A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 7, the Rape of Lewes. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1940.
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The lordship or barony and the rape of Lewes were both probably Norman and military in origin, (fn. 1) and they must have centred from the beginning in the castle, raised by William de Warenne, first lord of Lewes, (fn. 2) soon after he received his Sussex lands. The castle is not mentioned under Lewes in the Domesday survey, but some of William de Warenne's Norfolk manors are described in Domesday Book as belonging to the castellatio or castellum of Lewes. (fn. 3)
Until quite recent times the castle of Lewes followed the same line of descent as the barony and rape (q.v.). In the partition of 1439, each co-heir received onethird of the castle; Edmund Lenthall held the 'first third part', beginning in the exterior eastern part of the castle and extending towards the west, with free entrance and exit, the Duke of Norfolk a similar second part, Elizabeth, Lady Bergavenny, a similar third. (fn. 4) During the 17th century the site of the castle had been divided into a number of copyhold tenements. Of these the Barbican with the Norman Gateway, and the Keep were granted to Thomas Friend in 1733 and 1750 respectively. They passed under his will in 1762 to his nephew Thomas Friend, and in 1765 to John Kemp. Thomas Kemp succeeded in 1775 and Thomas Read Kemp in 1811. Between 1838 and 1851 John Hoper acquired these and other copyhold portions of the site and, 'with a view to secure the preservation of the Castle as a public ornament of the town', offered the property to the lords. Earl de la Warr and the Earl of Abergavenny accepted the proposal, but the Duke of Norfolk declined it and his place was taken by Mary, Countess Dowager of Plymouth and later Countess Amherst (sister-in-law of Earl de la Warr). In 1920 Mr. (afterwards Sir) Charles Thomas-Stanford bought the copyhold interests of the Marquess of Abergavenny (½), Earl de la Warr (¼), and Lord Sackville, the successor in title of Countess Amherst (¼), for £1600 and presented the property to the Sussex Archaeological Society. The Society then acquired the freehold interest of the lords, the Duchess of Norfolk, the Marquess of Abergavenny, and Earl de la Warr; the copyholds merged in the freehold, and for the first time since the 15th century this part of the castle ceased to be the subject of joint ownership. (fn. 5) The Brack Mount (see below) remained in the hands of the lords until 1937, when, through the good offices of Mrs. Henry Dudeney, the Society was able to purchase the freehold. (fn. 6)
When the lordship was in the king's hands, the castle sometimes emerges fitfully from obscurity. Between 12 June 1240 and 21 September 1241, William de Munceaus was keeper of the Warenne lands and of Lewes castle, during the minority of the heir. (fn. 7) His successor was Peter of Savoy. (fn. 8) The king, under pressure from the barons, appointed keepers again on 8 June 1264, after the Battle of Lewes. (fn. 9) In September 1398 Richard II made Thomas Attacton porter of the castle after the Earl of Arundel's forfeiture. (fn. 10) Similarly Henry Rake was appointed porter and bailiff of the castle and town in 1477 during a minority. (fn. 11) The names of other officials occasionally survive, for example that of John North, constable on 24 June 1393, (fn. 12) and of Thomas Lancaster, porter some time before October 1477. (fn. 13) In 1498 and later the bedell of the castle received 3s. 4d. yearly; (fn. 14) sometimes the bailiff of the barony was also porter of the castle, for example John Young in 1559–60. (fn. 15) It is very possible that the three offices of bailiff of the barony, bailiff of the town, and porter of the castle were normally combined. (fn. 16)
The position of the castle in the economy of the borough is difficult to define. The separation of the castle precincts was generally recognized by the early 17th century; (fn. 17) later the phrase 'liberty of the castle' might even be used. (fn. 18) Many tenements around the castle continued to be held as copyhold from the lords until the present day; (fn. 19) 'the waste of the manor' or of the lord, frequently mentioned in court rolls from the early 17th century on, seems to have lain chiefly, but not exclusively, (fn. 20) around the castle precincts. (fn. 21) In 1939 only one small piece of wall remains to the lords of Lewes, and the castle site is largely owned by the Sussex Archaeological Trust. (fn. 22) The inhabitants of the castle precincts were exempted from the town-tax, (fn. 23) and the precincts were extra parochial. (fn. 24) In 1801 there were 78 inhabitants of the precincts, in 1811, 16, in 1821, 27. (fn. 25)
The castle was used as a prison from the 13th century on, if not before. (fn. 26) John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, had by immemorial custom a prison in the town of Lewes, (fn. 27) and his prison must surely have been within the castle. In 1278 there is mention of 'Hamelin the Porter of Lewes who holds the prison in fee', (fn. 28) but there is nothing to show whether he was porter of the castle or of the town. A case reported in the same year suggests that there was a town prison: the sheriff's bailiff had arrested Oliver fitz Ernis, the steward of Lewes, and John le Sumter, his groom, and handed them over to the township of Lewes to guard. The township allowed them to go into the castle, from which they escaped by a back gate. They were retaken while trying to cross the river, and 'the earl kept Oliver, but John was committed to gaol'. (fn. 29) Prisoners could be kept at Lewes for three days before being sent on to the county jail at Guildford, (fn. 30) a period that was sometimes exceeded. (fn. 31) The earl certainly used the castle as a prison in the middle of the 14th century. (fn. 32) The 'king's prison at Lewes', which appears in the mid13th century, might mean the earl's prison temporarily in the king's hands during a minority; (fn. 33) but in 1298 the king's prison at Lewes is mentioned, (fn. 34) when no such explanation is possible. Presumably the term would apply to any prison for offenders against the king's peace. In June 1381, the Earl of Arundel was required to retain prisoners in the castles of Arundel and Lewes, since Guildford jail was full after the Peasants' Revolt, (fn. 35) and the next year a felons' jail was formally set up in Lewes castle for two years. (fn. 36)
