Lewes

LEWES, a borough and market-town, and the head of a union, in the rape of Lewes, E. division of Sussex, 7 miles (N. E. by E.) from Brighton, 38 (E. by N.) from Chichester, and 50 (S. by E.) from London; containing 9199 inhabitants. This place, which occupies the eastern extremity of the South Downs, is supposed to have derived its name from the Saxon Leswa, signifying pasture; and by some antiquaries is thought to have been the Mutuantorris or Mantuantorris of the Romans; an opinion resting more on the presumed necessity for an intermediate station between Anderida Portus, in Pevensey, and Ad Derimum, near Bignor, than upon any conclusive evidence. Numerous remains of Roman antiquity have at various times been discovered, consisting of rings, pateræ, urns, fibulæ, and coins forming a regular series from the reign of Tiberius to the time of Constantine; and at the village of Glynde, about three miles from the town, the vestiges of a Roman ford may still be traced. During the time of the Saxons, from its elevated and commanding situation, the spot was regarded by the inhabitants of the adjacent country as a place of refuge from the frequent incursions of the Danes; and at a very early period it formed a part of the royal demesnes. A castle was built about the year 890, by Alfred; and in the reign of Athelstan, the town, which was strongly fortified, had attained to such consideration, that two of the royal mints were established here by order of that monarch.

From this period, it steadily advanced in importance. In the reign of Edward the Confessor, it obtained the privileges of a borough, and had a merchants' guild, and it continued to increase in prosperity till the Conquest, when it was granted by William to William de Warren, who had married his daughter Gundreda, and who rebuilt the castle as his chief residence. This splendid structure occupied an area 790 feet in length and 396 in width, inclosed with lofty walls, of which those on the north side formed part of the fortifications of the town; it had within the area two strong keeps raised on artificial mounds, of which the western has been preserved, and is of quadrangular form, with hexagonal turrets at the angles. The principal gateway, affording an entrance from the high street, is also still remaining, and displays features both of Norman and of later styles of architecture. A Cluniac priory was founded at Southover, adjoining Lewes, in 1078, by William de Warren and his wife. This became the principal establishment of the order in England, and the prior was high chamberlain of the abbot of Cluny, and his vicar-general in England, Scotland, and Ireland; the establishment was dedicated to St. Pancras, and flourished till the Dissolution, when its revenue was valued at £1091. 9. 6. There are but trifling remains of the structure, the chief portions having been removed to make room for the erection of the street and crescent to which it has transferred its name. In forming the Brighton and Hastings railway, which passes through the ruins, several interesting relics were dug up, and among them the coffins of the founders. An hospital, dedicated to St. Nicholas, was erected in 1085, by the same founders, who endowed it for 13 poor brethren and sisters; a portion of the wall only is remaining. In 1264, a sanguinary battle took place here, between Henry III., assisted by his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, and the confederated barons under Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester; in which the royal forces were at first victorious. Prince Edward, the king's son, having broken the enemy's line, threw them into disorder; but confident of victory, pursuing the fugitives too far, the forces of the barons rallied, and. making a fresh charge, entirely defeated the royal army; took the king and the Earl of Cornwall prisoners; and compelled the king to sue for peace, and to deliver his son as a hostage for the fulfilment of the conditions, which were concluded on an eminence adjoining the town, distinguished by the appellation of the "Mise of Lewes." Not less than 5000 men are said to have fallen in the battle, most of whom were buried on the spot. Since this period, few events of importance have occurred. Lewes had the honour of a visit, in 1830, from His Majesty William IV. and his queen, Adelaide, who, attended by the Duke of Cambridge and the Princess Augusta, were entertained at the Friars, the residence of Nehemiah Wimble, Esq.

