Lewes History Group: Bulletin 123, October 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: 12 October 2020: David Scott Cowan, ‘Rowland Hawke Halls’
  2. The Pells of Lewes: pool – park – people – places
  3. Lewes Slave Owners
  4. Hospital Sunday to support the Lewes Dispensary
  5. The Railway Bascule Bridge at Southerham (by John Hollands)
  6. The Great Storm of November 1800
  7. Richard Comber the Clockmaker
  8. Mary Hannah Rickman and her equine friends
  9. 1856 receipt from the Bear Brewery


  1. Next Meeting                       7.30 p.m.                   Monday 12 October

David Scott Cowan   Rowland Hawke Halls (1879-1919): A Sussex Architect

Rowland Hawke Halls (1879-1919) was a Lewes architect working in the Arts and Crafts tradition in the early years of the 20th century. He worked closely with local craftsmen on both the interior and exterior of his buildings. He was a farmer’s son who studied at the Lewes School of Science and Art, and established a practice based in the Seveirg Building, now replaced by Boots.

His work includes several houses in The Avenue, including one called Rowlands where he lived. He also designed houses in Seaford (to which he moved in 1914) and Rottingdean. His public buildings included the Fisher Street offices for the Borough of Lewes built in 1914 and St John-sub-Castro church hall (now threatened with demolition).

He served in France in the Royal Army Service Corps from 1916-1918, but shortly after being demobilised he was killed in a motor cycle accident on his way to work in Lewes. An exhibition of his work was shown in Lewes Town Hall in 2019, marking the centenary of his death. This meeting will again be a Zoom webinar, and to attend you must register in advance. You will then be able to join the meeting from 7.20 pm.


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

The Pells of Lewes book coverSales of this new LHG 160 page book have reached over 350 within the first five days after publication, which is very gratifying both for the group and for the team led by Sarah Bayliss and Ruth Thomson responsible for its creation. It is really very well produced, readable, entertaining and beautifully illustrated, and a credit to all those involved.

The book is published by the Lewes History Group. Copies can be purchased directly via this web page.

Copies are also at the time of writing available from other outlets, including the Tourist Information Centre, Skylark and the Pells Pool Kiosk.

The individual topics covered within the book are:

Welcome to the Pells The Old Farmhouse (Sarah  Bayliss)
Gifts of Land (Ruth Thomson) House Building (Sue Berry)
The Natural History (John Webber) St John’s Terrace (Sue Berry)
The Park and Pool (Fiona Marsden) Talbot Terrace (Clare Mitchison)
Mills and Bridges (Barbara Merchant) Toronto Terrace (Tessa Bain)
The Church (Ruth Thomson) St John’s Hill (Krystyna Weinstein)
The Churchyard (Ruth Thomson) Pelham Terrace (Ruth Thomson)
The Oldest Graves (Meg Griffiths) The Iron Works (Wenda Bradley)
Wild Flowers and Bees (Patrick Collinson) The School (Sarah Bayliss)
Church Row (Jane Lee) References
Abinger Place (Judy Gable) The Bunting Project (Sarah Bayliss)
The Pub (Judy Gable)

LHG Exec member Ian McClelland manning the LHG stall at the September Lewes Farmers’ Market. Picture by Jane Lee

Editors Sarah Bayliss & Ruth Thomson. Picture by Jane Lee


  1. Lewes Slave Owners

When slavery in the British Empire was abolished in 1833 the government paid the slave owners compensation for their financial loss. By this date many of the estate owners lived in Britain, with their estates managed by local agents, and two of those compensated lived in Lewes.

Edward Monk of the Cliffe received £800 8s 7d for 55 slaves he had owned on Darby’s Estate, Antigua. Edward Monk (1799-1888) was a prominent Lewes businessman. In the 1830s he was a corn, seed and general merchant in the Cliffe. By 1851 he had moved to St Anne’s House, 111 High Street. He later became the owner of the Bear Brewery, a prominent Liberal and a major promoter of the railways serving Lewes. For more information about him, including a photograph, see Bulletin no.102.

Louise Scarlett of 2 Lansdowne Terrace received £558 6s 2d, for 35 slaves at Cinnamon Hill, St James parish, Jamaica. She was a member of the Scarlett family who were Jamaican aristocracy, owning several plantations on the island [see Bulletin no.118]. 

In nearby Barcombe Rev Robert Allen received £1,259 6s 11d for 123 slaves on the Mapps Estate, Barbados. He was Rector of Barcombe from 1826 until his death in 1877. He also held a Chichester Cathedral prebend. However, he was by the 1840s unpopular in his parish and moved away, leaving a series of curates to perform his duties. For more detailed information about him, including a photograph, see Pam Coombes, Sussex Archaeological Collections vol.147, pp.169-192 (2009).