Throughout the Middle Ages Guildford castle was the usual county jail for Surrey and Sussex, but in 1487 the inhabitants of Sussex petitioned for a jail to be erected 'at a place convenient within the town of Lewes', (fn. 37) and the first commission to deliver the jail of Lewes seems to have been issued in July, 1489. (fn. 38) After 1497 such commissions were specifically directed to the delivery of the jail of Lewes castle. (fn. 39) It was not apparently until 1610 that the county jail was moved outside the castle. (fn. 40) The sheriff of Surrey and Sussex was keeper of the county jail in Lewes castle, (fn. 41) but must have acted sometimes by deputy. (fn. 42)
The 'twin mounds of loyal Lewes' which 'looked up to what was one day to be the battleground of English freedom' (fn. 43) have little known history. The lords were, on the whole, consistently loyal to the crown; on the eve of the Battle of Lewes the lord Edward was the guest of Earl Warenne within the castle; after the battle the castle still stood firm until the truce, although its lord had fled. Lewes castle was still thought of as of military importance in 1336; (fn. 44) but its strength was never again put to the test. That the earls used Lewes castle as a residence is shown by the numbers of letters thence addressed, especially in the 14th century. (fn. 45) On the ending of the direct line in 1347 the pre-eminent position of the castle was gradually lost, but there is no proof that immediately 'the antiquated pile was suffered to moulder piece-meal'. (fn. 46) Letters were issued there by Richard, Earl of Arundel, then Lord of Lewes, in 1364, (fn. 47) although he doubtless more often lived at Arundel; and again by Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk, in 1397, (fn. 48) although the castle had been seriously damaged in 1381, when buildings, gates, windows, and records were destroyed. (fn. 49) It was used by Richard, Earl of Arundel, as a storehouse for wool, (fn. 50) and had an armament of at any rate four guns, and a military equipment of 17 basinets. (fn. 51) There is, however, no evidence of the castle being used as a residence after the beginning of the 15th century. In 1620 some of the buildings were being pulled down and the flints were sold. (fn. 52) The castle green was used in later times for public meetings, as, for example, in 1658 when a meeting of Quakers was dispersed by the mob. (fn. 53) Defoe noted about 1725 that 'the castle is lately repaired and there are now several handsome rooms in it', (fn. 54) and the Kemps fitted up the keep as a sort of summerhouse. Since 1850 it has been in the occupation of the Sussex Archaeological Society, at first as tenants and since 1920 as owners.
Lewes Castle has the usual Early Norman motteand-bailey plan, with the unusual addition of a second mound. The fortified enclosure lies just north of the High Street, from which it is approached by Castle Gate. It forms a rough oval some 450 ft. × 380 ft., excluding the mounds, which lie to the south-west and north-east. On the south it is defended by a bank and dry moat, now largely filled in, and on the north by the natural escarpment of the hill on which the town is built. Some sections of the curtain wall still stand on the top of the bank overlooking Castle Ditch, chiefly consisting of the chalk core, with a certain amount of later flint facing. A section west of Castle Gate overlooking 'the gun garden' retains its original flint facing laid in courses and in herringbone fashion. No part of the northern wall remains above ground except a small portion, part of Castle Precincts House, on which probably one of the domestic buildings of the castle abutted, since there is a barrel vault still existing beneath the house. (fn. 55) A considerable fragment of the Early Norman Gateway is preserved and includes its southern wall and archway and most of its eastern wall projecting northwards from the curtain. The walls of the Gatehouse are 8 ft. thick, and from a recent excavation its internal dimensions were found to be 32 ft. from north to south and 22 ft. from east to west. (fn. 56) There are two arches, each of two orders with semicircular rings of Caen stone to the outer and inner face, the latter being higher than the former owing to the slope of the ground. The southern external angles are quoined in Caen stone, and part of the internal quoining on both sides of the northern face remains. The rest of the facing is in large coursed flintwork laid in the rough herringbone manner of the late 11th century. There is a small chamber below the roadway on the site of the Gatehouse, but its walls are modern. There are signs that an outbuilding with a span roof stood against the south wall towards the moat, to the east of the entrance, when the Barbican was built in the 14th century.
Of the two mounds the eastern, known as Brack Mount (fn. 57) may have been the earlier, and its position was no doubt chosen to command the river valley. It now has no building upon it save a fragment of fallen masonry faced with flint, but the 1620 plan of Lewes shows the remains of a shell keep. The ditch between it and the Bailey has been filled in. The western mound is 65 ft. above the level of the High Street at Castle Gate, and about 20 ft. higher than Brack Mount. On its summit is a shell keep, roughly elliptical in shape, the internal diameters measuring about 85 and 75 ft. The wall, of which the south-western part is tolerably complete, has a marked batter at the foot on the outside, being about 7 ft. thick above the batter and 10 ft. at floor level. The parapet platform is 22 ft. above the ground level, and above this the walls of the battlements are irregular, having been robbed of their ashlar coping, and give an uncertain indication of where the merlons stood. The external flint facing of the Keep is of the same herringbone courses of large flints noticed in the Gateway, and can scarcely be later than the very beginning of the 12th century. It is probable that at Lewes it was intended from the first to defend both mounds with masonry, since, where they have been excavated, the core of the mounds themselves appears to have been built up of large squared blocks of chalk.
