Lewes History Group: Bulletin 120, July 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. Lewes History Group way forward
  2. New Membership Secretary needed (by Neil Merchant)
  3. The High Street in the 1920s
  4. The Borough of Lewes celebrates Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee
  5. John Levett’s trial
  6. An 1848 Portrait
  7. Sale of the Century
  8. Leicester Road in the 1940s
  9. Cliffe Corner
  10. Lewes Railway Station (by John Hollands)


  1. Lewes History Group way forward

For all of us the year 2020 is turning out rather differently than expected. To date there have been just a handful of virus-related deaths in Lewes, but the Coronavirus is definitely still amongst us. It seems very unlikely that the government will be encouraging large indoor gatherings such as our Monday evening meetings anytime soon. Even if they were to be permitted, I’m sure many of us would have our doubts about attending them.

In the immediate future, which may well turn out to mean for the remainder of 2020, the only way we can continue this aspect of our programme is through virtual meetings, most probably using the Zoom platform. Not all our planned talks are suitable for delivery in this manner, but many are, so if some initial tests are successful, we shall be restarting in September with a presentation from the team whose study of the Pells area of Lewes has resulted in the completion of a new volume in our Street Story series.

Many of us who had never even heard of Zoom a few months ago have now becoming reasonably adept users for our work, social life and family interactions. Hosting a meeting requires some knowledge, but to join one you just need an email address, an appropriate laptop, tablet or phone with a camera and a web browser, and to download the free Zoom application.


  1. New Membership Secretary needed                             (by Neil Merchant)

We still haven’t managed to find someone to take this on. After 9 years in the role, I really would like to step back and find a successor. It’s healthy for the group to bring in new enthusiasms and thinking. The membership secretary is a key role for the Lewes History Group’s continuing success, and a member of our executive committee. Core activities are:

  • Managing membership and our membership spreadsheet: signing up and recording new members; handling the annual renewal process; keeping our records up to date; passing cash and cheque receipts to the treasurer; updating our Gmail contacts list.
  • Maintaining supplies: maintaining a stock of supplies (membership card blanks, labels, A4 paper, stamps, envelopes, ink cartridges), and recording and claiming back expenses incurred.

As for equipment, software and skills you’ll need a PC or Mac, word processing, spreadsheet and email experience, and a printer. Don’t worry if you’re afraid you don’t have the skills: I’m happy to do a long handover and coach as needed (albeit probably remotely). The skills are very useful to have, and you’d be central to our success. We can also look at customising the role to your preferences if need be.

Do get in touch if you’re interested, either via the website ‘contact us’ page, or via our phone number 01273 447566. Come on in – the water’s lovely!


  1. The High Street in the 1920s

Lewes High Street early 1920s postcard

Postcard no.69446 published by the Photochrom Company Ltd of London & Tunbridge Wells features the upper part of the High Street, looking towards St Michael’s church in the early 1920s. The Photochrom process produced colourised images from black and white negatives. If all the traffic was removed the view would not be very different almost a century later.


  1. The Borough of Lewes celebrates Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

Still on the shelves of the modernised Lewes Library are two bound copies of the printed programme for the celebrations held over three days in June 1897 to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, together with a detailed account of the impeccable organisation that underpinned them. Leading the events were the Mayor, Alderman Frederick Flint, his wife the Mayoress and his two young daughters.

The programme starts on Sunday 20 June when ‘Old Gabriel’, the town bell, tolled for two solid hours, from 9-10 a.m. and then from 1.30 to 2.30 p.m. in the afternoon. Following that at 3.30 p.m. was a service of Public Thanksgiving at All Saints church, in which all the civic organisations participated. Then, at 9 p.m. on the eve of Monday 21 June was a giant torchlight procession. Arrangements for this were the responsibility of the town’s Bonfire Societies, with the important stipulation that no Roman candles or sky rockets were to be let off, to avoid setting fire to the elaborate street decorations. The procession was to start at the Swan Inn, Southover, and then proceed via Southover High Street, Priory Street, Station Street and School Hill to Cliffe Corner. It then reversed and went via Albion Street, East Street, West Street, Mount Pleasant, Offham Road, The Wallands and St Anne’s Crescent to the top of the High Street and then to its conclusion outside County Hall.

