Lewes History Group: Bulletin 141, April 2022

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 April 2022, Jeff Southgate & Francis Burrows ‘Re-living the Battle of Lewes’
  2. Resumption of ‘live’ meetings from April (by Neil Merchant)
  3. Winding the Cliffe Church Clock
  4. William Gresham Wiles: the brewer who drowned in his beer
  5. The Star Inn
  6. The second Lewes Railway Station
  7. An artist’s war-time visit to Malling House (by Diana Wilkins)
  8. Miss Anne Dumbrell, Mayor of Lewes 1963-4 (by John G. Wells)
  9. View to Lewes Castle from the Priory Ruins


  1. Next Meeting           7.30 p.m.       King’s Church Lewes       Monday 11 April      Jeff Southgate & Francis Burrows              Re-living the Battle of Lewes

For our return to live meetings we welcome Jeff Southgate and Francis Burrows with their re-enactors from ‘Battle of Lewes 2022’ and the Lewes-based re-enactment group ‘Swords of Albion’, who will bring back to life the knights, their arms and how they fought the battle at Lewes in May 1264. Jeff and Francis will talk about the lead up to the Battle of Lewes 1264 and its main combatants. Simon de Montfort, Henry III and other key characters fought in the battle, taking the sides of the Royalists or the Barons. Jeff says “We will focus on the clothing, arms, equipment and most importantly, how the weapons were used in combat”. Francis explains “The detailed history will be left behind as we show you the fighting styles and brutality of the 13th Century battlefield and street fighting that happened at Lewes”. You will get a preview demonstration of the re-enactment of the Battle of Lewes event in the town to take place on 14 & 15 May 2022. This will be Britain’s only battle re-enactment happening on the very streets where the fighting took place.


  1. Resumption of ‘live’ meetings from April (by Neil Merchant)

We are looking forward to meeting each other again, but for our return to live meetings at the King’s Church building some precautions are still sensible. We shall be restricting the meeting capacity to a maximum of 200, so advance booking via https://ticketsource.co.uk/lhg will be necessary. We shall not, at least until infection rates subside, be serving coffee and tea. Hand gel will be available, and please wear a face mask if you are able. LHG members may reserve a place (free of charge) from 21 March, and non-members (cost £4) from 1 April. If you reserve a member’s place but then discover you will be unable to attend, please do cancel it so that we can offer it to someone else. Doors will open at 7.00 p.m. for a 7.30 start, to allow time for check-in registrations.


  1. Winding the Cliffe Church Clock

Cliffe church is reputed to have the second oldest turret clock in Sussex, installed in 1670 by Ditchling blacksmith James Looker, at a cost of £5 10s 0d. A minor issue is that it is located at the top of the church tower, up 42 steep and narrow stairs, and needs to be wound up daily. A team of volunteer winders is being recruited by the church, but will only be called to duty when safety improvements have been completed. Could this become your weekly exercise?


  1. William Gresham Wiles: the brewer who drowned in his beer

LHG Bulletin no.51, published back in 2014, included the sad story of brewer William Gresham Wiles, who drowned in a tun of his own beer at his Malling Street brewery in 1863. The story, originally published in the Sussex Express, was picked up and repeated by newspapers across the United Kingdom. The county coroner, Mr F.H. Gell, held an inquest in Cliffe on the same evening and, after hearing medical evidence that he had partly drowned and partly been suffocated by carbonic acid gas (better known to us as carbon dioxide), returned a verdict of accidental death. The report of the inquest noted that he was a young married man, but had no family.