Attached to the south and west sides of the Keep are semi-octangular towers, of 13th-century date. Externally they are flint-faced with stone quoins to the angles and three stone set-offs, one below present groundlevel, one midway between this and the parapet, and the third midway between the other two; beneath the lowest set-off the tower walls are widely battered as they descend the slope of the mound. These towers have suffered a good deal of alteration, and the entrances to both are modern. Originally the centre of each face near the internal ground level was pierced by an arrow loop. The splays from these loops met at the internal angles of the towers and the openings had two-centred inner arches, which for the most part remain. The splays, however, have been cut back to allow for modern windows, and although the stones of the loops are preserved in part on the outside, below the windows, only one is to be seen from within (the south loop in the west tower) and this is partly restored. Above the springing of the internal arches in the west tower are stone corbels, which probably carried the ribs of a vault occupying the central portion of each tower and supporting the floor, which afforded access to the upper line of loops high up in the walls. These loops are pierced in the external angles of each octagon, the halves of the rear-arch of each embrasure being thus in adjacent walls and not in the same plane. The floors that served these defences were very little above the fighting platform of the main parapet, with which they communicated by doorways. The south tower had a vice in its eastern wall which led up to the roof, but only traces of this are visible. The present newel stair and the porch are modern. The original parapets to the towers have also been altered.
The wall of the Keep has a row of corbels on its inner face which no doubt supported the plate carrying a pent roof. There are also indications of two large fire-places, one (opened up) west of the south tower, and the other to the east. There is no sure indication of the entrance to the Keep, but an L-shaped block of masonry within its eastern limit may be part of the foundations of an entrance tower. The short arm of the L is in line with the foundations of a wall built on a chord to the NE. segment of the Keep, discovered and recorded in 1884. A large fragment of the Keep wall at the NE. point retains the western reveal of a postern door, whence steps descended on to the top of the wall, which was no doubt built on the Keep mound to connect the Keep with the northern curtain of the Bailey.
The present ascent to the Keep has no ancient features, but there must have been a stone stair, protected by a wall to the southern curtain, and at the point where it would have joined the parapet are the remains of a square stone tower, about midway between the Keep and the main Gatehouse. Parts of the northern and western walls remain and the inner quoins of the eastern angle. The southern wall has disappeared, but from the marks of re-building in the curtain wall at this point it seems clear that the towers projected south of the curtain, being possibly carried on a strong corbel table overhanging the moat.
The Barbican (fn. 58) or Outer Gatehouse was built in the first part of the 14th century by John seventh Earl Warenne, who died in 1347. The lower part is roughly rectangular in plan with two square projecting towers flanking the south entrance and a circular stair or vice at its north-west angle. The turret in which the stair is placed continues down to the Moat, but the steps begin at the level of the parapet to the curtain wall. The passage through the Barbican enters under a two-centred arch of two moulded orders, the same mouldings being carried down the jambs. The arches are struck from centres below the springing, so that the arch and jamb mouldings have to mitre. The passage emerges on the north under a similar arch of more elaborately moulded orders, at a rather higher level to allow of the rise in the roadway. The mouldings die into the west side of this opening, but apparently continued down the east jamb. Immediately to the south of this arch are the vertical grooves for the portcullis, and 4 ft. south of this are grooves for another portcullis that descended between twin arches, moulded on the outer sides. The space between the south entrance and the portcullis arches was originally vaulted with wall and diagonal ribs, the two south springers being still in position. On the first floor the square towers on either side of the entrance are overhung by circular bartizans which are carried on a bold series of circular corbel-tables. The west wall is carried obliquely by a pointed arch from the centre of the south-west turret to corbels adjoining the stair. The east turret, of which only a fragment remains some 14 ft. above the corbelling, is separated by a wall from the room over the gateway and at the angle of junction between the turret and main building an arch is thrown across to form a garde-robe partly recessed in the wall. Half the entrance door to this chamber remains, and the space for discharge is visible. Part of the east wall north of the garde-robe is carried on corbels, and the remainder shows where it was built against the outwork of the Norman gateway.
The room on the first floor is modernized; it retains an original single-light window on the north with trefoil head, and has a modern light to the west. In the east wall is a recess for a window, since blocked. There are two cruciform loops, with moulded external openings to the south wall and three in each turret, those looking north being unmoulded. The room on the second floor has a similar window to that below on the north and also on the south front, and a modern light to the west. There are no loops at this level, but a recess inside the west turret suggests that there was an opening at one time.
The facing of the south front between the turrets and above the archway is of squared and knapped flint work. The parapet is brought forward on bold machicolations carried on arched stones over seven triple corbels, and side corbels on the turrets. The parapet is embattled, but is largely restored. The west turret was rebuilt in 1894.
