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Protestant Martyrs Steps Lewes - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
July 10, 2014 at 1:20 pm by v
From the High Street, a 14th Century stairway and mutilated doorway led down to a fine medieval barrel-vault undercroft, also approached internally by a spiral stair. This undercroft was part of a large freehold owned by Southover Priory.
In 1554, just after the Dissolution, this freehold was the site of the Star Inn, hosted by Simon Michell. So, like the Star at Alfriston owned by Battle Abbey, the Lewes hostelry had probably sheltered pilgrims destined for the shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury or of St Richard at Chichester.
In 1555-7, under Queen Mary, seventeen pioneer Protestants from mid-Sussex were burned at the stake in the County town. Tradition affirms that ten of them were imprisoned in the Star undercroft (not in the castle, the official gaol) before being taken up the stairway to their execution.
Indeed, a plaque, ‘Faithful Unto Death’ is on the facade above. This extract was adapted from The Lewes Town Hall Complex leaflet issued by Lewes Town Council.
I finally secured a “Supervised” look at this cellar after many years thinking about it because of my deep interest in the history of the Lewes Bonfire Celebrations and the part that the Star Inn had played, during the Marian Persecutions and the Lewes 17 Protestant Martyrs burnt at the stake simply for their beliefs. Click Here For More Info On The Lewes Martyrs.
It is currently being used by Lewes District Council as a very secure storage room with a bomb blast door, as in the past it had also served as a Cold War Bunker. I really do now believe that the Lewes Martyrs last few hours were here because whilst standing and pondering at the bottom of the “Martyrs Steps” looking up towards the daylight above. I felt weird.
In the first photo, the view is from the bottom of the “Martyrs Steps” and during the Marian Persecutions it would have lead straight up to the street to the assembled masses and the prepared fire. You can see the large concrete slab and brick arch that now supports the pavement above and the glass mosaic thingy set into the pavement of the old exit site as in the second photo.
It would have been secured by two portcullis style metal gates top and bottom evident of the remains of the hinges that are still there. I seem to think that some sort of metal cage was built within the cellar to house the Protestants as the undercroft was still being used for storage purposes for the Star Inn above.
The following two photos show a very low, steep and dark entrance for the Pot Boys working and stocking the bar above which is now the Assembly Room in the Town Hall, they were to be discreet and not be seen. It looks to me that it is newer than the original cellar and steps.
This chap below is the original white lion sign from the pub of the same name rehung in Westgate Street after demolition of slum buildings in the area, now complete with a new tail. It was deemed to valuable historically and a copy was made and hung in its place and this baby will be going to a museum.
Below is a filled in window.
The rest of the cellar.
In the picture below, take away all of the modern stuff including the handrails and you will have two slopes either side of steps leading down to the cellar which were used for rolling down the barrels.
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