‘Amazing’ start for Lewes’ new culture centre

Paul Myles, Cllr James Page, Lewes District Council Chairman  Cllr Michael Chartier and Chief Executive Jenny Rowlands
Paul Myles, Cllr James Page, Lewes District Council Chairman Cllr Michael Chartier and Chief Executive Jenny Rowlands

Lewes House has got off to a flying start as an art gallery and exhibition centre.

On the opening day more than 600 people flocked to the exhibition of Eric Slater’s 1930s woodcuts at Lewes District Council’s former offices on School Hill.

And that figure had soared to approaching the 1,500-mark on Saturday after just three days.

Thousands more visitors are expected during the course of the show which runs until December 23.

It’s hoped that this will be the first of many exhibitions at the venue as Lewes House changes from council offices into a cultural centre.

The idea is to tell stories which make up the rich fabric of the district of Lewes.

The building has been vacated by the majority of council staff who have moved to the customer-friendly and newly refurbished offices in Southover House.

Eric Slater (1896-1963) lived in Seaford for most of his life. Nearly all of his colour woodcuts feature the landscape within a 10-mile radius of the county town. He enjoyed international success in the 1930s but stopped working after the Second World War and died in complete obscurity.

James Trollope, author of a new book called ‘Slater’s Sussex’, said: “It’s great that Lewes House has helped put him back on the map. The reaction to his work has been amazing. Lewes House and Slater – it’s a perfect match.”

Local academic Paul Myles has been asked to pull together creative and innovative ideas for the historic building in its new guise.

The invitation was made by council Leader Cllr James Page, who said: “I know that Paul Myles has a wealth of experience and a proven track record for staging successful exhibitions and is keen to work with us on a rolling programme over the coming months.”

Mr Myles said: “The experience of mounting an exhibition at Lewes House has proved to be a very positive one both for us as volunteers and for members of the public.

“We could not have got off to a better start. This bodes well for the future exhibitions – a mix of Lewes House history, unique local stories and a series of exhibitions revealing aspects of our culture in Sussex and the South of England.

“We have managed to shape the existing house into a creditable exhibition space without affecting the fabric of the building.

This was done in an incredibly short timescale using local companies. We hope to build on this start, using the freestanding panels in a flexible way in the future to mount all sorts of stories and exhibitions.”

Lewes House has had some interesting residents down the centuries. In 1836 it was in the ownership of Edward Shewell, who fathered no fewer than 20 children by two wives, the second of whom, having borne him six of those children, outlived her husband by 45 years. She died at the house in March 1883 at the age of 80.

The property then descended to Edward’s grandsons of his first marriage. One of them, Edward Louis Shewell, was drowned at sea on May 5 1887, during a voyage from Barcelona to Marseilles when there was a collision between the two steamships ‘Asic’ and ‘Ajaccio’.