Information as to the constitutional history of the mesne borough of Lewes is scanty; though the burgesses possibly exercised some governmental power in early times, their status and functions are not known. At the Conquest they almost certainly held a court. (fn. 60) A solitary authentic reference to a merchant gild is tantalizingly uninformative. Rainald de Warenne, acting on behalf of his brother, the third William de Warenne, absent on Crusade, addressed a letter to the Sheriff of Lewes (that is, the lord's sheriff of the rape), and the barons and other men of the earldom. This announced the restoration of a merchant gild to the burgesses 'with all the customs and privileges (dignitatibus) which belong to it, as quit and free as they had it in the time of my grandfather and father, for 20s. payable yearly, to the provostry (prefectur') of Lewes'. (fn. 61) There are no other references to this merchant gild, and any connexion traced between it and the organization of the borough in Elizabethan times must be conjectural; nor does the provostry, or prefecture, which has been unwarrantably identified with the constableship, (fn. 62) appear in any other reference.
The reeve is the earliest known official of Lewes. He appears in Domesday Book as the recipient of the customary fines; (fn. 63) a reeve owed 2 marks to the Exchequer for a default in 1177, (fn. 64) and reeves of Lewes appear as witnesses to 13th-century deeds. (fn. 65) The title reappears occasionally in the 18th century. (fn. 66) The serjeant of Lewes was possibly attached to the priory; (fn. 67) and finally, there are the bailiffs and constables.
In 1247 the bailiff is clearly an official of the overlord. (fn. 70) It is probably significant that a Richard le Clerk is called reeve in a deed of about 1250, (fn. 71) and a Richard le Clerk is described as bailiff of the borough in an undated deed, which has been assigned to the reign of Edward I. (fn. 72) It is possible that the lord's bailiffs in Lewes were often his bailiffs also within the rape; too few names survive for either office to justify generalization, but the offices were certainly sometimes combined, (fn. 73) and one bailiff of the rape certainly was also given the office of 'clerk of the town'. (fn. 74) The appointment of a town clerk was not repeated until the 18th century. (fn. 75) The association of the borough and the lordship is likewise shown in an appointment made by the king on 16 October 1477, during the minority of Anne Mowbray, when Henry Rake was made porter of the castle and bailiff of both castle and town, with the accustomed fees of his predecessor, which suggests continuity of practice rather than innovation. (fn. 76) The evidence on the whole suggests that the bailiffs represented the interests of the lord and that there was therefore no need to limit their activities to the borough.
By the mid-16th-century the government of Lewes was exercised by a close aristocratic body, the Society or Fellowship of the Twelve, assisted by a Council of Twenty-Four, while the chief officials were the constables and headboroughs. Any connexion between these bodies and officials and the merchant gild of Stephen's day lacks concrete proof. Though it is also unsound to identify constables and bailiffs, (fn. 77) and the two types of official existed concurrently, yet the constables very possibly originated early. (fn. 78) In 1372 the removal of two constables and appointment of their successors was recorded on the rolls of the borough court, (fn. 79) which may be suggestive, since in Elizabethan times and later, and in 'time beyond all memory', the constables were chosen at the annual lawday held on the first Monday after Michaelmas. (fn. 80)
Thus, although the burghal status of Lewes before and after the Conquest is unmistakable, (fn. 81) yet the later Middle Ages provide no further evidence as to its constitutional development and the town then appears to possess little more than the normal attributes of a manorial borough. Yet it is probable that during the 15th century its constitution as we later know it was being developed.
It is to this period that the earliest town SEAL, inscribed sigillum comune burgi de lewys and bearing the arms of the borough, probably belongs. (fn. 82) The smaller seal of similar design, inscribed sigillum burgi de lewys (fn. 83) is probably a later copy. (fn. 84) The brass matrices are still in the possession of the Corporation of Lewes, and the larger is still in use.
The MANOR of Lewes is a phrase which rarely occurs in the early Middle Ages, (fn. 85) but became usual about 1476, when it was used in inquisitions post mortem; (fn. 86) it appears occasionally under Henry VIII and frequently, in various connexions, under Elizabeth, and continued to be used in the court-books of the borough till they end in 1925. (fn. 87) It often occurs in general phrases used to describe the various possessions of the lords of Lewes, (fn. 88) and occasionally as equivalent to lordship; (fn. 89) it frequently appears in the form the 'manor of Lewes borough'. (fn. 90) In the earliest surviving court-books of Lewes borough, of the 17th century, the 'custom of the manor' is continually mentioned. It is hardly possible to assign any very definite meaning to the phrase, but it is certain that from the late 16th century on 'the manor of Lewes borough' meant in law the entity over which the lords exercised manorial rights in relation to land, quite apart and distinct from the burghal entity of the borough of Lewes. The customs and procedure of the court followed normal manorial lines, and Lewes must now be regarded, in some aspects, though not in all, as akin to a manorial borough. (fn. 91)
