Lewes History Group: Bulletin 122, September 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. Next Meeting: 14 September 2020: Pells Team, ‘The Pells of Lewes’
  2. The Pells of Lewes: pool – park – people – places
  3. Lewes History Group in the ‘new normal’ (by Neil Merchant)
  4. Media Moguls in Victorian Lewes
  5. Edwardian postcard of the High Street
  6. Samuel Boore: furious driving of the Brighton-Lewes coach
  7. Peak millstones for sale at Bridge Foot Wharf
  8. Lewes and the Nonconformist Revolution (by Amanda Thomas)
  9. Loves Young Dream
  10. Lewes Public Buildings
  11. Racehorse training in Lewes: the end of an era (by Barry Foulkes)
  12. Lewes Town Plaques (by Barbara & Neil Merchant)


  1. Next Meeting           7.30 p.m.                   Monday 14 September
    John Webber, Ruth Thomson & Sarah Bayliss
    he Pells of Lewes: from wetlands to popular Victorian suburb

Current government guidance does not permit the resumption of our normal Monday evening meetings, and this guidance seems unlikely to change anytime soon for groups with our membership demographic. We have therefore decided to continue our meetings on the planned Monday evenings, but using a Zoom webinar format. Our August test, in which Sue Berry talked to us on ‘Lady Anne Pelham of Stanmer, networker and spender – the influence of the Georgian country housewife’, was judged a success. Your committee has thus decided that this is the format that best enables us to continue our activities until normal service can be resumed. It will not suit all topics, all speakers or all members, and we shall miss the social aspect of our meetings, but we feel it is a lot more positive than just waiting for the situation to improve.

In the email accompanying this Bulletin you will receive an invitation to register to attend the meeting, which you must do at least a day in advance. If you have not already done so, you will need to download the free Zoom application, which should be available for any computer, laptop or tablet with a reasonably modern operating system. In principle you could also use a smart phone, but you would need much better eyesight than mine to see the speaker’s slides with any clarity. You will then be able to join the Zoom webinar at 7.20 p.m. on the evening. You will be able to see the speakers and their slides, but members of the audience will not be on screen. By using Zoom’s ‘Q&A’ during the talk you will be able to log questions with the chair, to be put to the speaker at the end.

This talk marks the publication on 1 September of our new book ‘The Pells of Lewes’, the most ambitious of our Street Stories projects completed to date. This remarkable volume covers not just a single street but a whole area of Lewes that includes some of the most ancient features of the town, now heavily obscured by 19th century and later development. The book is of course very much a team effort, edited by Ruth Thomson & Sarah Bayliss, and September’s talk will cover only selected aspects of the book’s contents.


  1. The Pells of Lewes: pool – park – people – places

The Pells of Lewes book cover

This 160 page book, richly illustrated with photos, maps, artwork and documents, uncovers the intriguing and surprising history of the Pells area over the centuries. Each chapter is written by a member of the Pells Street Stories team, and the volume has been edited by Ruth Thomson and Sarah Bayliss. It is published by the Lewes History Group, and copies can be purchased online via www.leweshistory.org.uk/pells-of-lewes/. Copies will also be available from other outlets, including the Tourist Information Exchange (on the High Street, at the corner of Fisher Street).


  1. Lewes History Group in the ‘new normal’                         (by Neil Merchant)

LHG has operated on a largely cash basis during its 10+ year existence, earning most of its income from monthly talk admissions and membership dues, mostly paid at those talks. With Covid-19, this cash model no longer works. Presenting talks via Zoom incurs a Zoom Webinar license cost (significantly higher than the saving on room hire and cost of refreshments) and means we lose the admission charge income. We end up losing money.

We also need to revise our membership system and payment collection, partly because it’s home-grown and has become very creaky as our numbers have increased. We shall also need to collect the annual membership dues in a different way. Book sales, normally mainly at meetings, pose a similar challenge.

We are embarking on a planning exercise to determine whether and how we can do these things differently, and sustain LHG for the future, whatever the “new normal” may look like. We are fortunate that we have adequate funds in the bank to keep us going for some time, so there is no rush, except that we’d like to improve the membership process in time for this coming year’s renewals.  Our monthly Zoom talks will remain free through to the end of the year at least, while we figure this all out. We’ve made no other decisions yet, but want to keep you, our members, in the picture and will update you as we progress.


