David Arnold’s Dripping Yarns – Trust George to have done the right thing about the Dripping Pan

Map of Lewes 1799
Map of Lewes 1799

Although the Rooks and Whitehawk – our opponents on Saturday – are near neighbours, it is very surprising to discover there’s no history of the two teams meeting in the FA Cup, Vase or Trophy... and certainly none of meeting in the Isthmian League Cup.

Apparently the last occasion when we met in a league fixture was in the 1964-65 Sussex County League One. Lewes went on to win the title and remained unbeaten throughout that season.

It seems the last competitive match between the two sides was in the 1983-84 Sussex Senior Cup.

It was a fourth round tie and Lewes won 4-1.

So in the near three decades since then the two teams have somehow managed to avoid each other.

That must qualify for some kind of record for two clubs with grounds less than 10 miles apart.

Meanwhile I’ve been doing a bit more research on the history of the Dripping Pan. It was in private ownership in the second half of the 19th century.

In 1878 we know that the “ground commonly known as the Dripping Pan” became part of the “Mountfield Estate” that was acquired by wealthy local landowner and banker George Molineux.

It was a move popular with the townspeople of Lewes. An editorial in the Sussex Express of 24th August 1878 waxed lyrical: “The sale of the Dripping Pan, the recreation ground of Lewes, last Tuesday, ended in its purchase by George Molineux, Esq, the senior partner in the Lewes Old Bank, for the sum of £4,600; and we are authorised to state that, so long as it is in that gentleman’s hands, it will continue to be devoted to the favourite national pastime.

“The town has been very anxious respecting the ultimate fate of this favourite spot, and the announcement we are enabled to make is a most gratifying one.

“We are all glad that there is no intention on the part of Mr Molineux to convert the scene of so many pleasant reminiscences, dating as far back as the oldest among us can remember, to any more profitable purposes than its continued use as a cricket ground will permit.

“We can only congratulate the town on the result, and say that Mr Molineux well deserves the gratitude and best thanks of the whole borough.”

As an aside, George Molineux’s father (also called George), has a unique claim to Lewes history fame. He has the distinction of being buried in the only Grade II Listed grave in the town. His very unusual stone chest tomb is constructed in neo-Norman style and can be found to the south of St Anne’s church, across the road from the Pelham Arms.

Back to the story: It should be no surprise that the nation’s “favourite national pastime” back in 1878 was cricket, not least because football as an organised sport was still in its infancy. Indeed, at that time there wasn’t a football club in Lewes... and wouldn’t be until September 1885, the same year that saw the emergence of West Ham.

The famous Arsenal didn’t put in appearance until 1886 while Brighton and Hove Albion only got going in 1901.

George Molineux the younger went a step further in a deed dated 31st March 1896 that led to the setting up of the Mountfield Road Pleasure Ground Trust.

The sole trustee of this charity these days is Lewes District Council who adhere to the object of “the provision and maintenance of land at Mountfield, Dripping Pan and Convent Field for the benefit of the public generally and especially the inhabitants of the Lewes district.”

All of which means that no one can purchase or gain control over the land in question and build anything on it that it isn’t connected to improving the sporting facilities enjoyed by the public: be that football in respect of the Dripping Pan, or cricket for the Convent Field.

Nice one, George.