Lewes History Group: Bulletin 134, September 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: 13 September 2021, Will Pilfold ‘The Ouse Valley Chalkpits’
  2. Lewes Heritage Open Day weekend (by Neil Merchant)
  3. Visit to the Gundrada Chapel, Saturday 2 October
  4. A Lewes carrier’s business for sale
  5. Shelley and Son, Lewes carriers
  6. Four more James Cheetham postcards on ebay
  7. Three Lewes non-conformist ministers from the Vinall family
  8. Assault on the Lewes Workhouse Master
  9. Where is this house?
  10. Two Lewes Corn Merchants
  11. Lewes Bus Station


  1. Next Meeting                       7.30 p.m.                               Monday 13 September       Will Pilfold             The Ouse Valley Pits: Using chalk and making landscape

Our autumn programme opens with a talk from LHG member Dr Will Pilfold, who explores the origins of the chalk pits in the Ouse valley, what the chalk has been used for and the legacy of these disused pits. In common with other areas of the chalklands of England the Ouse valley contains numerous disused chalk pits that often have a significant visual impact. The study of these pits has been unduly neglected by local and landscape historians, the main interest in them coming from industrial archaeologists. Dr Pilfold will also look at the more subtle impacts that exploiting chalk as a mineral resource has had on Sussex landscapes.  There is still much to be learnt on these topics and this presentation is something of a ‘work-in-progress’ report. It is hoped that further discussion and investigations that help fill the many gaps in our knowledge may be sparked by this talk.

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. Lewes Heritage Open Day weekend                          (by Neil Merchant)

With no August talk it’s been a relatively quiet month, though we are preparing for our presence at Lewes’ Heritage Open Days. We’ll be in Lewes House, on School Hill, and our display will centre on recent Street Stories work. It’ll be open 10-5 on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 September, and we’ll have a presence there throughout that time.  We’re working with the Friends of Lewes (who are the overall organisers) on appropriate Covid-19 measures. Do drop in if you can.


  1. Visit to the Gundrada Chapel, 2.30 pm, Saturday 2 October

At Marcus Taylor’s successful talk to us on Southover church, he offered to host a visit to the Gundrada chapel designed by stonemason John Latter Parsons, and we have now fixed a date. To allow for social distancing, places will be limited to twelve only, so pre-booking is essential. To reserve your place, please email at johnkay56@gmail.com, with ‘Gundrada Chapel Visit’ as the subject line.


  1. A Lewes carrier’s business for sale

Thomas Newnham's Lewes carrier business for sale, 1825In Georgian Lewes, as today, the value of a small business, built up over years, was difficult to establish. The difference between the value as a going concern (typically calculated as a multiple of the annual profits) could be much higher than the sale value of the business assets. The difference between the two is ‘goodwill’, a rather ephemeral concept that makes accountancy more of an art than a science.

Thomas Newnham aged 52 of Lewes All Saints had been buried in All Saints churchyard on 19 August 1825, just 3 days before this advertisement was published.

Thomas Newnham of All Saints parish was described as a labourer when he voted in the 1812 Lewes parliamentary election.

Source: 22 August 1825 Sussex Advertiser


  1. Shelley and Son, Lewes carriers

The following advertisement appeared in the 19 January 1824 Sussex Advertiser.

Shelley and Son, Lewes carriers, dissolution of partnership 1824


  1. Four more James Cheetham postcards on ebay

These four postcards by Lewes photographer James Cheetham all show rural scenes near Lewes. They all carry the caption “Cheetham Lewes”, and none were postally used. The image featuring cattle shows, in the background, the old railway bridge across the Ouse on the line from Lewes to Uckfield.  I can’t place the next view featuring Southdown sheep, despite the background house.

James Cheetham postcard, cattle and railway bridge over the Ouse near Lewes

James Cheetham postcard, sheep in Sussex

James Cheetham postcard of sheep, Hamsey church, and Hamsey Place Farm
This postcard shows Hamsey church on the horizon, and Hamsey Place Farm to the left.

James Cheetham postcard of sheep, Offham church, and Downs
This postcard clearly shows Offham church, with the Downs behind.

I was successful in purchasing the first three postcards to add to my collection. The postcard featuring Offham church was much more expensive, but hopefully went to a local collector.


