I have an extraordinary tale to tell. Before it was purchased and used as council offices, the buildings behind Lewes House were used for storage and at at the end of the 19th century were a stable block belonging to the expat American art collector (and millionaire!) Edward Perry Warren. Edward had seen Rodin's latest large scale endeavour - a sculpture called 'The Kiss' - but his offer to buy it has been sadly declined as the French government had beaten him to it. Not to be outdone, Edward commissioned a copy stipulating however that Rodin add more obvious genitalia. Quite. This was done and in 1904 'The Kiss' arrived in Lewes and was duly put straight into...the stables. For 10 years it remained there until in1914 Warren lent it to Lewes Council for display in the Town Hall. Needless to say the genitalia caused a predictable kerfuffle leading to much public protest - led by local headmistress Miss Fowler-Tutt - and 'The Kiss' was once more locked back in the stables. Twelve years later, in 1929, Warren died as the chap he left it too put it up for sale in the local auction house, Gorringes. It failed to meet it's reservce and was unsold! then in 1955 it was bought for the nation, genitalia and all, for the princely sum of £7500. in 1999 it returned to Lewes...for an exhibition in the Town Hall. If you want to see now, it's installed at London's 'Tate Modern'.
Until recently this stable block was the council funded Thebes Gallery which sat alongside a sculpture strewn garden. Alas the economic depression led to closure and so for this public art space the horse has most definitely bolted! Sadly this means that no part of Lewes House is open to the public but the story is definitely worth remembering as you wander past...
The South Downs is a 100 miles long series of hills stretching from East Sussex to Hampshire in Southern England. The South Downs are a very popular hiking spot and there exists a long distance trail - the South Downs Way - which walkers and hikers can follow across the Downs. It starts in Eastbourne and ends 100 miles to the west in Winchester. Along the route is some of the best scenery in England.
Lewes is a good base for hiking on the Downs as it’s only a few kilometres away. We walked from Lewes to Glynde before climbing onto the Downs near West Firle. We returned via Southese and the river Ouse. This was a walk of about 15 miles and it took us about 7 hours.
Lewes’s best known resident was Thomas Paine, an 18th century writer and radical thinker. He moved to Lewes in 1768 and founded a debating club (at an inn where the White Hart Hotel now stands) in which he developed and expounded his revolutionary ideas. His first major work was “Common Sense”, in which he argued for American Independence from Britain while his best known work, “The Rights of Man” was written at the time of the French revolution and was hugely controversial at the time. The house where Paine lived from 1768-74 is beside the Brewer’s Arms on the High Street while the White Hart Hotel commemorates him with a blue plaque.
The gardens of Southover Grange, a 16th century Elizabethan house, are one of the nicest spots in Lewes. Southover Grange is below high street, and from the gardens there are excellent views of Lewes castle.
There are excellent views of Lewes from Chapel Hill, to the east of the town.
To get here from Lewes High Street: walk down the hill past the WW2 memorial heading towards Cliffe High Street. Continue straight on this street, passing Harvey’s Brewery on the left and go over a bridge and continue straight until the junction with Malling Street (just beyond the church of St. Thomas a Becket on your left) . Cross Malling Street and walk up the narrow Chapel Hill. This climbs steeply towards Lewes Golf Club and just before you reach the clubhouse you’ll be rewarded with excellent views back over Lewes.
Well this is one tourist trap you really ought to fall into. The Lewes Tourist Information Centre is packed with brochures and guides to local sights, up-and-coming concerts and beautiful bed and breakfast establishments. There are multilingual staff in attendance and everything you need covering Lewes in particular but also the wider county of Sussex and the South East generally should be here. For those brave souls intending to cover the entire Kingdom there is also a good selection of literature covering other destinations within England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And lest I forget, there are the ubiquitous selection of tea-towels and key rings on sale too!
I'm sure you're all aware of the nursery rhyme ' Here we go 'round the mulberry bush'. You aren't?! Then allow me to sing it for you...
'Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush, the mulberry bush,
Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
On a cold and frosty morning.'
...Quite! It is not Shakespeare. It is not epic in scale or teeming with rhythmic rhyme schemes. The remaining verses are mind-numbingly repetitive as they run through a myriad of work tasks to perform from washing clothes to baking bread but that is the point. According to some folk historians this nursery rhyme started off as a work song chanted by the inmates of Wakefield Prison in Yorkshire as they marched repetitively around the circular exercise yard. For there, in the middle of the yard, there was..a mulberry bush! Well, Southover Grange is hardly a penal institution (Lewes does have a real live prison on the southern edge of town) but it does have one of the most magnificent mulberry trees you are ever likely to see. Believe it or not it is genuinely reckoned to be over 350 years old! Until recently you could stroll underneath and secretly snaffle the odd berry...the only cost being the indelible juice that will ruin your clothes with a beautiful shade of red. At the moment the old boy is fenced off together with a nearby tree for a bit of prudent pruning. Next year have your rhyme at the ready!
