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Lewes Priory, Sussex

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Feature Sets (2)

Description

Lewes was the county town of Sussex before the county was divided in 1974, and is now the county town of East Sussex.  It stands on the River Ouse, 6 miles NE of Brighton. The ruins of the priory are in Southover, on the SE edge of the town and are now bisected by the East Coastway rail line.  Most of the priory site is occupied by Priory Park, on the S of the railway.  The priory constructed by William de Warenne consisted of the great church with its cloister to the S bounded by the refectory on the S range. S of this stood the rere-dorter, later extended with a new block to the E, and the Infirmary. The site was bounded on its southern edge by the Cockshut stream, a tributary of the Ouse which provided the water supply. The Infirmary chapel, built to the S of the eastern arm of the great church on a slightly different axis, is assumed to be the first Cluniac church on the site. Its postion allows the visitor to locate the position of the great church itself, of which there are no standing remains except for the S wall of the SW tower, lying as it does below the railway line and the privately-owned land to the N of it. When the railway was built in 1846 the foundations of the church were revealed, enabling St John Hope and Breakspear to produce a plan (Hope 1884). The best description of the standing remains will be found in VCH (1940).

The only sculptural remains in Priory Park are reused in the Prospect Tower, a cylindrical, battlemented tower built at the W end of the park. Carved and moulded voussoirs from the priory are incorporated into a doorway and two of the window arches.

History

The rape and town of Lewes were given to William de Warenne shortly after the Conquest, and he and his wife Gundrada founded a monastery there under the direction of Lanzo and three other monks from Cluny in 1170. Their first church was that of St Pancras, recently rebuilt in stone by William de Warenne, which was to become the infirmary chapel of the priory.  The original endowment included this church and the land surrounding it, and land at Falmer and Balmer as well as Wiiliam's Norfolk manor of Walton. This was enough to support 10 monks, but the monastery grew through the gifts of William and his successors. The new great church, built on the model of the mother house (Cluny III) was dedicated in c.1095, also to St Pancras. The priory was formally surrendered to the Crown in November 1537, when the prior Robert Crowham, received a pension and a prebend at Lincoln cathedral, and the 23 monks and 80 servants were pensioned off. The priory and all its lands were granted to Thomas Cromwee, Earl of Essex.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

Prospect Tower, SE doorway

The Prospect Tower, also called Blaker's Tower, was probably built by John Blaker, who owned the site from 1855 until his death in 1864. The evidence for this is that it is not mentioned in the 1855 sales particulars, but does appear on the 1873 Ordnance Survey map.  It is a 2-storey building with a battlemented parapet. The doorway is at the SE with a glazed window above it, and there are further upper and lower windows at SW, NE and NW, all blocked with flints. The tower is built of flint with ashlar dressings.

The SE doorway is round headed and of a single order. The jambs are of uneven ashlar blocks and the arch is made up of 9 re-used voussoirs, presumably found on the site. In the descriptions below the voussoirs are numbered from L to R.

Dimensions
Voussoir 7
Depth of block 0.16 m
Length of face 0.20 m
Width at extrados 0.23 m
Width at intrados 0.16 m
Voussoir 9
Depth of block 0.14 m
Length of face 0.19 m
Width at extrados 0.205 m
Width at intrados 0.185 m
Voussoir 5
Depth of block 0.18 m
Length of face 0.22 m
Width at extrados 0.18 m
Width at intrados 0.18 m
Voussoir 6
Depth of block 0.17 m
Length of face 0.21 m
Width at extrados 0.21 m
Width at intrados 0.18 m
Voussoir 3
Depth of block 0.125 m
Length of face 0.21 m
Width at extrados 0.17 m
Width at intrados 0.15 m
Voussoir 2
Depth of block 0.16 m
Length of face 0.23 m
Width at extrados 0.18 m
Width at intrados 0.17 m
Voussoir 8
Depth of block 0.16 m
Length of face 0.185 m
Width at extrados 0.21 m
Width at intrados 0.16 m
Voussoir 1
Depth of block 0.13 m
Length of face 0.13 m
Width at extrados 0.255 m
Width at intrados 0.255 m
Voussoir 4
Depth of block 0.13 m
Length of face 0.20 m
Width at extrados 0.20 m
Width at intrados 0.16 m
Voussoir 1

Possibly a double-scallop capital set with the top towards the intrados. The 2 large shields are framed with thin rolls and do not quite meet. There is a shallow abacus and a flat bearing surface on the soffit of the arch. No cones are visible.