A typical report of the event is from the 6 February 1863 Cardiff Times:

 “SHOCKING DEATH – On Monday afternoon a report became current in Lewes that Mr Gresham Wiles, of the firm of Gresham Wiles and Brown, brewers, of Malling-street, Cliffe, had been found drowned in a tun of beer. On proceeding to the brewery to make inquiries as to the truthfulness of the report, we found that it was unhappily too true. It appears that about half-past 1 o’clock Mr Wiles was talking for some few minutes to one of his men, and then went into the brewery. This was the last time he was seen alive. Mr Brown, his partner, made inquiries for him shortly before two, as he was not to be seen it was supposed he had gone out, although it was a somewhat singular thing for him to do so, as he generally said where he was going before he left the premises. About a quarter past two, as George Ellis, one of the brewers, was looking into the tun room he observed Mr Wiles’s coat hanging on one of the vats. He was then satisfied that Mr Wiles was somewhere about the premises, and was about to leave the room, when his eye caught sight of a hat floating on the top of a tun of beer, and on making a closer inspection discovered the body of the unfortunate deceased. He immediately called for assistance, which was at once rendered by other men, and the body was taken out; a messenger having in the meantime been despatched for Mr Macrae, surgeon. On the arrival of that gentleman he at once pronounced him to be dead; indeed the body was nearly cold and stiff. It was conjectured that Mr Wiles, in going to the room in question, perceived that the tun requires skimming, and there being no one near to do it took off his coat to skim it himself. While thus engaged, it is believed that the fumes of the beer overcame him, and that he then lost his balance and fell in. – Sussex Express.”

William Gresham Wiles aged 29 was buried on 6 February 1863 in a plot in West Norwood cemetery that had been owned by his late father and had first been used in 1841 to bury the body of a brother who died in infancy.

Malling Street showing brewery, Lewes, Valentine postcard

This Edwardian postcard published in the Valentine’s series features the Malling Street brewery.

William Gresham Wiles was born c.1834 at St Neots, Huntingdonshire. His father was also called William Wiles and his mother had been, prior to her 1833 marriage, Dorothy Gresham. Their marriage settlement shows both came from wealthy families. Dorothy Gresham’s brothers were to provide the sum of £4,000 to trustees, while William Wiles was also to provide them with £2,000. Part of the trustees’ funds were laid out in purchasing a row of copyhold houses in Kennington, Surrey, which William Wiles then demolished and rebuilt in a much grander style, increasing their value considerably. Unfortunately, as easily happens in property development, he over-extended his resources and was declared bankrupt in 1836. The houses on which he had spent so much money were not of course legally his – they belonged to the trustees of his marriage settlement. His creditors being satisfied with 16s 6d in the pound (much of it covered by a loan from his wife’s family) he resumed his management of his estate, until he was again made bankrupt in 1847 – on this occasion due mainly to the outstanding loan.

The muddle turned into a Chancery case between the widowed Dorothy Wiles and the trustees of her marriage settlement, in which it turned out that nothing had been done by the book to the court’s satisfaction. The trustees were not entitled by the trust deed to expend the trust funds on copyhold property. They had never demanded the £2,000 from William Wiles as they should have done before he went bankrupt, and his spending a larger sum rebuilding the property they owned did not meet the legal requirements. They had taken the precaution of obtaining Dorothy Wiles’ written consent to their actions in 1838, but that provided little protection as she was a married woman, and could not in any case be retrospective. The trustees lost the case, and the fortunes of the widowed Dorothy and her now-adult son and daughter were revived.

The 1841 census finds the Wiles family living in Lambeth, where they were at Eveham Cottage, West Norwood, when William Wiles purchased the burial plot for their infant son. By 1851 they had moved to Holborn, where despite his second bankruptcy William Wiles was described as a proprietor of houses, and headed a household with three servants. His 17 year old son, William Gresham Wiles, was still a scholar. Soon after this date he entered the brewery business where he trained under the nationally-known brewer James Young at the long-established Red Lion brewery owned by Messrs Hoare & Company, which had a large chain of London public houses.