The town is principally situated on an acclivity, rising from the western bank of the river Ouse, over which is a stone bridge of one arch, erected in 1727 to replace a bridge of wood that had been destroyed by a flood, and widened in 1829 by the formation of a footpath on each side. This bridge forms a communication with the vill of Cliffe, so called from its position under an impending cliff of chalk, and of which the site is supposed to have been anciently covered by the sea. The streets are regular and well built, containing many handsome houses; the town is paved, lighted with gas, and watched under a local act obtained in 1806, and supplied with water under an act passed in 1833. About the year 1821, considerable improvement was made in the White Hill road, which passes through a valley near the town, by lowering the hill on each side, and filling up the valley with the materials, thus forming a causeway between 30 and 40 feet high; and in 1828, the principal street in the vill of Cliffe was widened and greatly improved, under an act for this part. On the south side of the town is Southover; and the environs extend to the South Downs, a chain of chalk hills, rising like an amphitheatre to the mean elevation of about 500 feet, and covered with the rich herbage which gives to the South Down mutton its admired flavour. Assemblies take place occasionally in the town-hall, and races are held on Easter-Monday, and in the month of August; the former, called Hunter's races, were established in 1829. The race-course, formerly one of the finest four-mile courses in the kingdom, has been reduced in extent to 2¾ miles; it has a commodious stand, erected in 1772. A book society established in 1785 now possesses a library of several thousand volumes, many of them scarce works; the society consists of 100 members, admitted by ballot, on paying £6. 6. towards the general fund, and an annual subscription of £1. 5. A mechanics' institute was founded in 1825, and the building formerly the theatre has been appropriated to its use. The trade consists principally in grain and malt; there are several large breweries and iron-foundries, a paper manufactory, and a yard for building ships. Railway communication was opened with Brighton and with Hastings in 1846; and in 1847 a line was completed to near Keymer, on the London and Brighton railway, thus diminishing the distance to London by railway by about eight miles. A line was subsequently opened to Newhaven. The river is navigable from a distance of some miles above the town to the sea, and greatly facilitates the trade of the district. A market for corn is held every Tuesday, and for live-stock every Tuesday fortnight: the present market-house for provisions was completed in 1793. There are fairs on May 6th for cattle and pedlery, July 26th for wool, Whit-Tuesday for cattle, and September 21st and October 2nd for sheep, the number of which brought for sale at each of these two fairs exceeds 50,000. A show of fat-cattle takes place about Christmas.

Lewes is a borough by prescription, and was formerly a county of itself; the government is vested in two constables and two headboroughs, who are chosen annually, by a jury of burgesses, at the court leet of the lord of the manor. The town is within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold petty-sessions every Tuesday. The spring and summer assizes for the county are held here, and also the general quarter-sessions for the eastern division of the county, which comprises the rapes of Lewes, Pevensey, and Hastings; there are likewise intermediate sessions for the trial of prisoners. The powers of the county debt-court of Lewes, established in 1847, extend over the registration-districts of Eastbourne and Hailsham, and part of those of Lewes and Uckfield. The borough sends two members to parliament; the parliamentary boundaries comprise an area of 738 acres, and the constables are the returning officers. In 1812, a handsome assize-hall was erected, the expense of which, including the purchase of the ground and other property, was £15,500: it has a large entrance hall, with record-rooms, a room for the petty-sessions, two courts of judicature, and a room for the judges and magistrates; above these are, a spacious and elegant apartment for the grand jury, a council chamber, &c. In 1793, a house of correction for the eastern district was built, on Mr. Howard's plan; a southern wing was added to it in 1817, and very considerable additions have been since made, to adapt it to the improved system of prison discipline. The town is the place of election for the eastern division of the county.

The borough anciently comprised ten or eleven parishes, but these have been reduced to four. The parishes of St. Andrew, St. Mary in Foro, St. Martin, and St. Michael, were united in the 37th of Henry VIII., and now form the parish of St. Michael, containing 988 inhabitants. The living is a discharged rectory, with the rectory of St. Andrew's annexed, valued together in the king's books at £17. 5. 10., and in the patronage of the Crown; net income, £116. The church, which was partially rebuilt and modernised in 1755, retains some good portions of later English architecture; there is a splendid mural monument to the memory of Sir Nicholas Pelham, Knt., and Anne his wife. The parish of St. Anne consists of the united parishes of St. Peter Within and St. Mary West-out, the latter being without the ancient borough, and contains 777 inhabitants. The living is a discharged rectory, valued for both in the king's books at £19. 13. 6½., and in the patronage of the Crown: certain impropriate tithes have been commuted for £193. 10., and the incumbent's for £130. The church, formerly that of St. Mary's, is partly Norman, and partly of the early English architecture; it contains a curious font: the boundary line of the ancient borough passes through the chancel. The parish of St. John under the Castle is of very considerable extent, but a small part of it only is within the borough, the remainder lying in the hundred of Swanborough; it contains 2502 inhabitants. The living is a rectory, to which that of St. Mary Magdalene's was annexed in 1539, valued in the king's books at £3. 11. 3.; patron and incumbent, the Rev. Peter G. Crofts. The tithes have been commuted for £250, and the glebe consists of three acres. The church was of considerable antiquity, but, being much too small, was taken down and rebuilt in 1840, chiefly by subscription, aided by grants from the Incorporated Society and the Chichester Diocesan Association; it is a handsome structure in the later English style, and contains 1013 sittings, of which 602 are free. On the outer wall of the new church have been placed the remains of a monument formerly in the churchyard, assigned to Magnus, son of Harold II., with an inscription mostly in Anglo-Saxon characters. The parish of All Saints is a union of the parishes of the Holy Trinity, St. Peter the Less, and St. Nicholas, and contains 2123 inhabitants. The living is a discharged rectory, valued in the king's books at £7; net income, £206; patron, Charles Goring, Esq. The church, with the exception of the tower, was rebuilt in the year 1805. The precinct of the castle is extraparochial, and is not rateable within the borough, or subject to any ecclesiastical jurisdiction. There are places of worship in the town for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians.

