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The history of Lewes

Inspiration - 02.10.19

A town of rich and varied history

Lewes is one of East Sussex’ most fascinating towns. Here, we take trace the key events in Lewes’s past – events that have taken it from its prehistoric beginnings to the place we’re proud to call home today.

From Roman lookouts to Saxon settlements

The Romans might not have settled here, but scholars believe they made full use of Lewes’s topography by building lookouts on the chalk over the Ouse valley. Instead, the town as we might recognise it first came into existence around the sixth century, during the Saxon period – the name Lewes is probably derived from ‘hluews’, the Saxon word for hills.

Lewes Castle and Priory are founded

After the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror, rewarded William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, for his bravery with a piece of land that ran alongside the River Ouse. Here, Warenne built Lewes castle and founded the Priory of St Pancras with his wife, Gundred. in around 1081.

The Second Barons’ War

1264 The Second Barons’ War reached its climax at the Battle of Lewes between the armies of the unpopular Henry III and Simon de Montford. De Montford’s forces triumphed, forcing Henry to sign a settlement agreement that ceded many of his powers to De Montford and made him ‘the uncrowned king of England’.

Bloody Queen Mary’s 17 martyrs

During the reign of Mary I, 17 Protestant martyrs were burned at the stake in front of the Star Inn (now the Town Hall). You’ll find a memorial to the martyrs on Cliffe High Street and many a banner and burning cross raised in remembrance at Lewes Bonfire, Europe’s largest bonfire celebrations which take place every year on November 5th.

Times of change and growth

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Lewes developed as the county town of East Sussex. In 1846, the Victorians connected it to the rest of the country via rail. Industry and trade flourished. And new buildings sprang up all across the town.

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