In the later Tudor period the town was governed by 'a society of the wealthier and discreter sort of townsmen, commonly called the Twelve' which had existed 'time out of mind'. (fn. 92) This society, often known as the fellowship, (fn. 93) was never supposed to be as small as twelve or larger than twenty-four; (fn. 94) in 1587 it numbered twenty, including the constables, (fn. 95) in 1592 and 1593, eighteen. (fn. 96) Vacancies caused by death or removal were filled up by election by the remaining members on Whitsunday afternoon. (fn. 97) The earliest reference to the Twelve dates from 1542. (fn. 98) In theory the constables were chosen from this body, (fn. 99) though there was no rigid adherence to this rule. (fn. 100) The Twelve authorized the town-tax and fixed its rate; (fn. 101) moreover they issued by-laws, which covered a variety of topics, (fn. 102) and punished their infringement. (fn. 103) Associated with the Twelve were a body of Twenty-four, appointed under fixed conditions, from whom the Twelve were chosen. (fn. 104)
By-laws of 1550 laid down that the constables were to read the by-laws aloud annually, that members of the fellowship must attend meetings, that the constables must make collections for their charges while in office or lose the proceeds, that the old constables should hand over the town's possessions to their successors, and so on. (fn. 105) In 1595 a town's meeting of the inhabitants, a 'general assembly', appears to have been held to authorize other regulations; (fn. 106) these included provisions as to elections to the Twelve, (fn. 107) as to their dress—'decent and comely apparel fit for ancient townsmen'—as to their duty to attend meetings for the service of the queen or the business of the town, and as to the penalties for non-attendance; all townsmen were to bring out their armour and weapons for inspection on the Monday in Whitsun week. Members of the Twenty-four were required to walk with their company on Whit-Monday afternoon, to sup with them 'according to the ancient order' and to show their armour; defaulters were to be punished by three hours' imprisonment or a fine of 2s. 6d. (fn. 108) There is doubtless some echo of seignorial control in the stipulation that the Twenty-four were to be chosen in the Town-house on Whitsunday after evening prayer, and are not any more to be chosen in the Castle 'for the avoiding of further disorder'. Headboroughs were to attend with staves upon the constables when required; they were to levy the town-rate, and account for it to the constables; they were to make imprisonments, put culprits in the stocks, and to obey the constables and fellowship on pain of fine or imprisonment. Stipulations were made as to the regular visiting of inns and ale-houses during the winter months for the maintenance of the peace; finally, ambiguities in the regulations were to be settled by a majority of the constables and fellowship. (fn. 109)
The evolution of these two town councils is obscure, and the relations of the Twelve and Twenty-four to the Jury of the court leet are also not at all clear, nor is it certain how far the Twelve and the Jury were distinct from each other. (fn. 110) The Jury is seldom mentioned in the 16th century, though Rowe showed that the junior constable was to be chosen by the elder constable, with the consent of the greater number of the Jury. (fn. 111) The importance of the court leet and view of frankpledge, held on the first Monday after Michaelmas, is beyond question, for it was there that all the town-officers were chosen—constables, headboroughs, scavenger, pounder, one searcher and one sealer of leather, one clerk of the corn-market, one clerk of the fish-market, one clerk of the butchery, one 'clerk of sparres and withes', together with ale-conners for the four parishes. (fn. 112) The evidence suggests that the authority of the lords in the leet was normally scanty. There is a certain truculence of tone in Rowe's reference to the annual election of officers 'without any contradiction or alteration by the stewards'. (fn. 113)
The subsequent history of the Fellowship of the Twelve by no means clears up the early obscurities. The encroaching influence of the Jury may be detected in 1651, when an order was made at a court leet, with 'the consent of the jurors duly sworn and impanelled' that any member of the Twelve who defaulted at the leet without good cause should pay 2s. 6d. for every such default. (fn. 114) Yet the Twelve were apparently still vigorous in 1652, when they bound themselves to be responsible for various borough charges. (fn. 115) Subsequently, however, the Twelve are rarely mentioned in the town-books, and in 1667 the annual constable's accounts were for the first time submitted to the new constables and the rest of the Jury, (fn. 116) instead of, as before, to the rest of the Fellowship. (fn. 117) Yet it does not appear that the change had any great significance, though much has been made of it. (fn. 118) The change in formula was, however, permanent; the activities of the Twelve gradually disappear from the town-books, and the appointments of new members cease to be regularly recorded, while their place was taken by the Jury appointed at the leet in October. (fn. 119) In 1696 new members of the fellowship were elected in the normal way, (fn. 120) and in 1709 a meeting was summoned for the same purpose, in an attempt to 'revive the ancient customs', (fn. 121) but no names of new members are recorded. The Fellowship then disappears from the town-books, and perhaps actually ended in 1720 with the death of its last member. (fn. 122) The substitution of the Jury for the Twelve was hardly revolutionary; yet the laments of the Lewes antiquarians, though doubtless exaggerated, (fn. 123) bear testimony to a real change, for with the disappearance of both councils Lewes became simply and entirely a manorial borough.