The big day was Tuesday 22 June, when ‘Old Gabriel’ was again rung for three periods of an hour, starting at 8 a.m., 12 noon and 6 p.m. At 9 a.m. was a Royal Salute of 21 guns. This was followed by the inauguration at 10.30 a.m. of the adoption of the Fitzroy Memorial Library by the Borough Council under the Public Libraries Acts and at 11.30 a.m. by the opening of the new Recreation Ground down at the Pells. At 1.30 p.m. the town’s children were to assemble at their schools and other appointed places from where they marched to the front of the County Hall to sing hymns and the National Anthem. From there at 2.15 p.m. they were to process down to Ham Meadows, headed by the Town Band, where at 3 p.m. there was a flight of 60 homing pigeons, one for each year of the Queen’s reign, and then at 4 p.m. tea was to be served to an estimated 2,300 children in marquees set up in Ham Meadows.

From 4 p.m. there were sports for adult residents of Lewes, ending with the presentation of prizes at 6.30 p.m. by the Mayoress. These started with a 200 yard flat race for men aged 15-30, followed by a 100 yard race for women aged 15-30, a 100 yard race for veteran men aged over 50 and a 100 yard race for veteran women aged over 50. All these races were handicapped and carried prizes of 8 shillings for the winner, 5 shillings for the runner-up and half a crown for the third candidate. At a time when few working men earned as much as a pound a week, these were of significant value. The young women could win the same amount as the young men, despite having to run only half as far.

These events were followed by a number of less straightforward events, with slightly lower prizes. There was a 150 yard boot race, in which young men had to take off their boots, run 100 yards, put on and lace up their boots and then complete the distance to the winning post; a 50 yard egg and spoon race for women over 15; a 100 yard three-legged race; a 150 yard ginger beer and biscuit race, in which young men had to run 100 yards, drink a bottle of ginger beer, eat a lunch biscuit and then complete the distance to the winning post; a 50 yard flat race for women aged 30-50; and an open competition for grinning through a horse collar. The judges for these events were Miss Fowler Tutt and Councillor Lenny, with Mr A.E. Rugg acting as referee.

At 7.30 p.m. the children were dismissed, but there was dancing for the remaining adults at the Dripping Pan. Events were terminated at 10 p.m. when 84 beacon fires were to be lit across Sussex – it was expected that a good number of these would be visible from Lewes, especially those on Kingston Hill, Caburn and Firle Beacon. Every child aged between 5 and15 and attending the town’s public elementary schools was given a commemorative mug. These were also available for other children whose parents made an application.

Two lasting memorials of the Jubilee were intended. The first was to secure the future of the Fitzroy Library. Up to this time it had been managed by the Lewes Library Society, who had informed the Borough that they would be unable to continue their responsibilities after the end of the current year. The Borough Corporation had agreed to adopt the Public Libraries Act which enabled them to carry on the Library in the Fitzroy Memorial Building. To facilitate the change the shareholders agreed to transfer the stock of books and Alderman Caleb Rickman Kemp, JP, agreed to pay off the liabilities of the Library Society and cover the expenses of putting the building into good repair, a generous gesture that was anticipated to cost him between £200 and £300. A tablet was to be erected to commemorate the change.

It was also agreed to create a new Recreation Ground on the remaining part of the Town Brook that had been bequeathed to the town by the attorney John Rowe in 1603. The new Recreation Ground was about an acre in extent, and was laid out with 400 yards of paths, flower borders and a children’s play area with swings, etc. There are Edwardian postcards featuring the Borough’s Recreation Ground in Bulletin’s nos.33 & 38.


