lewes castle

lewes, east sussex, england

Building work on Lewes Castle first began around 1067, after the Norman Conquest by William de Warenee, a baron who had particiapted in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The initial castle was built of timber and set on a burial mound but it was rebuilt in stone, with a second motte around 1100. Due to the potential threat of French raids, in 1336 its defenses were increased with a barbican, which is still visible today.

The castle was primarily a defensive structure and saw much action. On the 24th May 1264 it was the focus of attack by Simon de Montford's rebel army, who secured the castle away from the Royalists. During the reign of Richard II (1377-99), the Black Death was rife and civil unrest was building against the Earl of Arundel due to the lack of defensive manpower in Lewes. Fired up by Jack Cade organising the Kentish Rebellion, the castle was sacked during civil unrest, with wine and much building stone taken. Order was reinstated but for a time out of necessity, the castle became the local gaol. From the fifteenth century the castle fell into decline, being used to store wool for a period. It wasn't until 1920, when the remains were given to Sussex Archaeological Society, that its future was assured.

It's refreshing to go to a historically important castle without an audio soundtrack playing in the background and here you really don't need any help in bringing history alive. We spent our longest session in the Education Room and the room above, containing a mannequin of a Tudor guardsman, primarily because the atmosphere was so vibrant in both. The mannequin emits an eerie lifelike presence, addmittedly it made us feel on edge, especially when looking into his face which has an expression like a deathmask.

It was a beautiful spring day and we had little time to record before the Castle became busy with tourists. The ground area of the fortification is quite small and the number of rooms we recorded in was limited. Rather oddly, despite there being a number of people on the site, we had the Barbican all to ourselves for as long as we were there. With the walls being incredibly thick, outside noise was kept to a very low level, the only difficulty was the inevitable echo.