  1. Three Lewes non-conformist ministers from the Vinall family

John Vinall senior was born in Henfield in 1782. He moved to Lewes as a young man in 1802, and came under the influence of Rev Jenkin Jenkins, the Trevecca-trained Welsh pastor of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Old Chapel on Chapel Hill, and his mentor the evangelist William Huntington, who described himself as a coal heaver and awarded himself the qualification SS, standing for ‘Sinner Saved’. When Jenkin Jenkins died in 1810 and the pastor of Providence Chapel, Church Road, Brighton (another chapel much influenced by William Huntington) died in 1811, John Vinall was appointed to have oversight of both churches. Not yet 30 and newly married, he took up these appointments with some initial reluctance. William Huntington himself died in 1813. As John Vinall is recorded as preaching regularly at the Brighton chapel on Sunday evenings, his normal practice was presumably to preach at Jireh in the mornings.

John Vinall, not formally ordained for another decade, remained at both chapels until 1856-7. He was immensely successful, and in 1826 Jireh had to be extended, to increase the capacity at services from an inadequate thousand to 1,200. Families flooded into the towns from the surrounding countryside to hear him preach the Gospel. He is recorded as preaching at the chapels at Alfriston, Eastbourne, the Dicker, Five Ash Down, Maresfield, Ticehurst, Midhurst and Petworth, and from 1813-1831 he also had oversight of Providence Chapel, Chichester.

A stroke in 1831 that left him permanently paralysed down his left side caused only a temporary pause in his evangelism. During his ministry he also lost his first wife Ann in 1823 at the age of 42, his second wife Anna in 1851 aged 54, and his adult son Benjamin aged 33 in 1856. John Vinall himself died on 3 March 1860 aged 77. He is remembered, along with his wives and his son, Jenkin Jenkins and William Huntington, on the Jireh memorial [see Bulletin no.90].

John Vinall and his first wife Ann had a large family, including at least four sons who survived childhood. He lived at 29 Sun Street from 1812 to 1816, and later moved to North Street where he remained until the end of his life. The 1841 census finds him living with his second wife Anna and his youngest daughter Martha. Martha married in 1842 and Anna died shortly before the 1851 census, in which his household comprised just a female servant and a gardener.

His sons had to make their own ways in the world. His eldest son John Vinall junior (c.1810-1859) is recorded as a carpenter in 1841, as a master cabinet maker and builder in 1851, and as an upholsterer at his second marriage in 1853. Ebenezer Vinall (c.1817-1880) went into partnership in 1847 in Cliffe High Street with his brother-in-law Benoni Rusbridge Frank, a draper, and in 1854 he was described as a hatter and clothier. Joseph Vinall (c.1819-1889) was a journeyman carpenter living at 13 North Street in St John-sub-Castro in 1851, a Brighton builder in 1871 and a retired builder in 1881. Benjamin Vinall (c.1823-1856) was described in the 1851 census as a journeyman watchmaker, and found in the Lewes St Michael household of master watchmaker Edward Reeves. His daughters married into the Lewes middle class. Elizabeth Vinall married a Cliffe shoemaker, who was a carpenter’s son. Mary Vinall married draper Benoni Rusbridge Frank and Martha Vinall married corn dealer Stephen Pannett.

His two elder sons, John Vinall junior and Ebenezer Vinall, both followed their father to become non-conformist preachers. According to James North’s ‘Jireh Chapel, Lewes, East Sussex’, it was John Vinall senior’s wish that his son Ebenezer should succeed him at Jireh, but the managers disagreed. When he retired he was followed there by his elder son John Vinall junior, an appointment sadly terminated by his sudden and unexpected death in 1859, a year before his father’s. Following the death of John Vinall junior the new minister of Jireh was Matthew Welland, pastor of Bulkington Independent Chapel in Warwickshire. He remained at Jireh until 1902.

In 1853 John Vinall junior, then a 42 year old widower with a large family, had married a 23 year old daughter of ironmonger Ebenezer Morris, one of Jireh’s most wealthy and influential members. His first wife had died aged 40 in 1851 at about the time another child in a long sequence might have been expected. Three more sons were born to his second wife in 1854, 1856 and 1859, so his 1859 death left his young widow responsible for a large family. His older children were now old enough to work. A South Malling household in 1861 was headed by his eldest surviving son Samuel, aged 24, described as a carpenter. Another son was a carpenter, a daughter a teenage schoolmistress and his 16 year old son Isaac, later to become a prominent Lewes solicitor and a key figure at Jireh Chapel, was a clerk. With them were Samuel’s stepmother, only a few years older than he was, and her three young boys. By 1871 the household had moved to Cliffe. Samuel was now an undertaker, his step-mother a schoolmistress. By 1881 Samuel was a house decorator and undertaker, and was accompanied by his two surviving half-brothers, one a solicitor’s clerk and the other a draper’s assistant. At the age of about 50 Samuel Vinall married, so in the 1891 census they have become two Cliffe households, one comprising Samuel and his wife, and the other his step-mother, her solicitor’s clerk son and his wife and baby. By 1891 another son of John Vinall junior’s first marriage had become a Hastings grocer.

