Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for LEWES

LEWES, a town, several parishes, a sub-district, a district, and a rape in Sussex. The town stands on the river Ouse, at a convergence of railways, amid the South Down hills, 7 miles NNW of Newhaven, and 7 NE of Brighton. Its situation is picturesque; its environs, on all sides, to a considerable distance, abound in fine scenery, ranging from the beautiful to the romantic; and a number of spots in the neighbourhood, particular Cliffe Hill immediately to the E, and Mount Harry 2 ½ miles to the NW, command very striking views. The Ouse is navigable from the town to the sea at Newhaven; and railways go in five directions, toward Brighton, Newhaven, Hastings, Uckfield, and a junction with the London and Brighton at Keymer.

Lewes is supposed, from the abundance of ancient British names of places around it, to have been a site or centre of ancient British settlers. It is supposed also, from the discovery of numerous Roman coins, urns, rings, pateræ, and other Roman relics in and near it, as well as from other slight evidence, to have been the site of the Roman station Mutuantonis. It is first mentioned in history as a demesne of the south Saxon kings; it had a strong castle in the Saxon times; it had also two mints in the time of Athelstane, while Chichester and Hastings had each only one; and it probably got its name from the Saxon word Hlœw, anciently pronounced Lowes, and signifying ' ' a hill. ''It was given, by William the Conqueror, soon after the conquest, to William de Warrene, who had married the Conqueror's fourth daughter, Gundrada; and it was then known as Laquis. De Warrene either restored and enlarged the old castle, or built a new one; and he and his wife founded, in 1078, a Cluniac priory, at the foot of the Castle-hill; and these two structures, for several centuries, gave great importance to the town. A battle was fought, in 1264, on Mount Harry, between the forces of Henry III. and those of the confederated barons under Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, when the king was defeated and taken prisoner, and after which a treaty was concluded with him, known as the "Mise of Lewes" The town was repeatedly agitated by the descents of the French on the coast, out never sustained any serious damage from them; it was the scene of sixteen martyrdoms in the time of Queen Mary; and it suffered some trouble from the nonconformists, after the Restoration; but it has not witnessed any other considerable occurrences. Archbishop Peckham, Sir T. Springett, Dr. John Tabor, Dr. R. Russell, Thomas Woolgar, Sir John Evelyn, Sir Henry Blackman, and Dr. Mantell, were natives or residents; and Thomas Paine, author of the "Rights of Man," spent his early manhood here as an exciseman.

The castle stood on a hill, towering grandly above the body of the town, and guarding an important route from the coast to the interior. It remained with the Warrenes till the extinction of the family in the 14th century; and it then passed to the Fitzalans of Arundel. Some portions of it still exist, and possess much interest. The gate-house is early English; has battlements and machicolations; and appears to have had a double portcullis. A gateway, immediately within, is Norman, with plain semicircular arch; and probably is a portion of the original work of the first De-Warrene. The outer ballium, or base court, was an irregular oval; has, at the extremities, two artificial mounds, nearly 800 feet apart from centre to centre; and had, on these mounds, two keeps, each apparently with four octagonal towers. Two towers of one of the keeps still stand; are beset with a thicket of ash trees, and with ivy; and, though probably of earlier date than the gate-house, are of a date much later than the Norman gate way. One of them is now occupied as a museum, by the Sussex Archæological Society; contains seals of the Cinque ports, relics of the Sussex ironworks, celts and pottery from barrows in the neighbour. ing downs, and other curious local antiquities; and conimands, from its leads, a magnificent view over the Weald, and from the sea to the Surrey hills.

