Lewes History Group: Bulletin 143, June 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: 13 Jun 2022, Geoff Mead ‘Hearth and Home: Sussex Vernacular Architecture’
  2. Chair’s Report (by Neil Merchant)
  3. Fitzroy House for sale
  4. Deaths from Measles
  5. Dr Rigden’s Tricycle (by Jane Denton)
  6. George Rigden, Lewes surgeon and apothecary
  7. George Bates, a Lewes engineer
  8. James Cheetham’s view of Cliffe High Street
  9. Offham Hill
  10. Julian Dawson (by Philip Taylor)
  11. The Birch for a Bad Boy
  12. Ashcombe House: a last view of England?


  1. Next Meeting         7.30 p.m.  King’s Church Lewes    Monday 13 June             Geoff Mead     Hearth and Home: Sussex Vernacular Architecture

Geoff Mead will describe the variety of vernacular buildings to be found in Sussex and the origins of their distinctive building materials in the landscape of the county. Until the arrival of the railways in the mid-19th century most buildings were constructed using local raw materials. The variety of stone, clay and timber in the county gave distinctive vernacular styles to Weald, Coast and Downland. Difficulties of transport, especially in the Weald, ensured that bulky and ubiquitous materials were not moved far, unless the houseowner needed to make a social impression. Coastal communities and those in the accessible river valleys had easier transport routes and materials could be imported from elsewhere. The wealth of vernacular styles influenced later building designs, and the timbering, brickwork and tile hanging used by architects such as Webb, Norman-Shaw and Lutyens are the direct descendants of Sussex vernacular.

We shall continue to restrict our meeting capacity to a maximum of 200, and thus require advance booking for both members and non-members via https://ticketsource.co.uk/lhg. Members will have priority. Our display boards are again on show at each meeting. 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 hall will be open from 7 p.m. and the meeting will start at 7.30 p.m.


  1. Chair’s Report                                                                       (by Neil Merchant)

I am sorry to have to tell you that Sue Berry has resigned from our committee and as chair of our meetings, for personal reasons. She will be sorely missed, and we now have to find a way to fill her shoes: no easy task.

Our return to King’s Church for our talks has been successful, with over 120 people attending each talk so far – a little below our typical previous attendances at the venue, but that’s understandable. We’ll continue to take a cautious approach for now, limiting numbers by way of advance booking only. We know that there’s a range of member preferences regarding Zoom or “Room” talks, and we’ll survey all our members in the next month or so to help form our plans as we go into the autumn and winter.


  1. Fitzroy House for sale

Fitzroy House, Lewes
Fitzroy House, the remarkable 3-bed Victorian-Gothic former library, has been offered for sale this Spring, available at £1.3M from Charles Wycherley.  Fitzroy House, Lewes, entrance hall, and Fitzroy Octagonal RoomFitzroy House, Lewes, sitting room, octagonal minstrel gallery, glazed atrium roof


  1. Deaths from Measles

The 26 Sep 1825 Hampshire Telegraph reported that the measles had, of late, proved very fatal among children where inflammation had followed, both in Brighton and Lewes. The Rev Mr Horsfield had lost a son from this cause on the previous Tuesday.


  1. Dr Rigden’s Tricycle                                                          (by Jane Denton)

Dr Rigden's tricycle with riderI am a veteran cycle collector and have a tricycle that we purchased in 1997 from the great-granddaughter of Dr Rigden of All Saints House, School Hill, Lewes. It was made in Lewes by G. Bates in 1878 – the date was burned into one wooden rail.

After we acquired it my husband restored it. It needed repairs to the drive chain, which was attached to the side of one wheel, re-painting and new solid tyres. It was at one time on display in the Shuttleworth Museum and has been exhibited at many displays, and local and national events.

The pedals drive one of the large front wheels but foot rests allow freewheeling downhill. The handle-operated steering and the brake operate only on the smaller rear tiller wheel. The only spring is under the seat. In the days when country roads were surfaced with compacted flint, this cannot have been very comfortable for Dr Rigden if used for visiting his patients in the villages around Lewes.

Dr Rigden's tricycle, made in Lewes by G. Bates in 1878


  1. George Rigden, Lewes surgeon and apothecary

George Charles Rigden (c.1816-1893) was surgeon and apothecary who practised in Lewes and the surrounding villages through the great majority of Queen Victoria’s reign. He was born in Lenham, Kent, and qualified as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and as an apothecary in London. He is first noted here in 1842, when he gave evidence at an inquest in which a young lad in the care of the Chailey Union’s children’s workhouse at Ringmer had died in an emaciated condition. Public opinion blamed the death on the conditions in the workhouse, though Mr Rigden, who held a contract from the Union to care for the children, argued, probably correctly, that he had died of tuberculosis. Later in the same year he was reported to have attended a workman injured in an accidental explosion at one of the chalk pits, painstakingly picking out the shot, wadding and pieces of clothing that had been embedded in his body.

