Lewes History Group: Bulletin 135, October 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: 11 October 2021, Debby Matthews ‘Lewes in the 1790s’
  2. Heritage Open Days, 2021
  3. Mary Akehurst, an early Quaker (by Paula Nicholson)
  4. Quarter Sessions business after the Restoration
  5. Resolving 17th century Homelessness
  6. Vandalism at Cliffe Bridge
  7. Cooksbridge House
  8. Oxen at work on the Downs
  9. Horse-drawn traffic at Lewes station
  10. A Tallow Chandler’s Stock in Trade


  1. Next Meeting                       7.30 p.m.                               Monday 11 October           Debby Matthews               Lewes in the 1790s: a time of change

The 1790s were truly turbulent times, both politically and socially. In Lewes they were no less momentous and Thomas Mantell (1750-1807), father to Gideon Mantell, played his part. This talk will look at the actions and activities of Thomas Mantell, cordwainer and non-conformist, within this context to uncover more of this enigmatic character and the development of Lewes. Thomas exists very much in the shadow of his famous son, Gideon, who was born on 3 February 1790 in St Mary’s Lane (now Station Street) in Lewes and leaves his own record of growing up in Georgian Lewes. With a combination of the actions of the father and the words of the son we can get a clearer picture of Lewes at this time.

Debby Matthews is a History graduate from Sussex University, and now lives in the house that was formerly owned by Thomas Mantell.

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. Heritage Open Days, 2021

Congratulations to everyone in the team led by Ian McClelland who contributed to the LHG Street Stories display at Lewes House during the Heritage Open Days this September.

We had about 200 visitors, several books were sold and nine new members joined the History Group.

Heritage Open Days 2021, Street Stories display


  1. Mary Akehurst, an early Quaker                          (by Paula Nicholson)

Life was hardly a bundle of fun for some of the earliest converts to the Quaker way of life in the mid-17th century. This was certainly the case for Mary Akehurst of Cliffe, whose wealthy uncle John lived at Craille Place in Warbleton.  Nor did it help that after her marriage to Raphe – possibly a cousin – she found he was a wife beater too.

Warbleton was long known as a parish of radical Protestantism. Most of you will know that Richard Woodman, an ironmaster of the parish, had been burnt at the stake in Lewes in 1557 for his denunciation of the Catholic vicar. As the proprietor of a forge and employer of over 100 men, Woodman’s business would have needed a supply of iron from a furnace. There just happened to be one, “over at Will’s mothers” as my Mountfield granny used to say, at Craille near Cowbeech. In the house there was even a fireback made by Woodman; it’s now in Hastings Museum.

Back to Mary, shortly after her marriage to Raphe in Warbleton in August 1653, she attended her first Quaker meeting in 1655 in Lewes where the couple lived. The meeting, which resulted in her becoming a lifelong convert, had taken place in a private house before the two preachers moved throughout the county spreading the word “and they travelled from thence Eastward to Warbleton, and them parts”.

But that was not the case as far as Mary’s husband Raphe was concerned. As if her conversion wasn’t enough, in 1659 she got a beating from him for disrupting the service at St Michael’s church by questioning the priest, Walter Postlethwaite, during his sermon. The physical punishment intensified as Raphe chained her up inside the house and inflicted further injuries. Two of Mary’s friends were so incensed that they not only reported this to local magistrates but also plastered the full details of his abuse on the door of St Thomas in the Cliffe and at the marketplace. Just think what they could have done on social media or by selling the story to a tabloid newspaper.

1666 brought Mary relief from this tyrant when Raphe died. She chose never to marry again although she must have presented  quite a financial attraction. Being a canny woman, she carried on Raphe’s business as a merchant trading with Dieppe, Calais and London. In addition to this well-established business, she also had a legacy of £200 from Raphe – quite a tidy sum in those days. But what Mary and other traders didn’t have was ready money in the form of coinage as there was a desperate shortage of currency. This was caused by the upheavals of civil war and Cromwell’s regime. So, like other business people Mary had tokens produced in 1667, many of which still survive. I suppose this was a type of forerunner of the Lewes pound.