The Jury of the leet remained in authority throughout the whole year; this is shown especially in the year 1799–1800, when in a series of adjourned law-days the whole administration of the borough was overhauled; (fn. 124) the court leet on that occasion was specifically declared as dissolved in July 1800, but it was noted that the Jury retained their power until a new one was appointed. (fn. 125) The Jury in this year consisted of 17 persons, including the constables but excluding the headboroughs; they were chiefly shop-keepers and tradesmen. (fn. 126) The succeeding Jury, which was described also as 'the representatives of the ancient body called the Twelve', consisted of 22 persons. (fn. 127) In 1833 the Jury set itself up as a committee, subsequently strengthened by many co-options, to consider the government of the town. (fn. 128)
The financial arrangements of the borough of Lewes remained somewhat primitive and the sums involved were never very considerable. The main resources from the town, the rents, the farms of tolls and customs, the farm of the fishery, the perquisites of courts, and so on, were divided between the lords, (fn. 129) and produced only a few pounds yearly. (fn. 130) The resources remaining to the borough officials were still more exiguous, but their outgoings were likewise small; even in 1873, on the eve of incorporation, the total income of the borough was only £126 15s. 3d. (fn. 131)
By the mid-16th century, if not earlier, (fn. 132) the borough of Lewes, although not strictly a corporation, would appear to have owned some lands. In 1571 the constables and fellowship let out on lease for 21 years 'that waste plott of ground within the walls of the broken church under the bell lofte there', (fn. 133) that is to say the site of the church of St. Nicholas, for 3s. 4d. yearly, towards the town charges. Similarly in 1573 they leased 'their common brook called the Constable's brooke' for ten years at a rent of 13s. 4d. (fn. 134) This Constable's brook is not to be confused with the Townbrooks, which John Rowe conveyed to feoffees in 1603, in trust for the use of the constables and the Twelve for ever. (fn. 135)
An approximate acre of land called the town moot or moat—the word is not legible—lying under St. John's Churchyard on the north side near the common spring, was let in 1586. (fn. 136) Its approximate location agrees with that of the Hangman's Acre which had belonged to the cryer of Lewes and came into the hands of the borough some time after 1690. (fn. 137) Some tenements known as Rotten Row were left to the constables by will 'for the harbouring of three poor people' in 1586. (fn. 138) The lands called the Godfreys came into the possession of the borough in 1703. (fn. 139) Hangman's Acre, the Town Brook, and the Godfreys produced £28 16s. between them, as reported in 1880, (fn. 140) and are still the property of the borough. (fn. 141)
By the 17th century, as the result of various borough negotiations and of various gifts, (fn. 142) the town also owned a certain number of bonds (fn. 143) in addition to its lands. For all ordinary purposes of government however, it appears to have relied upon the levy of a town rate, which was assessed just to cover the necessary expenses. A constable's rate was rare in the southern counties, and it is curious that Lewes and Manchester—those two seignorial boroughs of such different history and fortunes—alone developed this rate into a substantial contribution towards the expenses of local government. (fn. 144)
The earliest actual reference to the tax is in 1550; (fn. 145) in 1552 it produced £5 16s. 7d. (fn. 146) The rate of poundage, a question of a few pence, is seldom stated in the 16th century, when the total receipts of the constables at their highest were some £32. (fn. 147) The lowest sum received in this period was £2 18s. (fn. 148) Usually only a few shillings remained to be paid into the town-box at the annual audit in October; sometimes a small deficit remained owing to the constables. (fn. 149) After about 1709, however, the expenditure exceeded the receipts with some regularity, another indication of the slackness of the town-government of the period. The amount of the annual charge is now occasionally recorded, and 6d. in the pound is a frequent but maximum charge. Despite stipulations in 1772 that 6d. should never be exceeded, (fn. 150) in 1822 the charge was 1s., an amount demanded again in 1823, but subsequently lowered to 6d. as the result of a public meeting; (fn. 151) from 1877 to 1880 the total receipts were £70 (fn. 152) and the rate was only 2d. in the pound. (fn. 153)
The legality of these town charges was open to question, (fn. 154) and recalcitrant townsmen intermittently refused to pay. An early instance of distraint for nonpayment is in 1569. (fn. 155) Rowe records legal opinions that such distraints were justifiable, provided that the charges were levied for the public good and the common use of the borough. (fn. 156) The lords of the borough seem always to have been acquiescent, though the privilege would never appear to have been enjoyed as a prescriptive right. (fn. 157) The amount was originally fixed by the Twelve at a lawday in August or September, and the headboroughs were responsible for the actual collection. (fn. 158) But from 1772 (fn. 159) onwards the amount of the tax appears to have been fixed by special meetings of the inhabitants. (fn. 160)
The constable's rate was levied on all inhabitants or housekeepers, but poor persons might be excused upon occasion. (fn. 161) Old assessments of value appear to have been taken as the basis of the tax, (fn. 162) and the 'scot and lot' which appears in the 18th century (fn. 163) and later, presumably is the town-tax. The purposes for which the tax was used varied. (fn. 164) It was certainly used as a poorrate in Elizabethan times, (fn. 165) a practice subsequently disallowed. (fn. 166) In that period the wages of the 'burgesses of the parliament' were also for a time allowed. (fn. 167) In 1776 the rate was specifically directed towards the rebuilding of the wall at the West Gate. (fn. 168)
During the 18th century the town's meeting, an extra-legal body, (fn. 169) also met to discuss a variety of other topics. It discussed, for example, whether a watch must be kept at the pest-house while it was inhabited by smallpox victims, and decided, if a town tax to meet the cost was 'found impracticable', to raise the money by subscription from sixteen guarantors. (fn. 170) A meeting called to authorize a town tax also forbade wheeled vehicles to be driven on the pavements of the town. (fn. 171) Another meeting discussed the problems of Sussex defence, and made stipulations as to the terms of service; (fn. 172) others considered arrangements for a nightly watch, (fn. 173) for disposing of the old bell, or building a new market, (fn. 174) how to raise a volunteer corps, (fn. 175) or to expedite the Act for paving and lighting. (fn. 176) Town's meetings were not unknown in the 16th century, (fn. 177) but remained infrequent till the reign of George III, and the habit of appointing ad hoc committees grew up during the same period; committees were appointed, for example, to make arrangements for building the clock-tower, (fn. 178) or establishing the nightly watch. (fn. 179)
Considerable detailed material survives for a closer study of Lewes in the 18th and 19th centuries, more especially on the financial side, for a series of constables' accounts, (fn. 180) hitherto unused, exists and, later, the minute-books of Improvements Commissioners. (fn. 181) Despite the slackness of administration early in the 18th century the records were on the whole methodically kept. (fn. 182) From 1746, if not earlier, a clerk of the town, (fn. 183) sometimes called the constables' clerk (fn. 184) was employed, but his duties were not yet a whole-time occupation; he is definitely called 'town clerk' in 1830. (fn. 185)
Considerable activity in overhauling the machinery of government was shown in 1799–1800, probably through the influence of William Lee, junior. (fn. 186) A thorough examination of 'the few remains of the town's property, which have escaped the hands of fraud and official negligence', was instituted; and a careful inventory was made both of the town's possessions and of its losses in the preceding seventy years; this year the subordinate officials were duly sworn in by the steward at the affairing day; (fn. 187) an 'occasional borough prison and place of shelter for poor travellers for a night' was fitted up, the constables' right to grant leases was questioned; the billeting of 7,000 soldiers was arranged; a public windmill on the Brack mount was suggested, but quashed by the Duke of Norfolk, and another site found for it; weights and measures were rigorously inspected, and poor relief was limited, as it was considered outside the scope of the town-rate, a change from earlier practice. The boundaries were perambulated 'both by land and water' and a survey made; a town well was rediscovered, cesspools were inspected, and a borough pound was established.
