Lewes is the inspiration for historical tale

Author Beverley Elphick
Author Beverley Elphick

Hard times in Lewes and its environs is the subject of a debut novel by a local writer.

Three Round Towers by Beverley Elphick is set in the late 18th century and told through the eyes of a servant girl beset by tragedy.

It takes its title from the churches in Lewes (St Michael’s), Southease and Piddinghoe and the sullen and often dangerous River Ouse.

Esther Coad scrapes an uncertain living in the tiny village of Hamsey before fate brutally intervenes and she is forced to flee downstream to Lewes carrying an unwanted newborn in her inexperienced arms.

Alone and friendless, with no food for the child, Esther uses every ounce of her strength to protect the baby from the malice that surrounds them both.

Author Beverley was inspired by the landscapes around her home town to create a great story of derring-do and she brings an evocative sense of time and place to highlight a turbulent period.

The traditions of the time in Lewes and its surrounding villages are brought to life and the tale is told with a light and at times humorous touch.

Smugglers and press gangs are part of her heroine’s fight for survival. Beverley said: “When you think how much smuggling there was in the south of England, with energetic participation from the great and the good, as well as farmworkers just trying to supplement their income, I find it surprising that there is so little written about them.”

The servant girl Esther’s story could be that of any bright young impoverished woman of that period; she has the intelligence and ambition to rise above the difficulties of time and place and carve a position for herself in a solidly male world.

Historically, it was a time when the poor and friendless suffered a difficult existence, with starvation and rampant disease never far away.

Beverley said: “It is difficult to imagine that there was famine around Lewes a mere 220 years ago. Disease was rife – and such terrible diseases. One road in the town was blocked off to prevent people spreading infection to the larger population.”

Now aged 62 and living in Ringmer, Beverley attended Wallands Primary School and later Lewes Secondary Modern School in Mountfield Road.

At 19 she married Martin O’Connor, whose parents Win and Terry owned the Record Bar in Lewes. The couple have two grown-up children.

Her own late parents were Michael Elphick, who was apprenticed to printers WE Baxter and later became Head of Bookbinding for Brighton Museum/Reference Library, and Sheila, also apprenticed at Baxters.