Lewes History Group: Bulletin 121, August 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. LHG Programme to resume online
  2. James Reeves, poet & writer (by John Howlett)
  3. Lewes Races, 1824
  4. An 18th century Merchant’s Stock
  5. A Scene in the Street
  6. A Closing Down Sale at 34 High Street
  7. Views of Lewes Bridge in the late 18th century revisited (by John Farrant)
  8. A Coach and Four outside the White Hart
  9. Chapel Hill (by Shân Rose)


  1. LHG Programme to resume online

The large numbers of ‘excess deaths’ that affected almost every corner of Great Britain in March-June 2020 may have come to an end, but the Covid-19 virus responsible remains amongst us. Given the demographic profile of our membership, there seems no likelihood that our traditional meetings will be able to resume in the near future, or that if they did they would attract large audiences. Your committee have therefore decided that the only way our Autumn 2020 programme can continue is online, via Zoom. Some of the elements of our planned programme are more suitable for this route of transmission than others.

The Pells of Lewes - book coverWe shall start this new way of meeting on Monday 14 September, when there will be a team presentation by the Pells Street Stories team that will also launch our new publication ‘The Pells of Lewes: pool, park, places and people’.

To join us you will need a device such as a laptop, tablet or phone that can operate Zoom, and you will need to register your intention to join us in advance. Our presenters will be speaking to you live, and you should be able to ask questions by typing in a Q&A box in Zoom. We will have a licence that will allow up to 500 people to participate.

Full technical details (not too complicated) will be available with next month’s Bulletin.

Our October, November and December meetings will follow similar formats. 


  1. James Reeves, poet & writer                                    (by John Howlett)

I am an academic at Keele University in Staffordshire currently editing a selection of the poems of the poet and writer born John Morris Reeves, but later known as James Reeves (1909-1978), who at the end of his life lived in Rotten Row, Lewes. He was acquainted with the poet and historian Alan Hodge (1915-1979) who also lived locally at 23 Eastport Lane for the last years of his life, and whose wife the author Jane Aiken Hodge (1917-2009) was active in local politics. I am therefore seeking any information anyone may have on James Reeves which could include reminiscences, letters, records, anecdotes and the like. If you do have any information please get in contact with Dr John Howlett at j.howlett@keele.ac.uk. Thank you.


  1. Lewes Races, 1824

“On a hill about a mile from the town is the race-course, accounted one of the best in England: and a commodious stand, commanding a view of nearly the whole course, was erected by subscription in 1772. The races, usually held in the first week in August, continue three days, one the first of which the king’s plate of 100 guineas is run for, if the weather permit, and there be horses qualified to start for it. This hill was the scene of an obstinate battle fought on the 14th of May, 1264, between Henry III and the army of the barons under Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester.”

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


  1. An 18th century Merchant’s Stock

In former days Lewes merchant’s brought home to the town in their ships whatever goods they thought they could sell at a decent profit. An advertisement by the Lewes merchant partnership Richards & Comber in the 12 May 1766 Sussex Advertiser indicates the range of goods on offer:

“A quantity of Cheshire and Warwickshire cheese; Swedes and Russia iron; and York hams and bacon; just imported”


  1. A Scene in the Street

Mary Ann Berry, was a daughter of the builder and developer James Berry, who lived at Coombe Cottage, Malling Street. In 1848 Mary Ann was a young woman, engaged to be married, and her life revolved around the activities of Tabernacle, whose original founders included her grandfather, the retired timber merchant Charles Wille senior, and his brother-in-law Nehemiah Wimble. She was in the habit of dining each Thursday evening with her beloved grandfather, at his house in Albion Street. On one particular Thursday, 27 April 1848, she recorded in her diary:

“As we went home Tom Johnstone was thundering at Mr Chatfield’s door exclaiming “My Wife! I want my wife”, and was replied to from within the closed door, we heard the noise all down the street. Mr Chatfield has taken his daughter home because Tom ill-used her shamefully, and now he is continually annoying them in this way. What misery sin makes.” 