In the 1851 census George Rigden’s household, which included his widowed mother, an unmarried sister, a young assistant surgeon from Clapham and three servants, was in St Michael’s parish at 60 High Street, at the top of St Andrews Lane. Almost a decade later, in 1860 when he was over 40, he married the youngest daughter of Southover brewer William Verrall, who was almost 20 years his junior, and established a new household at 210 High Street, on School Hill, where he lived for the rest of his life. The censuses show a comfortable household and a growing family, supported by a cook, a parlourmaid and a housemaid. The seven children were all baptised at All Saints church. Their eldest daughter died as a toddler, but three sons and three daughters survived to adulthood. Two of the sons became solicitors, and the third emigrated to Australia. After George Rigden’s death it was the home of his widow until her own death in 1916, and then of his three unmarried daughters. Miss Amy Gage Rigden, the youngest and longest-lived of the three, resided there until her death in 1953.

210 High Street, Lewes, home of George Rigden
210 High Street, Lewes

George Rigden’s practice extended to the villages surrounding the town, and the Brighton Guardian records that in August 1877 he was hurt when falling from his horse while returning from Wellingham, in Ringmer. Was this perhaps why he commissioned the tricycle pictured above from engineer George Bates? If so it did not prove the resolution to his travel needs, as an 1883 report in the Eastbourne Chronicle reports that he was again hurt when his carriage overturned at Ringmer while he was returning from visiting the miller of the Glyndebourne Estate windmill on Mill Plain. He was apparently still practising up to his 1893 death, aged 77. His obituary in the 23 September 1893 British Medical Journal reported that he had been resident in Lewes about half a century, was one of the honorary consultants at the Lewes Victoria Hospital (then also on School Hill), surgeon to the Lewes Lodge of Oddfellows, to the Lewes Provident Society, to the Firle Friendly Society and to other institutions of a similar nature.


  1. George Bates, a Lewes engineer

George Bates (c.1833-1915), the builder of Dr Rigden’s bicycle shown above, was a Lewes man of many talents. His father was a whitesmith working in Cliffe, and George was also apprenticed to that trade. He married in 1858, and then established a business as a whitesmith and china man at 44 Cliffe High Street. He and his wife had a family of five daughters and then, at last, a son. The tricycle was just one area of his business activity. Also in the 1870s he was awarded a patent for “Improvements of apparatus for attaching main cocks, valves, plugs or other connections to service pipes for water under pressure” and plumbing, water and gas supply were major areas of his business activity.

The 1881 census finds his family in Preston, near Brighton, but he soon returned to Lewes, with his activities increasing diversified. A typical trade advertisement in the Sussex Express reads:


He seems also to have specialised in the various types of copper, iron and brass fixtures and fittings required by the town’s breweries. As motor cars became more popular after 1900, he also advertised a repair and refurbishment service for them, and could provide them with new tyres as required. In the 1901 census he described himself as an ironmonger and plumber, but his son Ebenezer, now taken into partnership in G. Bates & Son, was called a civil engineer.

In the 1890s, after the marriage of his eldest daughter to a Brighton man, he and other members of his family began to take an interest in property development. He gave up his business in 1909, moving from Cliffe High Street to 2 East Street, and for the remainder of his life up he seems to have acted as a house agent, regularly advertising properties in the town to let. In the 1911 census he gave as his occupation ‘private means’ and in the same census his son, who was only 40, also gave his occupation as ‘retired iron monger and plumber’. At his 1915 death George Bates left an estate of just under £6,700.


  1. James Cheetham’s view of Cliffe High Street

Cattle being driven through Cliffe High Street, James Cheetham postcard, posted 1910

This James Cheetham postcard showing cattle being driven through Cliffe High Street was postally used in 1910. Offered for sale on ebay last year, it was the subject of very competitive bidding.


  1. Offham Hill

This watercolour of Offham Hill, near Lewes, signed ‘Fred Miller’ was offered for sale recently on ebay. Visible features include the Offham chalkpits and, in the distance to the right, Offham church. There is one waggon and team on the road to Offham, and another in the fields.

Offham Hill, near Lewes, watercolour signed Fred Miller

Frederick Miller is listed in the Directory of British Artists as a marine artist who exhibited in the 1880s and 1890s, and lived in Hove in 1880, Burgess Hill in 1882 and Haywards Heath in 1884. The back of this picture gives his address as Haywards Heath, and the original sale price as 15 guineas.

Frederick Miller was born in 1850 and appears aged 1 in the 1851 census in his birthplace of Hailsham, where his father Edward Miller was a chemist and druggist. By the 1861 census the family had moved to Lansdowne Terrace, Lewes. His father was now a photographer – competing for business with Edward Reeves and John Thomas Case. Young Frederick was aged 11, and a scholar here. Frederick began his working life in service as a footman, but when he married in Eastbourne in 1874, he too was described as a professional photographer. By 1881 Frederick was an ‘artist in watercolours’, married, and with a 6 year old son who had been born in Brede, and a daughter aged 2 born in Brighton. In 1891 he was described as a drawing master.