  1. Media Moguls in Victorian Lewes

Michael Harris in an article on Victorian London’s local newspapers noted that to the south of London a titanic struggle developed in the 1860s between George Bacon’s Southern Counties Newspapers and W.E. Baxter’s South of England Newspapers. Both published a major Sussex-based paper, both had London offices in Southwark, and while Bacon had 11 titles in publication in 1867, Baxter was publishing 24 and was credited with owning the largest number of newspapers in the country. Their spheres of interest extended well into the London area and both published a regional paper aimed at a readership within the southern suburbs: Bacon the Liberal South London Chronicle and Baxter the Conservative South London News.

The two Sussex-based papers were the Whig/Liberal Sussex Advertiser, established in 1746 and published by George Peter Bacon (1807-1878) from 64 High Street, on the corner of Watergate Lane, and the Tory Sussex Agricultural Express founded in 1837 by William Edwin Baxter (1808-1873) and published from 35-37 High Street, at the top of School Hill. Both men were printers, stationers and booksellers as well as newspaper proprietors. Each employed a large workforce. In 1851 Baxter employed 38 men to Bacon’s 15, but by 1871 there were 28 men employed by Bacon.

William Edwin Baxter was a native of Lewes and the son of the printer John Baxter. He lived over the shop, though he and his father also had a country house called Oaklands in Ringmer. George Bacon, previously a wine and spirit merchant in Norwich, came to Lewes in 1843 when he purchased the long-established Sussex Advertiser from the third generation of the Lee family, who had founded it, but whose printing works had been burned to the ground in May 1842. He was born in Norwich, where his grandfather, father and elder brother were successive editors of the Norwich Mercury, a Whig newspaper with an even longer pedigree than the Sussex Advertiser. In 1845 he lived at 86 High Street, but his family later moved to 4 Wallands Crescent. He is remembered by a stained glass window in St John-sub-Castro church.

Source: Michael Harris, ‘London’s Local Newspapers: Patterns of Change in the Victorian Period’ in Laurel Brake, Aled Jones & Lionel Madden (eds), ‘Investigating Victorian Journalism’, MacMillan (1990). George Bacon’s father, Richard Mackenzie Bacon (1776-1844), has an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography and in Wikipedia.


  1. Edwardian postcard of the High Street

Edwardian Lewes High Street postcard

This Edwardian postcard by anonymous publisher shows the YMCA, the former County Hall, Hardy’s tobacconists, the White Hart, the Unicorn, and only horse-drawn traffic.


  1. Samuel Boore: furious driving of the Brighton-Lewes coach

In October 1837 Samuel Boore, proprietor of one of the Lewes to Brighton coaches, was up before Brighton magistrates charged with the crime of furious driving. The first witness against him was a Quaker, Frederick Martin, who on the previous Saturday evening had been a passenger in the rival Leney’s coach driven by George Leney, travelling from Brighton to Lewes. As they were still leaving in Brighton they were overtaken by Boore’s coach, travelling at the gallop, very much to the annoyance and terror of Leney’s passengers. Having overtaken them, Boore then slowed down to a walk, driving in the middle of the road to prevent them passing. On leaving Brighton behind Boore had again set his horses to the gallop, to the alarm of all the passengers, according to the witness, and they didn’t see him again until they arrived at Ashcombe tollgate. There were passengers travelling both inside and outside Boore’s coach. Because of the obstruction, it had taken Leney’s coach a full three quarters of an hour to travel from Brighton to Falmer. Frederick Martin’s account was backed up by evidence from other passengers in Leney’s coach.

Samuel Boore’s evidence was that he galloped his horses only because other coachmen did the same, and he called as a witness one of his passengers, a nephew of John Ellman of Glynde. His witness’s view was that Boore’s driving could not be described as furious, for they had taken sixty five minutes to travel from Brighton to Lewes. It was not much more than a canter, and not a gallop. However, the magistrates had not the least hesitation in finding Samuel Boore guilty, and although it was his first offence they fined him the maximum permissible fine for the offence, £5, plus another £1 11s 0d in costs. Samuel Boore said he did not have the money with him to pay the fine that day, but could have it by the next day, which was accepted. 