Source: University College London Legacies of British Slave-ownership database,


  1. Hospital Sunday to support the Lewes Dispensary

The 14 September 1878 Sussex Advertiser reported the outcome of the first Hospital Sunday, in which all the Lewes churches were to hold a service with a special sermon, and devote the collection towards the Dispensary deficit. With one ‘regrettable exception’, all the churches and chapels had agreed to support the initiative. Over £150 had been raised, and the contributions from the individual churches and chapels that had come in were itemised. The ‘regrettable exception’ is not named, but neither St Michael’s nor St Anne’s appears on the list. It was noted that the town’s doctors already gave their services free, to ensure that medical treatment was available for the town’s poor.

The contributions listed were: £ s d
Jireh Chapel, Rev M. Welland 42 4 0
All Saints church, Rev R. Straffen 25 16 8
St John’s church, Rev A.P. Perfect 16 0 0
Tabernacle, Rev D. Anthony 14 11 10
Friends Meeting House 12 3 0
Southover, Rev W.E. Richardson 11 13 8
Cliffe, Rev C.P. Calvert 10 4 0
Wesleyan chapel, Mr Wheatley 5 0 0
Unitarian chapel, Rev A.F. Macdonald 4 1 7
Eastgate Baptist, Mr W.J. Scott 3 14 2
Presbyterian church 3 5 0
Roman Catholic church, Rev H.J. Wood 3 1 9

It is notable that the Jireh contribution was by far the highest, despite most of the town’s big businessmen worshipping at Tabernacle, Westgate or the Anglican churches. Overall the non-conformist churches made a higher contribution than the Anglican churches. Rev J. Dunlop Smith sent his apology from South Malling church that he had only just returned home after several weeks away and would hold the collection on the next Sunday.


  1. The Railway Bascule Bridge at Southerham (by John Hollands)

Railway Bascule Bridge over the River Ouse at Southerham

I recently acquired this postcard, one of a set issued in 1907 by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway depicting opening bridges. Another card in the same series shows the Newhaven Swing Bridge. This particular example was sent from Uckfield in 1909 to a Mr Harriott living at Jasmine Cottage, The Street, Barcombe.

A caption on the back of the postcard reads: “Southerham Bascule Bridge carries the Brighton to Hastings line over the River Ouse ¾ of a mile from Lewes. There are 5 spans, the middle one being 31 feet in the clear for the passage of vessels. The girders of the opening portion are counter-balanced on a trunnion shaft, the shorter end being depressed by means of chains and wheel gearing worked by hand.”

What really makes this image for me is the presence of the barge, and I am interested to know how it is being propelled. I see that it has a mast that has been lowered presumably so that the barge can pass beneath the bridge without the bridge having to be raised. Is it being punted through by the bargeman, and will the mast be raised with a sail attached once the barge is clear? The cloud of dark smoke rising from behind the bridge is presumably from the lime works.


  1. The Great Storm of November 1800

The 17 November 1800 Hampshire Chronicle carried a report from its Chichester correspondent about “a storm of wind more tremendous than any the oldest inhabitant had ever before witnessed” that had done great damage in Sussex, felling hundreds of mature oaks. On Firle Hill a windmill had been blown down. Mr Palmer, hatter of Lewes, had a new house he was erecting blown into a pile of ruins.

Colin Brent’s ‘Lewes House Histories’ notes a George Palmer, hatter, who occupied and later came to own 39 High Street. When he died in 1804 it was noted that he had been a hat manufacturer in the town for upwards of thirty years. In 1797 he had bought a section of recently enclosed manorial waste in Abinger Place, part of the Gallows Bank, and by the time of his death there was a house and shop there. Colin Brent identifies this as the site now occupied by the Elephant and Castle.


  1. Richard Comber the Clockmaker

The following tale is recorded by Rev Edward Boys Ellman (1815-1906), Rector of Berwick, in his book ‘Recollections of a Sussex Parson’, first published (by his daughter) in 1912.

 “At the end of the last century Coomber of Lewes was the best known clockmaker in this part of Sussex. He went out of his mind, and it was decided to take him to St Luke’s Hospital. The paper for his reception was properly made out and entrusted to the person who was to take him up to London. He was very quiet and well behaved on the journey, and when they reached London he was taken to an inn very near the hospital, to await the proper hour for admission. Whilst waiting in the coffee room the keeper left him for a few minutes and on returning, to his consternation, missed his charge. But the lunatic soon came back again, and remained very quiet until the hour for his admission to St Luke’s arrived. He made no scene, but quietly accompanied his keeper. 

