The town of Lewes has played a vital but largely overlooked role in medieval religion, the birth of parliamentary democracy and in the development of Roman Britain.
Now the recognition of this historical importance will be given a major boost thanks to two projects made possible by Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grants totalling almost £188,000.
The subjects of the grants are seen as being of national, if not international, significance. One is the ruined Priory of St Pancras, the other the site of a hitherto unmapped Roman settlement just north of the county town.
Stuart McLeod, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East England, said: “Taken together, these projects shine a light onto centuries of history when the town of Lewes and its surrounding area was a witness to some pivotal moments in the development of Britain.”
Putting Lewes Priory on the Map aims to give much greater prominence to the Priory of St Pancras, which was founded in the 11th century by William de Warenne – who had fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings – and his wife Gundrada.
A grant of £96,800 will enable the Lewes Priory Trust to work with local people of all ages to increase public awareness of the Priory’s significance.
Lewes Priory Trust Chairman Sy Morse-Brown said: “We are enormously encouraged that Heritage Lottery Fund has once again confirmed its confidence in the Trust and enabled it to take the Priory Project forward with an ambitious programme of development.”
Meanwhile, A Roman Town on the Upper Ouse is an archaeological excavation which seeks to uncover new evidence about the site of a major Roman settlement at Bridge Farm, Barcombe, just three miles from the centre of Lewes.
A grant of £90,900 has been awarded to the Culver Archaeological Project to investigate a site surrounding Barcombe Roman Villa where surveys suggest there are previously unrecorded features. These include a Roman road, signs of industrial activity, housing plots, enclosures, and defensive ditches. There are many other unidentified features which the project hopes to study.
The scale of the site suggests that it could be of national importance and may encompass the entire period of the Roman era in East Sussex, from the 1st to the 5th century AD.
Experts believe that much of the buried archaeology at the site may still survive in a reasonable condition.
Culver Archaeological Project Co-Director David Millum said: “Further investigation, including targeted excavation, is now crucial to see if this site is as exciting below ground as it looks in the geophysics.”