Lewes Art Walk
by Hanna Lindon
One of the best ways to explore Lewes is through its wealth of public sculptures and paintings. Get beneath the skin of East Sussex’s county town on this art-themed walking trail.
Lewes has always been a haven for creatives, so it’s no surprise that the town has one of the richest collections of public art in Sussex. There are dozens of statues, friezes and paintings scattered around its winding streets – some dating back to the 19th century, others distinctly modern. Whether you’re a curious visitor or a resident looking to brush up on your local knowledge, linking the pieces on a relaxed ramble is one of the most rewarding ways to get familiar with Lewes.
Start in Market Passage, which hides a mural of Thomas Paine (1) by local artist Julian Bell. Paine is one of the town’s most famous historical figures – the Rights of Man author lived in Bull House between 1768 and 1774 before emigrating to the US and laying the foundations for American independence.
Just a stone’s throw from Market Passage is the War Memorial (2) at the top of School Hill, which commemorates 251 Lewisian men who died during the First World War. Pause to admire artist Vernon March’s striking bronze statues of Victory, Liberty and Peace before continuing up the hill to the Law Courts. Look up and you’ll see three artificial stone reliefs representing Wisdom, Justice and Mercy (3).
From here, walk up the High Street towards St Michael – an 800-year-old church whose 12th-century round tower is home to a fibreglass statue of the archangel (4) created by local sculptor Harry Phillips in 1976.On the other side of the Bottleneck is Westgate car park, which is framed by what used to be the old town walls. It was here that Simon de Montfort broke through with his baronial army during the Battle of Lewes in 1264, and several centuries later an inn was built here named after de Montfort’s emblem – the White Lion. The inn has long since closed its doors, but the copper sign that hung outside it was restored by the Friends of Lewes in 1954 and hung on the wall above the car park (5).
Cross the road from Westgate Street and walk down Keere Street, one of the town’s prettiest cobbled lanes. Wander through the Grange Gardens, where you’ll spot a statue of Janus by John Skelton (6) as well as a pair of madrigal singers (7) who commemorate another historic Lewisian – Nicholas Yonge – and a group of people carved out of a limestone block by sculptor Jon Edgar (8).
Now follow Southover High Street and Cockshut Road down to the Priory Park to admire The Helmet (9), an aluminium monument by Italian sculptor Enzo Plazzotta commissioned to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes.
Return to your starting point via Lewes Library to see a recent statue of Thomas Paine (10), bringing the trail full circle.
Illustration by Amy Dunne