Samuel Boore was back before Brighton magistrates again for furious driving in October 1839, when onlookers were frightened by the 4-horse Maidstone stage racing and passing Boore’s 2-horse coach from Lewes as they entered the town. Boore’s coach was the one being overtaken, and he did not whip his horses. The evidence was that one of his horses was galloping and the other doing a very fast trot. His passengers and his assistant defended him, with the assistant pointing out that the journey from Lewes took them an hour and a half that day, and they did not travel at more than 8-9 m.p.h. He was compelled to drive fast, to compete with other coaches, and the mail he was carrying on contract required him to reach Castle Square by the set time. Boore was said to have been provoked by the Maidstone coach picking up two passengers at Lewes, and there was evidence that the Maidstone coach had been trying unsuccessfully to overtake Boore’s ever since Falmer Hill. The magistrates concluded that both coach drivers were at fault. Although Boore was less to blame than the other, the fact that he had previously been fined the maximum £5 for a first offence of furious driving counted against him. They fined both drivers £3, plus costs.

Samuel Boore was born in 1795, the youngest son of the Lewes cabinet maker Charles Boore. He owned a number of coaches and employed other drivers, but did some of the driving himself. Samuel Boore of Lewes, coachman, died in Brighton in 1879 aged 84.

Sources: 12 October 1837 & 4 October 1839 Brighton Gazette; 30 Sep 1879 Sussex Express


  1. Peak millstones for sale at Bridge Foot Wharf

The 29 November 1784 Sussex Advertiser included the following notice:

“A quantity of Peak Mill-stones of different sizes, just landed, and to be sold at Sir H. Blackman’s yard, Bridge Foot, Lewes.”

Millstones made of millstone grit from the Peak District were by this date generally used to grind barley or other corn to be used for animal food. They wear comparatively quickly, leaving fragments of grit in the flour, so finer French burrstones from the Marne Valley were more commonly used to produce flour for domestic use. There are, however, still customers who prefer stone-ground flour.


  1. Lewes and the Nonconformist Revolution                    (by Amanda Thomas)

Thomas, Nonconformist Revolution book coverMy latest book, ‘The Nonconformist Revolution’ explores the evolution of dissenting thought and how Nonconformity shaped the transformation of England from a rural to an urban, industrialised society.

The contribution made by the people of Lewes was particularly interesting – and potentially extremely important.  Close collaboration with the Lewes History Group, and in particular, John Kay, enabled me to devote an entire chapter to the history of the town and its influence since the Reformation as a ‘dissenting hot-spot’.  Entitled, ‘The Lewes Connection’, it explores the evolution of religion and governance in the area, including the burnings of the protestant martyrs, the independent churches and St. Michael’s, and the Fellowship of the Twelve.  In a further chapter I discuss how Lewes’ reputation for ‘the nurturing of new ideas and intellectual Protestantism’ impacted on radical, dissenting philosophy, and the exploits of Thomas Paine.  The book also includes a case study of the Barnard family and High Street draper Richard (c.1610-1666) who expanded his fortune – and the Protestant cause – in Ireland during the English Civil Wars as an Adventurer for Land.

‘The Nonconformist Revolution’ explains how the foundations for the Industrial Revolution were in place from the late Middle Ages when the early development of manufacturing processes and changes in the structure of rural communities began to provide opportunities for economic and social advancement.  Successive waves of Huguenot migrants and the influence of Northern European religious ideology also played an important role in this process.  However, it was the Civil Wars which provided the catalyst for the dissemination of new ideas and helped shape the emergence of a new English Protestantism and divergent dissident sects.  The persecution which followed strengthened the Nonconformist cause, and for the early Quakers it intensified their unity and resilience, qualities which would prove to be invaluable for business.  In the years following the Restoration, Nonconformist ideas fuelled enlightened thought creating an environment for enterprise but also a desire for more radical change.  Reformers seized on the plight of a working poor alienated by innovation and frustrated by false promises.  The vision which was at first the spark for innovation would ignite revolution – and Lewes was at its very heart!

Amanda Thomas‘The Nonconformist Revolution’, published by Pen & Sword Books, £20; ISBN 978-1473875678, is available at all good booksellers. 

Amanda’s other books includeCholera – The Victorian Plague (Pen & Sword History, 2020 and 2015) andThe Lambeth Cholera Outbreak of 1848-1’49: The Setting, Causes, Course and Aftermath of an Epidemic in London (McFarland, 2009).


  1. Loves Young Dream

The 24 April 1891 Sussex Express carried the short article below.

Love's Young Dream

The lady referred to in this article is Miss Alice Mary Emma Mudge of Middleham, Ringmer, and ‘Young Lochinvar’ was one of the Middleham gardeners,  Ernest William Wheatley.

