Mark, your local chimney sweep covers Seaford
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Etymology Lewes – East Sussex
The place-name ‘Lewes’ is first attested in an Anglo-Saxon charter circa 961 AD, where it appears as Læwe. It appears as Lewes in the Domesday Book of 1086. The addition of the <-s> suffix seems to have been part of a broader trend of Anglo-Norman scribes pluralising Anglo-Saxon place-names (a famous example being their rendering of Lunden as Londres, hence the modern French name for London).
The traditional derivation of Læwe, first posited by the Tudor antiquarian Laurence Nowell, derives it from the Old English language word hlæw, meaning ‘hill’ or ‘barrow‘, presumably referring to School Hill (on which the historic centre of Lewes stands) or to one of the ancient burial mounds, now levelled, in the vicinity of St John sub Castro.
However, this etymology has been challenged by the Swedish philologist Rune Forsberg on the grounds that the loss of the initial <h> in hlæw would be unlikely phonologically in this context. He suggested that the name Læwe instead derives from the rare Old English word lǣw (‘wound, incision’), and reflects the fact that from the top of School Hill Lewes overlooks the narrow, steep-sided ‘gash’ where the River Ouse cuts through the line of the South Downs; this theory was recently endorsed by A Dictionary of British Place Names.
A third possibility has been advanced by Richard Coates, who has argued that Læwe derives from lexowia, an Old English word meaning ‘hillside, slope’ (of which there is no shortage in the Lewes area). This unusual word was borrowed into Old English from Old Welsh, the Modern Welsh spelling being llechwedd.
History of Lewes
Lewes is located at the point where the River Ouse flows through a narrow gap in the east-west line of the South Downs. The immense strategic value of the site, which is able to command traffic between the Channel coast and the Sussex interior, was recognised as early as the Iron Age, when a hill-fort was built on Mount Caburn, the steep-sided hill that overlooks the Ouse (and the modern town of Lewes) from the east.
During the Roman period there was an aristocratic villa at Beddingham, at the foot of Mount Caburn, and there have been several finds of Roman coins and pottery sherds in Lewes itself. The Victorian historian Thomas Walker Horsfield therefore reckoned that there must have been a Roman settlement on the site, and he identified it with the otherwise unlocatable town of Mutuantonis. Another antiquarian, John Elliot, even suggested that central Lewes’s distinctive network of twittens was based on the layout of a Roman legionary fortress; however modern historians are rather more cautious about the possibility of a Roman Lewes, as there is as yet no archaeological evidence for a built-up area dating back to the Roman period.
Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman
The earliest phase of Anglo-Saxon settlement in Sussex was concentrated between the Rivers Ouse and Cuckmere, and Anglo-Saxon finds begin to appear in Lewes from the sixth century. The town of Lewes was probably founded around this time, and it may have been one of the most important settlements in the Kingdom of Sussex, along with Chichester and Hastings, though the evidence for this early period is very sketchy.
By the ninth century, the Kingdom of Sussex had been annexed to the Kingdom of Wessex, and in 838 Ecgberht, King of Wessex donated the estate of Malling, on the opposite side of the Ouse from Lewes, to the Archbishop of Canterbury. As a result the Parish of Malling became a ‘peculiar‘, which means that the parish was directly subject to the Archbishop of Canterbury rather than the Bishop of Chichester like every other parish in Sussex. Malling would retain this anomalous status until as late as 1845.
Information about Lewes becomes much more plentiful from the reign of Alfred the Great onward, as it was one of the towns which he fortified as part of the network of burhs he established in response to the Viking raids. The peace and stability brought by Alfred and his successors evidently stimulated economic activity in the area, for in the late Anglo-Saxon period Lewes seems to have been a thriving boom town – during the reign of Alfred’s grandson Æthelstan it was assigned two royal moneyers, more than any other mint in Sussex, and according to Domesday Book it generated £26 of revenue for the crown in 1065, almost twice the amount of any other town in the county.
After the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror rewarded his retainer William de Warenne by making him Earl of Surrey and granting him the Rape of Lewes, a strip of land stretching along the Ouse valley from the coast to the Surrey boundary. De Warenne constructed Lewes Castle within the walls of the Saxon burh, while his wife Gundreda founded the Priory of St Pancras, a Cluniac monastic house, in about 1081.
