Lewes History Group: Bulletin 142, May 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: 9 May 2022, Mary Rudling ‘The Poor Law in Lewes’
  2. Street Stories publications
  3. Lewes Castle’s Curtain Wall collapse in 2019 (by Neil Merchant)
  4. Castlegate House for sale
  5. Views up to the Barbican
  6. Lewes in the 1675 Britannia Atlas (by Liz Thomas)
  7. Supporting Family Life
  8. The 1802 Election for the MPs to represent Lewes Borough
  9. George Peters’ misadventure on the Downs
  10. Lewes Photographer Frank Shoulder
  11. Southern Railway train at Southerham


  1. Next Meeting           7.30 p.m.       King’s Church Lewes       Monday 9 May

Mary Rudling      The Poor Law in Lewes – ‘A measure of extreme harshness and cruelty’

This month we welcome Mary Rudling to tell us about the impact that the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act had on the poor, and on local officials in Lewes. The Act transferred responsibility for the care of the poor from the individual parishes to which they belonged to the new Lewes Poor Law Union, which was in turn under the direction of the national Poor Law Commission.

Mary’s talk will covers the period 1800-1860 and consider the profile of the poor and compare the support they received before and after 1834, under the Old and New Poor Laws. She comments, “Many Lewes residents were opposed to interference from the government in London when the New Poor Law was implemented and there was a difficult relationship between local officials and the Poor Law Commissioners.” She will compare poor relief in Lewes with relief in more rural parishes in the Weald and on the Downs and will include case studies of individual paupers and officials.

Our first face-to-face meeting for two years, in April, was well-attended and considered a success, but your committee considers some precautions are still sensible. For now we shall be restricting the meeting capacity to a maximum of 200, so advance booking for both members and non-members via https://ticketsource.co.uk/lhg will be necessary. We shall not resume serving coffee and tea until infection rates subside. Hand gel will be available, and please wear a face mask if you are able. LHG members may book (free of charge) from 19 April, and non-members (cost £4) from 25 April. If you reserve or buy a place but then discover you will be unable to attend, please do let us know so that we can admit someone else. The meeting will start at 7.30 p.m. Please do not arrive before 7.00 p.m. but in timing your arrival please do make provision for checking registrations.


  1. Street Stories publications 

This is to give members advance notice that two new volumes in our Street Stories series are scheduled for publication later in the Spring. Their subjects will be Mill Road, by Chris Taylor, and Chapel Hill, by Meg Griffiths, Mary Benjamin and Shan Rose.


  1. Lewes Castle’s Curtain Wall collapse in 2019 (by Neil Merchant)

Over 100 people attended the Sussex Archaeological Society talk on 29 March by Assistant County Archaeologist Diccon Hart on the work carried out following the 2019 collapse of a section of the Lewes castle curtain wall, to the side of the garden of Castlegate House. The talk’s title was ‘Fall’n at length, that tower of strength, Rescue and Research at Lewes Castle, 2019-22’, and its focus was Section 1 of the wall, behind the Old Coach House in Castle Ditch Lane.

Lewes Castle, plan of surviving defences

Diccon started by describing the site following this section of the wall’s collapse on 11 November 2019. He used phrases like “Inaccessible, surrounded by private gardens”, “Unprecedented scenes”, and “Where to start?”, and illustrated the limited site access through the garden gate of Castlegate House. He set out the origins of the Norman castle, in the context of the post-conquest establishment of the Rapes of Chichester, Arundel, Bramber, Lewes (built 1067), Pevensey, and Hastings. By 1100 the castle’s footprint was substantially complete, and included Brack Mount, which he said was there by 1080 and possibly earlier. It is thought that the original castle wall will have been wooden, with the masonry towers and curtain walls added later. 

Diccon described the topology and archaeology of the site, with a ditch and bank on which the wall was constructed, and repeated collapses over the centuries, and set it in context with the remaining bank and wall between The Maltings and Castle Ditch Lane. The first task post-collapse was the ‘controlled deconstruction’ of the remains to make the site safe, and to clear the rubble from the back of the Old Coach House, which had been severely damaged by falling masonry. This clearance took until January 2020, and involved the removal of over 300 tons of rubble.

