Lewes History Group: Bulletin 127, February 2021

Please note: this Bulletin is being put on the website one month after publication. Alternatively you can receive the Bulletin by email as soon as it is published, by becoming a member of the Lewes History Group, and renewing your membership annually.

  1. Next Meeting: 8 February 2021: Geoff Mead, ‘River Ouse: Source to Sea’
  2. The Wikipedia entry for Lewes
  3. Postcard view: ‘Ashcombe near Lewes’
  4. Sir Nicholas Pelham’s Memorial in St Michael’s Church
  5. A Lewes China Man’s stock in trade, 1831
  6. A Victorian Postcard
  7. Permitted Development in Malling Street
  8. The County School for Girls in the Great War
  9. School Hill in 1905
  10. A Lewes Milkman’s Life
  11. Crown Inn, refurbished


  1. Next Meeting                       7.30 p.m.                   Monday 8 February
    Geoff Mead                           River Ouse: Source to Sea

Geoff Mead’s talk will follow the course of the river that runs through Lewes across geological and historic time; its journey from the sandstones and wooded heights of the High Weald through the gentle pastures of the Low Weald to the deep valley through the South Downs National Park and on to the changing coastline of the Channel. Tributaries enter the main stream from the Weald and the Downland, creating their own basin features.

The course of the Ouse has eroded the covering of the Weald over millions of years, allowing our access to the core of south-east England. This area has provided source materials for generations of inhabitants, from Neolithic rock shelters, through Romano-British ironworking to Tudor gun founders and Regency estate builders. Later developments revolved around improving communications with a canalisation, railways, and new roads. The 21st century brings concerns of climate change, water consumption and the loss of particular environments and urbanisation. We cover a range of topics in this fluvial journey, from source to sea.

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. LHG members will be sent a link to register directly: non-members will need to purchase registration via https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/lhg.


  1. The Wikipedia entry for Lewes

We have received a comment that the History section of the Wikipedia entry for Lewes is rather sketchy, given the long and eventful history of the town, and could well be amplified. It is especially thin on the Saxon foundation and on the 19th & 20th century history of the town.

Wikipedia entries are of course submitted and kept up to date by users. In its early days its content was of quite variable quality (some might say notoriously unreliable), but over twenty years its accuracy and reliability, and its referencing, have greatly improved. Indeed, it is now the first source many people consult when seeking information online. Your committee wondered whether this might be a task that could be undertaken by an enthusiastic member, or group of members. If interested please contact me at the email address at the end of this Bulletin.


  1. Postcard view: ‘Ashcombe near Lewes’

This unused postcard by an anonymous publisher shows the view down Kingston Lane with, across what is now the A27, the entrance gate to Ashcombe House. The ‘near Lewes’ part of the caption is clear enough, and the first faded word is ‘Ashcombe’.

Ashcombe near Lewes postcard

A different postcard view of the same junction, looking along the Brighton to Lewes road, is below.

Old Tollhouse, Brighton Road, Ashcombe, Lewes, postcard


  1. Sir Nicholas Pelham’s Memorial in St Michael’s Church

In 1545 a French fleet attacked various towns on the Sussex coast, including Brighton and Meeching (Newhaven), in revenge for King Henry VIII’s capture of Boulogne. The sinking of the ‘Mary Rose’ off Portsmouth took place as it opposed this fleet. Some French ships then came ashore in Seaford Bay and a number of cottages were burnt. However, the local people marshalled by Nicholas Pelham gathered to oppose these French invaders in such numbers that they withdrew to their ships, with a number killed or drowned in the process.

Sir Nicholas Pelham Memorial, St Michael's Church, South Malling

The Pelham family badge was a buckle, and the part of the Seaford Bay coastline where this engagement took place is still known as the Buckle – a name born by an inn that flourished there until quite recently. Sir Nicholas’s memorial includes a Tudor pun: “What time ye French Sought to have Sack’t Sea-Foord, This Pelham did Repell them back Aboord”.

As the memorial states, Nicholas Pelham was the son and heir of Sir William Pelham of Laughton, but other hard information about his life is hard to come by. Different sources date his birth to between 1513 and 1517. His estate was based in Laughton, but included land in various parts of East Sussex, and he invested in the Wealden iron industry. He inherited Laughton Place, rebuilt by his father in 1534, and himself purchased Halland in 1558. In 1537 he married Anne Sackville (daughter of John Sackville of Withyham & his wife Margaret Boleyn), who was a cousin of Queen Anne Boleyn (executed 1536) and the aunt of Queen Elizabeth’s courtier Thomas Sackville (later created first Lord Buckhurst and then the Earl of Dorset). Nicholas Pelham seems to have avoided the court during the reign of King Henry VIII, but was more active under Edward VI. He had the patronage of the Earl of Arundel, and in 1547 became MP for Arundel. He was knighted in 1549. The struggles between ‘Protector’ Somerset and the Duke of Northumberland made court life hazardous during Edward VI’s reign, and after Somerset’s fall he, Arundel and Sir Nicholas Pelham were imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1551. Pelham made an emergency will the day before Somerset’s execution, apparently fearing the worst, but he was later released.