The Mudges were gentry – her doctor-father had been Inspector of Hospitals for the Indian Army and after retirement had lived at the mansion at Middleham in some style. His father, an East India Company ship’s captain, left a vast fortune. After their father’s death the two Miss Mudge’s had their own independent fortunes, not controlled by their widowed step-mother, with whom they lived. The Wheatleys were a very respectable Ringmer family, but undeniably working class. Adding to the scandal Miss Emma Mudge was born in Madras in 1858, so well into her thirties, while Ernest Wheatley was more than a decade her junior, only just of age.

The Mudges were also deeply involved in the village dissensions referred to, though here it was primarily the elder sister Miss Jessie Mudge who took the lead. The elderly Ringmer vicar suffered from dementia, and was ‘assisted’ by a curate-in-charge, whose Anglo-Catholic high church practices were no more acceptable in Ringmer than they would have been in Victorian Lewes. General discontent became focused on a dispute about the new Ringmer Parish Room. This was built in 1891, largely at the expense of William Langham Christie of Glyndebourne (formerly the last MP for the Borough of Lewes, and a man who could pick a fight in an empty room), on the site of the old Ringmer National School. An utterly pointless dispute then arose about the legal ownership of the new Parish Room, which escalated to a series of court cases that were finally decided by the attorney general, who imposed a compromise that satisfied neither party. Miss Jessie Mudge and the curate led one party, in the name of the senile vicar; Mr Christie the other. Things calmed down only when the elderly vicar died and was replaced by an evangelical former missionary, so the curate became redundant and departed the village for pastures new, with Jessie Mudge as his new bride.

The curate, Charles Percy Douglas Davies, became a vicar and then a rector, and a nationally recognised authority on both astronomy and bell ringing. Ironically he was the son of an evangelical clergyman who detested the Anglo-Catholic practices that his son learned while a student at Oxford. With Rev Davies’ own clerical career and his wife’s inheritance they lived comfortable middle class lives as pillars of English rural society wherever they went. His last clerical post was a decade after the Great War spent as Rector of Deane in Hampshire, where the lady of the manor was one of William Langham Christie’s married daughters, widowed in that war.

The former Miss Emma Mudge became a successful New Zealand farmer’s wife. She was of course ostracised from polite society and ignored in her step-mother’s will, but the two sisters remained in touch. They both had children. A New Zealand descendant has Jessie’s prayer book which is inscribed “Jessie from Emma in remembrance of April 15.91 and February 11.92” (their wedding days).


  1. Lewes Public Buildings

“Among the public buildings to be found in Lewes, the shire-hall claims pre-eminence. This building is situated in the High Street, and is planned with equal attention to elegance and convenience: here the summer assizes for the county, and the quarter sessions for its eastern division are regularly held. The house of correction, built about 1794, on the plan recommended by Howard, contains 32 cells, a chapel, and other accommodations for the prisoners, besides the apartments for the keeper. Here is also a free grammar-school established in 1512, a neat theatre, and assembly-rooms in the Star Inn. A library society was established here in 1786; from a small beginning it has gradually acquired a considerable degree of importance, and now possesses an excellent collection of books.”

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


  1. Racehorse training in Lewes: the end of an era   (by Barry Foulkes)

The last racehorse trainer in Lewes, Suzy Smith, has now moved her establishment to West Sussex after training here for 16 years, bringing to an end over two centuries of racehorse training in the town. A century ago this was an important local employer. Before her departure she invited the Lewes Racecourse History Group for a final look round the stables and the old racecourse nearby. She received gifts of flowers and Lewes Racecourse memorabilia from the group.


  1. Lewes Town Plaques                                   (by Barbara & Neil Merchant)

We will all have noticed some of the many cast iron and stone plaques around Lewes, commemorating a wide range of events, buildings and individuals. Most of them have been erected by the Town Council and the Friends of Lewes, though some are older. They are intended to inform residents and visitors of historic points of interest around Lewes and to help bring our town’s history to life.

The Friends of Lewes completed a comprehensive survey of the plaques in Lewes in June 2013, and its online list was last updated in January 2020. You may well be surprised to learn how many there are: 86 – or 87, if you count separately the two identical plaques remembering that the trees at the junction of South Way and Middle Way were planted to mark King George V’s Silver Jubilee. A typical entry is shown below:

Friends of Lewes Plaques

You can see the full list on the Friends of Lewes website


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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