Lewes Castle and Town: part seven of my birthday ‘Jolly’

 Welcome to the last post from my birthday ‘jolly’, in early March.

I enjoyed my first visit to the ancient town of Lewes (pronounced ‘Lewis’) and castle.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the other six and that you’ve found my photos and little pieces of information about the places I’ve visited as interesting and as enjoyable as I.

Lewes Castle (c) Jane Risdon 2014
Lewes Castle (c) Jane Risdon 2014

Unfortunately the day we set off to visit Lewes Castle the weather turned rather chilly and a damp mist hung over the town for most of the morning with a little light rain falling as we arrived.

St Michael's 12th Century round flint tower.  (c) Jane Risdon 2014
St Michael’s 12th Century round flint tower. (c) Jane Risdon 2014

The castle was dripping in moisture and a blanket of low cloud for most of our visit and so, disappointingly, I wasn’t able to get very many photos.  Also, as we wandered around the castle ruins we were joined by several groups of Primary school children with their teachers and it became very noisy and rather crowded in the small rooms of the castle. 

Slits for the firing of arrows  (c) Jane Risdon 2014
Slits for the firing of arrows (c) Jane Risdon 2014

Getting up and down the very narrow and spiral stone stairwells was difficult with children either in front or behind us most of the time.  Their teachers had set up various exhibits in the rooms for them and a couple were dressed in 13th and 14th century costumes.  So it was not really conducive to doing the whole sight-seeing tour without disturbing their studies and excitement at being in a real castle.

The mist began to clear - momentarily at Lewes (c) Jane Risdon 2014
The mist began to clear – momentarily at Lewes (c) Jane Risdon 2014

Being ruins there is not a lot to see but the views from the roof as far-reaching (on a clear day) and well worth the huff and puff up the stairs.  To someone like me fascinated by history and ancient buildings, this was worth every gasp.

However here are some of the photos I managed to take when the mist cleared a little.

Climb up to Lewes Castle (c) Jane Risdon 2014
Climb up to Lewes Castle (c) Jane Risdon 2014

 Lewes Castle was started in 1067 on behalf of William 1st by his half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux.  Later work was continued under the supervision of William 1, by William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, brother-in-law of William the Conqueror in 1069, after the Battle of Hastings (1066) to reinforce his control of Lewes Rape.  William de Warenne was one of William 1st’s foremost supporters. Work continued until 1880.

William de Warenne and  his wife, Gundrada also founded Lewes Priory.

Looking out of the castle down into Lewes (c) Jane Risdon 2014
Looking out of the castle down into Lewes (c) Jane Risdon 2014

Bishop Odo later fell out of Royal favour and was involved in the rebellion against William 11.

It has been an Early Norman shell keep with turrets and early 14th century barbican (outer gateway) with arrow loops and portcullis grooves.

View from the Castle over Lewes (c) Jane Risdon 2014
View from the Castle over Lewes (c) Jane Risdon 2014

There are splendid views of the South Downs, the Ouse estuary towards New Haven and the wooded Weald.

Barges plied the river between Cliffe and Seaford harbour until the 1530’s when a new outfall was engineered at the ‘New Haven’.  They carried Southdown corn and Wealden guns

destined for the English and European ports, and returned with wines, spice, silk and cheese.  Victorian shipyards on the bank built ships, The Wallands and The Lewes Castle.

As you can see from this photo (above) the mist prevented me from seeing as far as it is usually possible to see.

Lewes Castle motte - now a grass-filled area (c) Jane Risdon 2014
Lewes Castle motte – now a grass-filled area (c) Jane Risdon 2014

No other Norman Castle except the one at Lincoln has a second motte.  It is thought that the Lewes mottes are perhaps pre-Norman.

Lewes Castle (c) Jane Risdon 2014
Lewes Castle (c) Jane Risdon 2014

 Both mottes still exist at Lewes.  The second motte is known as Brack Mount.

The Castle Bailey was once used (possibly) for martial practice and it became a bowling green in 1639, and it’s where 48 freeholders used to gather to elect two county MP’s (Members of Parliament).  Uniquely shaped 200-year-old woods are used on the green today.

William divided Sussex into 5 rapes, each controlled by a castle to ensure that William had access to the coast and to Normandy.

On the castle roof (c) Jane Risdon 2014
On the castle roof (c) Jane Risdon 2014

The Battle of Lewes took place on May 14th 1264 between Henry 111 and Simon de Montford.  Simon de Montford won the battle  making him de facto ruler of England.

John de Warenne, grandson of John de Warenne who fought for the King at the Battle of Lewes was responsible for building the impressive Barbican early in the 14th century.

He died without heirs and in 1347 the castle became the property of the Earls of Arundel.

Lewes (c) Jane Risdon 2014
Lewes (c) Jane Risdon 2014

The town of Lewes was sacked by the French in 1377.  Sir Edward Dallingridge, who later built Bodiam Castle – another place I’d love to visit especially as the gardens are supposed to be gorgeous – helped organise Sussex defences against the French that year.

