World leaders invited to mark Battle of Lewes

Battle of Lewes painting, on display at Lewes Town Hall
Battle of Lewes painting, on display at Lewes Town Hall

A newspaper cutting discovered in the archives of Barbican House Library has inspired a campaign to use social networking and modern technology to create a ‘living memorial’ to the Battle of Lewes.

The 1264 conflict has been described as “one of the most politically-important battles ever fought” in that it enabled England’s first ever elected representative parliament to be summoned.

The newspaper cutting, from March 1929, sets out a scheme by local resident Mr H L Smith to commemorate this by transforming Lewes into an international centre for celebrating democracy where “prizes, open to the world” would be offered annually for the best speech about parliamentary government and where “every nation which had a Parliament” would be invited to contribute to the cost of a magnificent memorial hall in the town.

The memorial hall was due to include flags of contributing nations, murals depicting scenes from the battle, models of the battlefield, wax effigies dressed as soldiers, original artefacts and the shields of all the knights who fought.

A statue of Simon de Montfort, “a big-hearted patriot of his adopted country and a determined fighter for freedom”, was seen as centrally important. Sites suggested included Lewes Priory, the battlefield on Landport Bottom and even, in the form of a mock Norman tower, the site of Brack Mount, Lewes Castle’s unusual second motte.

It was hoped that “future statesmen and orators of the world’s Parliaments might have the pleasure of making lasting friendships in Lewes, to the better understanding of each other’s countries”.

Although enthusiastically received locally the plan didn’t materialise.

However local people are now being invited to use new technology to make Mr Smith’s vision of a “living memorial” to the battle a reality.

As part of a campaign called @LewesLovesFreedom, residents are being invited to use twitter to make contact with as many people at home and abroad as possible by inviting them to send messages to the 750th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Lewes using the hash-tag #whatdoesfreedommeantoyou. Government representatives including leading world politicians will be invited to take part.

The results will be live on @LewesLovesFreedom and tweets and letters received will be exhibited as part of the commemorations, which are to be known as Battle of Lewes 750.