Dripping Yarns with David Arnold – I have in my possession a document about the Pan... dig this bit of history

Stuart Fuller Pan pic
Stuart Fuller Pan pic

I have in my possession an historic document concerning the Dripping Pan.

Specifically it was produced in November 2002 in the form of “An Archaeological Watching Brief” over groundworks associated with the excavation of the base for a new stand at Lewes football ground.

Erroneously described in the document as a seated stand, in fact the impressive edifice in question when completed was named the Philcox Stand and it represented a major step forward in the development of the Dripping Pan as a major venue for non-league football games.

Now a document just over a decade old may not sound very historic. But it is in fact a very important record of the Pan and is notable not for what it tells us but for what it doesn’t.

Martin Elliott, then owner of Lewes FC, commissioned Archaeology South-East, a division of University College London Field Archaeology Unit, to carry out the “Watching Brief” with the aim of identifying and noting any interesting deposits or artefacts uncovered in the course of the construction of the stand.

No fewer than five experts were involved in the project and between them they made seven visits to the Dripping Pan between September 3 and October 25, 2002. During each visit the team would inspect the various excavations and carefully examine the spoil. Photographs were also taken. The document I have is a summary of the team’s findings and was put together by Field Officer Fiona Griffin.

As it happened they didn’t find much of any interest apart from occasional tile fragments, concrete lumps and glass shards. Fiona’s report concludes: “No archaeological features were visible within the exposed, undisturbed surfaces of the underlying geology or trench sides and, as such, it is clear the current development has not damaged the archaeological resource of the area.”

So no rusty swords or bits of battered armour dating back to the Battle of Lewes in 1264 came to light. Which is a shame.

Indeed, I can’t help but look back and think what a wheeze it would’ve been to plant some medieval stuff just to see the initial excitement such a find would have triggered. “Piltdown Man” eat your heart out!

Anyway, whilst the earth banks surrounding the football pitch contain nothing of interest, the site itself is, of course, a notable monument in its own right, a fact confirmed by Fiona Griffin. There are a number of maps of Lewes contained in the report. One by J Edwards is dated 1799 and the name “Dripping Pan” is clearly marked inside a rectangle contained within an area called “Mount Field”.

Many believe the site dates back to medieval times and was once a salt pan operated by the monks who lived in the nearby priory. With no way of proving this, it must remain merely as an attractive tale; one with which I delight to regale visiting non-league fans.

What we do know is that following the destruction of Lewes Priory on the orders of Henry VIII, masonry from the Prior’s Lodging was incorporated into a new building called “Lords Place” that occupied land to the west of the mount that looms up behind the Philcox Stand.

Historian Mark Bowden believes the mount and Dripping Pan became part of the formal garden of the house. Lords Place was certainly in existence at the time of the English Civil War in the 17th century but didn’t survive the construction of the Lewes to Brighton railway in Victorian times.

Building the railway required a deep cutting to be made and this not only meant that Lords Place had to go but also, regrettably, resulted in much of the Priory ruins becoming even more ruined.

This superbly atmospheric photograph of the Dripping Pan clearly shows the Philcox Stand at the eastern end of the ground with the mount looming up behind. It was taken by Lewes FC Director Stuart Fuller. Stuart is inviting as many fans as possible to take one picture that sums up a Lewes match day for them. It might be an existing photo or one taken at tomorrow’s home game with Whitehawk. It can be related to the game itself, the ground, the beer, the food or your pre-match ritual - the more obscure the better! The best ones will appear in a Xmas match programme and in Dripping Yarns. Submit entries to: martin@lewesfc.com