Mill Road History > Introduction

Mill Road (at different times known as Malling Hill and Old Ringmer Road) leads uphill eastward for few hundred metres from the A26 towards the combined footpath and cycle track to Ringmer and the Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserve.

The oldest complete structure in Mill Road is Mill House, built in the early 19th Century. Nearby stands the roundhouse which once formed the base of Malling Mill, an imposing windmill that stood on the site for at least 300 years.

The terrace beyond the mill on the right-hand side of the road was built in the first years of the 20th Century. The mixture of semi-detached and detached houses and bungalows on the left-hand side developed in the 1920s and 1930s and, towards the top of the hill, in the 1970s and 1990s. The block of flats at the bottom of the road on the right-hand side was constructed in the late 1950s.

Mill Road, Lewes, 2019
Mill Road, 2019

Early history: archaeological finds

Excavations in the Malling Hill area have proved it fairly rich in archaeology. In 1830, during the roadworks that altered the course of the main turnpike route between Lewes and Uckfield, a large, high-status Saxon cemetery containing about 20 skeletons was found opposite the first mile-post from Lewes at Earwig Corner. Among the objects found were swords, spearheads, knives, shield-bosses, iron buckles, two small earthen vessels and a rare bracelet of green glass, either Roman or early Saxon, now exhibited in the British Museum.[1]

An excavation in 1973 uncovered another Saxon burial pit containing the well-preserved remains of 13 young men lying irregularly over one other, face down and in a position that suggested that their hands had been tied behind their backs. Some of them had received fatal blows to the head. A further excavation of the same site in 2005 revealed 9 more bodies, from which only one head was recovered. The burials were apparently victims of execution. Carbon dating produced an estimate between 810 and 910 AD.[2]

South Malling Manor

From Saxon times to the Reformation in the 16th Century the land on which Mill Road now stands was within the Manor of South Malling. Manors were the principal administrative unit of medieval landed estates. In 838 Egbert, King of Wessex, who had annexed Sussex and Kent after victory over the rival Saxon kingdom of Mercia in 825, granted ‘land in Malling in Sussex’ to the archbishop of Canterbury.

The archbishop’s manor of South Malling appears in Domesday Book (1086) and comprised an enormous stretch of land from Cliffe Bridge in Lewes to the Kent border. The parishes within the manor formed a Peculiar: their priests were subject to the authority of the archbishop, not to that of the bishop of Chichester, an arrangement that lasted well into the 19th Century. Until the Reformation the priests staffed a college of canons on the site of the modern Deanery.

By the 1280s archbishops on progresses from Canterbury to visit their estates in western Sussex frequently lodged at their palace at Old Malling, which stood on the site currently occupied by the police headquarters. The entire Manor of South Malling, including all the land surrounding what is now Mill Road, remained the archbishops’ property until the Reformation in the 1540s, when it passed to the Crown, after which the palace buildings became redundant and fell into disrepair.[3]

[1] Historic Environment Report, East Sussex Record Office: MES7185

[2] Historic Environment Report, East Sussex Record Office: MES1762

[3] See Colin Brent, Pre-Georgian Lewes, 2004 for a comprehensive and scholarly account of South Malling manor