Lewes History Group: Bulletin 137, December 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 December 2021, John Kay ‘How well do you know Lewes?’
  2. A.G.M.
  3. Problems with the Pest House
  4. An offer he couldn’t refuse
  5. The North Street House of Correction
  6. Views of Southover
  7. A silver watch by William Tanner of Lewes
  8. The opening of Lewes Bus Station (by Tim Baker)
  9. A.G.M. Agenda & Reports


  1. Next Meeting                       7.30 p.m.                               Monday 13 December       John Kay                               How well do you know Lewes?

Our December meeting will take the form of a self-assessment quiz for all the family, conducted in the privacy of your own home, to test your local knowledge about Lewes and its immediate neighbourhood. We shall be showing a number of images taken about a century ago in and around Lewes, almost all in the reigns of King Edward VII or King George V. There will be some churches, a few country houses, the occasional windmill and lots of views of the Lewes townscape. Almost all the images will include places and buildings that are still here today, although some of them may now look a little different. English provincial towns today do not look quite as they did in our grandparents’ day, and not all the changes are for the better. Some of us are excellent at visual recognition; others don’t find it so easy. The aim will be to see how many of the images shown you and your family can identify.

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. A.G.M.

Our December meeting will be followed, after a short gap, by our A.G.M. at 20.45 pm

You will need to log in separately for the A.G.M. You can join directly via the link that will be sent to members in a separate email invitation. The A.G.M. ill be held in the regular Zoom format, so we will all be able to see each other.

For the A.G.M. Agenda and Reports please see item 10 below.

We wish all members
a Happy Christmas & a Prosperous New Year


  1. Problems with the Pest House

In 1742 there was no hospital in Lewes, but the substantial sum of £421 10s 0d was raised by local subscription to provide one. £200 was of the money raised was used to buy a suitably isolated property in St Anne’s parish (close to the present junction of the exit from County Hall and Western Road). The remainder was spent on converting it into a pest-house and furnishing it.

In November 1742 the new premises were conveyed to 24 trustees, headed by the Duke of Newcastle:  “in trust that when any person or persons should at any time thereafter happen to fall sick of the small pox or any other infectious distemper within the limits of the borough of Lewes, or within the liberty of the castle thereof, or in any of those houses without the limits of the borough of Lewes aforesaid, called the Spittal houses, lying in the parish of St Ann, or in any of the houses which lie in the said parish eastward of said Spittal houses towards the said borough, that then the said messuage and premises should be used and employed for an hospital or pesthouse to receive such person so infected as should be nominated and appointed by the said trustees, or the majority of them, together with the constables of the borough for the time being.”

By 1792 the trustees had decided that the pesthouse had become redundant. This was still three years before Edward Jenner announced the success of his cowpox-based vaccine, but in the intervening years the earlier techniques using real smallpox had been sufficiently successful to reduce the fear of the disease, while the westward expansion of the town meant that the pesthouse was no longer sufficiently isolated in the countryside. The furniture was sold by the trustees, and the premises leased to St Anne’s parish, for use as a parish workhouse. In 1808, following a town meeting, the trustees sold the property to St Anne’s parish for £450.

The question then arose of how the £450 sale price should be dealt with, and a declaration was issued that the terms of the trust should be widened, to include the prevention of such infectious diseases. The money was then lent on a mortgage to the commissioners for paving, lighting and cleansing the borough, with the principal and interest thereon to be repaid from the borough’s rates. No such repayments were ever made, a fact that thirty years later was brought to the attention of the Charity Commissioners. The Attorney General then initiated a case against the commissioners, the constables and the surviving trustees. The Master of the Rolls, hearing the case in 1840, concluded that this was a clear-cut case of charitable money being wrongly diverted to other purposes (in this case artificially reducing the rates). He did not accept that a hospital for treating infectious diseases could have been considered redundant. The borough ratepayers were required to repay the loan taken out by their fathers, and the charity was ordered to consider how to use the funds in accordance with its endowment terms, or amend its scheme properly.

