Lewes History Group: Bulletin 130, May 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: 10 May 2021, John Kay, ‘Listed Buildings of Lewes’
  2. Lewes Priory Trust Symposia, May 2021
  3. Images of Lewes Priory
  4. Winter Coach Service in 1784
  5. Castle Place for Sale
  6. The Lewes Gas Question
  7. John George Blencowe, M.P. for Lewes 1860-1865
  8. Lewes Photographer Alfred Edward Strong
  9. Parsons Family Portraits
  10. The Downs viewed from Lewes Railway Station
  11. View from the Castle (by Mike Brough)
  12. Thank you to LHG members


  1. Next Meeting                       7.30 p.m.                              Monday 10 May           John Kay                               Listed Buildings of Lewes

Lewes is unusually well represented on the Historic England list of English buildings of special architectural or historical importance. This is perhaps not altogether surprising, as the man behind the whole movement, which began soon after the end of World War II, was a Lewes resident. I shall be covering the principles behind such listing, how the system works in practice and the consequences if your own home is listed and also showing some examples of local buildings that are, and are not, protected in this way.

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.

As England seems to be slowly emerging from lockdown, your committee has been discussing how and when we might best resume our normal Monday evening meetings. An obvious problem is that Lewes doesn’t really have a suitable space to accommodate the large audiences that we currently attract in a socially distanced way. For the time being we shall continue to run them in Zoom webinar format, most likely for the remainder of 2021. However, many of us do miss our normal human interactions with each other, and if the current improvements remain on track we shall also be looking for opportunities for some smaller scale physical events over the summer.


  1. Lewes Priory Trust Symposia, May 2021

This month the Priory Trust will be offering sixteen short talks, arranged into four evening symposia starting at 7.30 pm, all available online by Zoom, and all free of charge. Each will last for 90 minutes, including questions. To register email enquiries@lewespriory.org.uk

  1. Tuesday 4 May What did the Cluniacs ever do for us?
  2. Friday 7 May The destruction and rediscovery of the Priory
  3. Tuesday 11 May Caring for a Heritage Site into the future
  4. Friday 14 May What the latest research is telling us

On Saturday 15 May there will be a guided tour of the Priory ruins. 

Lewes Priory Trust Symposia programme 1

Lewes Priory Trust Symposia programme 2


  1. Images of Lewes Priory

These two printed images of Lewes Priory below were included in Henry Boswell, ‘Historical Descriptions of New and Elegant Picturesque Views of The Antiquities of England and Wales’, published by Alexander Hogg of Paternoster Row, London, in 1786. This ambitious volume included a complete set of county maps, so travellers could find their way to the various attractions.

Lewes Priory Plate I, Boswell 1786

Lewes Priory Plate II, Boswell 1786

The image below shows an earlier image of the remains of Lewes Priory as viewed from the south, published in Francis Newbury & Thomas Carnan, ‘A Description of England and Wales’, vol.9 (1769).

Lewes priory in Newbury 1769

The 1845 print below was made by an unknown artist at about the time the Lewes-Brighton railway was driven through the site.

Lewes Priory 1845 print

Sources: All the prints above were being offered for sale on ebay in January 2021


  1. Winter Coach Service in 1784

The advertisement below in the 29 November 1784 Sussex Advertiser shows that the Lewes and Brighthelmston Coaches were then offering a daily service from Brighton via Lewes to London that ran, by one vehicle and route or another, every day of the week except Sunday.

Lewes and Brighthelmston Coaches services, 1784


  1. Castle Place for Sale

The 19 May 1834 Sussex Advertiser noted an important sale on the following Thursday:

 “A most desirable modern FREEHOLD PROPERTY the late Residence of Mr G. MANTELL. Also a 2-stall Stable, Chaise-House, Loft, Granary, Yard, etc, nearly contiguous to the same.”

The sale was to be conducted at the White Hart by the auctioneer and house agent Thomas Mantell of 2 Waterloo Place, with the house and the stable as two separate lots.