  1. John Levett’s trial

The 24 June 1845 Sussex Advertiser reported that John Levett, aged 25, the guard on the London to Brighton coach, had been brought before two Lewes magistrates, Henry Blackman and George Molineux, charged with theft. The landlord of the Maidenhead Inn, Uckfield, had given Levett £24 19s 0d to deliver to the Lewes bank of Messrs Molineux, Whitfeld, Dicker & Molineux. Levett said that when the coach arrived in Lewes the bank had shut, so he delivered it instead to a boy at Mr Molineux’s house.

The coach had arrived at the Star Inn, just 40 yards from the bank, at 6 p.m. George Whitfeld, partner at the Lewes Old Bank, stated that the bank usually closed at 5 pm, but that on Tuesdays it stayed open until 6 or 7 pm ‘on account of business’. On that particular Tuesday evening he closed the bank at twenty to seven. The Uckfield innkeeper had come to Lewes to track down his money, the best part of a year’s wages for a working man. He had caught up with Levett, made him retrace his steps, and gone to Mr Molineux’s house, where he had interviewed both Mrs Molineux and the boy. Molineux’s boy was described as equivocal in his evidence.

The main evidence against Levett was that prior to this event he had debts with various local establishments, but that immediately afterwards he had repaid them all, and bought himself new clothes and a gold ring. He had also freely entertained his associates. A passenger on the coach had noted him counting about 20 sovereigns. The magistrates committed Levett to Quarter Sessions for trial, where the 8 July 1845 Sussex Advertiser reported that a jury found him guilty. He had a previous conviction for stealing a bottle of port wine and a bottle of ginger beer from William Rose, landlord of the Star Inn, so was sentenced to be transported for 10 years.

A feature of this case is that the magistrate George Molineux, who made the committal, was the senior partner in the Lewes Old Bank that featured in the case, while his eldest son George Molineux junior was also a partner. It isn’t clear which Mr Molineux’s house John Levett claimed to have left the money at, but ‘Mrs Molineux’ will have been either the magistrate’s wife or his daughter-in-law, while ‘Molineux’s boy’ could have been one of his younger sons, then aged about 10 & 15; his eldest grandson, who was just four; or a young male servant in either household. I think that today we would consider that a conflict of interest.


  1. An 1848 Portrait

The following extract is from the 1848 diary of Mary Ann Berry (born 1822), eldest daughter of the builder and developer James Berry (1796-1877) and granddaughter of the timber-merchant and Tabernacle founder Charles Wille senior (c.1768-1849). In 1848 Mary Ann was a young woman, engaged to be married, and her life revolved around the activities of Tabernacle. She had lived all her life at Coombe Cottage, Malling Street, but visited her grandfather at his Albion Street home most days, dining with him on Thursdays.

 “On Thursday 3rd August dear Grandpapa gave me his portrait. I had asked him to have it taken for me by the photographic process and he was kind enough to have it taken in the regular way instead, which is far preferable to the ugly metallic Daguerrotype portraits. It is an excellent likeness and smiles just as he does when he looks at me. He went to Brighton on purpose that it might be made on Monday. I could not think what made him look so wicked when he told me he had been to Brighton, but this beautiful picture explains all. I gave him so many kisses for it and he was so pleased that I was satisfied and delighted.”

The portrait was a present to mark her 26th birthday. Photography was still in its early days in 1848 – it was not until the1850s that there were several commercial photographers active in Lewes. However, the first Brighton studio had been established by William Constable in 1841, the same year that the railway reached that town.


  1. Sale of the Century

An auction sale to be held at the Star Inn on Friday 21 May 1790 by Verrall & Son was advertised as comprising the Star Inn itself and forty other freehold houses in Lewes, all formerly the estate of Thomas Sergison esquire, deceased. The properties were to be sold in individual lots. The sale was widely advertised and attracted considerable interest.

Copies of the printed auction particulars were available from the offices of Verrall & Son and at the Star Inn itself, but also at other leading inns in Brighton, Eastbourne, East Grinstead, Tunbridge Wells, and via other auctioneers in Chichester, the City of London and at Lincoln’s Inn.