Sources: Charles Beavan, ‘Reports of Cases in Chancery argued and determined in the Rolls Court during the time of Lord Langdale, Master of the Rolls’, vol.1 (1845). The Town Book of Lewes records the establishment of the 1742 trust, and the proceedings in 1808, but the 1840 case is not mentioned.


  1. An offer he couldn’t refuse

The magistrates assembled at Lewes Quarter Sessions on 17 January 1771 heard that Thomas Rusbridge had been incarcerated in the Cliffe House of Correction because Elizabeth Day had sworn him as the father of the child she was expecting. They ordered that he should remain in the House of Correction until he could find sureties who would reimburse her parish for the costs of her having the child and then supporting it until it could support itself, a sum that would exceed a working man’s annual income. Unless Thomas Rusbridge had wealthy friends he was likely to languish in prison indefinitely but there was, of course, one way to escape. After a month in the House of Correction Thomas Rusbridge of Cliffe had had enough; he duly married Elizabeth Day of Barcombe at Barcombe on Leap Year’s Day 1771. The marriage was by a special licence, the costs of which will have been paid by Barcombe parish. Both parties made their marks on the marriage register. Elizabeth Day had been baptised at Barcombe in January 1751, so will have been just 20.

Source: Quarter Sessions Order Book, ESRO QO/23.


  1. The North Street House of Correction

Lewes House of Correction, in Illustrated London News 14 October 1854

Carved toys made by Finnish prisoners in Lewes House of CorrectionThe view of the former House of Correction, above, which stood in the corner bounded on the east by North Street and on the north by Lancaster Street, was published in the 14 October 1854 Illustrated London News, to illustrate an article on the manners and behaviour of the Finnish soldiers, captured in a naval operation in the Baltic during the Crimean War, who were then housed there.

The prison was available to house these prisoners of war as its original function had been transferred in 1853 to the new Lewes Prison on the western outskirts of the town. The Finnish prisoners passed their time in captivity by making elaborately carved toys such as the example shown, that were sold to local residents. This illustration is also taken from the Illustrated London News.


  1. Views of Southover

A number of uncommon views of Southover were offered for sale on ebay in October 2021, probably all originating from the same collection made in the 1930s and 1940s. Most were printed as postcards. Not all were necessarily published commercially, though one was from the inter-war Photochrom series and another published after World War II in the Francis Frith series.

View of Southover Church, Lewes. Kodak postcard dated 14 February 1938

This postcard has a K Ltd (Kodak) monogram in the space for the stamp, and is dated on the back Monday 14 February (St Valentine’s Day) 1938.

Inter-war view of Southover High Street, Photochrom Comapny postcard

This inter-war view of Southover High Street is postcard 84855 in the series published by the Photochrom Company of Tunbridge Wells.

Postcard of Southover High Street, Lewes, taken Christmas Day 1938

This postcard was identified on the back as taken on Christmas Day, 1938.

Postcard of Southover High Street, Lewes, taken 29 January 1947

This similar view, with a plain back, was dated 29th January 1947.

View of Southover High Street, Lewes, Francis Frith postcard LWS 63, post-war

Another similar but later view from postcard LWS 63 from the Francis Frith series.

View towards Southover Church across Grange Gardens, Lewes, by A E Philcox, 1939

This view looks towards Southover Church across the Grange Gardens. It was taken from a vantage point within the Lewes town wall and was identified on the back as taken in 1939 by Mr A.E. Philcox.

Postcard showing Southover Church, Lewes, with rear of Priory Crescent

This very interesting postcard of Southover church from the south-west, by an anonymous publisher, attracted the most interest from buyers. It also shows part of the rear view of Priory Crescent.


  1. A silver watch by William Tanner of Lewes

This hallmarked fusee pocket watch, dating to 1854, with the name William Tanner, Lewes, engraved on the movement case, was sold on ebay recently after competitive bidding, despite it not working.

