A true heroine of the town

Elisabeth Howard.
Elisabeth Howard.

ELISABETH Howard, who died in 2006, was a familiar face in the county town. A great friend of the Rouser, she could be cantankerous and dour, but she loved Lewes and its environs and the town owes her a debt it can never repay.

As the county archivist put it in an East Sussex Record Office yearly report: ‘She was inspired to enter the fight on behalf of the town’s built environment by [opposing] the proposed inner relief road, a plan to build a four-lane highway through the centre of Lewes.

‘The plan, which entailed the demolition of scores of houses, was vehemently opposed by a number of community groups and in 1968 Elisabeth became a founder member of the Lewes Traffic Study Group, which sought a less damaging solution to the the threat posed to the town by the motor-car.’

The success of that campaign - a southern bypass came to fruition instead - was followed by fights to save the Candle and Needle factories in West Street, All Saints Church in Friars Walk, the buildings of Beard’s Brewery in Fisher Street and the preservation of the Railway Land, which is now a nature reserve.

An amazing achievement. Elisabeth was far from alone in her efforts, but, without her dogged persistence, many bureaucratic idiocies would have triumphed.

What is not generally known is that Elisabeth, fluent in French and musically talented, was born in 1929 in Seaford where her parents ran the Chesterton Boys’ Preparatory School.

Her father Edward Ree was taken prisoner at Dunkirk and spent much of the war in PoW camps. He died soon after the end of hostilities.

Pictured is a photograph of Elisabeth as a child which was attached to the side of his bunk during his captivity in Oflag IX.

There is a Brighton - Tunbridge Wells bus, which passes through Lewes, named after her.