The Lewes Street Stories Initiative>>Chapel Hill>>Chapel Hill Lower Section
Houses on the Lower Section of Chapel Hill (Nos. 2-9 and 24), by Mary Benjamin
The lower part of Chapel Hill has had houses on it for at least 6 centuries. It has been suggested that No. 3 was originally a Wealden hall house due to its L-shape and the age of some timbers. The others were smaller cottages until the 20th century when several pairs were merged into larger houses. Behind their more modern fronts are some very old timber-framed buildings.
There has never been a No.1 Chapel Hill according to the records we have seen, so we start with No.2! The front door with 1 on it that faces onto Chapel Hill is the entrance to the flats above 1 Malling Street. All the houses in this stretch are listed as being of historical interest. They are Grade II listed apart from No.3 (Lamb House) which is Grade II*.
The early 20th century postcard opposite shows the frontages of Nos. 5, 6 and 7 on the left and 24 on the right. Notice also the steps on the right leading up to the loft over the stables of the Fountain Inn on South Street. Further up the hill one can see 3 houses with very steep gables which have since disappeared and were replaced by 2 houses in the 1960s.
2: Flint cottage with exposed beams inside. The flint frontage was probably a Victorian addition (“improvement”) to an older cottage. Pevsner describes it as having “over-scaled C19 fenestrations” while being clearly much older than that, as shown in the photograph below.
The roof beams were exposed by Simon Brown who lived here during the 1980s and 90s. At the same time he found an artist’s palette behind the fireplace. He was convinced he had found James Lambert’s palette, but unfortunately we have no evidence to support his theory. There is no indication that any of the Lamberts actually lived in the house, although they did own it from 1782 to 1795.
The censuses from 1841 onwards show that for at least 50 years, possibly 70, it was occupied by several generations of a family called Venus, who in the 1930s and 40s had a car showroom in Lewes. In the 19th century, at least 3 of them, William and his sons John and Charles, were house painters. It seems more likely that one of them was the owner of the palette. In the late 1920s and early 1930s it was occupied by a widow, Mrs Downton who did hand laundry. Between 1964 and 1973 it was owned by Mervyn and Margaret Morgan. They ran an antique shop, Maxone’s, from one of the front rooms. A current occupant of a house at the top of the hill remembers buying a coal scuttle and a statue for her first home from this shop in the 1970s. Since then it has been a family home.
2a: Although the address of this hidden house is 2a Chapel Hill, the house was at one time in its history part of 1 Malling Street, now occupied by Woodworks shop and offices and the 2 flats above the shop. The two were separated in Feb 1978. The linking corridor and stairs are still in place, though closed off. However when one looks at the backs of these houses it seems very likely that originally it was part of No. 2 Chapel Hill as indicated in the 1873 map. The walls have shaped cornerstones incorporated into them that greatly pre-date 1 Malling Street and may actually be Caen stones taken from the Priory when it was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s time. Many houses in Lewes have Priory stones built into them.
Like all the houses in this group it is basically a timber-framed house which has been added to and modernised over the years. The gardens behind Nos. 2 and 2a Chapel Hill and 3 Malling Street, where Thomas Baldy lived, were where he had his china warehouses. There are still some footings showing where some of the buildings must have been and they are shown on maps from the period. It is now divided into 3 gardens but then was one. At the far end of what is now the garden of No.2, Thomas Baldy attempted to dig a grotto, as I mentioned earlier, but it was never completed and there is no visible evidence of its existence.
3: This house is 2* listed. The origin of the name Lamb House is not clear. One theory is that it was on the pilgrim trail to Canterbury and offered food and lodging to the pilgrims. Despite the date beside the front door (JSB 1716) it has timbers dating back to the mid 15th century. 1716 is probably when the original front was replaced with a Georgian front by John and Sarah Baldy, whose initials explain the date stone.
Like many of the houses on the Hill, the owners were often not the occupiers, for example Thomas Baldy inherited it from his father John Baldy in 1757 but never lived in it in adult life. On Thomas Baldy’s death in 1782 the ownership passed to his business partner John Lambert, eldest brother of the artist James Lambert Snr.
During the last decade of the 18th century it was occupied by Dr Saunders, an inoculating doctor – very important in a time when smallpox was rife. Woolgar describes it thus; “The smallpox having made its appearance in several families in the town, in the beginning of Jan 1794 and the inhabitants dreading the spread of the contagion, the constables were solicited to call a town meeting, to consider the most efficacious means for putting a stop to the threatened evil. ‘Resolved, that as a general inoculation is an evil much less to be dreaded than a general infection, it is the decided opinion of the meeting that a general inoculation should immediately take place’. The general inoculation commenced on 14th Jan and finished on 20th Jan, 1794. 2890 people were inoculated and 46 died as a result of the “variolous poison.” This coincides exactly with Dr Saunders’ occupation of Lamb House.