Following this, a more conventional investigation was possible, and pictures clearly illustrated the scale and bulk of the castle bank, the ditch and the wall’s foundations. Cores and excavations showed an original “massive” defensive bank pre-dating the wall, which was in part made up of silty material – originally domestic rubbish – dug out and thrown up in constructing the bank. The pottery shards, grains, charcoal and smithing slag enabled dating this material to the 11th-12th centuries. The wall’s core was mainly chalk rubble, and is consistent in material and construction with the Barbican, so probably built at the same time. Following the investigations, the wall was partially reconstructed, to a height that the foundations could support and to make it safe against further erosion.

As to the cause of the wall’s collapse, Diccon laid the blame on three factors:

  • Extensive 17th, 18th and 19th century landscaping in the garden of Castlegate House, which lowered the ground level at the wall’s foundations on its north side by 1.2 metres. This undermined the foundations and allowed them to erode and spread out across the garden.
  • Past rendering/repair of the wall, which stopped rainwater from escaping efficiently
  • Climate change, and the very wet autumn, which saturated the wall and increased its weight.

The talk was well illustrated with maps, sections, and photographs taken over the past 150 years.

Lewes Castle wall section in 1954, and in 2019 after collapse

The 1954 photograph of wall section taken from Castlegate House, after repairs (above left), is from the National Archives; and the 2019 photograph (above right) was taken shortly after the collapse.


  1. Castlegate House for sale

Castlegate House, Lewes

The grade 2 listed Castlegate House in the Castle Precincts, 5-bedrooms, fully internally modernised, is currently for sale, available at £2.7M from Strutt & Parker or Rowland Gorringe. As is evident from the picture above, it was constructed in a number of phases.


  1. Views up to the Barbican

Approach to the Barbican, Lewes, anonymous, Barbican entrance to Lewes Castle, style of Prout
Left: Approach to the Barbican, Lewes, watercolour by anonymous artist, Right: Barbican entrance to Lewes Castle, style of S. Prout 

This watercolour of the approach to the Barbican by an anonymous artist (above left) was offered for sale on ebay some time ago by Roger Bradbury Antiques. It would appear from its style to be about 200 years old. Also shown for comparison are a similar view attributed to Samuel Prout (1783-1852) and included in Bulletin no.97 (above right) and an 1823 lithograph by James Rouse included in Bulletin no.68 (below).

Gatehouse of Lewes Castle by James Rouse, 1823


  1. Lewes in the 1675 Britannia Atlas        (by Liz Thomas)

I was given a lovely present from the ‘Britannia Atlas’, published by John Ogilby in 1675. Ogilby was “His Majesty’s Cosmographer and Geographic Printer” in 1674, and this atlas set the standard for the road maps that followed. At that period some of the minor roads used the local mile rather than the standard mile of 1,760 standard yards that Ogilby adopted in his atlas.

The atlas includes one hundred strip road maps, each at the standard scale of one inch to the mile and accompanied by a double-sided page of text giving additional advice for the map’s use. The  miles are further divided into furlongs. Sadly, I do not have the strip map itself. Below are the text pages that cover London to Newhaven.  Lewes seems to be the most important place on the route, and that section is extracted below.

The Road from London to Newhaven

“… at 48 Miles you pass through Offam-street a Village of 2 Furlongs, a quarter of a Mile beyond which you ascend a Hill of 5 furlongs, and descending again at 49’ 6 enter Lewes seated on the River Owse, a Place of good Antiquity, large, well-built and well inhabited, containing 6 Parish Churches, and esteem’d the best Town of the County, consisting of divers handsom Streets, and having each way very fair Suburbs; a Borough-Town Electing Parliament Men, enjoying a good Trade and a well frequented Market on Saturdays: Eminent as a Place of Mintage in King Athelstan’s time, and for a Bloody Battel fought against H. 3d. by the disloyal Barons, who in a Hostile assembled together in the Castel here.” 


