Lewes History Group: Bulletin 128, March 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 March 2021: David Rudling, ‘Roman settlements in the Lower Ouse Valley’
  2. The Members of Parliament for Southover
  3. Lewes Borough Accounts for 1548
  4. Horse Racing begins at Lewes (by Barry John Foulkes)
  5. A letter from the Taxman
  6. A Territorial Route March
  7. A Mad Dog loose in Lewes
  8. The Lewes Co-op
  9. Public Art in St Swithun’s Lane (by George Awty)
  10. Sheep on School Hill
  11. School Attendance


  1. Next Meeting                       7.30 p.m.                   Monday 8 March

David Rudling          Roman rural settlement and land use in the Lower Ouse Valley

The Ouse valley in East Sussex is described as a key communication route from the Channel coast, via the Downs to the wide expanse of the Weald. It traverses and encompasses landscapes and archaeological sites of both local and regional importance – all connected by the river Ouse and its valley. David’s talk will review the archaeological fieldwork that has been undertaken in the valley to investigate and record Romano-British settlements and land-use, considering the emergence and fates of sites such as the native settlement at Bishopston, the villas at Newhaven, Beddingham, Barcombe and Plumpton, and the nucleated settlement near Barcombe Mills. He will also consider the main Roman roads in the valley and the iron working sites north of Barcombe Mills. Until 2004 David worked for the Sussex-based UCL Field Archaeology Unit, being its Director from October 1991 to December 2003. In 2004 David joined the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Sussex where he was a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology. David is now the Academic Director for the Sussex School of Archaeology and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Roehampton. His main research interests are Romano-British rural settlements and religion, and ancient and medieval numismatics. He is an editor of, and a contributor to, the 2016 publication ‘Archaeology of the Ouse Valley Sussex to AD 1500’ (Archaeopress).

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.

Barcombe AD 250 by Andy Gammon
Barcombe Roman Villa, about 250 AD, visualised by Andy Gammon


  1. The Members of Parliament for Southover

The township of Southover, outside the Lewes town walls, was in the 16th century owned and administered quite separately from the town. Nevertheless, servicing the needs of the wealthy Priory there was a vital element in the commerce of the town, as well as of its wealthy suburb. It was also the Priory that possessed the rectories, and provided the priests, for most of the town’s many churches and for its Grammar School.

In November 1537 Thomas Cromwell acquired the assets of the dissolved Lewes Priory, demolished many of its buildings including the huge Priory church, and established his son Gregory there. In 1539 he granted a 21 year lease of the Priory to Nicholas Jenney, and after his attainder King Henry VIII confirmed Jenney’s lease. The manor of Southover, among Cromwell’s confiscated assets, was part of King Henry VII’s 1541 settlement on Ann of Cleves, and on her death in 1557 it passed to John Kyme.

After the dissolution Lewes lost the trade created by the Priory and, with little industry of its own and only a modest hinterland for its market, was in severe commercial decline. Further bad news was that its seaborne trade was limited by the silting up of the mouth of the River Ouse, then driven east by the shingle to close to today’s Seaford. Lewes was included in a 1542 Act for the repair of certain towns (33 Hen VIII, c.36). In Queen Elizabeth’s reign a new cut to the sea was made, at great expense, creating a new haven close to the old coastal village of Meeching. This both drained the brookland, adding to its agricultural value, and enabled a recovery in the town’s sea trade.

The list of names of the men who represented Lewes in Parliament in the 16th century is incomplete. No names at all are known for the period from 1510 to 1523. Only a scatter of names have survived for the second quarter of the century. However, some of the names appear to be those of Southover men. The explanation for this is suggested by a 1553 agreement between Lewes and Southover that it had been the custom “out of time beyond memory” that at every alternate Parliament the constable, burgesses and inhabitants of Southover should, at their own cost, elect one of the two Lewes MPs. Southover had already chosen Thomas Gravesend as its nominee for the new Parliament to mark Queen Mary’s reign, and asked the borough to return his name to the sheriff, along with its own choice for the second member. However, the custom “out of time beyond memory” seems to have lapsed in Queen Elizabeth’s reign – only one other member, Francis Alford in 1586, is known to have been chosen by Southover.