Near the Castle (c) Jane Risdon 2014
Near the Castle (c) Jane Risdon 2014

In 1382 the castle was damaged and plundered in a riot.

Castle ruins (c) Jane Risdon 2014
Castle ruins (c) Jane Risdon 2014
The roof of the castle (c) Jane Risdon 2014
The roof of the castle (c) Jane Risdon 2014

             In 1620 more of the castle was pulled down and the stone was sold off.  I saw quite  a number of places around town  using what looked suspiciously like the Castle stones.

We called it a day later in the morning when the mist came down again and visibility was only a few feet.  It was such a shame as I’d have loved to have visited Anne of Cleeves House and Museum.

The house is an early 16th century timber-framed Wealden hall-house which once belonged to Anne.  The porch dates from 1599 and there is a Tudor-style garden.  Apparently there are displays of furniture, tapestry and Priory sculpture.

There is a lot to see in Lewes and I shall try to go back at some point when the weather is much better.

I’d love to see:

The South Chapel of St. John the Baptist houses the superbly carved tomb slab of Gundrada. It is carved in black Tournai marble and was the work of a master craftsman, possibly Flemish, in the 1160’s.  It once covered her grave in the Priory Chapter House.

St John the Baptist was originally a hospital by the Priory gate.  The Normans nave arcade divided the wards.  There’s a fine Georgian brick tower with copper weather vane (1813) formed as a basking shark.  The South Chapel (1847) was built to receive cists containing the bones of William and Gundrada Warenne, unearthed by railway navvies.

Lewes Priory remains: Founded circa 1077 by William and Gundrada it is dedicated to St. Pancras and was largely destroyed by Thomas Cromwell in 1538 during the Reformation –  Giovanni Portinari – an Italian engineer, under the instructions of Cromwell undertook the destruction apparently and the stones were sold off and has found its way into the local buildings.  Fragments of the great gate and domestic buildings remain.  The Priory Park is open to the public.

Local homes in Lewes (c) Jane Risdon 2014
Local homes in Lewes (c) Jane Risdon 2014

We had a lovely morning in spite of the inclement weather. Unfortunately the Castle museum shop had run out of brochures and guide books so it was difficult wandering around without any information to hand.  They were waiting for the printer to deliver them.  The tourist season hadn’t started and they told us few people wander around the ruins in early March and the schools receive special information packs ahead of their visits.

I have listed a few f the places worth visiting but there are so many more which are easily visible (if the weather is good) and open to the public.  So if you go do make a list and then you will get to see more than we did.

Well, this the last of my birthday ‘jolly,’ posts. 

I do hope you will let me know what you think of this and the other six. Do please check them out if you haven’t already seen my previous posts.  I think you will enjoy them. 

If you get the opportunity to visit any of these fabulous places I do hope you will take it and see for yourselves what we have to offer in outside of London and the usual tourist places.  Most of the places we visited were quiet and although there were quite a number of other people wandering around, we had space and didn’t feel crowded…well, apart from the school visitors at the Castle in Lewes.  And really that was just bad timing for us.

Thanks so much to all those of you who have kept coming back to read these posts and to comment on them. 

I really appreciate you visiting and spending time here, especially when you have so many blogs to choose from.

I am busy thinking up the next piece to post for you. 

Meantime, it is back to writing for me. 

Murder at the Observatory is coming along really well and in the last week I’ve written another short story;

Vegas or Moscow

for a particular project – so keep your eyes peeled for more news on this soon.

As always all photos are copyright Jane Risdon (c) 2014.  All Rights Reserved.


    • Kelly I am so pleased you found Lewes Castle and enjoyed it – there are 6 other pieces with photos of my birthday jolly which lasted a week and covered lovely gardens, houses and a forest as well as another castle-like house with a mote. If you take a look let me know what you think. I am going to Audley End in August for another Proms night (Last night of the proms sort of event) open air. should be fun, lots of Land of Hope and Glory stuff I think. Youngest brother is taking me. Lucky me or what!! 🙂


    • LOL I have many hats, some a bit more worn than others. Glad you enjoyed it. I had fun visiting and writing about them and I really do love photography, though sometimes I cannot get the shots I want and with only one arm working it can be difficult these days. 🙂 How are things?


  1. Nice reading about you

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Be in touch. Browse through the category sections, I feel you may find something of your interest.


  2. Great pictures. Too bad the weather didn’t cooperate more. I find it amazing what they used to build way back then. Amazing. If the walls of those places could talk, I can just imagine the stories… 🙂


    • They are and the stairs area a nightmare; they were smaller and shorter than modern people and their feet were tiny because normal shoes are too big to place on the spiral steps going up and down, feels really uncertain. A tight squeeze but worth it. The same happened when I visited Rye – previous post in the series. Talk about head for heights and tight confined spaces!! 🙂


  3. Jane – Damp weather or not, what a fascinating place! I love it that you share some of the history of your various stops as you show the ‘photos – fabulous! I’m sure too that the castle felt properly foreboding in that mist…


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