Whigs, beef and bundle of sticks

Coat of arms.
Coat of arms.

ROAST beef and bundles of sticks! Very important factors to ponder upon while tracing the political development of Lewes.

The story begins in late 1812 when a number of Whigs formed a Lewes Roast Beef Club to champion ‘the lost liberties of England’. They dined annually at The Crown.

Members were soon to join others in attacking the use of the Army for civil policing.

The club was founded by Henry Blackman, an Old Etonian who gave up the Law to enter the family wine firm. Then in 1819 a Whig dissenter and baker (the two apparently went together) by the name of Nathan Hammond, of Foundry Lane, helped re-form the Roast Beef Club into the Bundle of Sticks Society.

The society was led by some ‘politically minded gentlemen who sought to to elect parliamentary candidates who were independent of party or creed’.

Their emblem was a bundle of sticks, derived from the ancient insignia known as the fasces – a bundle of birch rods bound to the helve of an axe and another bound to the helve of an arrow. They were carried before Roman emperors in triumphal processions.

Some 10 years ago the very same banner used by the Bundle of Sticks Society emerged after decades in darkness from the attic of Lewes solicitors Blaker, Son and Young. The hand-painted gem bore the Lewes coat-of-arms, the two bundles of sticks and the motto Knowledge is Power.

There are other items from the Bundle of Sticks Society in the hands of Lewes Town Council - a Georgian silver two-handled cup, and a tankard which bears a Latin inscription which translates as Better Break than Bend.

The society ceased in 1885 when the old parliamentary borough was merged with the Lewes parliamentary division.

Ironically, Mussolini 50 years later formed the Italian Fascist Party with the very same fasces as its emblem.