Voussoir 2

A voussoir with an inner angle roll, and a face hollow containing a pair of raised lozenges side-by side.

Voussoir 3

As voussoir 2.

Voussoir 4

A voussoir with an inner angle roll, and a face hollow containing a pair of roundels side by side, each containing a compass-drawn cross, deeply hollowed out. There is a large loss at the outer L of the voussoir.

Voussoir 5 (keystone)

A rectangulat block carved in relief with a horizontal flat band, grooved along its length, with two trilobed leaves emerging from it above and below.

Voussoir 6

A voussoir with an inner angle roll and 3 roundels on the face of the same design as those on voussoir 4. In this case the face is carved with a large roundel on the R and a pair of small ones radially disposed on the L. There is a major loss at the outer R corner affecting the large roundel.

Voussoir 7

As voussoir 2.

Voussoir 8

As voussoir 2.

Voussoir 9

As voussoir 2.

Windows

Prospect Tower, SE window

The upper SE window, above the doorway, is of a single order and round headed. It has plain jambs of irregular blocks and an arch of 9 moulded voussoirs of varying designs.

Prospect Tower, SW window

The blocked lower SW window is of a single round-headed order. Jambs are of irregular blocks with two moulded voussoirs incorporated in the R jamb. The only carved stone is the keystone of the arch; an elaborately carved voussoir or possibly a cut down capital, decorated on its face with a vertical central fluted leaf emerging from a half disc on the necking, flanked by a spiral stem to the L and a half-daisy to the R, No measurements were possible.

Comments/Opinions

Other carved stones from the priory are to be seen in gardens and built into walls around the town and the local area. Churches outside Lewes with reused priory stones are at Beddingham, Ringmer and Rodmell, but the majority of carved stones are held in the Anne of Cleves House museum, Southover. Of the stones in the SE doorway arch here, the lozenge design (e.g. voussoir 3) and the paired medallions (voussoir 4) are both found at Beddingham.

Bibliography

  • F. Anderson, 'St Pancras Priory, Lewes: Its Architectural Development to 1200', Anglo-Norman Studies, 11 (1988), 1-35.

  • Historic England Listed Buildings, English Heritage Legacy IDs 293053 (Lewes Priory) and 293052 (Prospect Tower)

  • W. H. St John Hope, The Architectural History of the Cluniac Priory of Saint Pancras at Lewes', Archaeological Journal, XLI (1884), 1-34.

  • W. H. St John Hope, 'The Architectural History of the Cluniac Priory of St Pancras at Lewes', Sussex Archaeological Collections XXXIV (1886), 71-106.

  • W. H. St John Hope, 'The Cluniac Priory of St Pancras at Lewes', Sussex Archaeological Collections XLIX (1906), 66-88.

  • G.J. Mayhew, The Monks of St Pancras: Lewes Priory, England’s Premier Cluniac Monastery and its Dependencies 1076-1537, Lewes History Press 2014. 

  • H. Poole, Lewes Priory, The Site and Its History, Lewes Priory Trust, 2000

  • J. T. Smith, ‘A note of the architectural history of Lewes Priory’, Sussex Archaeological Collections 102 (1964) 33~38.

  • The Victoria History of the County of Sussex, vol. 2 (1907), 64-71. On the history of the priory.

  • The Victoria History of the County of Sussex, the Rape of Lewes, vol. 7 (1940), 45-50. On the standing remains.

Priory Park; the ruins from the E
Infirmary chapel (1st church) from NE
Infirmary chapel (1st church) from W
Plan from Hope (1884)
Refectory S wall from S
Dormitory extension from W
Rere dorter from N
Prospect Tower from SW

Location

Site Location
Lewes Priory
National Grid Reference
TQ 415 095 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Sussex
now: East Sussex
Diocese
medieval: Chichester
now: Chichester
Dedication
now:
medieval: St Pancras
Type of building/monument
Former Cluniac priory  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
22 August 2017