  When Coomber was brought before the Board he bowed and said, “Gentlemen, you understand the case”. Whereupon the house-surgeon whispered something to the others, the keeper handed in the paper, and it was announced to be correct. The attendants came forward and secured the keeper, and Coomber was suffered to depart quietly, which he did, whilst the person who had brought him to London, notwithstanding his vehement protestations and endeavours to seize Coomber, was detained. 

  It appeared afterwards that directly Coomber had been left alone in the coffee room, he hastened to the mad house, and requested to see the house surgeon at once, saying he would not detain him. He then told the doctor that he had brought up a patient, but that to induce him to come quietly he had entrusted the lunatic with the certificate, allowing him to suppose that he had to bring him to the hospital, that he, Coomber, was in fact the man who had been sent in charge of the lunatic. 

  It was some little time before the ruse was discovered. Coomber’s quietness, and the violence of the other man in his anger at being detained while his charge was allowed to depart, completely deceived the medical board and attendants. Ultimately, however, Coomber was sent to St Luke’s, and was very quiet so long as an old clock was found for him to clean. 

  Another Lewes lunatic was Verrall, who I myself remember. He was a tallow chandler. On one occasion at a meeting at the Bear Inn he sat down on the fire and ignited his clothes, and then rushed out and jumped into the river. He got out a little lower down, behind some buildings, and then went home to change his clothes. He then returned to the Bear and found several men dragging the river for his body, being told in answer to his enquiries that that madman Verrall had purposely set himself alight and then drowned himself.”

‘Coomber’ was Richard Comber (1742-1824), a watch and clock maker. When his clocks come up for sale today they command high prices. He occupied 68-69 High Street, in St Michael’s parish, from 1782 to at least 1812, by which time he would have been 70 years old. He was churchwarden of St Michael’s parish in 1793 when the new clock house next to St Michael’s church was built. However in 1814 his son George Comber and the surgeon James Moore obtain an magistrates’ order requiring the St Michael’s overseers to provide care for him as a pauper lunatic. The St Michael’s overseers’ records in The Keep include several letters about his care at Bethnal House, Bethnal Green. These included, in addition to regular bills for his maintenance, an 1816 letter from the secretary to the Commissioners for Regulating Mad Houses asking the parish to provide further evidence to justify his continued detention, and an 1819 letter reporting that “he continues in a high state of malady” and demanding £27 6s 0d for his treatment. The final letter reported his death on 22 November 1824, and asked whether the parish wanted him to be given the usual pauper funeral. He was buried 6 days later in Lewes, at All Saints. As Richard Comber was sent to London before Edward Boys Ellman was born, this story must have been told to him by others. St Luke’s (in Islington) and Bethnal House were two different London hospitals caring for lunatics. Conditions in Bethnal House were especially dire at this date, despite the high costs. Thomas Verrall (1758-1831), who Edward Boys Ellman did remember, was a tallow chandler operating from 16-17 Cliffe High Street for over 40 years, until he sold the premises in 1828.


  1. Mary Hannah Rickman and her equine friends

This account of Mary Hannah Rickman, who was the daughter of the Quaker merchant Richard Peters Rickman (1805-1876), who was in turn the son of the brewer turned agriculturalist and banker John Rickman of first Bear Yard and later of Wellingham (1774-1859), was penned by John Rickman’s great-grandson E.V. Lucas in ‘The Old Contemporaries’, published by Methuen & Co in 1935. E.V. Lucas is better known as the author of ‘Highways &  Byways of Sussex’.

 “Mary Hannah Rickman, my father’s first cousin, had an interest in steeds which reached far beyond stable information, for she dedicated to them a meadow on her property at Spence’s, now called the Grey House, just outside Lewes on Malling Hill. This lady had such a humane feeling for horses that she would make an irresistible offer to any driver who seemed to her unsympathetic; and then provide the overworked animal with pasturage and comfort for life, and after death give it the honours of burial. The story went that astute costermongers and gypsies, wishing to make a little extra money, would flog their beasts near her gates, in spite of the notice set up there:

Uphill, whip me not;
Downhill, hurry me not.

hoping that the humane Miss Rickman would emerge purse in hand, which she usually did. 