  1. Supporting Family Life

The magistrates at Lewes Quarter Sessions on 26 April 1770 heard the case of John Sergeant, imprisoned in the House of Correction for running away, leaving his wife and children to be supported by St Michael’s parish, Lewes. They concluded that he was an incorrigible rogue, and ordered that he be kept at hard labour for six months, once whipped, and then discharged. He may be the John Serjent of Lewes, pipe maker, who had married Jane Austen at Beddingham in 1764.

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


  1. The 1802 Election for the MPs to represent Lewes Borough

The general election held in the summer of 1802 was the first after the formal union of Great Britain and Ireland to form the United Kingdom. Earlier in 1802 the Treaty of Amiens had theoretically ended a decade of war with Republican France, but relations remained very uneasy and the war was soon to resume. King George III had forced William Pitt the younger to resign in 1801 by refusing to agree to Catholic emancipation, and the prime minister in 1802 was Henry Addington, a Tory who led a wartime coalition that included some Whigs, and had some support from a semi-detached Pitt. The opposition was led by the Whig Charles James Fox. There were in all 658 MPs at this date, representing county, borough and university constituencies, and Lewes borough elected two of them. Nationally the Addingtonians were successful in the election, and Henry Addington continued in office.

Three candidates stood for election in Lewes.

Francis Godolphin Osborne, commonly called Lord Osborne, was nominated by Sir Ferdinando Poole, bart, and William Campion. He was the second son of the 5th Duke of Leeds.

A Tory in his mid-twenties, he had already been MP for Helston, Cornwall, from 1799 to 1802. He had no obvious local connection, but was nominated by Sir Ferdinando Poole of the Friars, a member of the extended Pelham family whose father had been a Whig MP for Lewes in the Pelham interest.

Thomas Kemp was nominated by Henry Jackson and attorney Charles Gilbert. He was a wealthy Lewes wool-stapler who had been MP for Lewes since 1780. Although of Whiggish principles he had stood originally as an independent against the Pelham interest, promising that if elected he would never accept a government place or pension. He voted more often with Pitt than with Fox.

Henry Shelley junior was nominated by William Cooper and William Balcombe Langridge, both Lewes attorneys. Born in 1767, he was the son of a prominent Lewes magistrate also called Henry Shelley, whose estate included the house called Shelleys and land to its north. As a young man he had stood unsuccessfully in Lewes in 1790, and then followed a military career in the Life Guards. He did not oppose the Addington ministry, but was regarded by Pitt as a Whig.

1802 Lewes Borough MP election, Poll Book electorsEach borough had its own election rules. In Lewes the electors were male householders who contributed to the poor rates. The elections were held in public. The returning officers were the two constables of Lewes then in office. They determined who was qualified to vote and also the actual dates on which the poll for that constituency was held. The two Lewes constables in 1802 were George Grantham and Samuel Woodgate Durrant and the Lewes borough elections were held on 5 & 6 July 1802, amongst the first in the nation. The poll book recording which electors had voted for which candidates was published in 1803 by William & Arthur Lee. Electors’ names were published in the order in which they voted, and included the names of some men who attempted to vote but were considered by the constables to be unqualified.

In all 334 electors voted are listed, with the constables Samuel Woodgate Durrant, merchant, and George Grantham, turner and basket maker (who both voted for Osborne and Kemp), the last on the list. Each elector had two votes. All possible combinations of votes were recorded, and many men plumped for just one of the three candidates. The names of the candidates the rejected voters wished to vote for were also recorded, as were the names of 9 qualified electors who did not vote.

At the end of the poll Lord Osborne was fairly comfortably ahead with 214 votes, followed by Henry Shelley with 179 and Thomas Kemp with 173. Thomas Kemp then demanded that the qualifications of the voters and rejected voters were scrutinised more carefully. He and Henry Shelley each appointed legal counsel, who examined each voter’s qualifications, together with an assessor appointed by the returning officers. This process began on Monday 16 August in the Town Hall, and continued for a full week (excluding of course the Sunday), ending only a few days before the new Parliament was due to assemble. The 15 rejected voters included 4 potential votes each for Osborne and Kemp, but 11 for Shelley. However, after scrutiny only a single rejected voter was found to have a sound claim, and as he had voted for Osborne & Shelley this did not help Kemp’s cause. Attention to the qualifications of those whose votes had been accepted by the returning officers discovered that 19 were in fact unqualified – four carpenters, two cordwainers, two labourers, a baker, a bricklayer, a butcher, a drayman, a lath cleaver, a milkman, a schoolmaster, a staymaker, a tailor, a tanner and a watchmaker. Osborne lost 7 votes, Kemp 9 and Shelley 11. The week’s expensive legal wrangling had thus reduced Shelley’s majority over Kemp from 6 to 5, but at this point Kemp gave in.