Mary Akehurst tokens, 1667

The token reads ‘M*A 1667’ on one side and “HER HALF PENY’ on the other, surrounded by ‘MARY AKEHVRST IN THE’ on one side and ‘CLEFT NEARE LVEIST’ on the other.

Although Mary no longer had to contend with Raphe, she still had to suffer persecution as a Quaker, as did her three surviving children, all of whom became Quakers. Their belief was based on the ability of each human being to experience and access the light within or to see “that of God in every one” and not necessarily with the aid of ordained clergy. Being a pretty determined lady, Mary would have been attracted by a sect that also believed in spiritual equality for men and women, even allowing the fair sex to preach. As this was counter to the prevailing belief of the established church, fines and prosecutions punctuated the years from 1673 for Quaker Mary. In 1687 she was prosecuted in the Ecclesiastical Court, excommunicated and imprisoned first in Horsham gaol for 7 months, and then in the King’s Bench debtors’ prison in London. Even so, a lengthy prison sentence was a pretty heavy punishment for non-payment of tithes but there was a hidden agenda at play. The Rector of Cliffe, John Eresby, had falsely accused Mary’s son, Thomas, of attending two illegal Quaker meetings. This wasn’t true, and when Thomas indicted the parson for perjury at Lewes Quarter Sessions in 1683 he was found guilty. He took his revenge on Thomas Akehurst’s poor sick mother.

Her arrest was recorded as follows: “ANNO 1687. Mary Akehurst, of the Cliff, near Lewis, Widow, having been prosecuted in the Ecclesiaftical Court for Tithes, at the Suit of John Eresby, Priest, was excommunicated, and on the 9th of the Month called July, near Midnight, was taken by two Bayliffs with a Writ de Excommunicato capiendo. The next Day, being the Day called Sunday, they carried her away to Prison, though she had been a long time sick, and was even then so weak, that she could not walk without holding : Nevertheless, one of the Bayliffs, being drunk, when he got on Horseback, with many Oaths and Threatnings had her set upon his Horse, and would not suffer her to take Necessaries with her, so that her Friends thought she could not live till she came to the Prison : But the barbarous Bayliff swore, that If she could not hold it to Prison, which was twenty Miles, he would tie her, and drag her thither at his Horse’s Tail”

The passing of the 1689 Act of Toleration, which gave all non-conformists except Catholics freedom of worship, meant that Quakers were no longer obliged to attend church and take communion. Life became easier for Mary and her family. But it was only another two or so years before she died in Lewes. Like most Lewes Quakers of her day, she was buried at Rottingdean in a cemetery for Quakers since followers of the faith would not be buried in consecrated land.

Quaker Burial Ground, Rottingdean, by Mick Bensley

Sources: Geoffrey Barber, based of Joseph Besse, ‘Sufferings of Early Quakers, Southern England, 1653 to 1690’;  ‘Mary Akehurst, Early Quaker of Lewes’, Sussex Family Historian, vol.23, no.6; Wealden Iron Research Group Bulletin (2007); David Hitchin, ‘Quakers in Lewes’ (2010); Wikipedia; the image of Mary Akehurst’s halfpenny is from www.rarecoinsandtokens.co.uk; the picture of the Quaker Burial Ground in Rottingdean in Victorian times is by Mick Bensley, and from www.rottingdeanheritage.org.uk.


  1. Quarter Sessions business after the Restoration

The magistrates assembled in Lewes at the Michaelmas Quarter Session in 1661 heard that John Taylor of All Saints parish had gone away and could not be heard of, leaving behind his wife Elizabeth, who was likely to become chargeable to the parish. John Taylor owned a property, but the tenant, Thomas Novis, had refused to pay the wife the rent he owed to the husband, perhaps fearing that should John Taylor reappear, he would not accept his wife’s receipt. The magistrates ordered him to make the payments to her.