The house at 166 High Street was described as an elegant mansion in the best part of the High Street, with a front of great architectural beauty and a frontage of 32 feet. In the basement were two elegant kitchens, with wine, beer and coal cellars and a dairy. On the ground floor was an entrance hall and four well finished parlours. On the first floor was a spacious parlour, a dining room and two best sleeping rooms. Above were four attic rooms, a dressing room and a garret. Out offices were well managed, the whole was fitted up with closets and cupboards and there were two pumps of excellent water. The stable and chaise house were across the High Street in Bull Lane.

The sale took place a few months after Gideon Mantell had moved his family and his practice to Brighton in December 1833. It was however unsuccessful – Mantell notes in his diary on 24 May1834: “Castle Place was put up for sale by auction on Thursday, but not one bidder appeared. What I am to do I know not!” Subsequent diary entries show that he retained ownership for another dozen years. The rapid growth of Lewes in the early 19th century came to a sudden halt in the middle of the century, and as Mantell noted on an 1847 visit to Lewes: “In the afternoon went to Lewes: looked over my house at Castle Place. The town looked more deserted than ever”. In September 1847 he finally managed to sell Castle Place for £950 – several hundred pounds less than he had paid in 1816 & 1819 for the two houses from which he had converted it.

Sources: 19 May 1834 Sussex Advertiser; E. Cecil Curwen (ed),’The Journal of Gideon Mantell’ (1940); Colin Brent, ‘Lewes House Histories’.


  1. The Lewes Gas Question

When the Lewes Gas Company was formed it avoided the considerable expense of a private Act of Parliament by reaching an agreement with the Lewes Town Commissioners to supply gas to all the new town streetlights at a very modest price, on the condition that they were allowed to dig up the town streets to lay the necessary gas mains without opposition. In 1850, almost thirty years later, this arrangement remained in place. The town commissioners were still paying only 4s 0d per “1,000 feet” of gas. Initially private consumers had been charged as much as 15s 0d for the same amount, but over time economies of scale and paying down the initial investment led to increasing profits. By the 1840s comfortable dividends were paid to shareholders, while the price paid by private consumers had fallen, little by little, to 8s 4d. In 1850 the directors proposed a further reduction in this price, down to 7s 6d.

This offer was not received by many of their customers in the way that the directors of the company had hoped. A vigorous campaign was mounted, apparently led by George P. Bacon, proprietor of the Sussex Advertiser, for a much larger cut in the gas price, and for the public and private supply prices to be equalised. Their case was that the gas that was supplied so cheaply to the Commissioners, who could afford to pay a market rate, had to be subsidised by unfairly high prices paid by the private customers. This in turn led to far too few households adopting the new fuel, so that the Company had fewer than 400 customers in a town with a population of almost 10,000. Those customers who did use gas restricted their use because of the high cost, to the disadvantage of the town’s trade. The campaigners mounted a large petition targeted at both the directors and the Town Commissioners. Its signatories were mainly customers, but also included potential customers put off by the high price and even some gas company shareholders. The petitioners suggested that they could themselves take over the running of the Lewes Gas Company, expanding production and aiming to supply all their customers at what they considered a fair price of 6s 0d.

The Town Commissioners, while not necessarily unsympathetic, did not feel it was for them to go cap in hand to the directors and demand that the price they paid should be increased. That, they thought, was a matter in which the company should take the initiative. The directors were also not overwhelmed by the argument, but agreed to meet representatives of the commissioners. Gas might be supplied to the Commissioners on an annual contract, but these were of course the days in which a gentleman’s word was his bond, and some of the gas company directors who had struck the original bargain were still in place. Notable amongst them was the Quaker businessman Burwood Godlee, a member of a group who considered honouring any obligations into which they had entered as part of their duty to God, as well as to man. Also on the board was another Quaker, the retired brewer John Rickman, a man of notorious punctiliousness in honouring the letter of any agreement he made, and requiring the other party to do the same. The other directors were draper Henry Browne (of Browne & Crosskey), Cliffe grocer William Farnes, surveyor William Figg, grocer Benjamin Flint, Cliffe tea dealer Gabriel Grover and Cliffe ironfounder Ebenezer Morris.