In June 1855 William Gresham Wiles, now a qualified brewer and with his family fortunes restored by the Chancery case, married Emma Harris at Trinity Church, St Marylebone. He, his father and his father-in-law were all given the occupation ‘gentleman’ in the marriage register entry, while his wife’s address was ‘Trinity Rectory’. Shortly thereafter the young coupled departed to Cork, Ireland, where in 1856 Gresham Wiles, aged no more than 22, was put in charge of the conversion of the buildings of the former Cork Foundling Hospital into the new giant Lady’s Well Brewery for Messrs Murphy. The new steam brewery was completed in six months and used a whole range of new technologies, including enamelling the insides of the giant mash tubs to prevent cross-contamination when they were used for different types of beers. In April 1857 William Gresham Wiles of the Lady’s Well Brewery, Cork, was granted provisional patent protection for “improvements in brewing “.

By 1861 William Gresham Wiles had moved to Lewes, and established his own brewery on Malling Street in partnership with Mr Brown. This brewery had been started by Thomas Berry in the 1820s, but passed through several other hands in the 1840s and 1850s. It seems safe to assume that it will have incorporated all the latest technology under Gresham Wiles’ management. The 1861 census finds him aged 26 and living close to the brewery, with his young wife, his widowed mother (still a ‘proprietor of houses’) and a single teenage servant. After his death his family left Lewes. William Gresham Wiles did leave a will, but it was not proved until twenty years later, after his mother’s death.

Sources: British Newspaper Archive; Familysearch website; Lambeth borough cemetery records; Chancery case reports; Murphy’s Brewery Archive, University College Cork library; 9 May 1857 Inventors’ Gazette; Colin Brent, Cliffe & South Malling House Histories.


  1. The Star Inn

Star Inn, Lewes, W.H. Godfrey imageThe Star Inn was one of the town’s principal inns for centuries up to the date at which it was converted to form the Town Hall for the Borough of Lewes. The medieval site at the heart of the town was established as an inn called the Star by the reign of Queen Mary, when the Lewes martyrs were confined in its medieval cellars prior to execution by fire on the nearby highway. Sir John Ashburnham considered it the best inn in the town in 1687.

See larger image at Historic England’s website

In the 18th century it was purchased by the politically ambitious Thomas Sergison of Cuckfield, and it became his campaign headquarters for the town’s elections in the years when he stood as a Tory against the dominant Whig faction. He rebuilt it in 1739, incorporating the magnificent carved 17th century staircase brought from Slaugham Place.

In the late 18th century it again became the town’s principal inn, holding regular balls in the Assembly Room (now the Town Council chamber). Visitors included the Prince of Wales and Mrs Fitzherbert, while Jane Austen used it as the setting for a ball in her unfinished novel ‘The Watsons’.

Fashions come and go, but the Star also had a dependable workaday role as a stopping place for coaches and a common venue for municipal activities, property auctions and farmers meetings including the corn market. The Corn Exchange was added by the Lewes Corn & Hop Exchange Company, who owned the Star between 1847 and 1852.

The Victorian photograph above, taken while the Star was still an inn, is undated, but Chiddingly shoemaker Albion Russell established his business at the adjacent 187-188 High Street in 1861.

In the late 18th century this property had housed the Star Coffee House, and then served as a tailor’s business and a butcher’s shop. Albion Russell died in 1888, but his son and son-in-law continued the business.

The Borough of Lewes, newly incorporated in 1881, first considered buying the Star in 1883 as the base for its new activities. Despite the MP, William Langham Christie, offering to donate £500 towards the purchase, the ratepayers at that time rejected the idea as too expensive. By 1889 they had apparently changed their minds, and a committee led by Mayor Thomas Reader White was appointed to negotiate the purchase and borrow the necessary funds. The deal was completed in 1890, when the Star and the Corn Exchange were purchased for £4,100. The Brighton architect Samuel Denman then supervised its conversion to the Town Hall we know today. Much terracotta was used to embellish the High Street frontage, and a new and larger Assembly Room, accessed from Fisher Street, was built on the site of the former kitchens and stableyard. The new Town Hall was finally opened in November 1893.