Thomas Chatfield, a prominent coal and timber merchant, was in much the same line of business as the Willes and the Berrys, but as an Anglican, not sharing their particular beliefs. He lived at 210 High Street, on School Hill, which Mary Ann would have passed almost as soon as she left Albion Street on her way home. Thomas Johnstone belonged to a dynasty of Lewes grocers, who operated from premises at 82 High Street and at 224 High Street, right by the river. The 1841 census finds Thomas & Elizabeth Johnstone, both born in Lewes in 1811, living in Southover. Thomas Johnstone’s approach to getting his wife to return to him did not prove successful – she remained living under her father’s roof in both the 1851 & 1861 censuses, though described as married and the wife of a grocer. Elizabeth Johnstone died in Lewes in 1868.

Sources: Mary Ann BERRY’s diary, privately held; Colin Brent, Lewes House Histories; Familysearch website.


  1. A Closing Down Sale at 34 High Street

Boore closing down sale auction advertisement 1839In June 1839 the Sussex Advertiser advertised the closure at Midsummer of the long-established furniture business at 34 High Street run by Charles & Edward Boore. Their father Charles Boore, a cabinet maker, had established his Lewes business by 1788, and moved to 34 High Street in 1793. After his 1830 death in his 82nd year his eldest son Charles continued the business, in partnership a younger brother, Edward.

In those days a cabinet maker would manufacture much of the furniture he sold, and the Boores evidently traded in second hand furniture as well as new. The sale, which continued for 3 days, included all the stock, the materials in hand for future production, the tools used by the business, and those of the shop’s fixtures and fittings that belonged to the tenant. A man running a furniture business in those days was often referred to as a warehouseman or a broker, and broker is the term the Boores seem to have favoured.

After the Boores’ retirement, 34 High Street became a tailor and woollendrapers shop.

The founder of the business was Charles the son of Charles & Elizabeth Boore, baptised at Cliffe on 2 Aug 1748, so there were at least three successive generations of Charles Boores in the town. The first Charles Boore, later landlord of the Castle Inn in St Michael’s parish, is best remembered for his role in establishing the Bowling Green Society in the grounds of Lewes Castle in 1753. Charles Boore, cabinet maker, was living in St Anne’s when on 2 November 1772 he married Hannah Sandell at All Saints, her home parish and where she had been born. Hannah was just 20 when she married. They then had a dozen children baptised at All Saints, the first quite promptly after the marriage: Charles junior in February 1773, George in November 1774,  Ann in May 1776, Elizabeth in June 1778, Harry in April 1780, Sarah in October 1781, Frederick in January 1785, Lucy in October 1786, Betty in June 1788, Jane in May 1790, Edward in August 1791 and Samuel in December 1795. Perhaps worn out by child-bearing, Hannah Boore aged 46 was buried at All Saints in June 1798. A year later, in July 1799, Charles Boore, widower, married Rebekah Stanley, widow. He was buried at All Saints on 17 June 1830. At his death his estate was valued at ‘under £3,000’. His widow Rebecca Boore was a few years his senior but outlived him by a dozen years, being buried at All Saints in April 1842, aged 98.

Charles Boore junior of Lewes All Saints married Ann Pocock Anderson, spinster, of Ringmer at Ringmer on 15 December 1803. His younger brother Edward took a greater interest in local politics than other family members, and was chosen as headborough of Lewes in 1837. The 1851 census finds Charles Boore living in St John-sub-Castro parish with his wife and two granddaughters. He was 78 and his occupation was described in the census as ‘proprietor of houses and company’. Edward Boore (59, retired broker) lived in Lansdowne Place with his wife Sarah, a Londoner some years his senior, and a teenage servant. Charles Boore died at Lewes in 1855, aged 82, followed in 1861 by Edward Boore aged 69. Edward Boore was, like his parents, buried at All Saints.