Lord Osborne and Henry Shelley served as MPs for Lewes until the next election in 1806. Lord Osborne was later MP for Cambridgeshire from 1810 to 1831, and was raised to the peerage in his own right as Lord Godolphin in 1832. Henry Shelley promoted the Lewes Paving Bill in the House of Commons in 1806, and was a staunch supporter of the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. He continued as Lewes MP until his death in 1811, joined in 1806 by a returning Thomas Kemp, who also died in 1811.

Sources: The 1802 Lewes Poll Book available online as a Google Book; History of Parliament online.


  1. George Peters’ misadventure on the Downs

In January 1853 George Peters, the 8 year old son of a Cliffe labourer, was sent to South Malling Parochial School without the penny that pupils were required to provide for the teacher each Monday morning. His mother sent the message that she would drop the penny in later, after her work hanging out clothes in a quarry, but school mistress Augusta Marchant had heard such promises before. George, his brother, and several other lads who had turned up without an actual penny were sent home – in the 1850s education was not yet compulsory, and typical attendances at such schools were often less than half the number of pupils formally on the school roll.

On the next day, Tuesday, George again turned up at school, but still without the penny, and was again turned away. Left to entertain himself until his parents returned from their work, he spent some time playing with a younger boy at similar liberty, until he met up with a 12 year old lad called Jesse Holmes, and decided to accompany him on a walk across the Downs to a cottage near Glyndebourne, where young Holmes was hoping to acquire a rabbit from the Glynde Estate gamekeeper’s wife for his family’s supper. He didn’t previously know Jesse Holmes. Sadly they arrived too late – the gamekeeper’s wife had given the last available rabbit to someone else. They then decided to split up; Jesse Holmes to proceed to his cottage at Ringmer Green and George Peters to return across the Downs to Cliffe. He was observed at about 4 pm making his way back across the Downs on his own by a shepherd minding his sheep. It was still light, he was on the right path, and the shepherd thought he would make his way back to the town before dark.

However, George did not return home that evening. As soon as his father came home from work, soon after 6 pm, a search party including his grandfather, an uncle and some neighbours was organised. It was established from the young boy that George had gone up onto the Downs with a big boy, so the search party headed in that direction, and stayed out until almost midnight, without success, carrying lanterns and calling across the Downs. However, the weather had deteriorated, a gale was blowing and there was much thunder and lightning. George Peters was described by both his mother and his schoolmistress as a particularly timid boy, terrified of thunderstorms.

The next morning his father got up early, but had to get permission from his employer to take a morning off work to continue the search for his son, but when that resumed about 8 am it was unsuccessful. However, the shepherd out with his flock spotted something lying on the Downs, and it was the shepherd’s boy sent to investigate who discovered George’s body, not many yards from the path. It was noted that he had taken off his cap and waistcoat, found some distance from his body. His hair and his clothes were drenched from the rain.

An inquest was hastily convened at the Fox Inn, Southerham, by the coroner Mr  F.H. Gell. The jury was chaired by Cliffe timber merchant Charles Wille. It took evidence from the schoolmistress and George’s mother, from the little boy he had been playing with before he went onto the Downs, from Jesse Holmes, the gamekeeper’s wife, the shepherd and from a man known as ‘Sailor Jack’ that the two boys had met on the Downs. Both Jesse Holmes and ‘Sailor Jack’ claimed to have offered to accompany George back to Lewes, and there was some confusion about the detail. It heard also from the Lewes surgeon George Hoather, who had examined the body. He found a mark on the boy’s cheek and some scratches on his forehead, but nothing to account for his death. He was unable to say exactly when the boy had died. His hands were clenched, with some grass clutched in each. His pupils were greatly dilated and his mouth open. His hair seemed to have been raised from his head by fright. The surgeon’s opinion was that he had died from a convulsive fit brought on by fright. Some of the jury felt that the morning search ought to have been started earlier, but were disinclined to censure his parents and thus add to their grief. Their verdict was “that the deceased died from a convulsive fit arising from excessive fright produced by the darkness of the night, the lightning and exposure to the inclemency of the weather combined”.

