Lewes History Group: Bulletin 124, November 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: 9 November 2020: Ian Everest, ‘Shepherds of the South Downs’
  2. Violent Robbery on School Hill
  3. Refugees in open boats in 1792 (by Jenny Hill)
  4. Hearts of Oak
  5. Victorian Stereo-views of Lewes
  6. St Anne’s Hill
  7. The Miss Shelleys and the Census Taker
  8. The British Workman’s Institute, Little East Street
  9. An Edwardian Bonfire in the High Street
  10. The Pells of Lewes (by Neil Merchant)
  11. LHG Plans for 2021 (by Neil Merchant)
  12. St John’s Church Hall


  1. Next Meeting                       7.30 p.m.                   Monday 9 November

Ian Everest                    Shepherds of the South Downs: their lives and times

Central to Sussex farming in past centuries, and in particular to the economy of the Lewes area, were the tens of thousands of sheep that grazed on the Downs. The shepherds, who spent their solitary lives caring for their flocks, were a familiar part of the local countryside. They and their flocks assembled each autumn for the annual Lewes sheep fairs. Ian tells their story.

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.

The image below shows one of many postcard photographs of the shepherds on the Downs around Lewes, always accompanied by their dogs. This is one of James Cheetham’s cards.

Shepherds on Downs around Lewes, James Cheetham postcard


  1. Violent Robbery on School Hill

The 29 November 1784 Sussex Advertiser reported that at about 11 p.m. on the previous Friday evening the maid-servant of a Lewes tradesman had been to the Post Office, where she had posted a letter. As she was returning down School Hill she was attacked by a woman who, after giving her a violent blow on the head, snatched off her hat and cap, and ran away with them. This daring robber was soon afterwards pursued, but made good her escape.


  1. Refugees in open boats in 1792                                        (by Jenny Hill)

The following extracts are from Dr J.D. Parry, ‘Coast of Sussex’ (1833), pp.327-328. Parry’s book does not contain a great deal on Lewes itself, referring readers to Horsfield’s ‘History of Lewes’, but is very interesting to dip in to. What he has documented often differs from other histories I have read. There are a number of newspaper extracts which I presume are taken from the Sussex Advertiser established in 1745 in Lewes by the Lee family. They are dated 1792 when the French Revolution was gathering momentum and King Louis XVI and his family were confined to the Tuileries after trying to flee in order to mount an attack on those who had seized power. Louis was executed in January 1793 but many priests and royalists had started to flee earlier. I’m sure you will find some contemporary resonance with what is happening in the Channel at the moment!

“Sept. 10, 1792 – On Wednesday and Thursday last no less than one hundred and seventy French emigrants, mostly priests, were landed from the packets and an open boat at Brighton. More are daily arriving and many of them are observed to labour under very distressed circumstances. On Friday and Saturday last near three hundred unfortunate Frenchmen of the above description were put on shore at East-Bourne, many of whom were very hospitably received by Lord George Cavendish, Lord Bayham, A. Pigott Esq, and many other of the nobility and gentry of that place. Last night a post-chaise and waggon, heavily laden with them, arrived at the Star Inn in this town.” 

“Sept. 24, 1792 – There was a meeting in the Star in this town last Thursday, for the purpose of concerting the best means of uniting the exertions of this country in favour of those who by unexampled barbarity are driven on our coast. Gentlemen attended from different parts of the country to give information of what had been done. The meeting entered into several resolutions and appointed a committee to correspond with similar committees at London, and to pursue such measures as might best procure for the oppressed refugees, an hospitable reception and a safe and unmolested conveyance to London or elsewhere. It was observed by Lord Sheffield from the chair that the arrival of these unfortunate persons was not a matter of choice. That we could not shut the door against the offending misery.” 

“Oct 15, 1792 – Very few emigrants have lately landed on our coast – Eight French clergymen debarked at Seaford from an open boat, in great distress, last Thursday: Mr. Harben of Corsica Hall found them in the hands of men not of the most liberal cast, from whose importunities he rescued them: and having humanely relieved them, he forwarded the unfortunate men to Lord Sheffield’s seat, about twenty miles from thence, where they were, as others have been, very hospitably received and entertained.”


