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The History of Lewes

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The ancient town of Lewes has been inhabited since Prehistoric times, and when the Romans invaded England it was not too long before they appreciated its strategic position they decided to build a settlement and they named it Mutuantonis, which existed until their departure in 410AD. An agricultural settlement then took shape and was farmed by the Celts which had grown in size when the Saxon Kings arrived. It was soon apparent that it was necessary for a Mint to be built with an increasing requirement for coins, positioned as it is it proved an ideal, and important strategic point with the Ouse River flowing through; by the time Edward the Confessor had started his reign large ships were often seen making their way along the Ouse with the emergence of a busy Port in 1042. Not long after William the Conqueror landed on England's shores on the 28th September 1066 , bloody battles were fought, his army marched across the country leaving their mark, arriving in Lewes, the Saxon's lost their battle and much to William's delight Lewes was successfully taken, he later gifted the town to William De Warren who built an impressive Priory both in size and grandeur that played an important role across the centuries up until it was sacked by Henry VIII in 1537 during the dissolution. William De Warren wished to keep Lewes a stronghold, so he built a castle here on top of a hill, which can still be seen today just a few steps from the High Street, the castle also featured in the Battle of Lewes that was fought in 1264, and again during the Peasant Revolts which took place in 1381.

The narrow streets, alleyways, and twittens unveil an unusual mix of houses from the timber framed Wealden Hall which was given to Anne of Cleves by Henry VIII as part of her divorce settlement, to the Medieval bookshop still plying its wares, and Georgian townhouses that were built as Lewes became a thriving and fashionable destination. With the growth in population so a growth in crime was inevitable and this led to the old House of Correction that was built in 1612 to be replaced by a new prison which opened its doors in 1853 and still detains inmates at Her Majesty's pleasure today.

The 16th Century saw a violent time, when 17 Martyrs were put to their death on the orders of Mary Tudor , the Catholic daughter of Henry VIII, during the Marian Persecutions. Riots across the centuries were rife through the town, and when Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the 17th Century whilst James I , and an abundance of nobility were inside, the town commemorated this action, and is renowned for its torchlight processions that still march through the narrow streets today remembering Guy Fawkes and the 17 Martyrs who were brutally burned at the stake. The 19th Century saw a thriving town with a host of Narrow Boats carrying lime, coal and corn replacing the war ships that were once seen.

Visitors can walk the streets where history is uncovered and shared at every corner and over the bridge which is looked over by Harvey's Breweries whose attractive facade has stood the test of time since the Brewery first started in 1794.

The twentieth century was not without incident with the roar of war planes that fought determinedly in the skies above in the infamous Battle of Britain , soon after 1949 saw the trial take place of John Haig the Acid Murderer, in the Crown Court which was built in 1812 and it was within the court where the sentence was uttered of death by hanging.

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