Visit Lewes and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Lewes, East Sussex. The county town of East Sussex and the county town of all Sussex when it had only one administration. This is a rewarding town in which to walk, but not to drive, for the streets are mainly steep and narrow. The High Street has many Georgian buildings, and a number much older. The hilly streets afford good views and unexpected and interesting little corners delight the eye.
Lewes is an old town and came into prominence soon after the Conquest when a fort was erected here, one of the many built in the South for keeping the conquered English under control.
In 1264 was fought the Battle of Lewes on the Downs just outside the town, between Simon de Montfort and his barons and Henry III. The king was defeated and the ensuing terms of peace are regarded by many as the beginnings of parliamentary government in England. Later Lewes was a stronghold of Protestantism and its people suffered many martyrdoms in the reign of Mary I.
The castle keep, built on high ground near the centre of Lewes, has a commanding position and a good view over the whole town and surrounding countryside. The castle was built on two artificial mounds instead of the customary one. The original fort was built of wood, but there were stone constructions before the end of the 11th century. In the mid-14th century it was left uninhabited and over the years suffered from decay and spoliation by the townspeople, until the Sussex Archaeological Society stepped in to save it in the nineteenth century; it is now in their care. What can be seen today are the remains of the keep dating from Norman days and the 13th century, but with much l9th-century restoration and addition, also the massive 14th-century barbican and fragments of the connecting walls. In the castle grounds are a number of exhibits of historical interest.
Opposite the castle gates is Barbican House, a 16th-century timber-framed building, enlarged and re-fronted in the 18th century; now a museum of the Sussex Archaeological Society with a wide range of exhibits of local and general interest from prehistoric times, Sussex watercolours, and some excellent tapestries.
Of the old buildings in the High Street one of the most interesting is the Old Bull, once an inn, then a store and now a popular restaurant. Dating partly from the 15th century. it was the home of the revolutionary pamphleteer, Thomas Paine, author of The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason. Here Paine lodged from 1768 to 1774 when he was an excise officer (Lewes was then a river port). It might be said that it was here he started his pamphleteering, for he was dismissed after writing one demanding a better deal for excise officers (although the authorities gave other reasons for his dismissal). Paine married the daughter of the landlord, a snuffmaker, and on his death Paine joined the business. The marriage later broke up and Paine went to America to join the revolutionaries there. His rooms have been restored to much the same condition as when he occupied them, and are on show to the public on certain weekdays.
St Michael's Church, which abuts right on to the High Street, was rebuilt in the middle of the 18th century. It has a round tower dating from the 13th century and an arcade of the 14th. There is some excellent stained glass in the windows. St Anne's Church has l2th-century parts. The font is 12th-century with basket-work carving, and there is a l7th-century carved oak pulpit and altar rails. Another old and interesting church is St John the Baptist, of varying dates from the 12th to 18th centuries; there is some attractive stained glass.
One of the principal events in the Lewes year is the 5 November celebration. There are torchlight processions through the town, with many of the participants wearing period costume, and bonfires blaze spectacularly.
Four miles south east of Lewes stands Firle Place, in the possession of the Gage family since the late 15th century. Most of the original house was pulled down in the 18th century, but the ancient Caen building stone and the Horsham stone roof were re-used. The house contains items brought back from America by General Thomas Gage who was Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in the early part of the American War of Independence. There is also a fine collection of paintings by celebrated masters; china and porcelain; furniture by Chippendale and William Kent as well as Louis Quinze items. Firle Place is open to the public at stated times.
Also about 4 miles south east of the town is Glynde Place, a l6th-century mansion largely rebuilt in the mid-l8th century.
Nearby cities: Brighton
Nearby towns: Alfriston, Burgess Hill, Eastbourne, Hailsham, Haywards Heath, Newhaven, Seaford, Uckfield
Nearby villages: Ditchling, Glyndebourne, Hurstpierpoint, Laughton, Ringmer, Peacehaven, Rottingdean, Shortgate, Southerham
Have you decided to visit Lewes or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a Lewes bed and breakfast (a Lewes B&B or Lewes b and b)
- a Lewes guesthouse
- a Lewes hotel (or motel)
- a Lewes self-catering establishment, or
- other Lewes accommodation