Sir Nicholas Pelham survived as a man of influence in Sussex under Queen Mary, despite being a firm Protestant, and his eldest son being a Marian exile in Geneva. Near the end of Queen Mary’s reign he was again imprisoned, this time in the Fleet, until he reversed his refusal to provide a cavalry troop for her army. His religion and his family connection to Queen Elizabeth’s mother and the rising Sackvilles should have offered him better opportunities after the new Queen came to the throne in 1558, and in that year he was elected to represent East Sussex in Parliament. However, his early death deprived him of taking further advantage.

Even the date of his death is uncertain. His memorial states clearly that he died on 15 December 1559, but his final will, a probate copy of which survives in the National Archives, was made on 6 February in the second year of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, which is two months after the date of death given on the memorial. It has been pointed out that the women on his memorial are dressed in a style that did not come into fashion until several decades after his death, so it may well not have been contemporary. His inquisition post mortem and the History of Parliament give the date of his death as 15 September 1560. His will was proved in March 1561. In 1568 his widow, Lady Anne, together with his second son Thomas, purchased the Lewes house that was later to become the White Hart. Lady Anne Pelham died in 1571, and is remembered with her husband on the memorial in St Michael’s.

Sources: Kevin Gordon, ‘The Battle of the Buckle, 1545’, on the website sussexhistory.net; History of Parliament online website; his Wikipedia entry; W.A. Pearson, ‘The Village of the Buckle’;  East Sussex Historic Environment Record, MES 4278; ESRO AMS 6547/4; NA PROB 11/45/2; and Colin Brent, ‘Lewes House Histories’. The images of his memorial are from findagrave.com.


  1. A Lewes China Man’s stock in trade, 1831

Auction of Mr Warder's china and glass stock, 1831Mr H. Warder’s attempts to run a china and glass business at this prime location on the  High Street do not seem to have been very successful, as Colin Brent’s ‘Lewes House Histories’ do not record him at this (or any other) address.

176 High Street had been run as a grocer’s shop in 1829 and was first a different grocer’s shop and then a draper’s shop later in the 19th century.

Source: 14 Mar 1831 Sussex Advertiser


  1. A Victorian Postcard

This Victorian postcard was despatched in January 1889 by Hoadley & Son’s Crown Iron Works on Station Street, Lewes, to a firm of Dorking millers to inform them that their order had been despatched to Dorking station by rail. The senders were evidently confident of the speed and reliability of the Victorian postal service. Postcards of this type were in use long before picture postcards.

Hoadley and Son Crown Iron Works, Lewes postcard 1889, address side

Hoadley and Son Crown Iron Works, Lewes postcard 1889, message side

Peter Hoadley (1843-1925) was a blacksmith, engineer and trussmaker, born in East Chiltington, as the son of a journeyman blacksmith. Between 1851 & 1861 his father moved to St Mary’s Lane, Lewes, near the White Hart, establishing himself as a blacksmith and truss maker. By 1871 Peter had married and taken over the business. In 1867 father and son purchased the house that was to become 5 Station Street, opposite their blacksmith’s shop, from the trustees of the Wesleyan Chapel. He employed 3 men in 1871, but by 1881 had 7 employees. In 1891 he was a farrier and truss maker, with his own son now his apprentice. He then left Station Street, and was employed as an ‘engineer smith’ in Brighton in 1901, but was again a self-employed blacksmith in Malling Street in 1911. His activities as a truss maker and purveyor of elastic stockings were noted in Bulletin no.20. This postcard shows these were not his only specialist products.


  1. Permitted Development in Malling Street

Malling Street, Lewes, permitted development, before

Before the Town and Country Planning Act (1947) a property owner could build pretty well whatever they wanted on their own land. The Edwardian owner of this Malling Street shop, in the middle of a terrace of cottages, thought it would be a good idea to expand the accommodation available there, so he did so. This particular Lewes street-scene grates on me whenever I pass it. Our present government, in its wisdom, thought fit in 2020 to introduce new regulations to allow property owners to add one or two storeys to their properties as ‘permitted development’ [i.e. without planning permission being required]. Luckily this new rule does not apply in National Parks.

