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MARKET TOWNS OF SUSSEX (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Lewes in 1839

LEWES, a market-town and parliamentary borough in the hundred of Lewes and county of Sussex, of which it is considered to be the capital, is 49 miles south-by-east from London. It is situated partly on the level bank of the Ouse, but the greater part of the town is on the right bank of the river, and on one of the elevated masses of chalk which compose the South Downs. The town is of Saxon origin, and had acquired its present name some centuries prior to the Norman conquest. According to Camden, ‘Lewes’ is derived from Leswes, a Saxon word denoting pastures.

The streets are well built, paved, and lighted with gas. The principal public buildings are the churches, the assize-hall, and the house of correction. The last was erected in 1793, and enlarged in 1817. It is built on the plan suggested by Mr. Howard, and contains between seventy and eighty capacious cells, of which fifteen are solitary. The assize-hall was erected in 1812, at an expense of £15,000. It is 90 feet long and about the same in width, and comprises a council chamber, the civil and criminal courts, record rooms, and other convenient apartments.

Lewes is not incorporated. The management of the affairs of the borough is entrusted to two constables and two headboroughs, who are elected annually by the burgesses, and who are subject to the jurisdiction of the county magistrates. The summer and winter assizes are held here, and likewise the general quarter-sessions for the eastern division of the shire. The borough has returned two members to parliament continuously from the reign of Edward I. The trade in wool was formerly extensive ; but it is said to have declined, and grain and malt, sheep and cattle, are now the principal articles of traffic. The maritime trade of the town is carried on through Newhaven at the mouth of the Ouse, about eight miles below Lewes. The fairs for cattle are held May 8 and the beginning of June ; those for sheep on Sept. 21 and October 2. The average number of sheep sold annually at these fairs is estimated to exceed 100,000. The ecclesiastical livings are four rectories in the diocese of Chichester, and of the respective net annual values of £206, £250, £116, and £190. The last two are in the patronage of the crown. The population of the borough in 1831 was 8,592.

The free grammar-school of Lewes and Southover was originally founded and endowed by Agnes Morley in 1512. There are usually twelve free scholars, children of the burgesses of Lewes, who receive gratuitous instruction in the classics, writing, arithmetic, &c., and are prepared for entering the universities. There is also an exhibition, founded by George Steers in the year 1800, for the children of the inhabitants, at either of the universities. It is tenable during four years, and in 1819 amounted to £35. The school-house is a large and convenient building, and in good repair. The master resides in the school-house, and receives from the funds of the charity about £90 annually. During several years preceding 1819 the free scholars had been presented by Lords Chichester and Hampden. The castle, which stands upon a cliff, is supposed to have been built in the reign of William the Conqueror. Large quantities of Roman coin have been found here at different times, which renders it probable that Lewes was once a Roman station ; but for an account of the antiquities, which are numerous, both in the town and suburbs, the reader is referred to Lee’s ‘History of Lewes and Brighthelmstone,’ 1795.