At the Epiphany Quarter Sessions in the following January they ordered that the Treasurer of Maimed Soldiers was to stop all the regular payments he had been making except for two, one of them Peter Wray the elder of Lewes. However, payments were in future to be made to several other men. One of them was Samuel Rose of Lewes, saddler, who was to be paid forty shillings immediately and then the same amount  at Lady Day, Midsummer and Michaelmas. This seems to have been a reassessment after the Restoration of which of the soldiers disabled in the late wars deserved support. At the Michaelmas 1662 Sessions the Treasurer for Maimed Soldiers was ordered to pay a pension of £4 p.a., in quarterly instalments, to Thomas Rowlins of All Saints parish, a soldier in the wars of His Late Majesty (Charles I). George Travy of Lewes was to be paid a similar pension of £6 p.a.

At the Easter 1662 Quarter Sessions they considered the case of Thomas Acton, his wife and four children, who they ordered to be sent from St Michael’s parish to Southover. Thomas Acton had been legally settled as a poor inhabitant in Southover, where the parish had relieved him, but they had then sought to get rid of their responsibility by renting a house for him in St Michael’s. At the same sessions John Allen was ordered to be sent to the House of Correction, whipped and then discharged for running away from the service of his master.

At the Michaelmas Sessions in 1662 the magistrates heard that John Nelus of South Malling and Edward Mantle of All Saints had both recently moved to Southover. They ordered them both to be sent back to the parishes where they belonged. George Cockin had been found begging in Lewes, and committed to the House of Correction. He was ordered to be despatched to his home parish of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire. At the Easter Sessions in 1663 they ordered that John Clarke, who had been “taken wandering at Lewes”, had “received correction in the house”, was to be discharged and “sent to the gate side of Newcastle in the Bishopric of Durham”, his alleged place of birth. Did they mean Gateshead?

At the 1663 Midsummer Sessions Curtis Goodwin asked for maintenance for himself and his wife from South Malling parish, as they were very old, and no longer able to maintain themselves. Their son-in-law John Coles had offered to maintain them for two shillings a week. The magistrates thought that was a sensible arrangement and ordered the South Malling overseers to pay John Coles the sum he required – presumably less than his in-laws would have cost the parish otherwise.

These are just a small local sample of the cases from all over East Sussex over which the magistrates had to exercise their judgement, alongside making provision for such public services as they thought necessary and trying those of the county’s criminals whose offences did not justify their being sent to the Assizes.

Source: Quarter Sessions Order Book, ESRO QO/4


  1. Resolving 17th Century Homelessness

At the Midsummer Quarter Sessions held at Lewes in 1676 the magistrates heard a complaint from Elizabeth May, a widow of Cliffe, that she could find nowhere to live, though she was prepared to pay rent. The magistrates ordered the Cliffe parish officers to provide her with a house.

Source: Quarter Sessions Order Book, ESRO QO/7


  1. Vandalism at Cliffe Bridge

The Spring 2021 Sussex Book Club Newsletter no.45 published by Dick Richardson includes a number of stories from old editions of our local newspapers. One such extract is below.

Sussex Weekly Advertiser, 12 May 1788, vandalism at Cliffe Bridge

A 1788 drawing of the bridge included in John Farrant’s article in Bulletin no.115 (below) shows the caps and balls referred to in good detail.

Lewes Bridge Sussex 1791, possibly by E. Edwards, crop 


  1. Cooksbridge House

Congratulations to Ian McIntyre & Tim Hancock, who were the first members to identify the mystery house in the A.M. Bliss postcard included in Bulletin no.134 as Cooksbridge House. It stands immediately west of the A275 near the Rainbow Inn, in Hamsey parish. The building is indeed on the Historic England list as Cooksbridge Farmhouse, number 1274964, and, as predicted, described as “17 century or earlier”. This fits well with the postcard being posted from Cooksbridge.

Bliss postcard of farmhouse, and Cooksbridge House
A.M. Bliss postcard                                               2021 photograph


  1. Oxen at work on the Downs

Ox-cart at Landport, Edwardian Arthur Cecil Fricker postcard, photo possibly by George John Wightman

This Edwardian postcard featuring an ox-cart at Landport, offered recently on ebay, was published in Fricher’s Photographic Series, Lewes. This is not a series I have previously encountered. However, Rendel Williams’ http://www.sussexpostcards.info website identifies the publisher as Arthur Cecil Fricker, stationer, printer and lending library proprietor of 43 High Street. He was born in Kingston, Surrey, in 1871 and emigrated to Australia in 1921. He is said to have published a small series of postcards of oxen at work on the Downs, from photographs taken by his neighbour George John Wightman of 39 High Street, the founder of the ironmongers Wightman & Parish. Another example, from http://www.sussexpostcards.info, is shown below.

