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Hastings, St Leonards,
Rye & Lewes





I know little about Hastings (apart from the obvious) and St Leonards, but having now read David Russell’s book I feel that I know not only the pubs but also the area very well indeed.
    I have lost count of the number of pub books and guides I have read over the years but The Pubs of Hastings & St. Leonards 1800-2000 stands out for the impressive level of detailed research; not like some authors who merely lift information from works that have gone before. This book is not a pub guide; this is a large slice of social history and a major contribution to cultural studies of this area of Sussex.
    And it is not just about pubs, the publicans and the architecture. It is about real people, the customers, the entertainers and performers, the smugglers and ne’er-do-wells, the fishermen, the fish-wives, tenants doing moonlight flits and prostitutes. There are a few hauntings in there too, plus so much more.
    This is how local pub history should be written. Informed and informative, ‘The Pubs of Hastings & St. Leonards 1800-2000′ brings pubs past and present in the area to life. Packed with real history, fascinating anecdotes, photographs and numerous beautiful illustrations by James Gray, David Russell’s book is recommended reading not only for local people but also anyone interested in the social history of the great English pub.
    In the summer issue of the PHS Newsletter members were treated to a couple of ‘taster pubs’ from David’s book (the Nag’s Head and the Prince Albert). What they must do now is buy the book. Trust me. A labour of love this definitely is. An ordinary pub history book this definitely is not.

- Copyright Dr Patrick Chaplin, Pub and Pub Games Historian


Pub History Society Newsletter, Winter 2009


‘Congratulations on the publication of your new book, which I have just read from cover to cover. As a social history of the licensed trade, and a history of its somewhat chequered relationship with the licensing authorities, it is a first class work. The detail that you have elicited, from any number of sources, bears witness to the enormity of the research that you have undertaken. It all makes for a thoroughly interesting and eminently readable addition to the evolution of the public house, and its current sad demise.’

- John Hodges, Pub Historian

I’m not a pub person but this is a book for everybody.

- a Hastings resident

Couple’s pub crawl with a purpose

A former teacher and his wife have found a great way to spend their retirement – visiting all the town’s pubs as research for a new book.

    The Pubs of Hastings and St Leonards 1800-2000 is a guide to the town’s drinking establishments, and author David Russell hopes it will be an unusual addition to its social history.
    Mr Russell, 70, of Kenilworth Road, St Leonards, spent two-and-a-half years working on the book, which has been published by his wife Lynda.
    It includes more than 60 entries of pubs from Silverhill to the seafront, and each comes with an original illustration by Newhaven artist James Gray.
    Mr Russell said: “We moved here from Seaford four years ago and my wife and I are both retired so we have some time on our hands. We thought this would be good way to get to know the town. We visited all the pubs still open and did a lot of research in Hastings Library and the Brighton History Centre. I think what we have produced is more of a social history than a guide book.”
    Mr Russell, a former design and technology teacher, was also motivated by the possibility Britain’s pub culture is under threat with the British Beer and Pub Association claiming pubs are closing at a rate of 50 a week.
    “Our drinking habits are changing and pubs are closing down all the time so I felt it was necessary to record this part of our history in case it disappears. In Hastings especially, pubs have been a major community resource for many years – before the welfare state pubs’ benefit societies were tremendously important. But I know one pub in St Leonards where the landlord has to take £800 a week just to pay for his lease, and that is not unusual.”
    Mr Russell uncovered a range of long-gone games and customs but he refuses to be drawn on his favourite pub.
    “I don’t think it would be fair to choose just one,” he said.
The book is available from Tourist Information, many bookshops and The Hastings History House, priced at £10.99.

- Robert Alderson, Hastings & St Leonards Observer, October 23 2009

Most books on pubs tend to be of the ‘Good … Guide’ variety and will list beers, food and number of bars. David Russell’s new book does none of this but instead describes our local pubs in their historic and social context and he does it in a very readable way.
    There is a multitude of well-researched facts and anecdotes here, which bring to life the chosen pubs. We are told about items as diverse as the Nag’s Head’s part in the St Leonard’s bonfire society, the FILO once sold draught milk(!) and the Palace Bars (now the Pig in Paradise) using electricity in 1894 from dynamos installed in caves behind the building. A couple of minor gripes – there is no general index and the book clearly has dates up to 2009 but the title would suggest otherwise.
    What better than to support the furtherance of public houses in today’s society, by visiting one of the open premises from David’s book and reading the relevant chapter whilst partaking of refreshment there.

