Is the ‘Magic Circle’ hiding secrets from the past?

Exciting plans: Roger Beasley at the Magic Circle in Lewes
Exciting plans: Roger Beasley at the Magic Circle in Lewes

An archaeological dig must take place at the so-called ‘Magic Circle’ in Lewes before plans to establish a peace garden there can proceed.

The probe will discover whether or not there is anything of historical interest buried at the site, perhaps relating to the nearby castle.

Members of The Friends of Lewes last month outlined their peace garden plans for the site between the Maltings Car Park and Castle Ditch Lane.

Now Roger Beasley, a member of the Executive Committee, has outlined what lies ahead for the project.

He said the site is effectively scheduled as an ancient monument and, as it is also in a Conservation Area in a National Park in an historic part of Lewes, any works in the area have to be approved by numerous public bodies. This has involved the society in lengthy consultations which are progressing with the support of the authorities the town’s Civic Society has approached to date.

The Friends engaged Chris Butler Archaeological Services Ltd to prepare a Heritage Statement and Desk Based Assessment for the proposed garden and this has now been completed and accepted by Historic England (HE).

The Friends have now engaged Mr Butler to prepare a report on the proposed archaeological dig which has to take place before Historic England can grant Scheduled Monument Consent (SMC) for the dig to begin. Once the results of the dig are known a report will be prepared for consideration by HE.

Mr Beasley said: “When and if Historic England approve the findings of the report the Friends have to apply for an SMC for the works. This can take two months or more so a start on site is unlikely to take place until late spring.

“In order to progress the scheme as fast as possible the Friends will be making an application to the South Downs National Park Authority for a consultation on the scheme and a site meeting which should lead to a planning application being made in December. We have to risk this work on the basis that HE will approve the project.”

The Friends will be seeking external funding to help with the construction.

Mr Beasley said there were “a few more hurdles to jump” but the aim was to complete the project by November 11 next year – exactly a century after the guns of the First World War finally fell silent.

He added: “Hopefully if we can complete the scheme it will improve the setting of the castle, provide a pleasant space where people can pause and reflect on life and perhaps be a nod to Frankfort More who built a beautiful private garden on the site in 1920 and wrote a book about it called ‘A Garden of Peace – A Medley in Quietude’.”