Source: https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/constituencies/lewes.


  1. Lewes Borough Accounts for 1548

At their annual day of reckoning Robert Holter and John Harryson, constables of the borough, reported that they had spent the borough’s funds as below during their year in office:

Carieng of a Gun and shott and powder to Meeching iiiis iiiid
A mans labor goeng to Bramber xvid
A book of statutes xd
A payre of blanketes   & a payre of sheets for a poore wooman caled Bridgett iiis iiiid
A basket to put the said shott yn iiid

They had received xviis iiiid from the previous year’s constables, and reckoned they had spent “yn the hole” xs id, and had paid the remaining viis iiid to the following year’s constables.

Source: L.F. Salzmann (ed), ‘The Town Book of Lewes, 1542-1701’ 


  1. Horse Racing begins at Lewes                           (by Barry John Foulkes)

This page, taken from the Racing Calendar, marks the start of 237 years of horse racing at Lewes. The  Racing Calendar is the official publication of the Jockey Club. John Cheny published the first calendar in 1727, titled Historical List, and maintained annual publication until his death.

Lewes 1727 page from Racing CalendarThe earliest  written record of racing  at Lewes can be found in an unpublished 1714 diary kept by Tom Marchent, and the Kings Plate was run in 1720, 1722, 1723 and 1724, The Lewes Racecourse History Group has recorded the names of the 27,000 horses that ran on the course from then until its closure, including 18 British Classic Winners, and a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. The Cub also have recorded all the winning horses and owners between 1727-1964, the winning jockeys at Lewes 1823-1964, the winning trainers 1884-1964 and Lewes race day reports 1762-1964. We are proud to say that we hold the largest Memorabilia collection of Lewes Races.

The Club is always willing to help people in researching Lewes racecourse and trainers, you can contact us at the clubs office via our website lewesracecoursehistory.co.uk or 07561 611206.


  1. A letter from the Taxman

Tax letter envelope to Albion Russell & Son, Lewes, 1927

One wonders how pleased the recipients will have been to receive this letter. Albion Russell & Son occupied the shop that is now the Tourist Information Centre, but the postman didn’t need an exact address or postcode to identify the recipient. In 1927 a registered letter cost threepence to send.

This item was offered for sale on ebay in November 2020.


  1. A Territorial Route March

The 11 February 1910 Sussex Express reported that the 90-strong D (Lewes) Company of the 5th (Cinque Ports) Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment, under the command of Captain the Earl of Chichester, had held a route march on the previous Wednesday evening. Headed by their bugle band, the company had marched out to Ringmer and then returned home via the Uckfield Road. During a halt in the march the Earl of Chichester made an earnest appeal for recruits from the crowd who had accompanied the Territorials on their journey.

In August 1914 the Territorials were called to full-time active service. The 5th Battalion was soon sent to France. On 9 May 1915 it went over the top in the battle of Aubers Ridge, following in the footsteps of the regular 2nd Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. The attack was made in the face of vicious artillery and machine gun fire, and both units suffered heavy casualties. The then commanding officer of the Lewes company, Captain Thorold Arthur Stewart-Jones, a barrister with a young family who owned Southover Grange, was amongst those killed. The initial attack took some German trenches, but counter-attacks forced the survivors to retreat back to their own lines.


  1. A Mad Dog loose in Lewes

The 8 February 1813 Sussex Advertiser carried the following account of a rabid dog’s adventures:

On Wednesday evening, between five and six o’clock, a large black and white dog, half pointed and half setter, was observed at the bottom of School Hill, coming from the Cliffe, with symptoms of hydrophobia, and snapping at all the dogs which came in his way. He was seen to bite four, the owners of which, Mr Samuel Gwynne, Mr Durrant, Mr Camp and Mr Weir, on being acquainted with the circumstance, we understand, very properly, and very much to their credit, immediately ordered them to be killed. The strange dog was very dexterously and very courageously secured by a young gentleman, who seized him by the collar, and thus held him until a chain was procured, by which he was fastened up in the market place and, on the inspection of a person conversant with the diseases of dogs, being deemed mad, was destroyed by Mr Fisher, the headborough.  

