Hunt for the site of the Battle of Lewes

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In 2009 archaeologists discovered that the official site of the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard III was killed, was about two miles away from where the battle actually happened.

Now a new team is looking at the official site of the Battle of Lewes on Landport Bottom, hunting for evidence that the battlefield marked on the map is in fact the right one.

Led by Luke Barber, Research Officer for the Sussex Archaeological Society, and Stephanie Smith, the region’s Finds Liaison Officer based at Lewes Castle, the large team of volunteers will do a thorough sweep of the area, bagging and recording any relevant finds.

The hope is that some evidence of the 1264 conflict will be uncovered.

Alongside the survey, which has been carefully planned over the last 18 months in partnership with the landowners Lewes District Council, there will be an information area about what the archaeologists are doing.

Members of the public are warmly invited to come and see some medieval artefacts and to learn more about the battle, which will be celebrating its 750th anniversary next year. Excitingly, there will also be an opportunity to see some of the the real finds from the survey as they are uncovered by the team.

So is the Lewes battlefield likely to turn out to be where we think it is?

“We already know that most of the fighting didn’t happen high up on the downs where it’s marked on old Ordnance Survey maps,” said Luke. “In fact accounts from the time indicate it took place mainly on the western side of the town, with very heavy fighting near St Anne’s Church.

“But despite all the building work that’s gone on in this area over the years, we have never found a single piece of definitive archaeological evidence that the battle was ever fought here.

“We will be lucky if we find one thing that gives us that firm evidence. It will be like finding a needle in a haystack.”

Stephanie said: “What we’re hoping for is that some of the metalwork they wore – tiny horse decorations or belt studs – got whipped off as they raced down the hill.

“We may also find arrowheads or rowels from spurs. If something like this turns up it will be very exciting.”

However the operation will be watched over very carefully by the Lewes Ranger, Dan Ross, to ensure that none of the wildlife on Landport Bottom is disturbed.

“Dan has been incredibly supportive in helping us research and test a methodology which will ensure that there is no damage done to this important grassland,” said Luke.

The survey, which has been jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Lewes District Council and a Margary Grant from Sussex Archaeological Society, will take place on May 14 – the anniversary of the battle 749 years ago – and then from May 17–20.

Tours of the battlefield site, telling its whole story from Bronze Age times to the present day, will be available on May 17 and 18 at 11am and 2.30pm, starting from the foot of the racecourse access road. Further details can be found on www.sussexpast.co.uk/events

lewes castle

Visitors to the survey on May 19 can also enjoy a fun day at Lewes Castle where there will be a range of activities for all the family including hands-on archaeology and a chance to meet the Castle’s Knight in Residence.