Ebenezer Vinall, manifesto 1847Ebenezer Vinall, the son John Vinall senior had reportedly wanted to succeed him at Jireh, also remained in Lewes. He had married at St Nicholas church, Brighton, in 1840, but lived in Lewes, with new additions to his family at regular intervals thereafter. In 1839 he had gone into partnership with his brother-in-law Benoni Rusbridge Frank, a draper, and in the 1840s he lived at 54 Cliffe High Street.

In 1847 he appears to have had a falling out with the Jireh managers, and a sermon on Isaiah 44:5 that he had intended to deliver at Jireh was prevented by, in his words, “the prevalence of unbelief and carnal reason”, leading him to publish an account of his calling to serve the Lord as a minister of the Gospel. The image to the right is from a copy of this manifesto, offered recently for sale on ebay. As a consequence some of the Jireh congregation who supported him separated from the main body of that church, of which his father was the pastor, and established their own independent Calvinist meeting.

The base for this meeting was the Providence Chapel in Lancaster Street, elements of which still survive at Lewes Little Theatre. There is a photograph of the chapel interior in Bulletin no.24.

According to Colin Brent’s ‘Lewes House Histories’ this had originally opened as an independent chapel in 1811, but had only functioned in this role for a few years. Between 1820 and 1835 it is recorded as a school, supported by the Tabernacle trustee Nehemiah Wimble, but by 1849 it was again in use as a chapel, and in 1854 it was purchased by Ebenezer Vinall, described in the conveyance as a Cliffe hatter and clothier. Three years later he also purchased the nearby Prospect Cottage, and extended the chapel onto his new land.

The 1851 and 1861 censuses describe Ebenezer Vinall as, at the ages of 33 and 43, the independent minister of Providence Chapel, and Kelly’s Directory lists him as minister there in 1867. However, in 1867 he felt called to accept the offer of the ministry of the Regent Street Chapel in London, where he maintained a large congregation, and the 1871 census finds him heading a Clerkenwell household. He died in Clerkenwell in 1880, and his widow lived there until her death in 1900.

Providence Chapel in Lancaster Street continued as a separate meeting into the 20th century, although by then it had changed from an Independent to a Baptist chapel. Most of his children remained in London after his death, though a son became an Eastbourne draper, and in 1869 one of his daughters married the Lewes corn merchant Richard Stevenson.

Sources: James North, ‘Jireh Chapel, Lewes, East Sussex’; Ebenezer Vinall, ‘A short memoir of the last days of the Rev John Vinall, nearly 50 years minister of Jireh Chapel, Lewes, and Providence Chapel, Brighton’ (1860); The Keep online catalogue; Familysearch & British Newspaper Archive; Colin Brent, ‘Lewes House Histories’; LHG Bulletins nos.24, 50, 118, 119 & 124.


  1. Assault on the Lewes Workhouse Master

The 28 August 1891 Sussex Express reported the case before the Lewes magistrates Alderman Caleb Rickman Kemp and Major Molineux in which a tramp, William Fitzgerald, was charged with assaulting the Lewes Workhouse master Mr J. Dean on the previous Saturday evening.

The workhouse master gave evidence that the prisoner, his wife and children had applied for admission, but that after the wife and children had been sent to the female tramp ward, he saw the prisoner tying some things up in a bundle. He asked to see the things, and after a refusal took the bundle away, and ordered his lodge man to search the prisoner. While he was examining the bundle the prisoner struck him in the mouth, and then tried to escape, behaving very violently and using abusive language. The police were called and the tramp taken into custody. This had happened in the workhouse lodge, where vagrants were always searched before admission. Cross-examined by the prisoner, he denied snatching the bundle out of his hands, and denied hitting or kicking the prisoner. The lodge man, John Thornton, corroborated his evidence. In cross examination he agreed that the prisoner had not refused to be searched, and added that he had not seen Mr Dean strike the tramp, who was not sober. Police Constable Keast corroborated the evidence that he had been called and asked to take the tramp into custody. He had had a little drink, but was not drunk.