The next morning it was ascertained he belonged to the Rev J. Constable of Ringmer, who had another dog destroyed not long ago, which was thought mad. Mr Constable was from home, but his servant, hearing that a dog had been killed at Lewes, immediately came over, and identified him as his master’s; and stated it as his decided opinion that he was mad, for the dog had become dull and heavy, and had refused to eat; and contrary to his nature, (which was harmless) on the Wednesday morning snapped at all the fowls in the yard which came near him, and being thereupon secured became outrageous. In the course of the day he broke his chain, and tore a cock-fowl to pieces, and on the servant’s approaching him snapped at his wrist, but providentially missed it; upon which the man aimed a severe blow at his head, with the butt end of a whip or stick, and the dog thereon running away was pursued by two or three persons, but eluded their vigilance, and what became of him till he was seen at Lewes is not known.  

There is too much reason to fear that many other dogs than those known of have been bitten by him, in the neighbourhood of Ringmer and in the Cliffe. We cannot but regret that since the instances of Canine Madness are so frequent, and dreadful in their consequences, that so many dogs are allowed to live in the streets; and it is still a matter of greater astonishment and reprehension that persons who even know their dogs to have been bitten will still keep them. We fear some dreadful catastrophe must happen, ere long, if more precaution be not used, and then the sorrow and affliction of the parties to blame will be felt too late!  

A mad dog very recently afflicted two bites on the hand and arm of a lad in the Cliffe, who cheerfully listened to the advice of his friends, and had the wounded parts cut out and cauterized.”

Rev John Constable was appointed Vicar of Ringmer in 1812, and remained in that role until his death in 1863 – a record of more than 50 years tenure of that post that is very unlikely ever to be matched. For the first thirty years of his tenure he employed the Rev John Lupton, Rector of Cliffe, as his curate at Ringmer, living in Ringmer Vicarage. Mr Lupton served both roles, as the income of the Rector of Cliffe was insufficient to support him. John Constable had inherited a modest estate in Ringmer, and rebuilt its house, Middleham, facing his new front with the fashionable white mathematical tiles. He rented Delves House, on Ringmer Green, during the rebuilding. His new front bears the date 1813, so it isn’t clear whether he was living at Delves House or Middleham when the events described occurred.

Rabies is caused by a virus transmitted from one animal to another when the saliva of an infected dog or other animal enters the blood stream of another animal (or human) that it has bitten. Symptoms developed only after quite a long latent period, but when they did appear the condition had a 100% fatality rate. An 18th century local treatment was to smother the affected person to prevent their suffering. It was to be another 70 years before Louis Pasteur developed an effective vaccine treatment that could be administered to people bitten by a rabid dog.


  1. The Lewes Co-op

The architectural historian Lynn Pearson is the author of ‘England’s Co-operative Movement: An Architectural History’ (2020), published by Liverpool University Press for Historic England. Her book takes note of the architecturally distinctive former Lewes Co-op Stores at 7-9 West Street, premises now used by Wallis & Wallis auctioneers. She also has a blog post copied below about this unusual building on her website. The building included a large meeting hall, sited crossways at the rear. This was always intended to be included, but was added after the completion of the main building, when funds permitted. The original plans for the building are at the Keep, reference ESRO DL/A 25/274. Features include mock-Tudor half timbering, sgraffito work on the plaster fascia, a curious concave saddleback tower (now reduced to a stump) and a handsome bronze-faced clock jutting out over the pavement. The building is listed grade II by Historic England.