Ox Teams on the Downs, Lewes, Edwardian Arthur Cecil Fricker postcard, photo possibly by George John Wightman


  1. Horse-drawn traffic at Lewes station

Horse-drawn traffic queueing at Lewes Railway Station, postcard by W. Brooker, posted November 1908

Both these postcards of horse-drawn traffic queueing at Lewes Railway Station were sent by ‘Kate’ to Mrs Alice Gathercole at Thornton Heath, Surrey. The postcard above, published by W. Brooker of Sussex Gardens, Eastbourne, was postally used on 5 November 1908 and written from the Chaplain’s House, H.M. Civil Prison, Lewes. The postcard below, with its reverse in the distinctive style of the Mezzotint Company, Brighton, was posted in Chiswick in July 1909. Both postcards were offered for sale on ebay in July 2021.

Horse-drawn traffic queueing at Lewes Railway Station, postcard by Mezzotint Company, Brighton, posted July 1909


  1. A Tallow Chandler’s Stock in Trade

Thomas Verrall came from a long-established Cliffe family of upholsterers and auctioneers, but as a young man branched out as a tallow chandler, melting the waste fat that was a butcher’s by-product to create such products as candles, rush lights, soap, wheel grease and the dressing for sails and tarpaulins. His business was based at 16-17 Cliffe High Street, which he inherited from his father in 1802. He will have added to the atmosphere of the Cliffe.

Tallow chandlers were not always considered good neighbours. Thomas Verrall was certainly regarded as a character. One anecdote about him was told by Rev Edward Boys Ellman in his ‘Recollections of a Country Parson’, published in 1912.

“Another Lewes lunatic was Verrall, who I myself remember. He was a tallow chandler. On one occasion at a meeting at the Bear Inn he sat down on the fire, and ignited his clothes, and then rushed out and jumped into the river. He got out a little lower down, behind some buildings, then went home and changed his clothes. He then returned to the Bear and found several men dragging the river for his body, being told in answer to his enquiries that the madman Verrall had purposely set himself alight, and then drowned himself.”

In 1827 he decided to retire from his business and leave the county. To finance his retirement he arranged for an auction (by Verrall & Son of course) on the premises of his business machinery, his entire stock in trade, his household furniture and then his house and premises. The announcement of the sale detailed what equipment and stock you needed to be in this business:

  • A 120 gallon copper furnace, two smaller furnaces, an iron furnace, and the ironwork etc as fixed;
  • A superior iron grave-press with a powerful iron screw and leaver;
  • A dipping mould and engine;
  • Three roundabouts and two pairs of arms;
  • Two good settling tubs and several other tallow tubs;
  • 20 frames of candle moulds;
  • A valuable large beam and scales, with leaver, and will weigh a ton at end;
  • Several other beams and scales, iron and brass weights;
  • About 1,000 candle rods;
  • About 200 drafts of cotton, prepared;
  • 100 lbs of prepared rushes;
  • A very good mahogany top counter with drawers, 12 feet by 2 feet 5 inches;
  • About a ton of wheel grease;
  • About 200 dozen candles;
  • A range of store bins;
  • Numerous packing boxes and tubs;
  • A hand-wheels and barrow.

His household furniture included five complete beds, a bureau, the usual tables, chairs and chests of drawers, carpets and curtains, an eight-day clock in a mahogany case and three barometers. In those days when you moved house you didn’t call a removal company – you simply sold up and then bought what you wanted wherever you decided to settle. All debts due to Thomas Verrall were to be paid forthwith, and any money due from him would be paid immediately on application.

Source: 12 November 1827 Sussex Advertiser; Colin Brent, Cliffe and South Malling House Histories.


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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