Lewes pupils get hands on with history

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Children from a Lewes school learnt of the battle for their ancient town almost 750 years ago to help a playwright commemorate the anniversary in a specially commissioned work.

Youngsters from Lewes Old Grammar School went to the site of the Battle of Lewes to learn about feudalism and the beginnings of democracy back in 1264.

The nine- to 11-year-olds then took part in a series of inventive workshops devised by East Chiltington-based dramatist Stephen Israel who is Artistic Director of The Company.

His colleague, Suzi Hopkins, watched and noted the children’s reactions intently and will use them as she pens the serfs’ parts in Montfort’s March.

Speaking of her time with the children, she said the day had been invaluable in gathering material for the play and, in particular, for describing the serfs’ reactions.

The site-specific play, to be staged across the South Downs in May, will follow in the footsteps of Simon de Montfort’s army as it marched on Lewes to surprise King Henry III. The battle led to the de Montfort parliament, the first in the country to have elected commoners and a major stepping-stone to the development of British democracy.

Carrie Whyte, a Year 5 teacher at Lewes Old Grammar School. said: “The day provided the perfect chance for our young students to learn about the history of their area and the fierce fight for democracy all those centuries ago.

“How fitting that it is 750 years since the historic Battle of Lewes that the next generation unearth the historic facts about it for themselves and contribute directly to the commemoration play.”

The children from the independent school’s Junior Department spent half the day at Lewes Castle investigating archaeology and handling medieval artefacts to prepare them for the drama workshops back at Morley House.

Elsewhere in local history The Keep, the new state-of-the-art archive centre, is hosting an Open Day on Saturday, February 1, from 11am to 3pm.

The programme of events will give adults and families the opportunity to find out more about the multi-million pound facility near Falmer, which houses records from East Sussex Record Office, Royal Pavillion and Museums and the University of Sussex Special Collections spanning more than 900 years.

On the day, events include tours of the new building, talks and conservation demonstrations, as well as story-telling sessions and hands on activities for children.