Battle of Lewes
Main article: Battle of Lewes
During the Second Barons’ War, King Henry III was ambushed at Lewes by a force of rebel barons led by Simon de Montfort. Henry marched out to fight de Montfort, leading to a pitched battle on the hills above the town (roughly in the area of modern Landport Bottom). The king’s son Prince Edward, commanding the right wing of the royal army, succeeded in driving off some of the baronial forces, but he got carried away with the pursuit, which took him as far as Offham. In Edward’s absence the remainder of the royal army was attacked by de Montfort and Gilbert de Clare and decisively defeated. The king’s brother Richard of Cornwall was captured, and the king himself was forced to sign the Mise of Lewes, a document which does not survive but was probably aimed at forcing Henry to uphold the Provisions of Oxford. Despite this uncertainty about its consequences, the battle is often seen as an important milestone in the development of English democracy.
Late Mediaeval and Early Moder
The de Warenne family died out with Earl John in 1347, whereupon lordship of the Rape of Lewes passed to his sororal nephew Richard Fitzalan, 4th Earl of Arundel. Fitzalan preferred to reside at Arundel Castle rather than at Lewes, and the town therefore lost the prestige and economic advantages associated with being the seat of an important magnate. This was only the beginning of a series of misfortunes that struck Lewes, for in 1348 the Black Death arrived in England and later on in the century the Hundred Years War led to a series of French raids on Sussex, which badly disrupted trade. On one occasion in 1377 the Prior of St Pancras, John de Charlieu, was abducted by the raiders and held to ransom. Furthermore, after the main branch of the Fitzalan family died out in 1439, the Rape of Lewes was subsequently partitioned between the three sororal nephews of the last earl, namely John Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Edward Neville, 3rd Baron Bergavenny, and Edmund Lenthall. As a result of this dismemberment the district became even more neglected by its lords, although feudal politics was starting to become less important anyway due to the centralising reforms of the Yorkist and Tudor kings.
The English Reformation was begun by one of these Tudor monarchs, Henry VIII, and as part of this process the monasteries of England were dissolved; Lewes Priory was consequently demolished in 1538 and its property seized by the crown. Henry’s daughter Mary I reversed the religious policy of England, and during the resulting Marian Persecutions of 1555–1557, Lewes was the site of the execution of seventeen Protestant martyrs, most of them actually from the Weald rather than Lewes itself, who were burned at the stake in front of the Star Inn (now the Town Hall). Commemoration of the martyrs is one of the main purposes of Lewes Bonfire, and a stone memorial to the martyrs was unveiled on Cliffe Hill in 1901.
Lewesian politics was dominated by a strongly Puritan faction in the reign of Charles I, and during the English Civil War it was one of the most important Parliamentarian strongholds in Sussex. As such it became the target of a royalist attack in December 1642, but the royalist army was intercepted and defeated at the Battle of Muster Green by Parliamentarian forces commanded by Herbert Morley, one of the two MPs for Lewes.
Lewes recovered relatively quickly after the Civil War, and prospered during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It had always been one of the principal market towns of Sussex, as well as an important port, and by the end of the Georgian era it also had well-developed textiles, iron, brewing, and ship-building industries.
In 2001 the service industries were by far the biggest employers in Lewes: over 60% of the population working in that sector. A little over 10% are employed in manufacturing, mostly in the smaller industrial units.
The town is a net daytime exporter of employees with a significant community working in London and Brighton whilst it draws in employees of the numerous local government and public service functions on which its local economy is strongly dependent.
An important part of the town’s economy is based on tourism, because of the town’s many historic attractions and its location.
As referenced in the governance section, the town is also where three tiers of local government have their headquarters, and the head office of Sussex Police is also in Lewes.
The Lewes Chamber of Commerce represents the traders and businesses of the town.The town has been identified as unusually diversified with numerous specialist, independent retailers, counter to national trends toward ‘chain’ retailers and large corporate retail outlets.
Lewes Farmers’ Market, one of the first in the UK, was started in the 1990s by Common Cause Co-operative Ltd and is a popular re-invention of Lewes as a market town. The Farmers’ Market takes place in pedestrianised Cliffe High Street on the first and third Saturdays of every month, with local food producers coming to sell their wares under covered market stalls. A weekly food market in the Lewes Market Tower was established in July 2010 by Transition Town Lewes to allow traders to sell local produce. Occasionally French traders from the Twin Town of Blois attend, vending on Cliffe Bridge.
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