- Alan Jeffries, Bohemia Voice, November 2009

The Pubs of Hastings & St Leonards, a brilliant new book by David Russell, looks set to become a treasured local classic. Over a span of two hundred years, it combines social history, anecdote and scholarship, lavishly illustrated with drawings by James Gray, old photographs and fascinating documents. We’ve been promised a review by Glenn Veness, a man who knows his pubs. And publisher Lynda  Russell has kindly given HOT the go-ahead to feature an occasional series of stories extracted from the book. David and Lynda Russell themselves plan to run an oral history project titled “Pub Memories”, collecting memories and photographs. Meanwhile you can buy the book at a modest £10.99 at Hastings museums, History House, Bohemia Voice, Hastings Info Centre, the North Star pub in Bohemia, and St Leonards Community Forum (which will donate part of the proceeds to the St Leonards Festival Fund).

- Hastings Online Times 4/12/09


Here are just three of the many intriguing incidents and fascinating facts to be found in David Russell’s new book, The Pubs of Hastings and St Leonards 1800-2000: how perilously close we came to having the town’s chief constable permanently close down the FILO in 1929; that in trying to avoid a charge of drunkenness during the First World War, five Canadian soldiers claimed their whiskies at the Hastings Arms had been spiked with ‘snow’ (cocaine); that the Dripping Spring did not acquire its Saloon Bar until 1950 when it incorporated the ground floor of the house next door.
    In over 230 pages, David Russell takes us through the life stories of over 60 pubs in detail, with superb illustrations provided by James Gray. Two or three pages are devoted to each pub in alphabetical order; also provided is a final list of 178 lost local pubs and beer houses. David draws on his original research into official records and documentary sourcesm skilfully combining this with snippets from newspaper accounts of the day and some delightful anecdotes collected through his own interviews with pub customers. In so doing he enables the factural and statistical to become enlivened by vivid personal testimony, ranging from the humorous to the harrowing. The result is a history that while enormously educative is effortlessly entertaining.

- The Quaffer, The Sussex Drinker, Winter 2009

I bought a copy of your The Pubs of Hastings and St Leonards on Saturday; once I started reading it I could not put it down. I found the mix of history, information and personal anecdotes fascinating and the drawings by James Gray are the perfect complement to the book.
    I do hope you will write a further book on some of the pubs you did not include in this publication.
    Thank you for an excellent read and a valuable reference book.

With Very Best Wishes,
- Victoria Seymour

- e.mail received 3rd February 2010

The Swan, Hastings by David Russell (review by Jonathan Broughton)

Following on from his successful book, The Pubs of Hastings and St Leonards 1800-2000, David Russell has turned his attention to a single licensed premises in Hastings, The Swan.
    This former coaching inn, hotel and public house occupied a site on the High Street in Hastings Old Town from around 1523 until its destruction by enemy action in 1943. Four centuries of social history passed through its doors, and David Russell has researched and documented many fascinating accounts of these times in great detail. The 18th century for example, when there were frequent conflicts between the English and the French in the Channel, saw The Swan as a saleroom for fast sailing cutters. The boats were launched from the beach when the shoreline was much closer to the town than it is today. In 1809, three French prisoners of war escaped, and booked into The Swan in disguise. Their good command of English and an inexhaustible supply of funds raised no eyebrows, until late one night they were confronted by the pub dog as they tried to escape and make their way back to France.
    The Swan became an integral part of the Hastings community, in particular the use of its Assembly Room during the 19th century, when it hosted a market, a theatre, an election headquarters, an auction house, a lecture room, a ballroom, and a venue for the Hastings Flower Show.
    The book is illustrated with many photographs and pictures. The Swan was a Hastings institution, and David Russell’s book celebrates its memory in style.

Bohemia Village Voice 81 – Winter 2011-12

Pub history book

An updated version of a popular book on the pubs of Hastings and St Leonards has been launched.
   The second edition of The Pubs of Hastings & St Leonards 1800-2000 has been published by Hastings author David Russell. This edition has nine additional pubs and beer houses as well as an updated history of many others.
    David has researched 77 pubs all brought to life with important local aspects of social history.
   The book has been enhanced by the inclusion of pub photographs from the John Hodges archive and by Lynda Russell’s photos of pub signs now rapidly disappearing. There is also a list of around 200 of the town’s lost pubs, closed from the 1800s to the present day which is included at the back.
   The book is priced at £13.99 and can be purchased at Bohemia Voice, History House, Information Centre, Salmons and Waterstones or direct from the publisher, Lynda Russell at www.hastingspubhistory.com

