Tom Paine in Lewes

This page is an account of my visits to Lewes on 3-4 July 2010 for celebrations of Tom Paine.
To see larger more detailed photos click on the images.

A Berkshire Humanists visit to Lewes was advertised in the BHA e-bulletin. I applied to attend and received a PDF of the details. The plan was for a visit on 3 July 2010 to Bull House, the home of Thomas Paine when he lived in Lewes from 1768 to 1774, followed by a lecture about him by David Powell a local author.

I was able to join the group, though I travelled separately by train; it's about an hour's train journey from Hastings. The first building with Paine connections that I encountered in the High Street was the White Hart Inn (now a Hotel) where the Headstrong Club met for debates.

White Hart Hotel

The visit included a tour of the house, conducted by a local guide, who also spoke knowledgeably about the house and Tom Paine's time there. It seems however that apart from some roof beams little of the building is as it was when Paine lodged there. Some items, such as the fireplace and the main entry door, were installed when the building was restored.

Bull House

The tour was followed by a lecture on Tom Paine held in the Westgate Chapel at the back of Bull House, which was apparently part of the premises owned by Samuel Ollive his landlord. The Bull House was originally the first building inside the fortified West Gate to the town, long since demolished.

Among those who were in the group I recognised David McKnight, Mike Adams and Jim Herrick, but I chose not to join them for a meal since it seemed too hot to eat. I spent the time looking round the town, which I had visited only once before.

It was from the tour guide that we learnt that there was to be another Tom Paine event the next day, which I later found advertised on this website:

A local sculptor, Marcus Cornish, had crafted a figurative memorial to Tom Paine that was to be unveiled outside Lewes library by Tony Benn, the Vice-Chairman of the Tom Paine Society at 11.00 am on 4th July (US Independence Day of course). Together with other events. I decided therefore to return the next day if I was not too tired.

I misread the times of the trains, so arrived too late to see the unveiling and to hear the speech by Tony Benn, though I caught the speech by the sculptor and the lady who commissioned the work.

View of the Ceremony

I managed to catch a photo of Tony Benn examining the statue, but the man on the left appears to be trying to push it over!

Tony Benn examining the statue

The speeches were followed by a Mummers play about Tom Paine and the Case of the Excisemen, but I couldn't get close enough to take a clear photo. Tom Paine is the one in the brown coat and tricorn hat. The actor in the gold coat and crown of course represents George III.

View of the Mummers Play

The display in the Friends Meeting House made it clear that Paine was not in fact recognised as a Quaker. His father had been a Quaker but got married in an Anglican church, which alienated him from the other Quakers in Thetford. At the end of his life Paine was refused permission to be buried in Quaker grounds and so was buried on his farm.

Here are a couple of views of the Memorial, one from earlier when there were flags about. It proved difficult to capture the facial expression in the mid-day sunlight.

Paine Memorial and American Flag Paine Memorial

Finally a view of Lewes and the surrounding Downs.

View from the War Memorial

See also Thomas Paine a one-page biography with links
© G. P. Jelliss 2010