As in so many boroughs, the powers and capacity of the governing body of Lewes could hardly be stretched to cover all the varying needs of a modern community. The attempts of the borough to keep the streets clean, (fn. 188) to provide watchmen at night, (fn. 189) and so on, do not appear to have been very effective, (fn. 190) and in 1806 an Act of Parliament, known to Lewes historians as the Town Act, set up improvement commissioners to pave, light, cleanse, watch, and repair the roads and other public places in Lewes. (fn. 191) The last clause protected the rights of the lords of the borough. (fn. 192) The commissioners were presided over at their first meeting by the senior constable, and it is not clear how much new blood was brought into the government of the borough, (fn. 193) but the technical change, the legal freedom to levy a higher rate and to borrow money, certainly gave more scope for enterprise. (fn. 194) In December 1881, six months after the formal incorporation of the borough, the undertakings were transferred to the new borough council. (fn. 195) The Cliffe, under authority of an Act of 1828, (fn. 196) set up improvement commissioners in the same year, (fn. 197) while Southover set up inspectors of lighting in 1847. (fn. 198)
Despite its pretensions and antiquity, Lewes was not, in the long run, reported upon by the Municipal Corporations Commission of 1834, (fn. 199) though the jury at the court leet had in 1833 resolved themselves into a committee to collect evidence, and sent in a cautious report upon the existing system of government; they were 'not aware of any charter of incorporation' but detailed their existing practice. The constables and headboroughs were described as 'persons whose station in life and engagements are incompatible with duties of police', and the occasion was seized to suggest the expediency of establishing an organized police force. The Commissioners apparently decided that they had no jurisdiction in this case. (fn. 200)
The Commissioners who reported in 1880 had less zealous officials to deal with, and there was very considerable delay in receiving information from Lewes. (fn. 201) In the report it was not included in the list of those boroughs where it was considered that municipal institutions might usefully be retained, (fn. 202) and thus it should in due course have fallen into the body of the county. (fn. 203) Strangely enough, despite these opinions, Lewes received its charter the very next year.
In the report of the Commissioners, the right of the lords of the borough to appoint two high constables upon the presentation of the leet jury was the only power recorded as remaining to them. The duties of the constables were then summarized as being to call and attend public meetings, to keep up the public walks and pleasure-gardens, to repair borough property, and to pave the town. (fn. 204) They held the title-deeds of borough property, paid the town clerk, and met other borough expenses, besides being the returning officers. (fn. 205)
Local agitation in favour of incorporation had apparently been growing for about ten years and resulted in November 1880 in the presentation of a petition to the Privy Council. There was later considerable publicity in the local press, and inquiries were made from such boroughs as Chichester, Guildford, and Hertford as to their rates. The town records and the history of the borough from the 6th century [sic] were investigated; a movement in the Cliffe against inclusion in the projected borough also developed. In May 1881 the draft charter was approved and the charter of incorporation was finally sealed on 17 June. (fn. 206) By the charter a constitution of a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors was set up; the last senior constable, E. Wynne Baxter, who had been active in working for incorporation, became the first mayor of Lewes.
The town was divided into the three wards in 1894, and the powers and extent of the borough were increased and the wards reallocated into their present divisions of Bridge Ward, Castle Ward, and Priory Ward, in 1934, under the East Sussex Review Order. The borough now returns two County Councillors to the East Sussex County Council from the electoral divisions of Lewes Bridge and Castle, and Lewes Priory.
Our ignorance of the actual constitutional powers of the independent Norman borough obscures also the origins of the courts. The lord's court at Lewes, held every three weeks (fn. 207) to which the free tenants of Lewes barony or lordship owed suit, (fn. 208) was a court for the rape as a whole. Two rolls of this court, described as 'curia castri de Lewes' have survived. (fn. 209) A plea of trespass was removed from it in 1266, because the burgesses of the town came and successfully requested that the plea should be heard before them 'in porchiam eorum'. (fn. 210) This court of the castle is presumably comparable to the barony court of the gate of the castle of Pevensey. (fn. 211) John Rowe gives a list of 32 suitors to the barony court in early Stuart times. (fn. 212) It is not known how long this court continued to function; it is only important in the history of the borough as bringing trade and visitors to Lewes when it met.
