LEWES, a market-town and municipal borough and the county town of Sussex, England, in the Lewes parliamentary division, 50 m. S. from London by the London, Brighton & South Coast railway. Pop. (1901) 11,249. It is picturesquely situated on the slope of a chalk down falling to the river Ouse. Ruins of the old castle, supposed to have been founded by King Alfred and rebuilt by William de Warenne shortly after the Conquest, rise from the height. There are two mounds which bore keeps, an uncommon feature. The castle guarded the pass through the downs formed by the valley of the Ouse. In one of the towers is the collection of the Sussex Archaeological Society. St Michael’s church is without architectural merit, but contains old brasses and monuments; St Anne’s church is a transitional Norman structure; St Thomas-at-Cliffe is Perpendicular; St John’s, Southover, of mixed architecture, preserves some early Norman portions, and has some relics of the Warenne family. In the grounds of the Cluniac priory of St Pancras, founded in 1078, the leaden coffins of William de Warenne and Gundrada his wife were dug up during an excavation for the railway in 1845. There is a free grammar school dating from 1512, and among the other public buildings are the town hall and corn exchange, county hall, prison, and the Fitzroy memorial library. The industries include the manufacture of agricultural implements, brewing, tanning, and iron and brass founding. The municipal borough is under a mayor, 6 aldermen and 18 councillors. Area, 1042 acres.
The many neolithic and bronze implements that have been discovered, and the numerous tumuli and earthworks which surround Lewes, indicate its remote origin. The town Lewes (Loewas, Loewen, Leswa, Laquis, Latisaquensis) was in the royal demesne of the Saxon kings, from whom it received the privilege of a market. Æthelstan established two royal mints there, and by the reign of Edward the Confessor, and probably before, Lewes was certainly a borough. William I. granted the whole barony of Lewes, including the revenue arising from the town, to William de Warenne, who converted an already existing fortification into a place of residence. His descendants continued to hold the barony until the beginning of the 14th century. In default of male issue, it then passed to the earl of Arundel, with whose descendants it remained until 1439, when it was divided between the Norfolks, Dorsets and Abergavennys. By 1086 the borough had increased 30% in value since the beginning of the reign, and its importance as a port and market-town is evident from Domesday. A gild merchant seems to have existed at an early date. The first mention of it is in a charter of Reginald de Warenne, about 1148, by which he restored to the burgesses the privileges they had enjoyed in the time of his grandfather and father, but of which they had been deprived. In 1595 a “Fellowship” took the place of the old gild and in conjunction with two constables governed the town until the beginning of the 18th century. The borough seal probably dates from the 14th century. Lewes was incorporated by royal charter in 1881. The town returned two representatives to parliament from 1295 until deprived of one member in 1867. It was disfranchised in 1885. Earl Warenne and his descendants held the fairs and markets from 1066. In 1792 the fair-days were the 6th of May, Whit-Tuesday, the 26th of July (for wool), and the 2nd of October. The market-day was Saturday. Fairs are now held on the 6th of May for horses and cattle, the 20th of July for wool, and the 21st and 28th of September for Southdown sheep. A corn-market is held every Tuesday, and a stock-market every alternate Monday. The trade in wool has been important since the 14th century.
Lewes was the scene of the battle fought on the 14th of May 1264 between Henry III. and Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. Led by the king and by his son, the future king Edward I., the royalists left Oxford, took Northampton and drove Montfort from Rochester into London. Then, harassed on the route by their foes, they marched through Kent into Sussex and took up their quarters at Lewes, a stronghold of the royalist Earl Warenne. Meanwhile, reinforced by a number of Londoners, Earl Simon left London and reached Fletching, about 9 m. north of Lewes, on the 13th of May. Efforts at reconciliation having failed he led his army against the town, which he hoped to surprise, early on the following day. His plan was to direct his main attack against the priory of St Pancras, which sheltered the king and his brother Richard, earl of Cornwall, king of the Romans, while causing the enemy to believe that his principal objective was the castle, where Prince Edward was. But the surprise was not complete and the royalists rushed from the town to meet the enemy in the open field. Edward led his followers against the Londoners, who were gathered around the standard of Montfort, put them to flight, pursued them for several miles, and killed a great number of them. Montfort’s ruse, however, had been successful. He was not with his standard as his foes thought, but with the pick of his men he attacked Henry’s followers and took prisoner both the king and his brother. Before Edward returned from his chase the earl was in possession of the town. In its streets the prince strove to retrieve his fortunes, but in vain. Many of his men perished in the river, but others escaped, one band, consisting of Earl Warenne and others, taking refuge in Pevensey Castle. Edward himself took sanctuary and on the following day peace was made between the king and the earl.