It stayed in the ownership of the Lambert family until about 1800, when a cousin of the Lamberts, George Beard Hoey, a coach painter, took over ownership. Insurance records from 1807 state that the house was worth £200, the contents £80 and the pictures £20. Hoey must have been quite a wealthy man and one wonders if any of the pictures were painted by his cousins the Lamberts. The Hoey family also reappears many times on the Hill in various houses.
Over the next half century it was occupied by a coal merchant (Thomas Leney) and then a large family of tailors, the Poveys, who had a shop at 23 Cliffe High St, now the osteopath’s clinic between Oxfam and Spectrum Eyecare. The house changed hands many times over the next 100 years. In Oct 1940 a bomb landed on the kitchen of Lamb House but fortunately did not explode. A string of bombs were discarded over the town, others being recorded as landing in the Grange Gardens and near the Martyrs’ memorial on the top of Cliffe Hill. In the mid-1960s it became a bed and breakfast run by 2 sisters, Beryl and June Welton. In the early 20th century the house had been known as Herne Lodge, but the Weltons reinstated its original name, Lamb House.
5: This house was 2 cottages, Nos 4 and 5, until 1960. It also has many old exposed timbers and there is still some wattle and daub between it and No. 3 as was discovered when drilling to put up a shelf! The cottages were very small, literally one-up-one-down and yet when we look at the census we often see families with several children and maybe also an elderly grandparent living in them. In the 19th century No.4 was occupied by 2 bricklayer’s labourers (1841 and 1861) and later a bargeman (1871), while No.5 was occupied by a gas maker (1841), a house painter (Charles Venus, 1851), a wheelwright (1861) and a shoemaker (1871). A great event in the life of this house and its inhabitants was the planning permission received for an indoor toilet in the mid 20th century!
7: This housewas also 2 cottages, Nos 6 and 7, until 1972. It still has the 2 staircases. Like No.5, it was often occupied by large families during the 19th century. Of the occupants known, the majority were carpenters and labourers. Along with Nos 8 and 9 and possibly also 4 and 5, it was often sold as one of a group of houses to various speculators such as Spenta Cama from Brighton in the 1940s, who then rented them out. The well serving these houses is still visible in the garden as mentioned earlier.
8/9: The photo on the left shows the south-facing front of No. 8, also known as Lion House which is apparently a very narrow house, though it broadens out towards the back of the block. The one on the right shows the east-facing front of No.9 which opens onto the alleyway that would have run alongside the Chapel to the workshops and stables behind.
Although it is occupied as one house and has been for some years, the division between the 2 original houses is still evident, for example there are still two front doors. In the 19th century the occupants were a grocer (1841) a whitesmith, a carrier, a gardener, a shoemaker and a naval prison warder – Lewes’s industries in a nutshell! A whitesmith works with so-called white metals such as pewter rather than iron or steel.
Conveyances from the mid 20th century show the fluctuating values of these 3 (6) houses and give some idea of the profits the speculators must have made. The Venuses who we first met in No. 2 during the 19th century reappear as owners of these houses in 1921. In Oct 1932 Martha Venus sold them to a Seaford architect for £625. He sold them again for £770 only 2 months later to George Pratt. George was less lucky; the war intervened and he only got £600 when he sold them in 1946, but his buyer Spenta Cama of Brighton sold them very soon for £825!
24: Opposite No. 8/9. This house has had many reincarnations! The cottage at the back (uphill) is the oldest part while the front which faces downhill is largely Victorian. The garage occupies the space that was once a stableyard when the house was the base for a carrier, George Holder, in the late 19th century. His horses pulled a pantechnicon with canvas sides between Eastbourne and Brighton. Lewes was a significant port at that time with barges loading and unloading at the warehouses just south of Cliffe Bridge. His father, Spencer Holder, had been a carrier before him and also lived on the Hill, possibly in one of the houses opposite or even in the other half of this house.
In the early 19th century it was occupied by the ubiquitous Hoey family. On 2 August 1853 Verrall and Son, auctioneers, advertised the house at the Bear Inn, describing it thus; “a neat cottage on Chapel Hill, Cliffe, containing 3 bedrooms, kitchen and pantry, stable and cart house with loft and enclosed yard.” It was then let to Edward Bridgman and Robert Stoneham. Edward Bridgman, a bricklayer, had lived there with his family since before 1841 and was still there in 1861. He and his wife Phoebe had at least 5 children, John, Mary, William, Henry and James.
By 1871 the Holder family had probably moved in and remained there until 1918. In 1929 G.W.Tingley took out a mortgage for £800 on the house with the Lewes Co-op and lived there until 1948 when he sold it to the Philcox family. They are still builders in Lewes and the father bought the house so that his son could be a “proper vet”. Many local people will remember it as the vet’s surgery (Philcox and Pepper) and some can even remember goats and cattle waiting in the yard for the vet’s attention. It is currently divided into two quite independent houses.