A meeting was held in the Mechanics Institute at which the petitioners were represented by brewer Edward Beard (chairman of the Gas Consumers Committee and a gas company shareholder), W.E. Baxter (printer and publisher of the Sussex Express), W.R. Lower, E. Neale, J. Smith and, as their secretary, George P. Bacon. Another brewer, Edward Monk, was unable to attend. Views were exchanged, and it appeared the directors were at least prepared to consider conveying the business to their more entrepreneurial townsfolk, if the right conditions were offered. Three years later it appeared that the directors had largely adopted the policies advocated by the petitioners. The price of gas was to be reduced from 6s 8d to 5s 10d, and the terms of the contract with the Town Commissioners were to be reviewed. By now the new Lewes Prison had been built, and that had negotiated its own contract for gas, at a price of 5s 0d. The same board of directors continued to manage the company. Burwood Godlee, the moving spirit behind the foundation of the Lewes Gas Company in 1822, when he was not yet of age, remained chairman of the board until his death in 1882.                      Source 2 April 1850 & 8 Mar 1853 Sussex Advertiser


  1. John George Blencowe, M.P. for Lewes 1860-1865

After Lewes MP Henry Fitzroy died in office in December 1859, the Liberal John George Blencowe (1817-1900) was chosen as his replacement and returned unopposed. He served alongside another Liberal, Henry Brand, who later went on to be chosen as Speaker of the House. Blencowe however chose to stand down in 1865, making way for the young Lord Pelham, eldest son of the 3rd Earl of Chichester.

John George Blencowe was the only son of Robert Willis Blencowe (1791-1874) one of the leading magistrates on the Lewes bench, a Deputy Lieutenant of the county and an enthusiastic antiquarian who was a very active member of the young Sussex Archaeological Society. He had been born in the Midlands but came to live in Chailey after his marriage to Charlotte Elizabeth Poole (1791-1867), daughter and co-heiress of Sir Henry Poole, 5th baronet, who owned a mansion called the Hooke there. The Pooles were originally from Cheshire, but long established in the Lewes area. The 2nd baronet, Sir Francis Poole had married a Pelham, a cousin of the Duke of Newcastle, and served as MP for Lewes in the Whig interest for 20 years up to his death in 1763. His two sons, both also enthusiastic Whigs, became the 3rd and 4th baronets, the latter the horseracing enthusiast Sir Ferdinando Poole of the Friars. When Sir Ferdinando Poole died in 1804 the title devolved to a distant relative Sir Henry Poole, a clergyman, the 5th and final Poole baronet, whose mother was also a member of the Pelham family, a sister of the 2nd baronet’s wife. The surname Blencowe might be a novel one in Lewes, but the family was very well connected into the key political family that managed the Lewes seats.

In 1857, three years before his election and at the age of 40, John George Blencowe had married Frances Campion. She was the daughter of William John Campion (1804-1869), another magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant, who had two years previously inherited the Elizabethan mansion of Danny, in Hurstpierpoint,. Frances Campion was more than a decade her husband’s junior and brought with her a substantial dowry. She also brought further connections to the local Whig political elite. Her mother was Harriet Kemp, daughter of Thomas Read Kemp (1782-1844), the developer after whom Kemp Town is named, who had been MP for Lewes 1811-1816, MP for Arundel 1823-1826 and then again MP for Lewes 1826-1837. Thomas Read Kemp’s father, also Thomas Kemp, had been MP for Lewes from 1780 to 1811, apart from a short gap between 1802 and 1806.

John George Blencowe, Lewes MPJohn George & Frances Blencowe had 3 sons and 5 daughters born in the first dozen years of their marriage. The two eldest children were born at Hurstpierpoint, the younger ones at Chailey. In the 1871 census the family were living at Hooke with the elderly widower Robert Willis Blencowe and supported by no fewer than 19 resident servants. John George Blencowe had a new house, Bineham, designed by the architect Decimus Burton, built on the Chailey estate, and by 1891 the couple were living there with their five daughters, the husband and children of a daughter who had married, and 17 servants.

John George Blencowe kept a diary for most of his life, starting from his time at Oxford, and they survive in The Keep. This was evidently a family tradition, as both his mother and his maternal grandfather Sir Henry Poole were also diarists. When John George Blencowe died at Bineham on 28 April 1900 he left a personal estate of £179,000.