At the time of the partition of the lordship, in 1439, the courts were 'a view of frankpledge at Michaelmas, a court called the Court of the Town, and a court called the Court of Barony held there every three weeks'. (fn. 213) The court held for 'Lewes Burgus' was sometimes called that of 'the manor of Lewes Burgus', (fn. 214) and is presumably the 'halimote' referred to in 1498. (fn. 215) Customary tenants held by copy of its rolls from at least 1406, (fn. 216) but the earliest surviving roll dates from 1512. (fn. 217)
The records of this court of Lewes borough show that the proceedings were those of a normal manorial court baron. (fn. 218) Here the 'custom of the manor', less often called 'the custom of the borough', (fn. 219) was administered; (fn. 220) this is chiefly notable in that no heriots were paid by either freeholders or copyholders quia infra burgum. (fn. 221) The custom of borough English was in force for copyholders, as in other manors of the lordship. (fn. 222) As an 'ancient borough' its burgesses had the typical borough prerogative of free devise. (fn. 223)
The stewards of the lords presided in the court baron, and their bailiffs were also present; (fn. 224) sometimes three stewards were present, sometimes only one. (fn. 225) The court theoretically met every three weeks, (fn. 226) but only two courts a year are normally recorded upon the rolls, though the number fluctuated; (fn. 227) these were perhaps the semi-annual courts at which alone the freeholders were bound to appear; (fn. 228) other courts, however, might be held by adjournment. (fn. 229) A distinction gradually grew up between the special courts summoned at the request of some individual, (fn. 230) and the general courts. (fn. 231) At the end of the 18th century, one general court appears to have been normally held each year about 1 October, and another often early in January. (fn. 232) A list of some 90 free tenants and some 40 customary tenants, of whom some 15 tenants held both free and customary tenements, survives for 1624; (fn. 233) in September 1600 over 80 free tenants, and some 11 customary tenants, defaulted. (fn. 234) The perquisites of the courts were divided between the lords. (fn. 235) This court was still functioning in 1824, (fn. 236) and probably much later.
By deed dated 1 January 1927 Reginald William, Marquess of Abergavenny, Herbrand Edward Dundonald Brassey, Earl de la Warr, and Gwendolen Mary, Duchess of Norfolk, as lords of the borough appointed the Hon. Richard Plantagenet Nevill, William Edward Nicholson, and the Duchess of Norfolk as trustees of the borough. This was to comply with the requirements of the Law of Property Act 1925 in regard to joint property. The deed applied to the borough (manorial rights) and so much of Lewes Castle as had not previously been sold, i.e. the Brack Mount and one or two small pieces of land. Under the provisions of the same Act these manorial rights will come to an end in 1940.
The view of frankpledge was held in 'the court of the borough' by the mid-14th century, (fn. 237) and at Michaelmas 1371, (fn. 238) the view of frankpledge was taken, offences such as assaults, refusal to serve on the watch, (fn. 239) selling by false measures, selling unwholesome food, using unsealed bushels, or putting rubbish and offal on the high roads, were dealt with; presentments were made by ale-tasters, and fines taken from those who tenent cappelboth. The proceedings of this court produced £19 11s. 9d., of which 13s. 2d. fell to the Archbishop of Canterbury and 30s. 9d. to the Prior of Lewes. At subsequent courts the offences included selling under weight, selling wool by le auncer; and the business consisted chiefly of pleas of debt and a few cases of assault. Six courts in all are recorded on the roll. The borough court already had a dual character, the ordinary court for civil business, and the special sessions at Michaelmas for the view of frankpledge, often called lawdays, which gradually acquired the new title of court-leet. The jury of the leet, together with the constables and headboroughs, became, as we have seen, increasingly the governing body of the town. At the Michaelmas lawday and at the adjourned leet held a fortnight afterwards, which became known by the late 18th century, if not earlier, (fn. 240) as the affairing day, the prerogative of the lords is clearly shown. At the earlier of these two annual courts in Tudor times the elder constable was chosen by seniority from the Fellowship of the Twelve, while the younger was chosen by the elder with the consent of the jury; here the headboroughs and other minor officials were chosen by the constables 'without any contradiction or alteration by the stewards'. (fn. 241) At the second court the accounts of the outgoing constables were viewed and they handed over the town's property to the incoming constables. By the late 18th century things had changed. At the first court the Jury presented certain selected names, usually 'eight in all', as possible constables and headboroughs; from these the steward chose two to act as constables and two as headboroughs. (fn. 242) They were then sworn in by the steward. (fn. 243) Similarly with the other officials at the adjourned court or affairing day. (fn. 244) Little is known of the process by which earlier practice was superseded by this later procedure. (fn. 245)
The three-weekly courts of the borough are never apparent in the town-books: they presumably fell gradu ally into disuse. In 1833 it could be observed that there were in Lewes no courts of record peculiar to the borough, (fn. 246) while in 1880 it was specifically stated that the administration of justice was done exclusively by the magistrates of the county, at petty sessions, held by them in Lewes weekly. (fn. 247)