Death of ‘The Chair Man’ of Lewes at 87

John Lee ... a familiar figure in the county town
John Lee ... a familiar figure in the county town

John Lee, a familiar figure in the Cliffe Precinct in Lewes where he caned chairs for many years, has died of cancer at the age of 87.

The son of a Romany gipsy mother and a French travelling salesman, the young John Lee was taught to cane chairs by his Italian grandmother.

At the age of 13, he was earning a living doing this on the streets of London.

At 17, and after his one and only day at school, he became a waiter on a cruise ship.

Unable to read or write until he was 35, he succeeded in running a successful building company, and later seven fruit and vegetable shops.

But it was for his craftsmanship that he will be best remembered locally. Customers wanting a chair mended would write their name in Mr Lee’s book and he would come to collect it.

His story has been told in a book by local author Angela Wigglesworth – The Chair Man. “When I heard about his life, I knew I couldn’t resist writing about it,” she said on its publication.

If anyone has chairs that Mr Lee took to cane before becoming ill, and needs them returned, they should contact her for more information. Telephone 01273 476291 or email