Hastings & St Leonards Observer, 16/12/2011


Reviewed by Patrick Chaplin

Following on from his highly successful work The Pubs of Hastings and St Leonards 1800-2000 published in 2009 author and researcher David Russell has now turned his attention to a single licensed premise in Hastings namely The Swan.
    This former coaching inn, hotel and public house occupied a mere four pages in David’s earlier work but because of its place in the hearts of Hastings’ residents and visitors alike for over more than four centuries this is a history that demanded to be written. as usual, David is more than up to the task.
    With his usual thoroughness and depth of research David reconstructs the history of The Swan whilst also debunking a number of myths perpetuated by a number of earlier authors on the subject along the way. This is a book about the glamour and grandeur of the licensed trade in Hastings seen through but one major example, The Swan. It is a history of good times and bad times, of fun and laughter, of mystery and intrigue and, sadly, finally one of neglect.
    The Swan, Hastings 1523-1943 is a fascinating, detailed and well-researched account of the life and destruction of one of Hastings most historic and popular licensed premises.

Pub History Society Newsletter Winter 2011

THE SWAN, HASTINGS 1523-1943 by David Russell

Reviewed by Peter Skinner

On a Spring afternoon in 1943 a group of German fighter-bombers unloaded their explosives over the High Street in Hastings Old Town; in doing so they killed 16 people, from a three-year-old child to a man of 79. Those bombs also brought to a brutal end one of the most famous public houses in the town – the Swan. In a matter of minutes it went from being a functioning pub, still serving a crowded bar, to  a smouldering ruin. All that remains today is a small area of greenery on the west side of the High Street, just below St Clement’s Church.
    It might not look much now, but local author David Russell has taken on the task of bringing the Swan back to life. In doing so he has also brought back four centuries of colourful social and cultural life, all centred around the Swan.  It is no accident that David  took on this daunting challenge. He is the successful author of The Pubs of Hastings and St Leonards 1800-2000 and has brought to this new book an unrivalled knowledge of local public houses and their often complex history.  It was during the research for his earlier work that David became intrigued by the sheer power of folk memory clustered around the Swan Inn. Although long gone, there seemed a kind of legend, a vague feeling that something valuable to the town has been lost. Now David has brought it back for the reader.
   More accurately, he has managed to bring back a series of vignettes, glimpses of a vanished era, when the local hostelries were a centre of social life in the Old Town. Even the most gifted writer and historian cannot completely retrieve what has been lost, but David has clearly committed many hours of intense research to save what history can be saved. It seems that just as the Swan ended its life in fire and destruction, so its early life included survival in the flames that consumed much of the High Street in the early sixteenth century. Several public houses were lost, but not the Swan. By 1577, it was officially recorded as one of some 160 hostelries within the Cinque Ports.  By the late 1700s the Swan had become a major site, complete with extensive stables and many rooms. Commanding a big area of the lower High Street it had turned itself into an important venue for the town’s embryonic middle class, and had even attracted royalty.
    Here, in the peak times for the Swan, David succeeds very well in bringing a rich and complex life back from its forgotten place in history. The Swan is the scene of colourful dinners, complete with elaborate menus, huge meals and a wide variety of wines and spirits. The pub seems to pulse with energy, there is a market every Saturday, a coach and horses stands by to carry you from your celebrations. You sense a society looking forward, believing in future prosperity and deep social stability. You are reminded of the sheer energy of this earlier society. Largely forgotten are the Friendly Societies which provided companionship and a measure of security for the growing commercial classes. Here, at the Swan, you could not only eat and drink, but join a group which provided some protection from ill health and misfortune.
    But just as the Old Town began to decline, so did the Swan. Poverty increased as a lack of planning allowed slums to grow across the area. Dwellings were jammed together, insanitary conditions brought growing sickness. For a while the Swan was able to resist social change, but by the late nineteenth century decline was all too obvious. The parlours, high-class restaurant and smoking rooms (how times have changed!) were demolished; in their place came a new, humbler Swan. By 1930 the local police were petitioning to remove the licence, because demand for pubs had fallen, and the competition was too strong.
   There was a reprieve, but the glory days were behind, and when those fateful bombs struck, the pub was a poor reflection of its earlier prominence.  And yet – other public houses have come and gone, many, many of them. But memory of the Swan has echoed down through the decades. Its rise, decline, and fall, right at the heart of Hastings Old Town, seems to capture something of the fate of the town.
    Some of you who read this excellent work, will unknowingly have come across David. He has trudged the streets of the town, together with his hard working wife Lynda, who publishes these histories. Every street has been walked, nearly every pub visited. Add this to many hours of research among the local and county archives, and detailed conversations with local people, and you have a work of real distinction. David really cares about the history of the public houses of this town, and in bringing back visions of the old Swan for us, he has also brought back loving glimpses of ages we can only dimly perceive.
    If lives and events, social and cultural activities go unrecorded then they are lost for all further ages. In both his early work, and now in his history of this wonderful old public house, The Swan, Mr Russell has preserved something of real value, which will contribute to our understanding for many years to come. He richly deserves our thanks for a job very well done.
 This book is available from Bohemia Voice, History House, Information Centre, Salmons, Waterstones, www.hastingspubhistory.com or email hastings.pubs@gmail.com

