Lewes is the County Town of East Sussex, its name deriving from the Saxon word for 'hill'. It lies 50 miles (80 km) due south of London. It is a busy town of around 15,000 inhabitants. Being the County Town, it houses the County Council offices and the headquarters of the Sussex Police and Fire and Ambulance services.
Lewes has had a court and prison for over 600 years and the Crown Court has been the scene of many notorious murder trials. Many Lewesians work outside the town, by commuting to London (1 hour by train), to Brighton, or to the two universities a few miles away.
Lewes Castle was built soon after the Norman conquest of England in 1066. The Battle of Lewes was fought in and around the town in 1264, between the Barons, led by Simon de Montfort, and King Henry III. The King was defeated and this led to the founding of the first democratic English Parliament. The Castle is still very imposing and the Barbican is in especially good repair. It is well worth a visit for the outstanding view from the top of the keep. Tickets are available from The Sussex Archaeological museum opposite the gates. Up the hill,through the Barbican gate, is the site of the old castle tilting and jousting ground. It is now the venue of the bowls club - a special form of bowls being played here since at least the 1750's. It is said that the revolutionary Tom Paine once played here.
Lewes housed the second largest monastery in England until Henry VIII destroyed it and was the site of the burning of 17 religious martyrs, commemorated by a plaque on the Town Hall and an obelisk on nearby Cliffe Hill.
The town was the home of the 18th Century writer Tom Paine, author of 'The Rights of Man', who drank and argued politics in the 'Headstrong Club' at the White Hart Hotel and was later involved in both the American and French Revolutions. He contributed to the writing of the American Constitution, a copy of which hangs in the Sheriff's Room, where the Rotary Club meet.
Doctor Gideon Mantell, the famous palaeontologist and John Evelyn, the diarist both lived in Lewes.
Lewes is also noted for the exuberance and range of its celebration of 'Bonfire’ on November 5th. This commemorates the day in 1605 when Guy Fawkes was discovered trying to blow up Parliament in Westminster with barrels of gunpowder. Up to 60,000 people throng the streets to watch the five 'Bonfire Societies' and a dozen visiting Societies, who march in procession carrying flaming torches dressed up as Norsemen, Red Indians, Zulus and all manner of exotic visitors. Fireworks are let off and there is usually a ribald comment on an issue of the day in the form of a huge effigy form a high point of a very 'politically incorrect' evening.
Lewes is also fortunate in having good sports Clubs: the Rugby, Hockey, Cricket and in 2001, the Football Club have all had their moments of glory, and the Golf Club, on a fine day, has some of the best views in England.
Local Places of Interest
A dramatic coastline, rolling downland, ancient villages and an historic county town - these are some of the delights of the Lewes District, set in the heart of Sussex Country. Throughout the district there are dramatic changes of scenery from towering chalk cliffs on the coast and the whale-backed South Downs behind, to the wooded countryside of the north. This corner of England has always been at the forefront of the country's defences, from early raids by the Vikings and the Roman Legions, through the invasion of William the Conqueror and forays by the French, right up to the dog fights of the Battle of Britain.
Just a few miles east of the District boundary, at Pevensey, William of Normandy landed in 1066 to claim the English crown. To the Saxon town of Lewes he sent a favourite noble, William de Warenne, who built an imposing castle and a great priory. Lewes, the county town, is picturesquely set on a spur where the River Ouse meanders through the South Downs. From the old heart of the town, dominated by the ruins of the castle, there are enchanting glimpses through twisting medieval streets and tiny twittens, of the swathe of chalk downland and of the water meadows stretching south to the English Channel at Newhaven.
The town of Newhaven lies on the shortest land and sea route between London and Paris, and is one of the major cross-Channel ports. Neighbouring Seaford is a quiet, informal holiday resort offering an ideal touring base for the surrounding countryside and coastline, including attractions such as Seaford Head, the Seven Sisters, Beachy Head and the village of Alfriston.
Away from the coast, the visitor will discover unspoiled countryside and picturesque villages offering the perfect setting for walking, cycling or simply enjoying some light refreshment in one of the many country pubs. Whether you are visiting the historic county town, the varied coastline or exploring the surrounding countryside, a warm welcome awaits you.