Sources: 17 January 1860 Sussex Advertiser; Judy Brent, Sussex Archaeological Collections vol.114, pp.69-80 (1976); ESRO HOOK 21/8-9 & 22/9/29; FindMyPast website; photograph of John George Blencowe from Tommaso Valarani’s Geni webpage.


  1. Lewes Photographer Alfred Edward Strong

Photograph of young man, by A.E. Streng, Lewes, and reverse

This cabinet card photograph of a young man, stamped on the reverse “A.E. Strong, Photographer, 11 Sun Street, Lewes” was offered for sale on ebay recently by a French seller. It is now in David Simkin’s collection.

A.E. Strong was not a Lewes photographer previously listed on David Simkin’s Sussex Photohistory website.

Alfred Edward Strong’s birth was registered in the Lewes registration district in 1873, and his death was also registered here in 1949, with probate of his estate granted shortly afterwards to Florence Mary Strong. In the 1881 and 1891 censuses he can be found living in Sun Street with his parents and younger siblings, aged 8 and 18 respectively. His father was described as a slater in both censuses, and Alfred Edward Strong was also a slater in 1891. His father’s address is given as 16 Sun Street in 1881, and in 1891 the household lived close to the Fruiterers Arms. Sun Street houses were re-numbered in 1892 [see ‘The Sun Street Story’].

In early 1900 Alfred Edward Strong married Winifred Taylor, and in the 1901 census they were living at 26 Morris Road, Cliffe. Alfred was described as a house slater aged 28. He was still at 26 Morris Road in electoral registers for 1902-1904, but by 1907 he had returned to 13 Sun Street, with his father nearby at 11 Sun Street. By 1911 he had moved to 31 Vale Road, Tunbridge Wells, and his occupation was given as confectioner and shopkeeper. This was a 5-roomed property, and accommodated husband and wife, their two daughters aged 9 and 3, Alfred’s widowed mother, a female servant in her early twenties and two young male lodgers. Unless all the five rooms in the house were bedrooms, the sleeping arrangements must have been complicated!

Too old for military service in the Great War, a 1915 electoral register finds him in Brighton at 86 Islingword Road. In 1920, in his late forties, he married for a second time to Elizabeth Mary Streete, a blouse maker his own age, and promptly moved to her address at 235 Queens Park Road, Brighton. Electoral registers show them both there 1921-1923, but only Alfred listed there 1923-1925. Then in 1925 he married for the third time, again in Brighton, to Florence Mary Evans, a lady 20 years his junior. Soon after his third marriage he returned to Lewes. The 1927 local directory finds him at 92 Malling Street. He was still there in the 1939 register, his occupation now given as a jobbing gardener, and his widow remained living at 92 Malling Street in the 1951 local directory.


  1. Parsons Family Portraits

Three portraits in elaborate gilt frames of the Parsons family of Lewes were offered for sale on ebay recently. They were those of stone mason Latter Parsons (1773-1848), his wife Sarah Parsons (1771-1827) and their son John Latter Parsons (c.1806-1885). The husband and wife portraits are in matching frames. Father and son appear to have been painted by the same hand (Archibald Archer, also responsible for the grand portrait on view in the Town Hall of the 1830 Royal Visit to the Friars), while the portrait of the wife, who died three years earlier, differs in style. Following the ebay auction, and with some modest LHG assistance, the portraits will be returning, together, to The Keep.

Latter, Sarah, and John Latter Parsons, portraits             Latter Parsons                              Sarah Parsons                    John Latter Parsons

Latter Parsons, son of Charles Parsons, was baptised at Southover in 1773. In 1794 he married Sarah Martin, and in the same year went into partnership with Edward May, who had taken over the long-established Morris family stone mason’s business based at Eastgate Wharf. After Edward May’s death in 1803 he was replaced by Latter Parsons’ younger brother Charles Parsons (1776-1828). Amongst Latter and Charles Parsons major projects was the rebuilding of County Hall (the present Law Courts) between 1808 and 1812. The business was later run by Latter Parsons sons’ and a nephew. The stone mason’s business was sold to C.F. Bridgman later in the 19th century, but the Parsons Brothers timber merchants’ business continued at Eastgate Wharf until sold to Wenban Smith in the 1970s. The very extensive family business records at The Keep are largely unexplored, while their stone monuments decorate most of the churchyards within the Lewes market area.