Hastings Town     Number 48       January 2012

David Russell, The Pubs of Hastings and St Leonards 1800-2000, (Hastings: Lynda Russell, 2011, Second Edition), pp. 298, softback, £13.99

It seems to me that David Russell never rests from researching the pubs of his beloved Hastings and St. Leonards. No sooner had I reviewed his new book The Swan, Hastings 1523-1943 in the Winter 201 Newsletter than another of his works drops through my letterbox. On this occasion it is the Second Edition of The Pubs of Hastings and St. Leonards which was originally published in 2009 and reviewed by me in that year’s Winter issue of the PHS Newsletter.
    Back in 2009 I praised David’s book for being ‘how local pub history should be written. Informed and informative…Packed with real history, fascinating anecdotes and numerous beautiful illustrations…A labour of love…’ This new edition does nothing to change my mind but merely reinforces my earlier feelings about the book.
    Some Second Editions are no more than the original work with a few alterations and corrections and perhaps a change of front page and blurb. Not so in this case. Over and above alterations and corrections and a new front page and blurb, no less than seventy extra pages have been added; the text including nine ‘new’ pubs (including the Brass Monkey pub in Havelock Road) with several others receiving major updates.
    The Brass Monkey originally opened in 1865 as the Provincial and in its early days was a meeting place for local postman from the nearby post office. By the 1960s it was one

of only two pubs in the town that had a chess team. By 1970 it had closed but then reopened in 1977 as the Golden Hind. For once David did not have to spend an age delving into dusty archives to retrieve information about the pub’s life as the Golden Hind. In 2010 Julian Deeprose recalled for David his time at the pub in the late 1970s with ‘a disco bar in the back and a lounge bar in the front’ the latter being quickly turned into a ‘haven for beer enthusiasts’ as the real ale renaissance gathered pace.
    Also new to this edition are details of a licensed ‘Common Lodging House’ and beerhouse quirkily named the Merry Christmas located in All Saints Street in Hastings’ Old Town between 1848 and 1852 when the landlord was Edward Paris. Records show that Paris had twelve beds to let; all lodgers sleeping two to a bed, one visitor recalling; ‘Here the privy stands upon the highest level, from whence a descent of 13 steps to the living room; the floor of the privy is on a level with the one pair window of the house in All Saints Street. The drainage proceeds from one platform (floor) to another, and eventually finds its way into the street.’
    Not surprisingly cholera was very popular in that area at the time.
    There are also major updates to the sections on the Hare and Hounds (and the theatre) in Old London Road, Ore, French’s Bar in Robertson Street but the most noticeable revision to even the most casual reader who already owns the first edition, is that the illustrations by James Gray which bedecked the original have, for the second edition, been entirely replaced by photographs from an extensive collection owned by local author ‘and collector of all sorts of ephemera’, John Hodges. When I first viewed the second edition my initial thought was “Where are the drawings? They were so good. What have you done with those beautiful illustrations?” but on a second look I concluded that this was a great decision on David’s part. Hodge’s photographs (and additional images of pubs and pub signs taken by David’s wife Lynda) complement the text even better than the original Gray illustrations. This Second Edition also includes an index, something irritatingly omitted by so many authors.
    According to the blurb on the back cover the local ‘Waterstones Manager’ pronounces that “We can sell this book by the bucket load.” I’m sure she will and I’m also sure that anyone who enjoys the history of local pubs anywhere in the UK will find this work a fine investment.
    Orders for The Pubs of Hastings and St. Leonards 1800-2000 can be placed by contacting Lynda on 01424 200227, via e-mail at hastings.pubs@gmail.com or via the website www.hastingspubhistory.com.

Patrick Chaplin

Pub History Newsletter, Spring 2012


Local author David Russell takes a look at the history of the Borough Arms in his newly published book The Pub of Rye. Though no longer a pub it retains its sign and has a fascinating history.