  Mary Hannah Rickman not only maintained horses as pensioners, but she was something of a she-Centaur, too, hiring regularly from a Brighton job-master named Alfred Dupont, to whom, as a mark of esteem, she once gave a very handsome group of equine statuary. I wonder where that is now. 

  She was devoted to Charlie, not a pensioner, but a mount. On the night before his death Charlie was occupied, as usual, with his doll ‘Maria’, and tossing and shaking it about as a puppy might. On the morning that he died, had he not seemed in every respect in perfect condition, his good, kind groom would not have thought for one moment of taking him out to exercise. He dropped dead on his way to the nearest part of the Downs, when passing the residence of Mr Stone, Malling Mill, whence sympathy and help were kindly given. Providentially his rider escaped death or permanent injury, though greatly shaken and bruised.  

  Often and often has Charlie listened to language such as the following: “Oh Charlie, you think you live on crushed corn, and bran, and beans, and warm linseed mash, and what Mr Strudwick calls ‘lovely bits of hay, as sweet as honey’, and the best of carrots, and delightful fresh green meat when it’s in season; but you really live, as we all do, on love. It is love that provides everything you have; it is love that makes life sweet to you, and that gives you courage and spirits and appetite and opportunity to enjoy it”. He was never overtired or worried, and owing to his mistress’s invariable practice of sitting forward, and riding with one pommel only, he never knew the torture of a sore back or wither, at any rate after coming into her hands. As a lady’s saddle is now usually furnished, the rider’s seat is made almost absolutely, almost contemptibly, secure, but being independent of accurate balance, it is so, sadly, too often at the cost of the horse’s back. And it is, surely, only owing to the use of the ‘crutch’ that ladies can follow the chase to the bitter end. May God hasten the day when it shall be impossible to human beings to “mix their pleasure or their pride with sorrow to the meanest thing that lives”. 

  Charlie’s sweet nature and lively disposition and quick intelligence endeared him to all who had anything to do with him. He was always ready to appear at the door or window of his box with his happy, communicative face to give a greeting to his friends, and the site of his vacant place and his empty belongings causes an incredible pang of the heart. But, remembering the pleasure which a kind Providence permitted him to have and to give, and considering how well it was with him in life and in death, gratitude is, as it ought to be, the dominant feeling regarding him. It is consoling to reflect that, up to the last, he felt perfect confidence in the kindness and good-will of all who had to do with him; that up to the last he knew that he was loved. Would that every horse, that all cattle and every domesticated creature could feel and know as much. 

  In the first hour of April the 3rd, in still air, just touched with frost, under the clear light of moon and stars, aided by flitting lanterns, by kind and gentle and skilful hands, the beautiful dead form was laid to its last rest in its long home. And this is the full text of the verses, the first two lines of which were blazoned on Malling Hill:

Uphill, whip me not;
Downhill, hurry me not.
On level road, spare me not.
Loose in stable, forget me not
Of hay and corn, rob me not
Of clean water, stint me not.
With sponge and brush, neglect me not.
Of soft dry bed, deprive me not.
Sick or cold, chill me not.
With bit and reins, oh, jerk me not.
When you’re angry, strike me not. 

  One of Mary Hannah’s pensioners’ tombs, I remember, was to reach the sky, but her trustees intervened and the meadow where the horses were buried is now level again. Some day archaeologists, digging there, may get heart disease from their trouvailles.” 

Quaker records show that Mary Hannah Rickman was born at Hastings, where her father was then an ironmonger, on New Year’s Day 1835. In 1841 she was with her parents and her elder brother in High Street, Lewes All Saints, and in 1851 she was at boarding school in Brighton. In 1871 she lived with her widower father at ‘Spences’, South Malling, and she lived there on her own, after his death, in 1881, 1891 & 1901. She died on 5 July 1905, leaving an estate of over £20,000. Frank Stone, miller and baker, occupied Malling Mill in the 1890s. The postcard view of South Malling below, taken before Malling Mill burned down in 1905, shows above Spences Lane the Grey House and its adjacent mound under which Mary Hannah Rickman’s favoured horses were buried. There is a later plan of her property in Bulletin no.63.


  1. 1856 receipt from the Bear Brewery

Receipt to Mr Divall from the Bear Brewery, stamped 9 July 1856

This stamped 9 July 1856 receipt issued to a Mr Divall from George & Alfred Wood’s Bear Brewery acknowledges the payment of £2 6s 0d for two kilderkins of a product (Ft ?) that I cannot identify. A kilderkin was half a barrel of beer, nominally containing 18 gallons. Making an allowance for the unusable dregs, this corresponds to about two pence per pint. The receipt was sold on ebay in August 2020. 

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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