Sources: 17 June 1839 Sussex Advertiser: Familysearch website; British Newspaper Archive; Lewes Town Book; Colin Brent, ‘Lewes House Histories’; ESRO AMS 6102; ESRO PBT/1/1/77/243.


  1. Views of Lewes Bridge in the late 18th century revisited        (by John Farrant)

In the February 2020 Bulletin, no.115, I published five views of Lewes Bridge. My starting point was the sketch held by the Sussex Archaeological Society [LEWSA.VR 3199], dated 29 September 1790, which I attributed to Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker. Three of the other views (and one not reproduced), I argued, were copies, at one or more removes, of Rooker’s sketch. The final view published was a different view of the bridge, with a piece of machinery, a vertical wheel, at the left-hand side.

Lewes Bridge Sussex, possibly by Michael Rooker 1790
British Library, K. Top. 42.22-n

This follow-up article falls into three parts. The first reconsiders the artist’s viewpoint, the second who drew the picture and when, and the third what the machinery was.

The artist’s viewpoint

The drawing of 29 September 1790 shows, on the north-west corner of the bridge, a building (today W. E. Clark, jewellers, at 224 High Street) with a parapet aligning with the pediment of nos.220/221 (Waterstones bookshop). The view above shows no such parapet. Compare it with James Lambert junior’s view dated 1781: SAS, LEWSA 1997.7. 64 (below), based on a pencil sketch for John Elliot, dated 14 December 1781, with boats by James Lambert senior, LEWSA 2007.7.48.

James Lambert view of Lewes Bridge 1781

James Lamber Plan of Lewes 1788, extractJames Lambert junior also drew ‘A Plan of Lewes 1788’ (East Sussex Record Office, ACC 3774) which provides a contemporaneous map of the area. This is the only known piece of mapping by the Lamberts and was not published. What it may lack in cartographic accuracy was probably outweighed by Lambert’s lifetime knowledge of the town. An extract appears above (right):

The letters signify:

  • M        The Fryers
  • a         East Gate Lane leading from the High street by the Fryers Wall
  • b         Brooman Street
  • s         The Green Wall

Click on map to enlarge

Both Rooker’s and Lambert’s views were taken from south of the bridge. The viewpoint for each was either on the east bank, in Bear Yard, now the car park to the rear of Argos and the electricity sub-station, or on the west bank, beside today’s Linklater Pavilion, or from a boat in the river. The parapet was therefore added between 1782 and 1790, probably along with refacing beneath to make the houses fashionable, as was happening throughout the town with, for example, mathematical tiles added to medieval and Tudor buildings. In K.Top. 42.22-n, the building on the north-west corner is the same as that in Lambert’s 1781 view and therefore earlier than, rather than contemporaneous with, Rooker’s 1790 view.

The building with added parapet is shown in Bob Cairns, ‘Lewes: the Postcard Collection’ (Stroud: Amberley, 2015), p.30. The photograph can be dated before mid-1909 and shows 223 and 224 High Street in 1908/9, the former being Bridge House, a ladies’ school run by Miss Davey, and the latter the A.B.C. Boot Stores [Pike’s ‘Lewes, Newhaven and Seaford Blue Book and Local Directory’ for 1909]. On 7 April 1909, Walker & Co., grocers, provision merchants and hardware dealers, were granted Building Regulations approval to demolish Bridge House and construct a shop to the design of Francis P. Tupen of Warwick [ESRO DL/A/25/348], now the recently closed Clarks shoe shop and Wilson, Wilson and Hancock, opticians. Cairns at p. 26 top has a picture of perhaps 1911 with the profile of the new shop visible and no. 224 still with its parapet, then the Co-Operative Boot Stores. Walker also traded as the Worlds Stores which moved from 55 Cliffe High Street [Cairns, p.24].