The Cluniac priory, founded in 1078, was the first of its kind in England; continued, for 150 years, to be the only one in England; and was afterwards the head of its order in England. It displaced a small wooden chapel, of Saxon date, dedicated to St. Pancras; and it was itself dedicated to the same saint. It was so large and stately as to cover 32 acres; and it had a church 150 feet long, with walls 10 feet thick. It was occupied by Henry I I I. and his followers, on the night prior to the battle of Mount Harry; it gave transient refuge to Prince Edward after the battle; and it was set on fire by the victorious barons, but did not suffer much injury from the flames. Edmund Dudley, the favourite of Henry III., was educated in it; and Dudley's father is said to have been its carpenter. The remains of some distinguished persons were interred in its chapter-house; and stately tombs or monuments of numerous De Warrenes, Clares, De Veres, St. Johns, and Fitzalans, were erected in its church. Its site was given, at the dissolution, to Thomas, Lord Cromwell; reverted to the Crown; was given, by Elizabeth, to Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset; passed afterwards through. many hands; was intersected by the railway in 1845; and is now private property, rented by the Archæological Society. Most of the buildings were demolished by Cromwell; some portions were constructed, by the Sackvilles, into a family mansion, called Lord's Place, which was afterwards burned down; a portion of a pigeon-house, of cruciform structure, as large as many a parish church, and containing 3,228 pigeon-holes, stood till about the year 1808; the very substructions of the chapter-house and of the church were cut through, or dug up, in the excavations for the railway; and only a few scanty vestiges now exist. Some fragments of late Norman wall, and of a winding stair, still stand. A round subterranean building, called the Lantern, and seeming to have been the prison of the priory, can still be entered by a long narrow passage, from what was originally a vaulted crypt, now under the railway. Traces of the fish pond also may still be seen. An artificial mound, in what is now a cricket-ground, was possibly the base for a Calvary; and a hollow near it, called the Drippingpan, was perhaps the priory-garden. Two leaden coffins, inscribed with the names of William de Warrene and Gundrada, and no doubt containing their remains, were found about 2 feet below the surface, at the excavating of the chapter-house for the railway; and have been deposited in a beautiful mausoleum, erected for the purpose on the S side of the adjacent church of Southover. Other human remains also were found there; and the remains of seemingly many hundred bodies, filling a circular pit, 10 feet in diameter and 18 feet deep, were found a few feet E of the church.

A priory of Grey friars, and two hospitals, dedicated to St. James and St. Nicholas, also were in Lewes; but these too have disappeared.-A number of ancient British vases of rude workmanship, a number of human skeletons, with barrel-shaped drinking cups at the head and the feet, and several sepulchral urns, containing the calcined ashes of human bones, were found, in 1834, in the course of an excavation for a water-work tank; and two of these relics lay at the remarkable depth of at least 14 feet, embedded in solid chalk rock, and surrounded by bones of varions animals. Fossil remains of the megadosaurus and the plesiosaurus, with those of crocodiles, tortoises, cetaceous fishes, and birds, were found in the vicinity of Lewes, by Dr. Mantell, at a time to add materially to the progress of geological science. Much contribution also to a knowledge of the antiquities of Sussex, particularly those of Lewes and its neighbourhood, has recently been made by Mr. M. A. Lower.

The town covers the side of a steep hill; and includes the suburb of Cliffe on the E, and that of Southover on the SW. It presents some resemblance to Totnes, but differs much in appearance from the great majority of English towns. The views in it from High-street, from Cliffe, and from Southover, are peculiar and striking. The streets, in general, are spacions and well-paved; and they present, in some parts, curious mixtures of the ancient and the modern. A better class of houses was pretty numerously erected during the ten or twelve years ending in 1866; and a field to the left of the descent of Rottenrow was laid out in the last of these two years for villas. An ancient house nearly opposite Southover church is said to have been, for some time, occupied by Anne of Cleves. The good old-fashioned Star inn has a grand, ancient, carved oak staircase brought from the seat of the Coverts; and stands over a vaulted cellar, which is said to have been the prison of some of the Protestants who were martyred here in the time of Mary. A one-arched stone bridge over the Ouse was erected in 1727, and widened, by the addition of a footpath on each side, in 1829. The old townhall stood near the centre of High-street, and was taken down in 1808. The shirehall w as erected after the demolition of the town hall, at a cost of about £15,000; is an elegant edifice; comprises a council chamber, civil and criminal courts, and other apartments; and contains a good picture by Northcote, formerly in the Shakespeare gallery, and a portrait of General Elliott. The county jail, in North-street, was built in 1793, on Howard's plan; was enlarged in 1817 and about 1835; underwent alterations, for receiving Russian prisoners of war in 1854; and now has capacity for 205 male and 49 female prisoners. There are barracks, a market-house, assembly-rooms, a theatre, a mechanics, institute, two public libraries, and a recordroom and engine-house.

