Lewes is a town that rewards exploraton. Its strategic position, enclosed within the South Downs and set beside the navigable River Ouse, made the town a useful and well protected port. William de Warenne established his stronghold at Lewes following the Norman invasion of England in 1066. For centuries Lewes was the judicial and administrative centre for all Sussex until the establishment of East and West, whereon it became County Town of East Sussex.
Lewes Priory was built on a scale rivalling Chichester Cathedral with buildings covering thirty acres and with further holdings of around 20,000 acres across Sussex. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries it was an obvious target and demolished in 1538. Although large quantities of stone were used in other town buildings, some ruins remain and guided tours are available in summer. During excavations for the railway in 1845, the tombs of William and his wife Gundrada were uncovered and removed to the South Chapel at nearby St John the Baptist Church.
Lewes Castle is a Grade 1 listed building formed of a traditional motte and bailey (mound and courtyard) formation. The castle is a rare example - having two mottes. The 14th century Barbican is one of the finest examples in England. Lewes Town Model audio visual was created by 80 local people encompassing schoolchildren to inmates of Lewes Prison and opened in 1986. It is situated in the Barbican House Museum, along with a collection of local finds cared for by the Sussex Archaeological Society.
Anne of Cleves House is a fine example of a tradional timber framed Wealden type town house, It is one of nine manors granted to the fourth wife of Henry VIII as part of her nullity settlement in 1541. Among galleries of local interest, the museum includes early 18th century tapestries and distinctive pottery including Sussex Pigs. In warmer weather a range of summertime events are held in the garden.
Sole survivor of Lewes’s seven Victorian breweries, Harvey’s Bridge Wharf Brewery produces 50,000 barrels a year from the gothic style building set beside the River Ouse. With a reputation for individual ales approved by CAMRA – recent topical varieties include Sweet Sussex, Tom Paine Strong Pale Ale and Bonfire Boy. On brewing days the smell of hops wafts across the town and there are a number of local hostelries across Sussex where the end products are enjoyed.
Lewes is full of Twittens, Saxon lanes which run parallel from the high street, usually in a steep drop. There are ten in total, the best known being Keere Street. Shopping in Lewes is characterised by small independent retailers, antique and second hand bookshops.
Among the many interesting memorials to be found in the town are the Russian Memorial (1877) honouring prisoners captured during the Crimean War; the Martyrs Memorial (1901), raised to commemorate 17 protestant martyrs burned at the stake in Lewes High Street and a memorial to the battle of Lewes designed by Enzo Plazotta and sited near Lewes Priory ruins.
Claim to Fame 1: Tom Paine, philosopher, radical orator and founding father of both the American War of Independence and the French Revolution lived in Lewes. He wrote the Rights of Man and coined the phrase 'The United States of America'.
Claim to Fame 2: Rodin's 'The Kiss' was originally gifted to the town of Lewes. Scandalised by the content, the good people of the time kept it in a stable under a tarpaulein for over 20 years. Eventually irt was purtchased by The Tate in London.
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