Malling Street, Lewes, permitted development, after.png


  1. The County School for Girls in the Great War

In the November 1934 edition of the Chronicle of the County School for Girls, Lewes, Miss Lilian Vobes, headmistress since the opening of the school in September 1913, looked back to its early days. The school had opened with just 59 girls, but by the end of its first year the numbers had risen to just over 100. There were more than the usual hazards to deal with. The school was almost cut off in Spring 1914 when it was surrounded by flood water from the Winterbourne, and in the Christmas holidays of 1914 the school buildings were flooded up to window sill level. Boats traversed the floodwater from The Course to Southover Grange, and the wooden bridge across the Winterbourne that provided the most direct pedestrian access from Lewes town was swept away. The floodwater was swept out, the cleaners came in and teaching resumed at the start of the next term. Buildings recovered from flooding much more quickly in those days.

The school concluded its first year with a Speech Day on 29 July 1914, and Miss Vobes was so busy with school affairs that she had hardly realised how ominous were the clouds gathering over Europe. When war was declared the following week her immediate worry was whether the school premises would be requisitioned as a hospital – the Red Cross commandant had told her the art room would make a splendid operating theatre. Similar school buildings in Brighton were pressed into service for the wounded, but since Newhaven port was dedicated to the transport of war materials and not troops, the Lewes school was not required.

When the school reopened in September for its second year Lewes had become a very different town. Fifteen thousand troops of Kitchener’s Army were billeted in the town, and both accommodation and food were in very short supply. The school was very busy for a while collecting socks and spare clothing for all the recruits, whose uniforms had not yet arrived. Right until November 1918 there was a steady call for service from even the youngest girls in the school. In addition to the normal school work, every spare minute was given to sewing and knitting to satisfy various demands. Nearly 1,000 knitted comforts were sent away to the Front, and 300 children’s garments and over 300 hospital treasure bags were made. In 1917 the country was faced with a serious food shortage, so the grounds around the school were dug up and planted with potatoes, a back-breaking task that produced more than a ton of produce.

The school took in two Belgian refugees, Lidwine and Godelieve, which was a reminder to the girls that children elsewhere had to face much greater hardships than were experienced in Lewes. In August 1916 a War Savings Association was formed, one of the first in the country, and by the end of the war £868 had been contributed to the national effort. In the latter part of the war railway services were greatly curtailed. No outside lighting was allowed, so winter afternoons became very dark. The girls coming from Crowborough were then sent home by the 2 o’clock train, but Miss Vobes observed: “They bore this with equanimity”. The holidays were also lengthened, especially at Christmas, when civilians were asked to leave the trains free for soldiers returning home from leave.

About the end of the war Miss Vobes comments:

“11th November 1918 was an unforgettable day, though the details of what we did after the news of the armistice came through in the dinner hour are blurred in my memory, lost in the recollection of the intense relief and thankfulness we all felt. I know that we abandoned lessons in the afternoon and rejoiced together in the Hall until the time came for us to go home through streets where, for the first time for four years, lights could be freely shown.”

The cessation of the war was followed by years of industrial unrest, with the coal strikes of 1920 and 1921 greatly restricting rail travel, and the 1924 rail strike stopping them altogether. When the 1926 General Strike, started two days after the start of the summer term over 100 girls were unable to attend on the first morning. Many then improvised, reaching the school via a remarkable range of conveyances, arriving and leaving at times circumstances dictated.


  1. School Hill in 1905

School Hill, Lewes, 1905, Robin Johnson drawing dated 1974

This stipple pen and wash drawing of School Hill as in 1905 by Robin Johnson, signed and dated 1974, was offered for sale at Gorringe’s auction in January 2020. While a memory of 69 years ago is not strictly impossible, in this case I am pretty sure that the inspiration was the old postcard below published by Valentines.

School Hill, Lewes, Valentines postcard


  1. A Lewes Milkman’s Life

The 16 February 1940 Sussex Express recorded Mr Stan Leney, a Lewes milk roundsman, had just had a ride in a car, visiting the Cliffe and the Nevill estate. It was the first time since the Great War that he had visited Cliffe, and he had never seen Woolworths before. He had never seen the Nevill, and Landport remained unknown to him. He had never been to the cinema, and he had not missed a day’s work in 46 years.


  1. Crown Inn, refurbished

Crown Inn, Lewes, 2021
Image posted by Mick Symes on the Lewes Past Facebook page

Great to see the old Crown Inn emerging from its boarded-up state and looking far better than it has looked for years, though sadly no longer as an inn. There was an inn on this site called the Black Lion as far back as the 17th century. The name the Black Lion lasted until at least 1750, but by 1758 its name had been changed to the Crown. By the 1780s it was the base for first a waggon then a diligence and later coaches travelling to and from London. In 1811 it was rebuilt as the present Georgian house. Despite its central location, in recent years it has deteriorated such that its 2018 closure seemed sadly inevitable.

Sources: Colin Brent, ‘Lewes House Histories’; 21 October 1811 Sussex Advertiser. 


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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