1854 pocket watch engraved William Tanner, Lewes, ploughman, horses on watch face

The enamelled watch face features a ploughman in a smock frock with a team of three in-line horses.


  1. The opening of Lewes Bus station                                     (by Tim Baker)

With the possible redevelopment of the Lewes Bus Station site currently in the news, it is worth looking back on more exciting times and to the spring of 1954. Lewes, as the county town of East Sussex, was one of three important transport hubs in Sussex at which Southdown Motor Services Ltd chose to build a new bus station. As at Chichester, a new garage was also built alongside. At the time this was a large expansion for the company. Southdown already had a small garage in Eastgate Street but the capacity was only two cars and it was rented at £50 p.a. The Southdown Enquiry and Parcel Office was located at 174 High Street, and it and its telephone number of Lewes 250 were transferred to the new enquiry office within the bus station when it opened.

Each year the directors of the company toured parts of the Southdown empire and on Wednesday 17 June 1953 they visited Lewes where the itinerary records “10.30 a.m. Arrive Lewes. The new bus station and garage at Eastgate Street which is now under construction at an estimated cost of £40,395. The garage when complete, will accommodate approximately 19 cars.” The visit was a quick one as the Directors departed at 10.45 a.m. for Eastbourne and lunch!

The new garage was constructed first. Mr. Spooner (the company architect) produced plans for each depot, and the Lewes plan showed a pit was provided in the bay closest to Eastgate Street and a 5000 gallon fuel oil storage tank furthest from the public road. The overall size of the bus station and garage site was 23,744 square feet, of which the garage occupied 6,890 and the administration building 4,765. The capacity was now reduced to 16 cars. The main bus station itself was almost complete at the time of the official opening on 26 March 1954. Many notable Southdown directors and officials were in attendance including the chairman Mr. R. P Beddow.

Official opening of Lewes Bus Station, 26 March 1954 photo
Photograph: Tim Baker collection

The official opening was undertaken by the Mayor of Lewes, Alderman J. Bennett, who cut the tape in front of a good crowd of local residents. Not everything was quite finished. The two lock up kiosks remained a shell and it was recorded in the April 1954 Southdown ChronicleThe only points under debate by the locals were whether (a) they had got a licence for the station and (b) the Southdown Officials had brought a suitable supply with them in the coach. Both wrong – there wasn’t even tea in the canteen!”

Southdown issued a new Traffic Notice to all inspectors, drivers, conductors, booking and enquiry Offices. New fare stages introduced for services 16, 18, 25, 119 and 122. “With the opening of Lewes Bus Station on Friday 26 March 1954, additional single and return fares will be introduced on all services running to and from Lewes as shown below. Conductors should notice particularly that on account of new fare stages being introduced at the Bus Station on all routes and at Fishers Street (North End) on Services 20 and 124, all fare stages will be revised between Stanmer Park Lodge and Lewes, County Hall, inclusively.” Lewes bus station became Fare Stage 28. The traffic notice then listed all the new local fare stages and fares and also that Service 124 would now terminate at the Bus Station instead of County Hall.

Mr Spooner’s plans clearly show the internal layout of the new Bus Station. The building faced onto Eastgate Street. There was a large display window facing the main road that was flanked on either side by the two lock up Kiosks, serving the outside of the bus station. The main waiting room had an entrance from both sides and contained two telephone booths at one end and an enquiry desk at the other. There was also a staircase up to the canteen on the first floor. Alongside the Enquiry office was the Inspectors’ office and Conductors’ paying-in room. Access was via a doorway on the East Street side of the bus station. On the garage side was a separate parcels office, although from behind the public counter it was open plan, so the staff could serve either the parcels customers or those at the enquiry desk. Toilets were provided at the far end of the building facing Albion Street. On the first floor was the canteen. At the top of the public stairway were more toilet facilities. The canteen area was almost half the size of the bus station and faced Eastgate Street. A kitchen was provided along with a store room on the East Street side and beyond that another set of toilets for the staff, as part of their new clubroom, which took up the other half of the first floor, at the back of the bus station.