Still often mistaken by many as a pub, the Old Borough Arms, at Rye’s Strand, is now a guest house but provides a fascinating glimpse into the social history of the town.
    The Old Borough dates back, at least to 16th century when it was known by the sign of the ‘Blue’ or ‘Blew Anchor’.
    The earliest reference to the Blew Anchor is in 1592, when it was kept by a carpenter John Hammond.
    By 1728 it had become the London Trader, named after a type of coastal vessel plying between the south coast ports and London. It was then owned by the Corporation and rented to the landlord for £3.25 a year.
    One noted landlord James Shearer is said to have quelled a potential riot which saw local people confronting revenue men over plans to cut a new sluice which would have hindered the local smuggling trade.
    The pub witnessed the birth of many societies. The Wellington Lodge of the Freemasons was formed there in 1814 and the Ancient Towns’ Benefit Society in 1828.
    The Unity Benefit Society was established at the pub in 1859 and was famed for it’s popular Goose Raffles.
    During the great depression of 1890’s when beer consumption fell, the landlord tried a side-line of selling greengroceries from the tap room, bringing complaints from the police when he did this on a Sunday morning.
    It was the same landlord who changed the name to the Borough Arms in 1897, which saw its slow decline.

Rye and Battle Observer, October 26th 2012


The Pubs of Rye, East Sussex 1750-1950 by David Russell

Following on from the success of The Pubs of Hastings and St. Leonards 1800-2000 (2009 [Second Edition 2010]) and The Swan, Hastings 1523-1943 (2011), pub historian David Russell has wasted no time in producing yet another fine, well-researched book on local pub history in his neck of the woods.

In The Pubs of Rye, East Sussex 1750-1950 David brings back to life the pubs and hotels of Rye which have long disappeared from the streets of the town and also details the history of those still extant. Lavishly illustrated with photographs (not only of pubs but also of local pub games and individuals), maps and ephemera (including contemporary advertisements and public notices) The Pubs of Rye is, as I have come to expect from David, a pleasure to read. As regards photographs, I particularly enjoyed the three images of the transition of the Ferry Boat/New Inn/Ferry Boat in Ferry Road.

By the turn of the twentieth century the original Ferry Boat had been renamed the New Inn and the first photograph (right) is of the pub circa 1905. As was common in those days, die signage relating to the brewery, in this case Chapman Brothers, reached along the front of the building and part of the side of the premises in letters so large that the small pub sign hanging out front paled into insignificance. (The Chapman Brothers brewery was based at

101 High Street, Rye and at nearby East Guldeford. The company went into voluntary liquidation in 1920.)

The second shows the same building circa 1960 by then owned by Courage whilst the third (‘Today') shows the pub now defunct and converted into a private house; a story told so often up and down our country then and of course up to the present day.  

As usual there are numerous ‘characters’ within including a number of ne'er do well landlords, landladies, prostitutes a-plenty and customers that illuminate and inform the text. Add murder and political corruption, the odd ghost, mariners and smugglers and hop-pickers and there you have the perfect mix of pub life and pub history.

Writing the social history of pubs is a true art, mastered once again by David Russell.

The Pubs of Rye, East Sussex 1750-1950 is published by Lynda Russell and usually costs £13.99 (plus £1.80 postage and packing). However, PHS members can obtain the book for the exclusive price £13.79 inclusive of postage and packing obtainable from Lynda Russell, 75 Kenilworth Road, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex. TN38 OJG; cheques made payable to Lynda Russell. You can also e-mail Lynda at hastings.pubs@gmail.com.

Patrick Chaplin

New Inn/Ferry Boat image courtesy of the John Hodges Archive

Pub History Society Newsletter, Winter 2012



This 2nd Edition of the book details quite a full history of each of 66 pubs (both past and present) in Hastings and St Leonards (which included 9 more pubs than in the 1st Edition). The pubs are in alphabetical order, each pub gets at least one photo (many with more) and its history - landlords & landladies, barmaids, regulars, brewers, wartime stories, games etc.

There are full appendices of references, bibliography, pub-population statistics, a long list of the lost pubs of Hastings and St Leonards, and finally an index.

An informative book which gives the atmosphere of each of the pubs described.