Sources: Lewes Town Council website; Colin Brent, ‘Lewes House Histories’; ESRO DL/D/145/1/2; ESRO HIL 6/17/1-38; Lewes Town Book; the undated Victorian photograph is no. 5787/46 from the Historic England collection, reproduced on the Lewes Past Facebook page by Anna Cornwall.


  1. The second Lewes Railway Station

This photograph of Lewes Railway Station busy with steam trains must, from the station buildings in the background, have been taken before 1887, when the second railway station on Pinwell Lane was replaced by the present station.

Lewes Railway Station on Pinwell Lane, tracks

A view from the road of the second railway station is shown below. This is clearly the same station building as that shown above.

Lewes Railway Station on Pinwell Lane, station buildings
See a clear copy of this image on Robert Cheesman’s ‘Railways at Lewes’

Sources: The upper image has been quite widely circulated – it was used, many years after it was taken, as a postcard by Pamlin Prints. The lower image was posted on the Lewes Past website by Ian Freeston.


  1. An artist’s war-time visit to Malling House   (by Diana Wilkins)

In September 1939, the Government conducted a survey of the civilian population as the basis for war-time identity cards. The 1939 Register shows that Malling House (now the Sussex Police headquarters) was occupied by Sir George Boughey, CBE (1879-1959), his wife Lady Noël (1888-1974) and six staff. Sir George was the 9th Baronet and a former Indian Civil Servant who served as a special constable and a county alderman in retirement.

The Register lists several other family members including the Boughey’s eldest son, John Boughey (1919-1940), who was an undergraduate at Cambridge University. Also present were two of the couple’s three daughters, Camilla and Mary, as well as Mary’s husband, Robert Priestley, a second-lieutenant in the Middlesex Yeomanry.

Perhaps more unexpectedly, the Register notes the presence of a visitor, ‘Hannah Gluck’, or Gluck as she preferred to be known. Gluck was born Hannah Gluckstein (1895-1978) and was a descendent of the Jewish family that founded the J Lyons Catering company. Gluck wanted to carve out a distinct identify for herself, shortening her hair as well as her name, and dressing in masculine clothes. By the 1920s, she had become a successful London artist known for her portraits and flower paintings. When war broke out, Gluck moved to Plumpton where she was offered a commission with the Bougheys. According to Gluck’s biographer, Diana Souhami, the artist moved in with the Bougheys for two weeks while she painted a portrait of their son John who had volunteered to join the Coldstream Guards.

Sadly, John died at sea in 1940 during an attack on an enemy convoy and his memorial lies in St Michael’s churchyard, South Malling. Following John’s untimely death, the Bougheys wrote to Gluck to say they were thankful to have her portrait of their son. The couple remained Gluck’s lifelong friends and continued to support her work after she moved to Steyning, where she lived with her partner the journalist, Edith Shackleton Heald. John’s portrait remains in a private collection but a selection of Gluck’s other paintings can be seen be via https://artuk.org/.

John Fletcher Boughey in 1939, and his gravestone   

The photograph of John Fletcher Boughey in 1939 is taken from ‘John Boughey: a Memoir’ by his sister (Mary) Hermia Priestley, published in 1947 by the Ditchling Press.


  1. Miss Anne Dumbrell, Mayor of Lewes 1963-4   (by John G. Wells)

On 22 May 1963 Anne Dumbrell (1889-1965), a retired schoolmistress, made history by becoming the first woman to be elected Mayor of Lewes. Annie May Dumbrell was born in Lewes in 1890, the third daughter, and one of ten children, of Mr & Mrs Edward Dumbrell of 2 South Court, Cliffe. Her father was a general labourer. She began teaching three days before her 13th birthday, as a monitress at South Malling School, where Kate Fowler-Tutt was the headmistress. She later attended Bishop Otter College, Chichester, and the Municipal Training College, Brighton. By 1911 she was an elementary school teacher, going on to become headmistress of the Pells Girls School in 1934, of St Anne’s Infants School, De Montfort Road, and finally of the St Anne’s Special Day School in 1951-2, when she retired.