The social side at the time was extremely important, with few families having television sets at home, and companies like Southdown provided club rooms at each of their depots. Inter-depot competitions in football, swimming, walking, rifle shooting, crib, etc were taken very seriously. Cups were awarded to the winning depot at the end of each season. The Southdown Chronicle reported the success of each depot in that months tournaments. When the Haywards Heath bus station opened their new clubroom contained a television set. Club members were reminded to NOT keep turning the volume up when sports activities or meetings were taking place!

The clubroom also opened slightly later than the bus station itself. The Southdown Chronicle reports “Lewes Club Room was officially opened on Thursday 8 April by Mr. R. J. Dallimore, in the absence of Mr. W. A. Stace who was unavoidably detained. Mr. Dallimore referred to the pleasure felt by all at Lewes which had been without a Club Room for many years, but now had one of which all members could be very proud. He was confident that the depot would soon be winning many trophies. A social evening followed during which Mr. A. F. R. Carling, Mr. W. D. Hart and Mr. E. J. Herbert visited the club. On behalf of all members, Mr. Janman (Chairman of the club), Mr. Hopkins (Secretary) and the Committee, take this opportunity of expressing appreciation to the Directors and Management for the provision of such an admirable room”.

Lewes Bus Station continued to thrive for many years. Excursions did not just operate from the seaside towns for holiday makers; most depots, like Lewes, had their own excursion programmes. In October 1957 there were three excursions on most days to places such as London Airport, Battle, Bournemouth, and Lingfield Races and of course all day and evening mystery drives.

For over 60 years Lewes Bus Station played a very important and significant role in the town’s fortunes, not just as a place to catch your local bus home, but also as a place to start and finish exciting days out by coach. It became an important place to meet friends and enjoy fun, games and competitions. It brought about a working partnership between the Bus Company and local authorities and businesses. It employed large numbers of people over many years. Also, once the licence was granted, it was a place for a glass or two!


  1. A.G.M. Agenda & Reports

A.G.M. Agenda

  • Acceptance of Annual Reports. Please see below.
  • Appointment of officers. The following officers have so far been nominated for 2022:
    Chair: Neil Merchant
    Treasurer: Ron Gordon
    Secretary: Krystyna Weinstein
    Executive committee: Sue Berry (Chair for evening meetings), Ann Holmes (Chair for EC meetings), John Kay (Bulletin editor), Jane Lee (Communications), Ian McClelland, Barbara Merchant (Website manager) & Chris Taylor (Membership).
  • Membership subscription. The committee recommends that the annual subscription should remain at £10 p.a. per member, and that admission to evening meetings should be free for members. Admissions charges for non-members should remain at £4 per meeting.
  • Questions and comments.


Chair’s Report                                                                             (by Neil Merchant) 

This time last year, we were in the midst of implementing our response to the Coronavirus pandemic. We were about to start using Membermojo as our online membership system, our talks on Zoom had been going well for four months, and we were ready to start selling talk tickets to non-members using TicketSource. But we really had no idea how this would work out in practice. In fact, it went far better than we could possibly have hoped. You, our members, took to Membermojo like ducks to water, and our talk attendances – member and non-member – went up, especially in the dark and dismal days of the winter and early spring.

We continued to sell copies of the Pells of Lewes book (finally selling out recently), membership numbers rose substantially, and as a result we’ve weathered the storm so far and end the year with a healthy bank balance.