Rye’s Inns, Tipplings and Alehouses

NB: 12 November 2012: Just published is a comprehensive and illustrated history of Rye pubs which provides insights into other aspects of the town as well:  

David Russell, The Pubs of Rye, East Sussex 1750-1950


Drink up facts on pubs of the past

From David Russell's well-researched account of the pubs of Rye over the 200 years from 1750 to 1950, we get in fascinating detail not only the history of 32 local hostelries, but also a glimpse of the attitudes of authority to ordinary citizens drinking in public. We are now accustomed to wide variations in official tolerance towards this form of public recreation, from prohibitions on drink-driving and smoking, to relaxations of late-night opening and the lack of law enforcement of public drunkenness. The landlord of the past certainly had his, or often her, problems to contend with. Stricter licensing laws were enforced by magistrates and the police to control public disorder. The Temperance movement may have commanded great respect in many sections of society, but it was also seen as a restraint of trade and another form of imposition on the poor.

After the book's very readable introduction, we are taken in turn through the history of each pub, for which records survive. Their stories are told from old photographs, newspaper cuttings and county archive material. There is depicted a richness of colourful character, for example, George Tedham, the landlord of the London Stout House in Ferry Road, who was taken "sensibly drunk", or Mr Collyer, the licensee of The Oak in the High Street, who lost his licence. He "had tried to keep a respectable house", he said, "but the people would not go there because they were seen. It was too public. The trade might increase if the rougher classes were admitted." Not surprisingly perhaps, the magistrates closed him down.

I would like to learn more about the role of the socially and economically powerful brewers such as the Lamb family, who largely controlled the fortunes of Rye's locals. The system of tied houses with licensees was well established since early times. At least three breweries were to be found in Rye, including the Albion  Brewery off Cinque Ports Street and the Eagle Brewery in Eagle Road. The latter was sold in the year 1900 by John Bowen to Alfred Leney & Company of Dover, before being purchased freehold in 1924 by Burnham's as a builder's yard and carpentry workshop, and now since 2004 developed for housing. The whereabouts of Hodges and Ritchie, the other Rye brewery mentioned in the book, is unknown but this concern could have also been the owners of the Eagle Brewery who sold out to John Bowen in 1890.

Not least interesting are the five appendices. The whole book sheds a fascinating light on an area of Rye's story that is fast disappearing. As we see around us the decline and closure of so many of the Rye pubs, and recognise the economic pressures for their change of use, we can appreciate the important role played in our social history by this great institution, the British pub. Perhaps now we can look forward to a sixth appendix in a third edition, bring the record of each surviving pub up to date?

Rye News November/December 2014


David Russell is a Hastings’ based pub historian who, having written three books about the hostelries of our coastal neighbour, past and present, has turned his attention to the county town, assisted by his wife, Lynda. ‘An old Lewes proverb reminds us that the town was once home to seven breweries, seven churches and 70 pubs’ he tells us, in his introduction, and in the subsequent 313 pages, goes on to list all those establishments, and more, talking about their foundation and history, inserting location-relevant snippets from newspapers and photographs, turning the whole project into something of a social history of Lewes. The result is a fascinating reference book, with enormous pick-up-and-browse value, which will provide much conversation fodder in Lewes’ surviving hostelries. We’ll leave you with a season-relevant anecdote from the Pelham Arms entry: ‘One of the earliest reports of [Borough Bonfire Society] is in 1855 when a Bonfire Boy ‘removed’ some wood for the bonfire from the Pelham Arms stables. He was observed by a local constable and charged with theft but in his defence described himself as the Bonfire Boys’ ‘Bishop’ and claimed ‘benefit of clergy’… With the support of the Pelham landlord he got off!’ AL

Viva Lewes, November 2015 edition

Inns and outs! A fascinating history of the watering holes of Lewes

Being a “pub historian” must be amazing. Quite how you’d measure the degree of job satisfaction I don’t know. If it’s calculated in the number of pints imbibed in the cause of research then it would rule me out of a career move for I’d never be capable of writing up any history.
    Thankfully it’s not a problem for husband and wife team David and Lynda Russell. They’ve just produced their fifth book featuring histories of Sussex watering holes. This latest work looks at the pubs of Lewes and comprehensively covers the four and a half centuries from 1550 to the year 2000.

   Now though you might think the subject matter a bit limiting in scope, this is no dry as sawdust academic tome. No “The Pubs of Lewes” is a riveting good read packed with fascinating facts, anecdotes and plenty of humour. By the time you get to the last of the book’s 322 pages you’ll have gained a real insight and appreciation of the role of the pub, be it ever so humble or ever so grand, in everyday life of our county town.
  Having lived in Lewes since 1962 I thought I was well immersed in its history and was pretty much familiar with local pubs past and present. So I was mightily surprised to discover that not 50 yards from my house once stood a tavern called “The Crimean”. It was at 15 Lancaster Street and first opened in 1865 under the care of landlord Thomas Huggett.
  Though the Crimean War had actually ended nine years earlier in 1856, it’s clear that the pub name was intended to perpetuate a unique Lewes link to that particular conflict. Opposite the establishment stood a naval prison that had housed Finnish sailors captured in the Baltic (Finland then being part of the Russian empire). Being allowed out on parole the men had a major impact on the people of Lewes and became a popular part of the town’s social fabric. Thomas Huggett ran the Crimean Tavern for 30 years. It closed in 1922.
  The book opens with the revelation that Lewes was once home to no less than seven breweries, seven churches and 70 pubs. Now it may look an anachronism to lump the churches into the same sentence as the many temples of booze but in fact