  1. Hearts of Oak

“In 1771 two oak trees in Sheffield Park, whose tops were quite decayed, sold standing, at the risk of their being unsound, for £69. They contained upwards of 23 loads, or 1140 feet of square timber. The carriage of them to the water-side, only 9 miles, upon a good turnpike road, cost £30; each tree being drawn by 24 horses on a low carriage made for the purpose, and travelling only four miles and a half a day. They were floated from Landport, near Lewes, to Newhaven, where they were with difficulty embarked, for the use of the navy, at Chatham.”

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


  1. Victorian Stereo-views of Lewes

The trio of stereo-views of Lewes below, together with others of Isfield and Stanmer, were sold on ebay in August 2020. They were believed by the specialist seller to date from around 1860 and to have been taken by the same unidentified photographer. The titles are as written on the reverse, in the same handwriting. Stereo daguerrotypes were first exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition, and were popular for the rest of Queen Victoria’s reign. They are still being made today. When viewed through a stereoscope they gave a three dimensional image.

Malling Street, Lewes

Malling Street, Lewes, Victorian stereo view

Southover Church, Lewes

Southover Church, Lewes, Victorian stereo view

Part of St Ann’s Lewes, with the Rectory House of St Michael’s

St Anne's, Lewes, Victorian stereo view


  1. St Anne’s Hill

St Anne's Hill, Lewes, Edwardian postcard, James Cheetham

This postcard of St Anne’s Hill. Lewes, was sold on ebay in June 2017 for over £60, at a time when unusual Lewes postcards commanded very high prices. The dress suggests it is Edwardian in date, and the caption that it may be another card published by James Cheetham.

The Morning Star public house at 128 High Street, shown here just down the hill from the Pelham Arms, closed early in the 20th century. It later became the Bow Windows Bookshop.


  1. The Miss Shelleys and the Census Taker

At the start of Queen Victoria’s reign the Miss Shelleys of Shelleys, in St Anne’s parish, regarded themselves as the cream of Lewes society. The Shelleys had owned the former Vine Inn since the 17th century, and had an extensive collection of properties in Lewes itself and in the surrounding countryside. The Miss Shelleys were the children of Henry Shelley of Lewes and his wife Philadelphia – their mother was the daughter of a Cheshire baronet and politician. Henry & Philadelphia Shelley had married in Cheshire in 1763, and had children baptised at St Anne’s in 1765 (Philadelphia), 1766 (Elizabeth), 1767 (Henry), 1768 (Cordelia, who died as a baby), 1769 (another Cordelia), 1771 (Thomas, who died aged 9) and 1775 (Eleanor).

They were an important family, known well beyond Lewes, with their visitors at Shelleys including the great Dr Johnson, who was connected to Mrs Shelley’s family. The heir, Henry junior, after a short military career, was elected MP for Lewes in 1802, with sufficient independence to vote as he thought fit. In 1817 the Miss Shelley’s were said to be the only Lewes residents invited to the Prince Regent’s ball in Brighton. However, in the first two decades of the 19th century the family numbers began to decline. Henry senior died in 1805 at a ripe old age, and Henry junior followed him in 1811, aged only 44. The youngest Miss Shelley, Eleanor married in 1806 – a very respectable marriage by most people’s standards that produced four children, but seen as a scandal by her sisters, who thought that having reached the age of 30 she should have known better. The Miss Shelleys prided themselves on their spinsterhood. Then Miss Philadelphia died in 1818, aged 53, and Mrs Shelley died the following year, leaving just Miss Elizabeth and Miss Cordelia in the family home.

