Prisoners paint historic banners to commemorating Battle of Lewes

Lewes Prison inmates have painted shields of Battle of Lewes participants which will be displayed on lampposts in the town. Nigel Foote (govenor), Ruth O'Keeffe, Mark Ridgwell.

Lewes Prison inmates have painted shields of Battle of Lewes participants which will be displayed on lampposts in the town. Nigel Foote (govenor), Ruth O'Keeffe, Mark Ridgwell.

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The coats of arms of knights who fought in the Battle of Lewes will be on display in the town from next week.

The banners have been painted by inmates at Lewes Prison and will bring dramatic colour to the streets at a wide variety of locations throughout the summer.

Lewes Prison inmates have painted shields of Battle of Lewes participants which will be displayed on lampposts in the town. Nigel Foote (govenor), Ruth O'Keeffe, Mark Ridgwell.

Lewes Prison inmates have painted shields of Battle of Lewes participants which will be displayed on lampposts in the town. Nigel Foote (govenor), Ruth O'Keeffe, Mark Ridgwell.

It will be the first time the heraldic designs have been seen together in the town since the battle of 750 years ago.

Thanks to tremendous support from the Lewes Prison Education Department, the inmates took great pride in working together on a project for the benefit of the town.

Not only were they able to practise their artistic skills, but they also studied the medieval era and the Battle of Lewes itself through imaginative work in their English and mathematics classes.

They worked to designs drawn by computer wizard John Downie, which were then enlarged and printed on paper for the prison by Andy Elms ,of Spiel Sign Design Print.

Steve Luker, of Luker Upholsterers, stitched by hand every banner – a job made all the more demanding because they are large and the material, heavy duck cotton, not the easiest to work with.

Behind all this was the research carried out by John Gunson, of the popular weekly Friday Knights feature in the Sussex Express, who ensured the displays accurately reflect what could be seen on that long-ago day.

The project’s Mark Ridgwell has especially thanked the Governor of HM Prison Lewes, Nigel Foote, and the Prison Art Department staff.

He said: “The late 13th century was, perhaps, the golden age of British heraldry. Over the previous century, the basic rules had been agreed upon, and the principle on inheritance accepted; however, there were relatively few people bearing coats of arms.

“This meant that most shields used simple ‘ordinaries’ – that is, geometrical shapes such as the cross, the saltire, the chevron, the pale and the fess. There was a relatively small number of charges in use – stars, lions, crescents, flowers, lozenges and, of course, the occasional parrot.

“A shield was thus easy to read, and fulfilled its basic function of identifying a knight in battle. In later centuries charges became more decorative and more obscure – dragons, mermaids, wyverns, and so forth – and it became common to impale one’s arms. That is, one would devote half of one’s shield to the arms of the family into which one had married, to show that one had noble relatives.

“So the basic message changes from: ‘Here is Sir Brian’ to ‘Here is Sir Brian, who has a jolly posh wife’. Which, to my mind, is less dignified.”