The parishes of St. Thomas in the Cliffe, with 1545 inhabitants, and St. John Southover, with 1229 inhabitants, although without the limits of the ancient borough, may be considered as forming part of the town of Lewes; they are included in the present parliamentary boundary, as is also part of the parish of South Malling. A constable and two headboroughs for the hundred of Ringmer, of which the Cliffe is the most populous part, are chosen annually at the court leet of Earl De la Warr. The living of St. Thomas is a discharged rectory, in the patronage of the Archbishop of Canterbury, valued in the king's books at £5. 12. 6.; net income, £130. The church, dedicated to St. Thomas à Becket, contains a fine altar-piece, and an organ that was formerly in the chapel of the Duke of Chandos, at Canons. There are places of worship for Independents and Huntingtonians, the founder of which latter sect, William Huntington, was interred here. Southover parish comprises 550 acres, of which 400 are meadow, 122 arable, and 28 acres houses and gardens. The living is a discharged rectory, valued in the king's books at £6. 12., and in the patronage of the Crown; net income, £30, with a glebe-house and 4 acres of land. The church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is chiefly in the decorated English style, and contains a tombstone to Gundreda, wife to the first earl de Warren; this relic, formerly in the priory, is of black marble, finely sculptured with foliage, and bears around its edge a laudatory inscription in Norman characters. In ancient records Southover is called a borough, and it still has its distinct high constable and other officers. The manor was an appendage of the monastery, on the Dissolution of which it was given to Lord Essex: after his attainder it reverted to the Crown, and was granted by Henry VIII. to his divorced queen, Anne of Cleves, who, according to tradition, took up her residence here, in a very ancient building situated on the south side of the street.

The free grammar school was founded originally at Southover, in 1512, by Agnes Morley, who endowed it with a rent-charge of £20, together with a house and garden, for a master and an usher; and this endowment was subsequently increased by various legacies, particularly that of Mrs. Mary Jenkins, who in 1709 left a house, gardens, and appurtenances for the master, and the sum of £1533. Belonging to the borough is an exhibition to either university for four years, left by the Rev. George Steere, "to a poor scholar, the son of parents residing in or near Lewes;" the annual value is about £35. Evelyn, author of Sylva, and John Pell, the celebrated mathematician, were educated here. The poor-law union of Lewes is limited to the six parishes above enumerated, with the addition of South Malling, and contains a population of 9552. There are many interesting antiquities in and near Lewes, besides those already noticed. The Castra, or earthworks, on the summit of the Downs, are still remaining; and tumuli are scattered in various parts, in which have been found skeletons, urns, ashes, amber beads, and occasionally warlike instruments. Part is yet standing of the exterior walls of an hospital dedicated to St. James, now converted into a barn. Here was also a monastery of Grey friars, the memorial of which is preserved in the name of a modern mansion on the site, called the Friars. The town walls were erected during the residence of the earls of Warren and Surrey, and may still be accurately traced; a part of the western wall is standing, and vestiges of other parts are visible. In Southover is an ancient mansion, erected in 1572 with part of the materials of the priory, and in which are preserved three of the beautifully inlaid doors belonging to that establishment. Many varieties of vegetable and animal organic remains have been found in the chalk formation of the vicinity. Among the natives of Lewes may be mentioned Richard Russell, Esq., M.D. and F.R.S., who, by his writings on the efficacy of the sea water at Brighton, laid the foundation of the prosperity of that fashionable bathing-place.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

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