As ever, the sun shone in Lewes, and the former Co-op store – now an auctioneer’s, and remarkably unchanged aside from the fascia – was easy to photograph from a handy spiral staircase running up a tall warehouse-cum-workshop across the road. Plans for the building were produced in 1905 by the architects Denman & Matthews of Brighton, best known for their public houses, and the new store opened in October 1906; 70 people celebrated with luncheon in the Town Hall. Co-operative News commented that ‘Something of the old English style of the sixteenth century had been reproduced’ by the architects (the list description settled for ‘Arts and Crafts’), and the striking tower was paid for by the local co-operative society’s president. Inside the shop customers could buy groceries on the ground floor or ascend to the first floor for clothing or hardware. A photograph of the opening day shows a street crammed with people, many women in wide-brimmed hats and boys in caps, all keen to see inside the new store. A splendid survivor indeed.”

Wallis and Wallis, previously Lewes Co-op
Left: Image © Lynn Pearson, right: © Historic England, image BB 70/07587

The Historic England image dates from the time when the store’s immediate neighbour was the Glyndebourne-owned organ manufacturer, Hill, Norman & Beard.

The image below left, rather later in date, also features this remarkable building and was created for the Friends of Lewes. The final image of an antique bucket with a brass lid stamped ‘Lewes Co-operative Society’ was sent to us from a correspondent in the United States, Greg Speno, who had acquired it in the USA and was intrigued to know more about its origins.

Wallis, West Street Lewes by M Van Dyck, and Lewes Cooperative Society antique bucket
Left: © Marietta Van Dyck for Friends of Lewes, 1995

The Lewes Co-operative Society was formed as early as 1864 by a group of working men who purchased groceries in bulk and then retailed them to themselves at market prices. In 1870 they had also established the Lewes Cooperative Benefit Building Society, and Henry Pumphrey was the secretary of both organisations. They had acquired premises in West Street by 1878, while by the 1930s they had acquired additional premises in North Street, branches in Uckfield and Heathfield, and the Building Society had its own premises in Fisher Street [ESRO COP series].

Many members will recall from Andrew Buxton’s talk to us in November 2018 that this was one of the Lewes shops that used a cash carrying system to whiz customers’ payments and their change from the payment desks stationed around the store to a central cash management location.


  1. Public Art in St Swithun’s Lane                                (by George Awty)

As a new LHG member, I’m intrigued by the lead (I think) feature on the wall of the old bank (now Cote restaurant) on St. Swithun’s Lane opposite the Castle Chinese.

Presumably the “St. S” stands for Saint Swithun’s but what is it? How old is it? It’s an odd thing! It appears to have suffered some damage, perhaps from a large vehicle turning into the lane. The feature is pictured below.

St Swithuns Lane, Lewes road sign and St S sign


  1. Sheep on School Hill

This old postcard by an anonymous publisher attracted several bidders when it was offered for sale recently on ebay. A shepherd leads his small flock of sheep up the hill, while celebratory flags are flying vigorously in a stiff breeze.

Sheep and flags on School Hill, lewes, postcard


  1. School Attendance

In 1909 Thomas Edward Palmer of Green’s Passage, Cliffe, was brought before Lewes magistrates by the school attendance officer because his seven year old son had failed to attend Pells School once out of 42 times the school had been open. The attendance officer asked the bench for an order compelling the boy to attend the school. The father stated that he was usually away at work, and that the boy’s mother sent him off to school, but he did not go. He himself had taken the boy right into the playground, but he had still failed to attend. He thought the boy would rather go to Malling School, because his friends were there, but the attendance officer said that Malling School was full. The magistrates made the order that he must attend Pells school.

Source: 27 Aug 1909 Sussex Express: Two other men were fined 3 shillings and 1 shilling respectively at the same sitting for similar non-attendance. One of the fathers claimed he had been out of work for 12 months, and had no food, so could not send his son to school on an empty stomach. 


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



This entry was posted in Antiquities, Art & Architectural History, Cultural History, Education History, Lewes, Local History, Military History, Political History, Social History. Bookmark the permalink.