There are more than a few hidden gems in Lewes, and the Lewes House Sculpture Garden is one of my favourites. Just down the High Street, nestled away behind one of the very nicest council buildings you are ever likely to see - 'er, Lewes House, unsurprisingly - and off an alleyway called Church Twitten, you'll find a beautiful little garden peppered with sculptures. Soothingly restfully in Summer or Winter - not that Lewes is a teemingly busy hellhole! - it's certainly worth a gander.The art on display changes regularly and the exhibits are often for sale too - but alas, they don't usually come cheap. However, entrance to the sculpture garden is free and terribly low key. Just walk through the open gate and down the path. By the way, if you end up surrounded by buff envelopes you've taken the wrong door and ended up in the council post room!
Fear not dear reader! This is not some gruesome fairytale but a true story of a Bloomsbury Woolf named Virginia and her husband Leonard. The Round House is so called because it first saw the light of day as a working windmill. It was erected in 1802 by public subscription in the hope that it's work would help to alleviate the food shortages felt during the Napoleonic Wars. However, it's sails were removed 33 years later. I can hardly believe that the wind itself had done a runner but perhaps a better hill had become available? In any case back in June 1919 the celebrated literary 'pin-up' (I use the word advisedly for I have seen the dear lady's portrait!) purchased the Round House for £300 (rather more nowadays!). Alas they never got around to moving in as they found somewhere bigger in which they could pace around moodily in greater comfort. So after two months they sold it on and moved to the nearby village Rodmell - where they lived until 29th March 1941 when Virginia threw herself into the River Ouse. Out of interest, I can reveal that a few years back a local auction house sold the walking stick she left on the river bank before her fateful 'swim'. I held the curious item but did not feel inclined to bid...
It's probably best to visit the Barbican House Museum first to get some of the background info to this castle - then climb to the top of the Keep for the lovely views over Lewes and the cliffs!
Open all year
Tuesday to Saturday: 1000-1730
Sunday, Monday and Bank Holidays: 1100-1730
Closed Mondays in January and 24-28 December
Lewes Castle closes at dusk in winter
Senior Citizen £3.80
Family £11.00 (2 adults & 2 children)
One adult and up to 4 children £8.75
Group rates (minimum 15 people):
Senior Citizen £3.10
Walking around the town of Lewes is fascinating. There's something new to see at every turn, whether it be the ancient churches (see my Travelogue) or the very old houses going back to the 16th century. It's worth a climb up to the Castle or down to the river below. This house dates way back... but is still in use on the High Street.
A place to relax, with fantastic views of old Lewes across to the castle!
Baxter's Field is part of the Paddock, and has its entrance at the top end of Paddock Lane. It is bounded by The Avenue to the north, Bradford Road to the south-west, Wycherley's paddock to the east, and Paddock Lane to the south-east. It is the former sports ground of Baxters, the old Lewes printers, taken over some years ago by Fulmar plc.
The Baxter's Field Company was formed to act as a vehicle to both purchase and participate in the general upkeep and maintenance of Baxter's Field, together with fundraising and other such events and activities that will benefit the field for the people of Lewes.
The company was incorporated on the 1st of October 2003 based upon the original concept of The Baxter's Field Trust, which acted on an informal basis, until such time that the field became available for sale. After a public meeting, held in Lewes on the 10th of September 2003, and subsequent soundings, a bid value of £78,000 was drawn up and submitted to Clifford Dann (agents for the vendor Fulmar plc) on the final date. This bid was formed on the basis of pledges received from many people who either live in the vicinity of the field or who have had a long-term interest in it.
After a period of nail-biting anticipation the company was informed that its bid had been successful and contracts were exchanged on the 6th November 2003 with completion on 22nd December 2003.
Now, after lots of hard work cleaning up the field, cutting the grass, making the trees safe and fencing off the old burnt-out pavilion, it is open to the public!
The name can be a little misleading as Anne never lived here, and probably never even set foot here, but it was a property granted to her by Henry VIII upon their divorce. The rent would have helped support Anne at one of her grander properties (i.e. Hever Castle).
It is still a fine example of early architecture and an interesting museum. We, cat lovers that we are, were most taken by "Cat of Cleves" who was on top of the shop cash register when we walked in.
Built by William de Warenne, one of William the Conqueror's lieutenants, the castle keep and barbican are interesting to visit. And you can see great views of the town and downs as you climb the hill up to the castle.
The castle is in the middle of the town.
Apparently there is some connection with wild boars, the gift shop had all kinds of stuff with wild boars on it.
This is where I bought Svinestig my great friend - a stuffed cuddly toy wild boar!
A good thing about this place is that it's not as overrun as many other places.