Lewes in the past

Lewes in the past

Martin's Garage before

Martin's Garage after

First published in Nostalgia The Argus: Photograph of the Author by

Two developments in the 1960s and 1970s had a profound effect on Lewes, county town of East Sussex.

One was the building of the University of Sussex, four miles down the road to Brighton at Falmer. The other was County Hall, a monstrous office slab in Lewes itself.

The university provided jobs for many people who did not want to live in busy Brighton and also helped ensure that Lewes became one of the best educated towns in Britain.

County Hall provided hundreds of jobs as East Sussex assumed many powers from other authorities in the great local government shake-up of 1974. It was a pity that its headquarters had to be such an intrusive building.

A casual visitor to Lewes might imagine that most people were involved in tourism, working in the many individual shops that ensure it has one of the highest proportions of independent stores in the country.

But that is not so, with many inhabitants working in offices often hidden from view.

In a new book, author Bob Cairns reminds us of the many other jobs people have had over the years, some of them still surviving today.

Harvey’s by the River Ouse is now the only mainstream brewery left in Sussex, let alone Lewes, but once there were two others, both in the Malling area.

There was also a large steam laundry at the top of Malling Hill, employing dozens of local people until it was destroyed by fire in 1941.

A cement works dominated the view across the river towards South Street and there was a second one just outside the town. They sustained local businesses such as lime burners in Lewes.

For many years, Lewes was a flourishing port and had its own thriving shipbuilding industry.

When the railway came to the town in the middle of the 19th century, it also provided many jobs because geography decreed there had to be a busy junction there.

Trains still go to London, Eastbourne and Brighton but there were also services to Tunbridge Wells and East Grinstead until near the end of the 1960s.

Later on, cars became the preferred means of transport for many local people and Martin’s garage occupied an imposing building by the Ouse. It is now the Riverside Centre.

The Phoenix Ironworks, established in 1832, was one of the biggest employers until it closed in the 1980s and it used barges to transport heavy goods.

Until 1968, towns such as Brighton had their own police forces but Sussex Police was formed then and is based at Lewes employing hundreds of officers and staff.

Lewes also has a crown court where many famous cases have been held although the magistrate’s court has been closed. Num- erous barristers specialising in the criminal law are based there.

At the other end of Lewes from the police headquarters stands the prison, the main one in Sussex, home to many more prisoners than was ever envisaged when it was built in the 19th century.

In his book, Cairns has selected a fine series of photographs from the past and matched them with a present day view providing informative captions about the changes.

  • Lewes Through Time by Bob Cairns (Amberley, £14.99)

Comments (1)

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10:53am Mon 14 Jan 13

Rob Read says...

Bob Cairns is giving an illustrated talk on his book in Lewes tonight (Monday 14 January) to the Lewes History Group who meet at Kings Church, Brooks Road (just past Tesco/Aldi). Starts 7.30pm, £3. Should be a good one!
Bob Cairns is giving an illustrated talk on his book in Lewes tonight (Monday 14 January) to the Lewes History Group who meet at Kings Church, Brooks Road (just past Tesco/Aldi). Starts 7.30pm, £3. Should be a good one! Rob Read
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