My thanks are due to all our EC members for their commitment and contributions:

  • Sue Berry for leading our course program, chairing our talks and contributing her profound local history knowledge
  • Ron Gordon for managing our finances
  • Ann Holmes for chairing our EC meetings
  • John Kay for the monthly bulletins, for our monthly talks program, and for fielding most of the surprising number of enquiries we receive about local history and genealogy
  • Jane Lee for her unstinting PR work
  • Ian McClelland for managing our Street Stories research program
  • Barbara Merchant for tirelessly maintaining both our website and social media presence, and our records
  • Chris Taylor for taking on the membership secretary role
  • Krystyna Weinstein, our secretary, for taking our committee meeting minutes

Thanks are also due to our various volunteers, though this year they’ve unfortunately had little opportunity to contribute.

The undoubted LOW of the year has of course again been Covid-19 and its effects on our ability to meet in person, hold much in the way of courses, or arrange visits.

At the Zoom AGM on December 13th, we’ll be asking you to vote on the proposed 2022 membership fee (£10 again), and to elect our chair, secretary and treasurer. I, Krystyna and Ron are willing to continue in these roles. Other nominations are of course welcome.

The outcome of 2021 has been, in summary, that we are well-placed to continue meeting our aims:

  • to make the history of Lewes more accessible
  • to promote projects that actively engage local people.

Thank you for your continued support.

Treasurer’s Report

The full Treasurer’s Report will be included in the January 2022 Bulletin, after the end of our financial year. The provisional report received by the last EC shows that the Group’s finances remain on a very sound footing.

Membership Report                                                               (by Chris Taylor) 

We now have 550 members, compared with 385 at this time last year: an increase of more than 40%. New members have continued to join at a steady rate throughout the year. This is our highest ever level of membership, indicating the success of our use of Zoom technology at meetings and, we trust, the high quality of the benefits we offer to our members. We also have 276 “Information only” email contacts, slightly fewer than last year (293).

More than two thirds of our members live in Lewes and a further quarter in other BN postcode areas. Most of the rest live elsewhere in southern England; we have one member in Canada and two in Australia. Our online membership system is working well – the great majority of members now pay their annual subscriptions online.

LHG Website Report                                                       (by Barbara Merchant)

Website usage continued to rise to approximately 54,220 views in the 12 months to mid-November 2021, averaging 155 views per day (2020: 43,410 and 127). Figures for 2021 were particularly high during periods of lockdown.

Our website News items are copied to Facebook and Twitter, drawing followers to the website. A continuing effort to increase our Facebook presence to reach a new audience has maintained a rise in website views.

  • Twitter – 1,037 following @LewesHistory (2020: 957), +8.4%
  • Facebook – 1,223 following LewesHistoryGroup FB page (2020: 922), +32.7%
  • Website – 273 news item subscribers (2020: 251), +8.8%

The most popular website pages in 2021 were Lewes Street Stories reports including the Pells book, Bulletins, research resources, and events.

Communications Report                                                            (by Jane Lee)

2021 has been a quiet year on the Comms front. We returned to the full complement of talks to advertise, but there was no Lewes News supplement, Street Story book or TIC display this year.

Our promotional activities in 2020 included:

  • Keeping the Tourist Information Centre stocked with LHG leaflets as a key means of raising awareness
  • Using @leweshistory Facebook/Twitter accounts to promote our own and other local history events
  • Talk information disseminated to:
    • Sussex Express
    • Lewes News
    • The Lewesian (from October onwards)
    • Nine online what’s on pages: Lewes.co.uk, LDC (VisitLewes.co.uk), ESCC Library (escis.org.uk), List.co.uk, WhereCanWeGo.com, SeahavenFM.com (a local radio station), TheLewesList (fortnightly events email)
    • Associated organisations e.g. Lewes Archaeology Group, Friends of Lewes
    • A4 posters in Tourist Information Centre, Bow Windows Bookshop & Nevill noticeboard. Also, the windows of members in all parts of the town and some nearby villages
    • LHG website & Bulletin

2021 saw the return of Heritage Open Days in September and we had a room in Lewes House with panels covering past Street Stories’ projects. Committee members were on hand for two days to talk to visitors, resulting in nine new members.


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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