John Latter Parsons added architectural design to his business interests, and was also an enthusiastic antiquary. He is recorded as the architect for the Gundrada chapel at Southover church in 1847, for the Turkish Baths in Friars Walk in 1862 and for the School of Science and Art (later the Lewes Library) in Albion Street in 1872. He retired in the early 1870s to a new house, Paddock House, that he built on Prince Edwards Road, one of the first houses of the new Wallands Park estate. He was a founder member of the Sussex Archaeological Society in 1846, becoming a committee member from 1870 and a regular contributor to the Sussex Archaeological Collections, especially on the Wealden iron industry. He married a daughter of the timber merchant Thomas Berry, and had a large family. At his death his estate was valued at £23,000 (about £3M today). The Parsons family played a significant role in the public life of 19th century Lewes, and were leading members of Lewes Tabernacle, John Latter Parsons becoming a Tabernacle trustee in 1857. The complicated inter-marriages between the Parsons, Berry and Mannington families were featured in Bulletin no.80, while John Latter Parsons has featured half a dozen times in these Bulletins.

Sources: We are grateful to Michael Long for bringing to these portraits to our attention and pointing out that a label on the reverse of the John Latter Parsons portrait dates it to 1815-1831; John Latter Parsons obituary in Sussex Archaeological Collections vol.34 [in Secretary’s Report]; Deeds of Eastgate Wharf in ESRO HIL 6/28C/1-25; Business records in ESRO AMS 5836 & ESRO BRN; Church architects section of www.sussexparishchurches.org; Familysearch; Lewes Town Book, vol.3; British Newspaper Archive.


  1. The Downs viewed from Lewes Railway Station

The mixed-media artwork shown below by Nicholas Johnson, with the title above, is offered as lot 611 in the forthcoming Gorringe’s weekly auction on Monday 10 May. Sized at 41 x 52 cm, it carries an estimated sale price of £40-£60.

The Downs viewed from Lewes Railway Station, by Nicholas Johnson
Click on image to go to auction site and enlarge

While undated and quite modern in appearance, it must have been created at a date when

  • Leightside gatehouse, Lewes, 1970the railway line to Uckfield remained in place;
  • the cement works was still in operation;
  • the former garden of Leighside had been replaced by allotments; and
  • the entrance bridge from Friars Walk across the Uckfield line was guarded by its Victorian-Gothic gatehouse.

The photograph of the Leighside gatehouse shown to the right was provided by Rosemary Page and is taken from the January 1970 issue of Sussex Life.

Also offered as lot 27 of the same sale, with an estimated price of £120-£180, is a reproduction Regency style duet music stand and a music canterbury (for storing sheet music) by the Lewes firm of Restall Brown and Clennell.


  1. View from the Castle    (by Mike Brough)

View from Lewes Castle, photograph by Frank Brough, 1930s

This photograph was taken in the second half of the 1930s by my father Frank Brough. Lewes railway station is featured with the line to Eastbourne and Hastings curving away into the distance. The Post Office sorting office is shown opposite the station entrance and houses and a school have appeared on Mountfield Road. The cement works can be seen near the chalk pits.


  1. Thank you to LHG members             (by Neil Merchant)

The Lewes History Group executive committee have asked me to record their thanks to the many LHG members who have made donations to our work, over and above the usual annual subscriptions. It is members’ generosity of this type that enables our group to contribute towards such objectives as helping with such projects as the acquisition of the Parsons family portraits.

We thank you too for your patience with us as we have tried to find ways of continuing as a meaningful group during the difficulties of the past year. As our monthly Bulletin is normally circulated by email, that was one activity that could continue.

The replacement of our normal Monday evening meetings by Zoom webinars has proved more successful than we could have hoped, with increases in attendances and membership numbers. At the same time, we recognise that not everyone who would like to has been able to these online events: like many other groups, we are considering the options open to us as we all adapt to our longer-term “new normal”.


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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