the White Hart
  7. Scotch Derricks (by Dave Hood)
  8. Houses on Garden Street (by Ron Gordon)
  9. Lewes as a Market Town
  10. Places of Worship in Lewes in 1909
  11. Anne of Cleves House (by Jayne Shrimpton)


  1. Unlocking from Lockdown

The first “baby steps” towards emergence from lockdown are now being implemented, often at very short notice. Understandably the priority is starting to return the economy towards back towards its normal level of activity. While new Coronavirus infections in the community continue at their present significant level this process will be slow, and large public meetings attracting their fair share of the more vulnerable members of the community cannot resume soon. We have now postponed our planned June and July meetings, and it remains questionable whether we shall be able to resume in September. Your committee is exploring the options for virtual, or largely virtual, events if, as seems quite likely, our regular meetings cannot resume then.


  1. Ousedale House

Ousedale House, Offham, Lewes, Edwardian postcard

This Edwardian postcard by an anonymous publisher features Ousedale House, below the A275 to Offham, with Offham church in the distance. It was offered for sale on ebay in April 2017.


  1. John Phipps Townshend: the Lewes Pedestrian

John Phipps Townshend was born in Lewes on 11 June 1792 and baptised at All Saints church two months later. He was the second child and eldest son of staymaker Samuel Townshend and his wife Susannah, who had married at All Saints on 5 September 1790 and had their eldest daughter born on the following day. Susannah was still a teenager when she married and they were to have eleven children in all, though four were buried in St Michael’s churchyard as babies or toddlers. Samuel became Lewes town crier, and the couple lived at a number of addresses in St Michael’s, including the Clock House immediately west of St Michael’s church, before returning to All Saints. Samuel seems also to have been an early Bonfire Boy – the 16 November 1812 Sussex Weekly Advertiser reported that town crier Samuel Townshend had been fined forty shillings for lighting a jack-in-a-box in the street. Susannah Townshend lived to the age of 71, and Samuel to 82, before their burials at All Saints.

When John Phipps Townshend came of age in the early 19th century he became known as ‘The Lewes Pedestrian’, and part of a national craze for extreme walking. The pedestrians set themselves ever more challenging targets, walking ever longer distances in ever shorter times and with ever more challenging conditions. They became national celebrities and huge sums were wagered on their success – including by the pedestrians themselves. In 1822 John Phipps Townshend set himself the target of walking 1,000 miles in 18 days on a Newcastle course, well over 50 miles per day. Just to make it a bit more interesting, he was to walk half of the course backwards. He was quite a small man, only 5 feet 5 inches tall, and due to bad weather and swelling ankles he struggled to maintain his schedule, but in the end completed the course with 12 minutes to spare.

He continued his feats through the 1820s and 1830s. He briefly held the record for walking from London to York and back (396 miles in just under 5 days 15 hours, also achieved in 1822). In 1825 he walked 64 miles per day for 10 successive days. He won the first London to Brighton race, and humbly called himself ‘The Champion of Living Pedestrians’. One common type of race involved the runner collecting stones set out at intervals and returning them, one at a time, to the start. John Phipps Townsend participated in races with up to 300 stones set out in a long line, involving running a total of over 50 miles. As a handicap he used specially large stones from Brighton beach, and he collected his stones with his mouth, while other competitors could use their hands. It took him a little less than 8½ hours, but few others could complete the course. His party trick was to stand on one leg – his record for this was over 7 hours. While doing so he could change his shoes and stockings, shave and eat his supper.

In the end his body gave up under the strain and he had to retire. He ended his life in the Lewes Union’s Cliffe workhouse, where he died in 1845 aged 53. He was buried at Southover. His death was reported, and his exploits remembered, not only in the local press but also in national journals such as the Illustrated London News and newspapers from every corner of the United Kingdom.

Sources: Familysearch; British Newspaper Archive; Colin Brent, ‘Lewes House Histories’; Davy Crockett website http://ultrarunninghistory.com/1000-milers-1/;  Damian Hall, ’A Race through the Greatest Running Stories’ (2017).


  1. A Motor Car Endurance Race

From: A.R. Headland, ‘Some Reminiscences of Battle between 1897-1905’, privately held.

“An endurance test for motor cars was carried out about 1900. Twenty three cars started from Hastings to travel to Lewes, to see how many could cover that long distance without stopping. I believe I am right in remembering that we were told that seven succeeded. It was thought to be highly successful.” 


  1. David Pyott, Lewes Watchmaker

The 9 November 1858 London Gazette included the usual long list of insolvent debtors whose estate and effects had been vested in trustees for their creditors. One of these debtors was David Pyott, clock and watch maker, late of 188 High Street, Lewes, but now in Lewes gaol. Imprisonment for debt was a hazard faced by every Victorian businessman, but who was David Pyott? His is not a common Sussex surname.

An 1858 trade advertisement provides the key information that David Pyott’s business was that previously run by the Holman family.