What was standing north-west of the bridge around 1800 is elucidated by Thomas Woolgar (1761-1821). He was responsible for two self-imposed tasks: ‘A Survey of the Borough of Lewes in Sussex with the Number of its Inhabitants taken in the Year 1790’ [in SAS Library, acc. 380, donated in 1907]; and, perhaps at the instigation of the local postmaster, ‘Occupiers and Proprietors of the Houses in Lewes when the same were numbered in 1812’ [in SAS Library in the 1920s as acc. 239, probably removed by N. E. S. Norris and lost in the clearance of his house  in 1991; see East Sussex Record Office, ACC 6077], now known only in a photocopy under the same reference]. These documents deserve further attention from the Lewes History Group.

In 1790 Woolgar listed only four properties for the north side of the High Street east of the ‘Road to Green Wall’ (today’s Eastgate Street running into Green Lane, see Lambert’s map above):
John Morris senior, stone mason, 4 inhabitants, former occupier Arthur Morris, proprietor himself;
stables etc. to the following;
Rickman, merchant, 9 inhabitants, former occupier W. Cooper attorney, proprietor himself;
Thomas Johnson, grocer, 10 inhabitants, former occupier T. Gilbert, proprietor himself.

In 1812 for the section between ‘East Gate Street’ and the bridge Woolgar listed eight properties:

Number Occupier Proprietor [In June 2020]
215 Nehemiah Wimble John Morris [Costa]
216 Mrs Massey herself [Holland & Barrett]
217 Joseph Morris himself [British Red Cross]
218 Mrs King herself [SpecSavers]
219 Mrs Paine Mrs Rickman [WHSmith / Post Office]
220 late J. Holland himself [Dial House, Waterstones]
221 Samuel Gwynne himself [Dial House, Waterstones]
222 Thomas Johnson junior Thomas Johnson senior

The shops as numbered today are not necessarily on exactly the same sites as in 1812. Today’s nos.223 (divided into 223 and 223a) and 224 probably represent later subdivision of the Johnsons’ property, which may explain the disappearance of 222 in today’s numbering. Dial House, 220/221, was already two properties [Colin Brent, ‘Lewes House Histories. Lewes houses, part 1’, [148-52]]. 

The artist and the date

I attribute K. Top. 42.22-n to Rooker, as I do the drawing of 29 September 1790. From 1779 until the mid-1790s Rooker was scene-painter at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. The theatre closed for the summer, so giving Rooker the leisure to make (from about 1786) summer sketching tours. Taking a coach from London to the area he intended to explore, he then went on foot, sometimes walking 18 miles a day [P. Conner, Michael Angelo Rooker 1746-1801 (London: B. T. Batsford, 1984), 39]. The 1790 sketch comes from one such tour. But K. Top. 42.22-n comes from an earlier phase of Rooker’s life, while he was working as an engraver and watercolourist. The clue lies in his exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1775, ‘entrance to Bayham Abbey, Kent, a stained drawing’ (i.e., a watercolour)  and ‘The rocks near Tunbridge Walks, Kent’ and in 1776 ‘The cross isle at Bayham abbey, Sussex, a stained drawing’ [Conner, 175)]. As his exhibits in 1792 and 1793 originated from the 1790 tour, so we may guess the exhibits of 1775 and 1776 originated in a tour in, say, 1773.

The style has similarities to two other drawings in the same collection, K. Top. 42.70-b, Uckfield bridge, and K. Top. 42.53-b, Mayfield Place and church, and also to a drawing of Old Shoreham church. This last drawing was sold at Gorringe’s Lewes on 9 December 2010, lot 1914 [https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/michael-angelo-rooker-1743-1801-shoreham-church-1914-c-d0d8e1a600#]. As it was unmounted, it showed Rooker’s signature on the back. Taken together this information suggests a tour starting at Tunbridge Wells with a detour to Bayham Abbey (medieval ruins being Rooker’s principal interest) and finishing at Lewes, with the Shoreham picture belonging to another tour. These three drawings show, as does to a lesser degree K. Top. 42.22-n, a marked contrast between light and shade, and are executed in ink and grey wash, as if ‘cartoons’ prepared for the engraver, in this case Rooker himself, such as he would have made for engravings in the Copper-Plate Magazine between 1774 and 1778 [Connor, 32-3].