The prisoner then made a long defence, to the effect that the master had struck and kicked him, and used undue violence. He had treated him more like a ‘wolf’ than a man. Dr Burbage, assistant to Dr W.F. Crosskey, said that he had examined the prisoner on Sunday morning, and found him considerably bruised about the body, especially on the face and right arm. In his opinion the arm wound had been caused by a recent violent blow, but was not serious, providing no further complication arose.

After a private consultation the magistrates said that having given the whole case their best consideration and full weight to all the evidence, they had decided to dismiss the case. Mr Fitzgerald thanked the bench, and applied for a summons against Mr Dean, the master, for assault, which was granted.


  1. Where is this house?

This postcard published by the Lewes photographer A.M. Bliss & Co of 34 Lansdowne Place, Lewes, was posted from Cooksbridge to an Englishman staying in Dieppe in May 1911. But where is the house it features? It is very likely to be in the Lewes area, as the Bliss company did not generally stray very far from the county town.

Bliss postcard of farmhouse, posted from Cooksbridge in 1911

The house is a large farmhouse, timber framed, and of the type described in the Historic England list as “17th century or earlier”. If it survives today, it should be listed. The main door is in the half-bay accommodating the great central chimney, so on entry you had to turn sharply left or right to the kitchen or parlour. The entire frontage is covered  by hanging clay tiles. An attempt has been made to mimic the symmetry fashionable in the 18th century, but this is unsuccessful in two ways. Firstly the ground floor windows are unevenly spaced to the right of the front door – probably to fit into the framing. This is a common problem. Secondly, and more unusually, each of the upstairs windows is smaller than its downstairs equivalent. If you know this distinctive house, you should recognise it immediately.

Photographer's studio next to Lansdown Arms, LewesAlfred Marsh Bliss was born in Cardiff in 1861, the son of a grocery merchant, and he died in 1928 in Vancouver. He married in Brighton in 1890, and established himself as a photographer in the studio next to the Lansdown Arms (previously occupied by the Brighton firm of William Hall & Co) at about the same time. Although the studio traded as A.M. Bliss & Co into the 1920s, Bliss himself soon sold the business and emigrated to Canada. In 1901 the photographer resident here was the Lancastrian James Worthington. About 1909 the business was acquired by another Lancastrian, John Lee Dadford, and in 1911 it was managed for him by Walter Gardner.

Sources: The postcard reproduced above was offered for sale on ebay in July 2021. The information about A.M. Bliss & Co is from David Simkin’s Sussex Photohistory website.


  1. Two Lewes Corn Merchants

The 16 February 1940 Sussex Express recorded that by the deaths of Mr Sam Elphick and Mr Stanley Stevenson Lewes had lost its only two corn merchants. They had both been born in Lewes and they were both the same age. They had both succeeded their fathers in the business, and they had both died of pneumonia.


  1. Lewes Bus Station

Lewes Bus Station, Eastgate Street, E.A. Meyer photograph

This photograph showing two Southdown buses at the Eastgate Street Bus Station carries on the reverse the stamp of photographer E.A. Meyer, 23 High Street, Lewes, telephone number Lewes 1323. Edwin A. Meyer, photographer and dealer in photographic apparatus, is listed in Kelly’s 1964 Lewes Directory as in business at 5 Station Street, telephone number Lewes 3323, and as resident at 20 St John’s Terrace. Edwin Arthur Meyer was born in Rugby on 10 November 1910 and died in Lewes on 22 June 2008, aged 97. He spent time in the USA during the Great Depression, but married in Rugby in 1941. He was not in the 1951-2 Lewes Blue Book, but another photographer, Guy Gravett, was in business at 23 High Street. It was taking over Mr Gravett’s business in 1951 that brought Ed Meyer, his wife and three children to Lewes. He was best known as a wedding photographer. His son Roger became senior partner of the Lewes Accountants Knill James.

The bus station, which appears new in the photograph, was built by the Southdown Bus Company and opened in 1954. The No.28 bus shown was running to the Landport Estate. Ron Gordon identifies the buses as Leyland Titan models PD1 & PD2, manufactured between 1946 and 1969.

Sources: This photograph was offered for sale on ebay in July 2021; for the bus station see ESRO SMS 1/27/9; for his Sussex Express obituary see https://www.sussexexpress.co.uk/news/popular-photographer-dies-aged-97-1291845.


John Kay

Contact details for Friends of the Lewes History Group promoting local historical events:

Sussex Archaeological Society
Lewes Priory Trust

Lewes Archaeological Group
Friends of Lewes

Lewes History Group Facebook, Twitter


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