Historical and Heritage Plaques in Lewes – the back story

Early this year Lewes Town Council and the Friends of Lewes arranged for three new cast-iron plaques to be put on buildings in the town that have an interesting connection or history: sometimes this is fairly obvious, sometimes totally hidden. These are the latest in a series that began about 40 years ago.

Lewes House, School Hill

Lewes House, plaque and building
Lewes House, 32 High Street

In the case of 32, High Street – Lewes House on School Hill – it is perhaps remarkable that this significant building had not had its history noted before. Though there has been a house on this site since 1609, the present house dates from the 18th century, with a new front added in 1812. The main story here relates to the years 1890 to 1928 when it was owned by Edward Perry Warren, an American antiquarian and art buyer. His purchase of Rodin’s statue The Kiss caused a furore when he wanted it to be shown.

It is quite hard to capture even the outline of this in the 45 or so words, which is all that space on a plaque allows!  The permission of the owner is always a pre-condition and the District Council were happy to agree. The plaque was put on the wall outside, rather than on the listed building to ensure maximum visibility to passers-by.

Grace Kimmins and 43 Cliffe High Street

Grace Kimmins and Lewes plaque
Grace Kimmins and the new plaque on 43 Cliffe High Street

Sometimes it is the invisible connection with a person that is the story. 43 Cliffe High Street is now Louis Potts’ shop and the owner was unaware that the house had once been the childhood home of Grace Kimmins, who founded Chailey Heritage in 1903: a very special Hospital and School only a few miles away. In this case the connection was first drawn to the attention of Friends of Lewes by the Heritage in 2017.

Architect Rowland Hawke Halls and 4 Fisher Street

4 Fisher Street, Lewes, plaque and building
Rowland Hawke Halls building on Fisher Street

The third plaque was suggested by a grandson of the architect, Rowland Hawke Halls. He lived in Lewes and designed many building in the area, including several of the first houses on the Avenue and Kingston Village Hall.  No 4 Fisher Street is also owned by the District Council and served as Council Finance Offices until a few years ago. The timbered front with plaster relief panels of rural life by a local artist and the carved heads by the doorways are best viewed from across the street. Background information was plentiful in this case, but restricting the story to so few words was again a challenge.

Suggestions are welcome for additional plaques which will bring parts of the town’s past into focus and which are on frequently-used routes, where they can inform local residents and visitors to the town alike of our rich heritage.

Marcus Taylor – Email Marcus Taylor