Pyott of Lewes advertisement 1858

Henry James Holman clock, Lewes

Henry James Holman clock: image from W.F. Bruce

In 1787 John Holman (c.1766-1855) had entered into a partnership with the established Lewes clockmaker William Kemp (1722-1798), which lasted until at least 1797. John Holman continued the business, and was in due course joined and then succeeded by his son Henry James Holman, baptised at St Michael’s in 1816. In December 1847 Henry James Holman, son of John Holman, married Maria Martin at St Nicholas, Brighton, and this marriage was followed by the baptisms of four children, Bessie and Harry Frank in January 1849, Charlotte Anna in March 1852 and Charles Edgar in June 1853. These children were all baptised at St John-sub-Castro, because by then the business had moved to Fisher Street. In the 1851 census Harry James Holman, aged 35, was a master watch and clock maker employing one man and living in Fisher Street with his wife Maria and young son Harry Frank, aged 2. The family was sufficiently established to employ a teenage servant girl. Both John Holman and Henry James Holman served as members of the ‘Twelve’, with John Holman serving twice as high constable and Henry James Holman chosen as headborough the year after he married.

However, in August 1853 Henry James Holman of Fisher Street, aged 37, was buried at St John-sub-Castro. His very elderly father John Holman, described as a retired watchmaker, was buried two years later, aged 89. This left Henry’s widow Maria in a vulnerable position, with at three young children to support and a business to run that required technical skills she was unlikely to possess.

The 16 May 1857 Sussex Express reported that Maria Holman, widow of the late Mr Henry Holman, watchmaker, of Fisher Street, Lewes, had married David Pyott, also a watchmaker, formerly of Islington. The marriage had taken place in London three days previously. David Pyott had been born in Scotland about 1832, but his father had migrated south to Stockton-on-Tees in the mid-1830s. By 1851 the Pyott family were living in St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, and by 1861 David’s father had moved on again to Portsea Island, Hampshire. All the male members of the Pyott family trained as watchmakers and they seem all to have been prepared to move to wherever their skills were needed: David’s elder bother practised his trade first in Clerkenwell and then in Loughton, Essex, while a younger brother with a Portsmouth-born wife settled in Coventry.

Maria Holman’s marriage thus brought the necessary technical skills into the family business, but her new husband was many years her junior. In the 1851 census her age was reported as 36, a year older than her first husband, but the only matching birth record at Hever, Kent, where she said that she was born, suggests that she had knocked a couple of years off her real age. By the date of her second marriage she was in at least her early forties, while her new husband was only in his mid-twenties.

A new baby was very promptly added to the family. In September 1857 David Pyott advertised for an apprentice at Pyott’s watch manufactory (late Holman’s). Soon afterwards he moved the business from Fisher Street to a more prominent location at 188 High Street, next to the Star Inn, a shop that in the 1860s was to become Albion Russell’s boot and shoe manufactory and is today the Tourist Information Office. He was there when the 20 April 1858 Sussex Advertiser records him giving evidence in a case where a watch had been stolen. Unfortunately the marriage proved neither a professional nor a personal success. David Pyott’s new business apparently failed to cover its costs, and the report of his bankruptcy hearing in the 30 November 1858 Sussex Advertiser notes only assets below £14 against debts of almost £400. In 1861 David & Maria Pyott were in a cottage in Watergate Lane with three Holman children and their new toddler, but soon afterwards they separated. Late in 1863 Amelia Shelley, the youngest of at least nine children of a non-conformist Alfriston tailor and just into her twenties, gave birth in Brighton to a baby named David Pyott Shelley, and the 1871 census finds David Pyott as a watch and clock maker living in Croydon, with Amelia Shelley as his housekeeper and their son. All three then disappear from the record. David’s wife Maria Pyott stayed in Lewes with her children. She became a dressmaker, assisted by a daughter, while her two Holman sons entered the grocery business. In the 1880s she lived at 14 Waterloo Place, and she died in 1885.

Sources: Information from Marion Smith; online London Gazette, Familysearch, British Newspaper Archive & Lewes Town Book; there is a biography of John Holman in George Holman, ‘Some Lewes Men of Note’ (4th edition, 1927).


  1. Renovations at the White Hart

The 24 September 1838 Sussex Advertiser carried the following advertisement under the heading “ROYAL SUSSEX HOTEL & WHITE HART INN, LEWES”

“Francis EMARY returns his sincere thanks for the kind and liberal support he has experienced since taking the above Inn, and begs to assure the Nobility, Gentry, Commercial Gentlemen and inhabitants of Lewes and its vicinity, that they may depend on the strictest attention being paid to their comforts and convenience, combined with economical charges. 

The house has recently been fitted up and furnished with every attention as regards luxury and comfort, and no pains will be spared to render this house worthy of the patronage with which it has heretofore been distinguished.  

Wines of the finest vintage and flavour. Balls, public parties, etc, supplied. Superior post horses and carriages of every description. Lock-up stables, coachhouses, etc.” 