In 18th century Lewes an extensive residential property portfolio brought political power, as tenants could be compelled to vote in the way their landlord directed, or replaced by alternative tenants who would. Thomas Sergison (1701-1766), born Thomas Warden, had changed his surname in 1732 when he inherited Cuckfield Place from his great-uncle, Lord of the Admiralty Charles Sergison. The Lewes houses that he built or purchased gave him such influence, which he first tried to exert (unsuccessfully) in the 1734 election, when he stood as a Tory in alliance with a non-conformist candidate on an anti-excise platform against the two sitting Whig MPs supported by the Duke of Newcastle. He failed in 1734, and again in 1741, despite using his Star Inn as a Tory campaign base, pitched against the Whig White Hart. Thomas Sergison’s additions to his Lewes property empire in an effort to increase his support were matched by the Whigs. In the end he came to an accommodation with Newcastle, so that from 1747 until his death in 1766 elections were uncontested, and much expense was avoided. Thomas Sergison held one Lewes seat himself throughout this period, and Newcastle’s nominee the other. Sergison’s brothers and his sons-in-law also benefitted from Newcastle’s patronage, mostly at a cost to the public purse. The grand staircase that is such a feature of today’s Town Hall was installed in the Star Inn by Thomas Sergison, who moved it there from the decaying mansion of Slaugham Place.


  1. Leicester Road in the 1940s

Leicester Road Lewes, postcard

This photograph of Leicester Road was posted on the Lewes Past website in May 2020, by Frances Kelly. She comments on how wide the road looks with so many fewer cars than there are today.


  1. Cliffe Corner

Cliffe High Street junction with Malling Street, Lewes, 1940s 1These two 1940s photographs of the houses that once stood at the junction of Cliffe High Street and Malling Street were posted on the Lewes Past Facebook pages in March 2020 by Anna Cornwall.

The building on the north-west corner of the junction (2 Malling Street) and the roofless but once-elegant Georgian house at 28 Cliffe High Street that included the Air Raid Precautions premises were demolished to improve visibility at the junction and create a car park.


Click on image above to go to the Historic England website for a larger zoomable image, and more information.

Cliffe High Street junction with Malling Street, Lewes, 1940s 2Across the road, at the south-west corner, was what had once been an elegant shop, sadly decayed by the time these photographs were taken.

This too were demolished, later replaced by the public conveniences that became the Nutty Wizard. These photographs were also posted by Anna Cornwall on Lewes Past.

Click on image to go to the Historic England website for a larger zoomable image, and more information.



  1. Lewes Railway Station                                                 (by John Hollands)

I am a former Lewes resident with a strong interest in both the history of Lewes and the history of railways. Some LHG members may remember the talk I once gave to the group on the railway history of the town. Recently I acquired this early 20th century picture postcard published by W.H. Smith & Sons in their “Kingsway Real Photo Series”. This series was produced over a number of years from 1908 onwards and is believed to contain at least one view of every railway station where the Company had a bookstall.

Lewes Railway Station, early 20th Century postcard

The oblique view of the station frontage is interesting in that it also shows a horse cab and an early motor car standing in Station Road, and in the middle distance the New Station Inn and the Central School, whilst the building whose roof stands up above the others I take to be the Foresters’ Hall.

Equally interesting is the message written in pencil on the back. It was addressed by “George” to a Miss A Hayward with an address in Canterbury, and has a Lewes postmark the bottom half of which has not registered, so rather frustratingly the posting date cannot be read. It bears a George V halfpenny stamp. I would date it as pre-WW1 by a year or two.

The message reads: “Dear A, Just a PC trusting it will find you in the best of condition. The brigade started marching to Sevenoaks today. Twelve of us were kept back to clear the camp, take the tents down etc., doesn’t it seem funny, Alice, to do a little work. I bet it will be miserable here tonight with only twelve of us, but never mind, we are living like fighting cocks, that is the main point, isn’t it. No more this time. Sincerely yours, George.”

So, it’s a tantalising reminder of the regular army camps on the Downs near Lewes at this time. Maybe a LHG member with a particular interest in military history can fill in some more details.


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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