The piece of machinery

The machinery looks to be what appeared 50 years earlier in Richard Budgen’s ‘The ichnography of Lewes’, an inset to An actual survey of the County of Sussex (1723), extract below, in the vicinity of today’s Railway Lane and the Friars Walk car park.

Richard Budgen Ichnography of Lewes 1723, extract
Yellow bar points to the machinery

Why it appears on Budgen’s map has a simple explanation. In 1730 he published a pamphlet, ‘The passage of the hurricane, from the sea-side at Bexhill in Sussex, to Newingden Level, the twentieth day of May 1729, between nine and ten in the evening’ (London: John Senex), dedicated to the president, council and fellows of the Royal Society and dated at Frant 20 October 1729 [https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=SKNbAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false]. At the end of the pamphlet, according to the title page, is ‘An account of a chain and buckets only, to raise water to any height required, without any kind of attendance or assistance of force, besides that of a small fall of water’; but in the text is ‘Some account of a new engine to be worked by wind acting on vanes’. Budgen explained that over a long time in making and altering models he had perfected the design, as evident ‘by seeing the model actually performing the work proposed.’ Is what he marked on his map, his model, set up in a conspicuous location in the county town of Lewes? Does Rooker’s view show the model, perhaps derelict and abandoned?

Wind pumps, for example in the Fens, were normally required to raise water over a bank, from the drained land to a watercourse at a higher level. That was not the need within Lewes (west of the bridge) where, in the 18th century and today, the river is tidal and at low tide is below the level of the land. At the mouth of a sewer (e.g., the Winterbourne) was a ‘clapper’, a plate hinged at the top, which was raised by the pressure of water behind as the tide fell and was forced shut as the tide rose over it. So Budgen’s model was not functional. Like Budgen, Lambert placed four structures south-west of the bridge by the river: perhaps the third was the abandoned remains of the pump.

My thanks to John Bleach for crucial information from his encyclopaedic knowledge of Lewes and for valuable comments on drafts.


  1. A Coach and Four outside the White Hart

Coach and four outside White Hart, Lewes, postcard posted 1913

This postcard by an anonymous publisher showing a coach and four outside the White Hart, alongside an early motor car, was offered for sale on ebay in June 2020. It was posted in 1913.


  1. Chapel Hill                                                                    (by Shân Rose)

I was excited to see the photograph on page 6 of Bulletin no.119, showing the building of the first gas holder c.1869. I had already seen this photograph in Colin Brent’s book ‘Victorian   Lewes’. However, looking at the photo in the Bulletin, I realised that the photograph in Colin’s book had been cropped on the left hand side, whereas the photo in the Bulletin shows a lot more of Chapel Hill in the background.

When Meg Griffiths, Mary Benjamin and I gave a talk to Lewes History Group on the history of Chapel Hill in 2013 we had plans, maps and descriptions of the original chapel of Chapel Hill (1775-1879), but we were unable to find a picture or photograph of it. Frustratingly, the photograph in Colin’s book stopped just short of where the Chapel would have been. However, the photograph in the Bulletin goes further and I think that the slightly flattened pyramid-shaped roof in misty grey, in the middle distance far left, is the roof of the Chapel! Also shown is the imposing white house, far left above the Chapel, is Cliffe View, also later known as No. 22 Chapel Hill, which was demolished in the early 1950s. The 1869 photograph in the Bulletin is therefore the earliest photographic record of this dwelling.

Gas holder construction, Lewes c. 1869 - crop
Crop of image of construction of gas holder, Lewes, c.1869.
Red line points to Chapel roof, yellow line to Cliffe View

I am hoping that we might be able to get a better, clearer view of the Chapel in due course from the original photograph (if it is in the SAS Library), or even from the photograph in the P.A.L. Vine book (which is in Lewes Library). We will have to wait until both libraries reopen post lockdown to find out more. 


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

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