all was not as it seems. David and Lynda explain how parish churches in the 16th century were very different from what they are today.
    At that time they were community centres combining both religious and social activities. The latter included drama, processions, harvest dinners, games, brewing and drinking. Indeed just about any pursuit that could bring in funds for the church was permitted.
    It all changed with the rise of Puritanism early in the 17th century when such activities were proscribed. However, they could be transferred into nearby church-owned properties. Many of these “church houses” would eventually become licensed premises and likely examples in Lewes are the Kings Head, Southover, and the Bull in the High Street.
    By 1725 there were some 25 inns and alehouses in the town and with a population of around 3,000 this worked out at one pub for every 120 people. There was a fairly constant military presence in and around Lewes and off duty soldiers naturally frequented the pubs. David and Lynda quote a report in the “Sussex Weekly Advertiser” of 17th February 1781: “…a Welsh drover and two soldiers of the South Hants militia fell into company in a Lewes public house, where after drinking plentifully of strong beer, they changed to spirits and choosing Genever (gin) each drank seven half pints and betook themselves to their beds where one of them expired. Honest Taff showed next morning with his brethren at the fair and appeared to great advantage, in recommendation of his hardy race.”
    In 1830 a Beer  Act prompted a surge of applications from Lewes ratepayers for beer house licences, resulting in the town having around 50 legal drinking premises. There were evidently plenty of customers; a letter of protest in a local newspaper condemned the drinking habits of “lushites, guzzlers and sots”.
    One of the oldest pubs was the  Bear Inn on the banks of the Ouse near Cliffe Bridge. Mentioned in documents dating back to 1730, it is a great shame it burnt down in June 1918 as from surviving photographs it appears as a very attractive building that did credit to the look of the town. David and Lynda’s book mentions a concert at the Bear in 1894 featuring the “Lewes Minim Quartette” performing a song called “Lager Beer”. I’d always thought that lager first arrived in this country in the Swinging Sixties but it seems it was a well-known brew even in Victorian times.
    Another story concerns the Dorset in Malling Street. In 1805 landlord John Durnford and a consortium of his customers bought a national lottery ticket for 25 shillings. It won them the massive sum of 1,800 guineas. Part of the money funded an illuminated sign celebrating England’s victory at the Battle of  Trafalgar. Mounted on the pub fascia the sign read: “Nelson still lives in every Briton’s heart, know that and tremble Master Bonaparte.”
    Today the Lewes Arms is one of the most popular pubs in town and is notable for having a curious horseshow shaped roof. An 1895 document names three former licensees as “Citty, Scrace and Spilsbury”. The latter was a woman who first had the place in 1747. Her tenure of 55 years is most likely the longest for any Lewes publican. David and Lynda observe:”At one time the Lewes Arms and the Castle Inn (near the  Barbican gateway) were within the castle precincts and enjoyed ‘extra parochial status’. This meant they were outside the jurisdiction of the town and in consequence attracted a lively and raucous custom unmolested by the authorities.”
 In 1813 a Lewes High Constable entered the Lewes Arms “at the risk of his life from bayonets and swords to arrest three soldiers, Volunteers from Kildare, for attacking a coal heaver with a pewter quart pot.” Evidently by this time the pub had lost it’s immunity!
     The “Sussex Express” of 26th October 1917 recorded the death of Gunner Frederick James Beck of the Royal Garrison Artillery; “It is a pathetic coincidence that the war shrine outside  St Anne’s Parish Room was his handiwork, and it will to some extent form a memorial of a parishioner who did his bit in an unassuming manner.”