Formerly there were twelve pairsh churches in the town, but now there are only six. St. Michael's church stands in High-street, near a projecting clock; is an ancient edifice, restored in 1755; has a low circular tower; and contains two brasses of 1400 and 1457, and a monument of Sir Nicholas Pelham, who died in 1559. St. Anne's church stands at the top of the hill; is transition Norman, of good character; was recently restored; and contains some neat mural monuments. The church of S t. John-sub-Castro stands on the N side of the town; occupies the site of a Saxon church; is itself a modern edifice; includes a door-way arch of the previous Saxon church; and has an inscription to the memory of Magnus, a Danish prince. The churchyard occupies the ground of a very small Roman camp, the vallum of which is still traceable; and it contains the tomb of Thomas Blunt, a native who bequeathed a silver gilt cup still in use, and who died in 1611. St. Thomas' church is in Cliffe; and has a neat interior and a fine altar-piece. Southover church, or the church of St. John-Southover, has a nave partly Norman, and a chancel later English, and originally extending much further to the E; is remarkable for the mausoleum of De Warenne and Gundrada on its S side-a little chapel in the Norman style, erected in 1847; and contains an effigies of the time of Henry III., found during the same exca vations which disclosed De Warenne's and Gundrada's remains. The great gate of the priory stood near the E end of this church, and was taken down in 1832: and the side portal of it was removed to the end of Southover crescent, where it now stands. There are four chapels for Independents, and. one each for Calvinists, Baptists, Quakers, Wesleyans, Primitive Methodists, and Unitarians. The Tabernacle Independent chapel stands in High-street near the bridge; and, about 1835, was ornamented with a handsome front, and enlarged. The Jireh or Calvinist chapel stands in North-street, Cliffe; and was built in 1805; and a little cemetery behind it contains the tomb of the well known William Huntington, ''the coalheaver, S.S., sinner saved." The Westgate chapel was originally a residence of the Goring family, and was converted to its present use in 1687. The free grammar school was founded in 1512; educates 12 foundationers, about 24 non-foundationers, and about 12 boarders; has £100 a year from endowment, and an exhibition; and had, for pupils, Bell the mathematician and Evelyn. There are also national, British, parochial, and infant schools. There are likewise alms houses with £13 a year.

The town has a head post office,‡ a sub-post office ‡ at Southover, another sub-post office† at Cliffe, a railway station with telegraph, two banking offices, and three chief inns; is a seat of assizes, quarter sessions, petty sessions, and county courts, and a polling-place; and publishes three newspapers. A market for corn and hops is lield every Tuesday; a market for cattle, sheep, and pigs, on every alternate Tuesday; fairs for horses, on WhitTuesday, and 6 May; a fair for wool, on 26 July; and a fair for Southdown sheep, very largely attended, on 21 September. The annual cattle-show of the Sussex Agricultural Society is often held here. A considerable trade is carried on in corn, malt, and coals. A race-course, with a stand, is at Mount Harry; was formerly 4 miles in circuit, but is now only 2¾; and races are usually held on it in March and August. The town is a borough by prescription, and is governed by two constables and other officers, chosen at the court-leet of the lord of the manor; and it has sent two members to parliament since the time of Edward I. The boundaries were extended by the reform act; and they include three parishes, parts of five others, and an extra-parochial tract. The area is about one-fifth of a square mile. Electors in 1833,878; in 1863,650. Amount of property and income-tax charged in 1863, £4,135. Real property, in 1860, £30,091; of which £230 were in quarries. Pop. in 1851, 9,533; in 1861,9,716. Houses, 1,820.