Miss Dumbrell was first elected to the Borough Council as a Ratepayers Association member for Castle Ward in 1946. She was ousted six years later by a Labour candidate but in 1957 she was elected to represent Priory Ward as a Conservative. Her chief interest was always education. On 22 March 1946 she was elected President of the Lewes and District Teachers’ Association. She represented the Council as a manager of 5 primary schools in the town, and was a governor of both the Boys’ and Girls’ County Grammar Schools and the Lewes County Secondary School.

Ann Dumbrell, Mayor of Lewes 1963-64In 1960, to her intense surprise and delight, she was asked by Reg Yarrow (over a drink in Shelley’s Hotel) to serve as deputy mayor, the first woman to hold that role. From 1962-3 she was Chairman of the Parks Committee.

In a closed session in January 1963 the Borough Council elected her to be Mayor, with a one vote majority over the incumbent, Hubert Woolmore. Her formal installation in May 1963 coincided with the first ever Labour majority on the Borough Council following elections two weeks earlier, and she made further history by nominating as her deputy Councillor A.F. Hayward, the first Labour member ever to hold the office.

Her two proudest moments as Mayor were when she took the salute, outside the Town Hall, at a march past by the Royal Sussex Regiment prior to their leaving for a 4-year tour of duty in Malta, and when she presided over the celebrations marking the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes (1264). On the latter occasion she welcomed the Mayor of Lewes, Delaware, USA, whose visit was marked by the naming of Delaware Road. The celebrations culminated in a carnival and fair in the Priory Grounds attended by 7,000 people, followed in the evening by a torchlit procession that ended up at the Convent Field, near where King Henry III had surrendered, where there was a spectacular firework display.

Anne Dumbrell lived at 51 St Anne’s Crescent, and with her bicycle she was a well-known figure in the town. Amongst her many other interests she was a member of St Anne’s Parochial Church Council; a past President of St Anne’s W.I., whose choir she conducted; a founder member and past President of the Lewes Operatic Society; a Vice-President of the Lewes branch of the National Federation of Old Age Pensioners; and a Vice-President of the Lewes Football Club and a number of Bonfire Societies. She died on Tuesday 28 December 1965, and her funeral in St Anne’s church was attended by the Mayor and Corporation in state. In accordance with her wishes her ashes were scattered over the Downs near Lewes where she often used to walk. Her portrait in oils used to hang in the Mayoress’s Room at the Town Hall, but is now in storage.

Source: Graham J. Mayhew, ‘Lewes Mayors 1881-1891’ [ESRO LIB 502926]. These short biographies of Mayors of Lewes were originally published in the Kent and Sussex Courier. The Keep also holds formal photographs of the Mayors of Lewes from 1882 to 1973 [ESRO P410/2]. Additional information from Steve Brigden & the Familysearch website. Anne Dumbrell is the subject of photograph ESRO P/410/2/35.              The Edward Reeves photograph shown is from the Vote100 Lewes website.


  1. View to Lewes Castle from the Priory Ruins

This watercolour showing the view towards the Castle from the ruins of Lewes Priory was painted in 1895 by Howard Gaye (1848-1925). It formed part of a lot included in one of Gorringe’s weekly sales in February 2022 and, with an estimated price of £70-£100, the lot sold for £40.

View to Lewes Castle from the Priory Ruins, watercolour by Howard Gaye, 1895

Howard Gaye was the son of an Ipswich clergyman and practised as an architect, working on a number of East Anglian churches. In the 1880s he moved to London, where he lived for the rest of his life. He lived initially with his unmarried elder sister, Selina, an authoress whose books on a range of non-fiction topics remain in print, and later in a boarding house. He never married. In London he specialised in providing for clients perspective drawings to show what houses designed by other architects would look like when completed. He regularly exhibited his watercolours until at least 1915, and is today remembered primarily as an artist, though not one whose works command high prices.

Sources: Catalogue for Gorringe’s 21 February 2022 sale; Familysearch; http://www.suffolkartists.co.uk. 


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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