   The soldier left a widow and three children. He was the son of the landlord of a beer house in the town’s Western Road. By sad irony it was called “The Rifleman” and the Beck family had it for 72 years from 1855 to 1927 making them the longest running pub family ever in Lewes. It was renamed the “Pewter Pot” in 1960 before becoming “The Meridian” in 1999, the latter being a very apt name as the Greenwich Meridian Line almost dissects the spot before passing on to the “dead centre of town”—Lewes Cemetery!
   I hope this week’s column has given you a taste of the contents of “The Pubs of Lewes”. I’ll finish with a concluding quote from David Russell: “At one time or another the Church, the military, Puritans, temperance campaigners and the taxman have all tried to curb the boisterous habits of the Lewes drinker.
  All to no avail. This book traces the Lewes drinking habitat through all its manifestations from rude hovel to alehouse, tavern, inn beer house and present day pub. On the way we present some history, be it from the romantic times of the coaching inns to the darkest days of gin fever and the role of the pubs in wartime! Enjoy.

   County Yarns - Sussex Express 16 October 2015

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Book Review: The Pubs of Lewes, East Sussex 1550-2000 by David and Lynda Russell

In his latest book, pub historian David Russell, ably assisted (as always) by his wife Lynda, recovers the fascinating history of public houses of yet another East Sussex town. Having previously published authoritative works on the pubs of Hastings and St. Leonard's (originally published in 2009 and already having run to three editions) and Rye (2012), David now extends his research to Lewes. David, applying his usual zeal and attention to detail, has written The Pubs of Lewes, East Sussex 1550-2000; a book that will inform, educate and delight all who read it whether they frequent pubs or not. David must have spent a good part of his life in local archives as the book is peppered with newspaper reports and cuttings of activities within each pub. These range from coroner’s courts, burglaries, murder, various pub games (including Four Corners [a form of skittles], ringing the bull and toad-in-the hole) to conjuring and a ‘Philosophical Lecture on the Nature, Properties, Power and Effects of Electricity; the latter featuring ‘many Surprising and Entertaining Experiments on the ELECTRICAL MACHINE.’ David even tracked down a pub where the landlord ‘acted as a representative for an estate agent and a local firm of solicitors’! David and Lynda’s books always impress me and I recommend them to you without reservation. I say again, “This is local pub history at its best.” Now David tells me that this will be his ‘final’ book. Somehow David I can’t see it… The Pubs of Lewes, East Sussex 1550-2000 is published by Lynda Russell and costs £14.99 (plus postage and packing). To order a copy email the authors at hastings.pubs@gmail.com or go to their website www.hastingspubhistory.com.

Patrick Chaplin

Pub History Society Newsletter Winter 2015  

The Pubs of Lewes

This recently published book is by David & Lynda Russell, who are based in Hastings and have previously published books on the history of the pubs in other towns further east in East Sussex. The text is very well illustrated, though you may recognise some of the images – several of them have previously appeared in these Bulletins, and the Lewes History Group gets a credit in the bibliography.

There are accounts of about 40 present and past Lewes pubs, with chronological lists of licensees from the petty sessions licensing records and from local directories. The text is enlivened by anecdotes from the local newspapers. It is quite a thick paperback at 322 pages, and there is an index.

Copies are available from a number of Lewes bookshops, with the Barbican House bookshop offering a discount for members of the Sussex Archaeological Society. Alternatively you can order copies online from the hastingspubhistory website at £14.99.

Lewes History Group Bulletin December 2015


Books on Sussex Pubs
by David Muggleton

A new book by David and Lynda Russell, published September 2015, is The Pubs of Lewes, East Sussex 1550-2000, ISBN 9780956291790, price £14.99, featuring histories of fifty pubs and beer houses pus a register of licensees. At 322 pages it includes 186 photographs and illustrations. Meanwhile, David’s book, The Pubs of Rye, East Sussex 1750-1950, has now gone into its second edition, ISBN 9780956291783, price £13.99. At 286 pages, this fascinating and informative history of thirty-three Rye pubs also includes a register of licensees and research into the Rye Temperance Movement. Also in its second edition by the same author is The Swan, Hastings 1523-1943, ISBN 9780956291769, price £8.50. This is a 120 page history of the famous Hastings pub destroyed by enemy action in the Second World War. It was way back in the Winter 2009 issue of the Sussex Drinker that this editor ran a review of David’s book, The Pubs of Hastings & St Leonards 1800-2000. This is now in its third edition, including new research. Seventy-two pubs are featured, past and present in its 332 pages, which include 200 photographs and illustrations - ISBN 9780956291776, price £13.99. Finally, David’s Register of Licensees for Hastings & St Leonards 1500-2000, is now in its second edition, ISBN 978095629752, price £8.50. At 138 pages, it contains some 4,400 names. It is the only listing of 341 public houses in the town and is a useful reference for family historians, pub historians and genealogists. All of the books can be purchased by PayPal from www.hastingspubhistory.com.

Sussex Drinker, Spring 2016