The parishes wholly in the borough are St. Michael, All Saints, and St. Thomas-in-the-Cliffe; the parishes partly in the borough are St. Anne (called also St. Peter and St. Mary), St. John-sub-Castro, St. John-Southover, Kingston, and South Malling; and the extra-parochial tract in the borough is Castle-Precincts. Pop. in 1861, of St. Michael, 1,076; of All Saints, 2,092; of St. Thomas, 1,568; of the borough part of St. Anne, 885; of all St. Anne, 980; of the borough part of St. John-sub-Castro, 2,221; of all St. John-sub-Castro, 2,308; of the borough part of St. John-Southover, 1,336; of all St. John-Southover, 1,344; of the borough part of Kingston, 7; of the borough part of South Malling, 499; of Castle-Precincts, 32. See KINGSTON and MALLING (SOUTH). All the six livings in the town are rectories in the diocese of Chichester. Value, of St. Michael, £116; * of St. Anne, 190;* of St. John-sub-Castro, £250; of All Saints, £198; of St. Thomas, £130; of St. John-Southover, £35. *

The sub-district contains the entire parishes of St. Michael, St. Anne, St. John-sub-Castro, All Saints, St. Thomas, St. John-Southover, and South Malling, and the extra-parochial tract of Castle-Precincts. Acres, 5,870. Pop., 10,116. Houses, 1,883.—The district comprehends also the sub-district of Chailey, containing the parishes of Chailey, Newick, Barcombe, and Ringmer; the sub-district of Ditchling, containing the parishes of Ditchling, Wivelsfield, Westmeston, Street, Plumpton, and Hamsey; the district-district of Westfirle, containing the parishes of Westfirle, Beddingham, Glynde, Ripe, Chal Vington, Selmeston, Alciston, and Berwick; the subdistrict of Newhaven, containing the parishes of Newhaven, Piddinghoe, Telscombe, Southease, East Blatchington, Bishopstone, Denton, South Heighton, and Tairing-Neville; and the sub-district of Rottingdean, containing the parishes of Rottingdean, Ovingdean, Rodmell, Iford, Kingston-near-Lewes, Stanmer, and Falmer. Four poor law unions are comprised in the district;- Lewes union, conterminate with Lewes sub-district, and containing three workhouses in respectively St. Anne, All Saints, and St. Thomas parishes; Chailey union, conterminate with Chailey and Ditchling sub-districts, and containing three workhouses in respectively Chailey, Ditchling, and Ringmer parishes; Westfirle union, conterminate with Westfirle sub-district, and containing a workhouse in Westfirle; and Newhaven union, conterminate with Newhaven and Rottingdean sub-districts, and containing a workhouse in Newhaven. Poor rates, in 1863, of the Lewes union, £6,708; of the Chailey union, £6,950; of the Westfirle union, £2,220; of the Newhaven union, £3,733. Acres, of the district, 85,104. Pop. in 1851,25,719; in 1861,26,995. Houses, 4,964. Marriages in 1863,196; births, 846,-of which 45 were illegitimate; deaths, 522, -of which 134 were at ages under 5 years, and 11 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60,1,784; births, 8,279; deaths, 5,133. The places of worship, in 1851, were 40 of the Church of England, with 8,854 sittings; 11 of Independents, with 3,364 s.; 6 of Baptists, with 1,300 s.; 1 of Quakers, with 105 s.; 4 of Wesleyans, with 555 s.; 1 of Primitive Methodists, with 150 s.; 1 of Unitarians, with 400 s.; and 4 undefined, with 569 s. The schools were 35 public day schools, with 2,171 scholars; 73 private day schools, with 1,537 s.; 33 Sunday schools, with 2,249 s.; and 6 evening schools for adults, with 75 s. The rape contains the hundreds of Barcombe, Buttinghill, Dean, Fishergate, Holmstrow, Lewes, Poynings, Preston, Street, Swanborough, Whalesbone, and Younsmere. Acres, 137,875. Pop. in 1861,53,895. Houses, 9,117.- Lewes hundred comprises 3,191 acres. Pop. in 1851, 6,351. Houses, 1,165.


(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a town, several parishes, a sub-district, a district, and a rape"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Lewes CP       Lewes SubD       Lewes PLU/RegD       Lewes RegD       Sussex AncC
Place: Lewes

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