Inside view on Lewes history

The Freemasons Hall in Lewes dates from 1868 and is built on the foundations of the medieval Westgate tower
The Freemasons Hall in Lewes dates from 1868 and is built on the foundations of the medieval Westgate tower

Some of the rich history of Lewes will be revealed next month during the town’s Heritage Open Days.

A host of fascinating buildings will be throwing open their doors to the public from September 11-14.

Among them – and involved for the first time – is the Freemasons Hall at 149 High Street.

The first Freemasons Hall on the site dated from 1797 and was demolished in favour of the current Grade II Listed building, which was built in 1868 and is still owned by the South Saxon Lodge, one of the oldest in Sussex.

It is built on the foundations of the medieval Westgate tower and the remains of a Victorian clay pipe kiln can also be seen at the rear from Pipe Passage.

The Freemasons Hall will be open on the Saturday and Sunday from 10am-3.30pm for small group tours (maximum of 10) to include the committee room with its historic photographs and the first-floor Temple.

Elsewhere, visitors will be able to see inside 15th century Bull House. Tom Paine, author of The Rights of Man and an inspiration for the American Revolution, lived there from 1768-74.

Among places of worship to be viewed are St Anne’s Church, the oldest remaining in Lewes with its 12th century tower, St Michael’s Church, with its 13th century round tower - one of only three in Sussex - and the Grade I Listed Jireh Chapel which dates from 1805 and features galleries supported on wooden columns.

Fans of Victorian Gothic will delight in tours of the exterior of Undercliffe House, off Malling Street, with its mysterious quality enhanced by its well-hidden location. It was supposedly erected in 1865 by a builder who wanted to demonstrate the finest aspects of his trade – including a Rhenish Helm, a four-sided tower topped with a pyramidal roof.

At Lamb House, on Chapel Hill, there’s an opportunity to see the 18th century Chinese lacquer screen rediscovered in the property in the 1960s and restored to its former glory by English Heritage.

The Priory of St Pancras will be hosting a candlelit event among the 11th century ruins, with a bar and hog roast (postponed if wet), while traditional working methods will be demonstrated at the 18th century Lewes Forge in Fisher Street.

Heritage Open Days celebrate England’s architecture and culture by offering free access to properties that are usually closed to the public, or charge for admission.

Leaflets giving full details for Lewes – including booking if necessary – are available from the Tourist Information Centre, Town Hall and Library. For a complete list of properties nationwide go to