The Rev Edward Boys Ellman recorded the story that when the 1841 census taker arrived at their house, collected the information recorded on their census form and checked it through, he noted that the ages of both Miss Shelleys and their three female servants were all stated to be 25 years. The collector asked the maid for an interview with her mistress, and when shown into her presence said that he thought this must be a mistake. Miss Shelley responded that she had never in her life met with such impudence as to ask the age of a lady. In her house they were all unmarried females, and that she could not think of putting any of them down as more than 25. A fortnight earlier another (female) visitor had complained about the difficulty she had in keeping servants, and the Miss Shelleys had replied that they were fortunate enough not to have had to change a servant for upwards of thirty years.

An entertaining anecdote, but is it actually true? And how did the census taker respond? A good historian must always check the facts, and the census records are available online. Sadly the story fails in at least some respects. There was only Miss Cordelia Shelley to record – Miss Elizabeth had died, well into her seventies, in 1840. Miss Cordelia was actually supported by not three but eight servants, and while all were listed as unmarried, two of them were young men. However, Miss Cordelia, who was actually over 70, is stated to be 50. The ages ascribed to her female servants (four of whom had the surname Smith), were 60, 40, 30, 20, 15 & 15.

By the 1851 census, a decade later, it seems Miss Cordelia was coming to terms with the new intrusion. She gave her age as 75, knocking off little more than half a decade. She had not forgotten how old she was – her memorial in St Anne’s church correctly records her age as 85 at her 1854 death. Her housekeeper Elizabeth Smith had aged from 40 in 1841 to 66 in 1851, while over the same period her housemaid Frances Smith had advanced from 30 to 58. Her cook Ann Smith was 64 in 1851 – surely not the same Ann Smith, servant, listed as aged 15 in 1841? The 1851 census says that all three Miss Smiths were born in Firle. It seems that an entertaining anecdote may not be correct in every detail, but may still contain at least an element of truth.

Sources: Edward Boys Ellman, ‘Recollections of a Sussex Parson’ (1912); FindMyPast & Familysearch websites; Colin Brent, ‘Lewes House Histories’; The Keep online catalogue.


  1. The British Workman’s Institute, Little East Street
British Workman's Institute, Little East Street, Lewes

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Quaker Miss Eliza Payne (1809-1895), who lived in East Street from before 1861 until her death, was an early supporter of the temperance movement. In 1871 she purchased a plot of land next to 8 Little East Street, and on it she had constructed, at her own expense, the British Workman’s Institute, or ‘The Holly Bush’. The architect was her nephew Alexander Payne of London, and the builder a Mr Davey. The Institute’s opening was reported in the 16 February & 29 March 1872 East Sussex News. It had two handsome rooms, with a refreshment room, newspapers, a library, and lecture hall, and sold non-alcoholic drinks at moderate prices. It was designed to offer local workman an alternative to the public house.

On 25 October 1872 Eliza Payne conveyed the British Workman’s Institute and a caretaker’s cottage on North Street to ten trustees, all non-conformists, to be used as a place of resort by working men of Lewes for the promotion of their moral, intellectual, and religious improvement. Alcohol, gambling and dramatic entertainment were all forbidden. Her relative John Hodgkin gave the institute a bequest of £50 in his will, proved in July 1875. Eliza Payne in her own will, proved in February 1895, left some shares as an endowment for the Institute. The men’s club came to an end during the Great War, with the premises then occupied by the Lewes Girls’ Patriotic Club. In 1922 the building was sold to the trustees of Providence Chapel, and by a scheme approved by the Charity Commissioners, dated 26 February 1924, the income arising from the proceeds of the sale and from the endowments, amounting in all to £41 4s. 6d., was to be applied towards the support of the Lewes Branch of the Y.M.C.A. or any other similar institution in Lewes. The building was later converted to residential use.

Eliza Payne was born in Charles Street, Horslydown, Southwark on the 7th day of the 5th month of 1809, one of four children of a Quaker corn factor. However her mother, Ann Rickman, had been born in Cliffe as the 11th of 18 children of Richard Peters Rickman of Cliffe (1745-1801), who is variously described as a merchant, grocer, baker, brewer, coal merchant and banker. He was the son of the Quaker John Rickman, in his day the leading Lewes Quaker, but he married the heavily pregnant Mary Verrall at Cliffe church without the permission of the Friends meeting. He was therefore expelled from the Friends, but after showing due penitence he and his wife were readmitted, to become the most prominent Lewes Quaker of his day.