  1. Scotch Derricks                                                                       (by Dave Hood)

Timberyard in the Cliffe, 1830s watercolour

The image of the Cliffe timberyard derrick by the Ouse on page 3 of Bulletin no.115 is of great interest to me – I have seen pictures of this derrick before.  This particular design was quite common and was known as a ‘Scotch Derrick’. The location is the timberyard off South Street – currently where the houses of Hillman Close overlook the river. I know of three other images that, in my opinion, show the same derrick:

[1] It can be seen in the middle distance, in the frontispiece of Rev T.W. Horsfield’s ‘History and Antiquities of Lewes’ (1824)

Scotch derrick in Lewes, from Horsfield frontispiece image 1824

[2] A photograph of the timberyard taken from Chapel Hill (c.1860s ?)

Timberyard in Lewes, photograph from Chapel Hill c. 1860s
Photograph from the John Davey collection

[3] A photograph taken c.1869 from the west bank of the Ouse showing the construction of the first gasholder on the site, with Chapel Hill in the background – the derrick is on the right of the picture.

Gas holder construction, Lewes c. 1869

I first saw this image in P.A.L. Vine, ‘Kent & East Sussex Waterways’, but it also appears in Colin Brent, Victorian Lewes where it is credited as being from the part of the Edward Reeves Collection purchased by the Sunday Times and deposited with the Sussex Archaeological Society.

The first two of the above images also show the distinctive shed on the left of the derrick. In the last one it has probably been demolished. The derrick thus seems to have had quite a long life (at least 45 years ?) and one wonders how much was still the original when it was used to build the gasholder. The vertical timber certainly looks as though it could be.

The gasholder photograph shows the first of three gasholders was being built. A second was built sometime between 1879 and 1899 (according to OS maps) and there are a number of Edwardian postcard views taken from Chapel Hill that show them both. There are at least three images where the Scotch derrick can just about be made out by the river, although the image quality is not great.

A third gasholder was built sometime between 1911 and 1932 and after a while the first one was dismantled (again going by OS maps). The timber derrick doesn’t seem to appear on photos from this period. However, a photograph posted some time ago on the Lewes Past website, with no date or source, showed a more recent Scotch derrick made of iron or steel being used to build what I think, judging from the buildings in the background, is this third gas holder.

Scotch derrick and building of third gas holder, Lewes


  1. Houses on Garden Street                                  (by Ron Gordon)

Houses on Garden Street, Lewes, J C Postans drawing 1897

The artist for this 1897 drawing was J.C. Postans, who was my great-great-grandfather, and at the time the Congregational Minister at Linden Grove, Peckham. Sketching and painting were his hobby, and he would travel on holiday by train with a tricycle in the guards van, which he then used in the area where he stayed. We have sketches of his from Lewes, Barcombe, Worthing, Hastings and many other places. His view of the houses running down Garden Street above is notably similar to that shown in the early Edwardian postcard below of Lewes as seen from Southover. The first house has since been replaced.

Houses on Garden Street, Lewes, early Edwardian postcard 


  1. Lewes as a Market Town

 “The meetings of the Sussex Agricultural Society, instituted in 1796, are held in Lewes. The show of cattle for the premiums offered by this society generally takes place in the beginning of August, and is numerously attended by the gentlemen and farmers of this and the neighbouring counties. The market is daily supplied with necessaries for the table, but Saturday is the market day for corn. There are two fairs for black cattle and one for sheep annually, this last is very extensive, not less than eighty thousand sheep being generally drawn together on the occasion.

Source: Edward Mogg, ‘Paterson’s Roads’, 17th edition (1824).


  1. Places of Worship in Lewes in 1909

In addition to the seven Lewes Anglican churches, each in 1909 with its own clergyman, there were ten other places of worship. Most of the non-conforming churches also supported their own priest, minister or pastor. They were:

St Pancras, High Street, St Anne’s (Roman Catholic) Rev W. McAuliffe
Tabernacle (Congregational), High Street Rev Burgess Wilkinson
Jireh Calvinist Chapel, Malling Street
Presbyterian Church of England, Market Street Rev Granville Ramage
Wesleyan Church, Station Street Rev Joseph Burrows
Eastgate Baptist Church, Eastgate Street Rev J.P. Morris
Providence Chapel, Lancaster Street Rev Henry Killick
Old Baptist Union, Eastport Lane
Friends Meeting House, Friars Walk
Unitarian Chapel, High Street

No minister is listed for Jireh, which had been led from 1859 to 1902 by Rev Matthew Welland, who had died in 1908, aged 90.

Source: The Lewes section of the 1909 ‘Blue Book’ local directory, available on the shelves in Lewes Library.


  1. Anne of Cleves House                                                          (by Jayne Shrimpton)

Anne of Cleves House, Lewes, attributed to Octavia Dodson, c. 1880

Members of the Lewes History Group and other Lewes residents may be interested to learn that the painting of Anne of Cleves House shown in Bulletin no.117, and tentatively attributed to Octavia Dodson c.1880, is indeed clearly much earlier in date. The dress of the people shown in the street indicates that it was painted c.1800-1825.

This unsigned image of Anne of Cleves House from https://ronsartblog.com was attributed on the website to a late-Victorian artist called Octavia Dodson, c.1880. Jayne Shrimpton is a fashion historian.


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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