Sources: 18 January 1853 Sussex Advertiser & 19 January 1853 London Evening Standard. As this event would have played to parental fears in those days when young children had so much more freedom than they do today, the story was picked up and repeated in newspapers published in London and across England.


  1. Lewes Photographer Frank Shoulder

A Victorian carte de visite featuring two young lads by Lewes photographer F. Shoulder was offered for sale on ebay recently. The name Frank Shoulder, active c.1890, is listed amongst the Lewes photographers recorded in David Simkins comprehensive Sussex Photohistory website but, unusually, no business address is recorded for him. His name has not previously been mentioned in these Bulletins.

Victorian Carte de Visite of two boys, by Lewes photographer F. Shoulder - front, back

Fashion historian Jayne Shrimpton is fairly confident that this photograph, taken against an intricately painted cloth backdrop, dates to the 1880s. The boys are dressed for school or in ‘Sunday best’, in the slim-fitting knickerbocker suits of the decade. Their narrow, open, below-the-knee knickerbockers are typical, while the slender styling of their jackets with cut-away lower fronts follows the lines of the adult morning coat, especially fashionable during the 1880s/turn of the 1890s. Another key detail is the white handkerchief in the top pocket – an accessory that became well-established during the 1880s. Finally, the boys’ starched white ‘Eton collars’ became commonplace from around 1880 onwards.

Shoulder is not a common local surname, but there is a Frank Shoulder whose birth in 1850 and death in 1912 are both recorded in the Lewes registration district. In the 1851 census he was the only child living with his parents in Market Street. By 1861 the family had moved to Sun Street, and he had been joined by three younger siblings. His father Henry Walls Shoulder, described as a master builder in 1851 and a journeyman carpenter in 1861, was also a native of Lewes, and died aged 53 a few weeks before the 1871 census, when Frank Shoulder aged 21, carpenter, was still found in Sun Street living with his widowed mother and two younger brothers, Edgar aged 13 and William aged 8. There had also been three sisters, but two had died in childhood, and by 1871 the surviving daughter was a barmaid aged 18 in her mother’s home village of Mayfield, where she later married an innkeeper.

The family remained in Sun Street in 1881, by which date all three sons were in work, Frank (31) and Edgar (23) as carpenters and William (18) as a druggist’s porter. In 1884 Frank Shoulder, carpenter, married a servant some years his senior who had recently bequeathed a significant annuity by her former master [ESRO ACC 12167/13/1/37-38]. She was of South Street, Cliffe, when she released the annuity the following year, allowing the property on which it was secured to be sold. In 1891, 1901 and 1911 Frank Shoulder, still a carpenter, lived in Cliffe with wife, but no children. His widowed mother lived with them until her death in 1898. By 1911 both his brothers had married Brighton-born wives and moved to London. Edgar Shoulder continued to be described as a carpenter, but his younger brother William was a Brighton chemist’s shop assistant in 1901 and a wallpaper salesman for a Camberwell builders’ merchant in 1911.


  1. Southern Railway train at Southerham

The image below was posted by Mick Symes on the Lewes Past Facebook page. It shows a passenger train pulled by 4-4-0 D-class steam locomotive number 1734, a type built between 1901 and 1907 for the South Eastern & Chatham Railway. These locomotives were inherited by Southern Railway in 1923, and renumbered to the format shown below in 1931. In the 1930s they were employed on secondary services. In 1947 they were inherited by the nationalised British Railways. They were withdrawn from service in the 1950s, with this one, renumbered 31734, in 1955. An example off the class is preserved in the York Railway Museum.

Southern Railway train at Southerham


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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