The 1841 census finds Eliza Payne living in Eld Lane, Colchester, with two sisters and a teenage female servant. Her older and younger sisters were described as of independent means, but Eliza’s occupation is given as a ‘private teacher’. When living in Essex in 1835-7 Eliza Payne kept a diary, extracts from which survive, illustrating the daily life of a Quaker lady. Robert Brown of Liverpool (a descendant of her brother Alfred), has posted extracts from her diaries on twitter and contacted LHG about photographs of Eliza and her siblings in the Rickman family archive in The Keep. By 1851 Eliza Payne aged 41, now described as a gentlewoman, and her younger sister Mary Rickman Payne, described as having income from leasehold property and railway dividends, were lodging at 73 High Street in the household of a young Ringmer-born master grocer George Martin. In 1861 she was living in East Street, aged 51, described as an annuitant and living as the lodger of an elderly widow, who kept one servant. Her sister Mary was had left Lewes, though later lived in Buxted. By 1871 Eliza Payne was the head of the household at 6 East Street, accompanied by a single domestic servant. She was now 61, and the occupation ‘gentlewoman’ recorded by the census taker was crossed out and replaced by ‘interest money’ in another hand. She remained at 6 East Street, an annuitant living with a single servant, in 1881 and 1891.

Sources: Familysearch and FindMyPast websites; ESRO ACC 2327/13; Colin Brent, ‘Lewes House Histories’; the section on Lewes charities in volume 7 of the Victoria County History of Sussex; John Kay’s Rickman family file; information from family historian Robert Brown of Liverpool.


  1. An Edwardian Bonfire in the High Street

Lewes will not seem like Lewes without bonfire this year. This image, offered for sale on ebay in 2019, shows Edwardian celebrations in the High Street, outside the White Hart.

Edwardian Bonfire in Lewes High Street


  1. The Pells of Lewes book                                                         (by Neil Merchant)

The Pells of Lewes book coverFollowing the excellent talk on the book and glowing reviews from David Arnold, Julian Bell and others, it’s pleasing to report that we quickly sold out of our first print run. The Lewes Visitor Information Centre and the Pells Pool kiosk sold the majority of them, for which we are extremely grateful. We’ve ordered a reprint – actually a 2nd edition, with some minor corrections – and at the time of writing expect them to be with us by the start of November.

 Copies will be available via the Lewes History Group website (you can order now), the Visitor Information Centre (near the Town Hall) from Café 12/31 (St John-sub-Castro) or from Skylark, in the Old Needlemakers.


  1. LHG Plans for 2021                                                                 (by Neil Merchant)

As you know, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we have moved our LHG monthly talks onto Zoom. These webinars are proving to be very successful, popular and appreciated. We previously committed to making our webinars free to all through to the end of the year, but as the Zoom license cost exceeds what we paid for the King’s Church hall rental and the saving on refreshments, we can’t continue with this indefinitely. It seems likely that we will need to continue on the present basis well into next year, and it may well become long-term standard practice for us. 

As a result, we’re looking at ways of resuming charging for the talks, and we intend to move to Membermojo, a web-based membership system, for 2021. You’ll be hearing more of our plans in the coming weeks.


  1. St John’s Church Hall
St John's Church Hall, Lewes

Photo: © Trinity Church website

As you will have heard at our last meeting, St John’s Church Hall in Talbot Terrace was one of the Lewes buildings designed by architect Rowland Hawke Halls. However, its demolition, to be replaced by new housing, has already been formally approved.

It would, in our view, be appropriate to make a full photographic record of the Church Hall before it is demolished. Subject to the approval of Trinity Church, who own the building, we hope that neighbour John Webber will undertake this task.

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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