Councillors urge transfer of historic Market Tower in Lewes

Gabriel, the town bell, tolls inside the Market Tower
Gabriel, the town bell, tolls inside the Market Tower

Lewes Town Councillors have welcomed the possibility of the transfer of the historic Market Tower to them by Lewes District Council when they received an update on devolution last week.

It was agreed that the Town Clerk pursue the matter as a priority.

Councillors Mike Chartier and Graham Mayhew, both historians, spoke strongly in favour of the return.

“It has always been my hope that the Market Tower should return to town council custodianship,” said Cllr Chartier. “We’ve been trying for years to achieve this and it would be great if it finally happened.

“It is a purely Lewes asset and has no strategic value to the district council. The town council is where it belongs.”

Cllr Mayhew agreed. He said: “The Market Tower was built by public subscription in 1792 at the instigation of the town council’s predecessor, the Constables and Twelve, who governed the town until the incorporation of the borough in 1881.

“It is part of the historical heritage of Lewes and it should never have passed to the district in 1974 in the first place. It houses the town clock and town bell, known as Gabriel, which was cast in the 1530s.

“It is obvious that we would have far greater interest in it than a council the majority of whose members come from the South Coast is ever going to have.”

Although Lewes District Council’s Devolution Committee, of which Cllr Stephen Catlin is chairman, only has responsibility for open spaces, he also promised to take up the matter and do what he could to move it on.

He also promised to do what he could to encourage the return the Stanley Turner Ground and Convent Field trusts to the town council, both of which are at present being maintained at the expense of town residents anyway through the special expenses levy.

The four-storey Market Tower was Grade II Listed in 1952. The terracotta crest on its front shows the town arms and has been attributed to Jonathan Harmer of Heathfield.

The walk-through ground floor is the scene of the weekly Lewes Food Market,

The bell Gabriel was originally hung in the tower of the old Church of St Nicholas which stood nearby and was demolished in 1761.