In the 1901 census he was aged 51, a landscape painter who had been born in Hailsham, and lived in Sydney Road, Haywards Heath, with his wife, 4 children and his sister. His eldest son F. Douglas Miller, then aged 26, was now a well-established photographer who published large numbers of Edwardian postcards. Local examples have appeared in these Bulletins. Frederick Miller’s sister described herself as a photographer’s artist, and presumably supported herself by hand-colouring her nephew’s photographs. Frederick Miller was still a landscape painter in Haywards Heath in 1911. His younger son, William Ongley Miller, trained first at Brighton College of Art and then at the Royal College of Art, before becoming a successful artist and art college teacher. Frederick Miller died in 1924, aged 73.

Sources: the picture shown is from ebay; family information is from www.sussexpostcards.info and the Familysearch website. 


  1. Julian Dawson                                                                 (by Philip Taylor)

It was with great sadness that we reported the death earlier this year, at the age of 81, of Julian Dawson, our much loved former colleague and partner at Gorringe’s.

Julian was educated at Wellington College, Berkshire and in 1959, after a brief spell teaching French, he joined J.R. Thornton & Co., the Lewes cattle market auctioneers, in Garden Street, Lewes. He spent the rest of his working life there and, occasionally, at Hailsham market, graduating from booking in and auctioning the whole array of market goods, from eggs, rabbits, and garden produce, to cattle, sheep and pigs.

Along with the general market, there would be a selection of second hand furniture, including some antiques. It was this section that interested Julian. So 1996, with regional markets struggling against supermarket giants, Julian bought out the Thornton partnership, to include the Garden Street site. Rebranding the business as Lewes Auction Rooms, he concentrated on conducting weekly sales of household effects, with some produce and monthly auctions of antiques. In 2001, the business amalgamated with Gorringe’s, under the name – Gorringe’s incorporating Julian Dawson.

Over some 54 years, Julian would climb the rostrum, without fail, every Monday and regularly sell 700-900 lots (which equates to around 2,000,000 lots! Has a weekly auctioneer ever sold more?).  His distinctive auctioning style – rapid (around 150 lots an hour), with his booming, commanding voice, unaided by microphones, was a regular attraction to hundreds of weekly buyers. He very rarely missed a sale, only occasionally for golfing trips, or the odd illness. I did offer to assist for one auction, which included a formidable 980 lots, but was firmly told, ‘’I don’t need any help Philip, it’s like riding a bike to me!’’ He possessed a great sense of humour, wit and a great recall of clients names, on view days and from the rostrum.

Julian Dawson, Lewes auctioneer, of 'Gorringes Incorporating Julian Dawson'
Julian Dawson, Lewes auctioneer, of “‘Gorringes Incorporating Julian Dawson’

In his time he was probably one of the best known personalities in the Lewes area. An excellent all round sportsman, especially in cricket, hockey and golf, where he was Captain of Lewes Golf Club – but not so good at snooker, where his highest break was around 16. He was a season ticket holder for both Sussex County Cricket and Brighton and Hove football. He became President of the Lewes Rotary club, where he greatly enjoyed the regular Wednesday lunches at the White Hart. His last sale took place on Monday, 19th December, 2016, followed by a very pleasant wine and canapé evening, attended by some 200 employees, past and present, friends and clients, old and recent, during which many spoke of their fond memories of his tenure of well over 50 years.


  1. The Birch for a Bad Boy

The 22 November 1901 Sussex Express reported that James Harding, a boy of 13, had been taken before Lewes magistrates charged with putting a metal fishplate on the railway line near the Cockshut crossing in Southover. He was observed by a platelayer working nearby, who was able to remove the fishplate just before the next train passed by. He initially tried to blame two other boys, but later admitted the offence, adding “I didn’t want to trip the train over”. The defendant’s step-father told the magistrates that everyone knew the lad was a very bad boy, and that this was not the first time he had appeared before the bench.

The solicitor representing the railway company said that the directors tried to avoid bringing boys before the bench. Their policy was that if the parents of a boy administered a thrashing then they would let the matter drop. In this case both the boy’s step-father and his mother had refused to administer the punishment. The magistrates then sentenced the boy to receive 12 strokes of the birch, as his actions might have cost many lives. They thought his character was very bad, and that possibly the thrashing would do him good.


  1. Ashcombe House: a last view of England?

The postcard below was mailed from Lewes on 29 January 1917. The postcard, from the W.E. Baxter series, shows a view of Ashcombe House and Farm and the surrounding South Downs.

The message, sent to a Mrs Wilkinson at Leighton House, Milnthorpe, Westmorland, reports that the sender is under orders to embark for an unknown destination overseas three days later, on 1 February. The recipient was presumably his wife or mother.

Ashcombe House and Farm, W.E. Baxter postcard mailed from Lewes 1917


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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