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Sleepy hamlet of Offham woke to Industrial Revolution

Offham chalk pit tunnels.

Offham chalk pit tunnels.

Summer evenings provide an ideal opportunity to explore the Offham chalk pit near Lewes, part of which was recently listed Grade II by English Heritage.

In the 19th century there was a thriving chalk and lime industry here and, apart from the quarry workings, you can still see the tunnels next to The Chalk Pit Inn which formed part of the oldest railway in the South-East.

It was a funicular tramline, which opened in 1809 to link the quarry to a wharf on Pellbrook Cut, near the River Ouse.

The loaded wagons were attached to cables and rolled on rails down a 1 in 2 gradient controlled by a large wheel at the top which simultaneously pulled up an empty wagon on the adjacent track.

The wagons descended and ascended through the 7ft wide brick tunnels. At the bottom the wagons were put on a turntable, disgorged their burden into the waiting barge and were pulled up again.

The South Downs National Park Authority has produced a free map guide to the area, Heritage Walks Around Hamsey.

Pick one up from the Lewes Tourist Information Centre, or download the guide from www.southdowns.gov.uk/enjoying/publications

For the energetic who feel like a walk to the top of the quarry, there’s a detailed interpretation board there about the site’s history, but if you prefer to study our local industrial heritage over a relaxing drink another similar panel will shortly be installed next to The Chalk Pit Inn, thanks to a collaboration between the National Park and the Friends of Lewes.

There’s also information about the area inside the pub and on its website, www.chalk-pit-inn.co.uk

More heritage is on offer in September with Heritage Open Days, once again organised by the Friends of Lewes, when historic buildings open free to the public. Last year, more than 2,500 people visited venues in the town. This year the event runs from Thursday, September 11, to Sunday, September 14, and there are some fascinating additions, including the Freemasons’ Hall and some private houses new to the event.

Details will be available this month on www.heritageopendays.org.uk

 

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