Lewes; The Mount

Has been described as a Questionable Timber Castle (Motte)

There are earthwork remains

NameLewes; The Mount
Alternative NamesThe Calvary
Historic CountrySussex
Modern AuthorityEast Sussex
1974 AuthorityEast Sussex
Civil ParishLewes

Motte, predecessor to Lewes, large but much altered. Long enclosed by the priory founded 1077 and probably by that date abandoned for the better site at Lewes. (King 1983)

There appears to be no conclusive evidence as to the origin and purpose of 'The Mount' and the adjacent 'Dripping Pan'. The site comprises a mound some 45ft high adjoining a large sunken rectangular piece of ground surrounded by banks.

According to Horsfield the mound was formed of earth excavated from the Dripping Pan, and was by tradition, erected by one of the Earls of Dorset.

Allcroft considers the earthwork to be the original castle of William de Warrenne (the builder of Lewes castle) but Salzman disagrees on the grounds that even if it had been a purely temporary castle some trace of a ditch would be expected; he himself inclines to the view that it was connected with the Priory of St Pancras, with the spiral path round it, to a chapel or calvary, or even a summer house or gazebo. It is shown as 'Calvary' on the 1775 map of Lewes (Figg 1861). It is suggested in VCH that there may have been a salt-pan here, since in Essex (Christie and Dalton 1928) such pans are accompanied by mounds, perhaps for windmill pumps.

According to NES Norris, Curator of Lewes Museum, general opinion supports the salt working mound supposition. Horsfield records saltpans of the Domesday period in the vicinity of Lewes (F1 VEL 10-FEB-53).

'The Mount', a turf-covered bowl-shaped earthen mound some 12.0 - 13.0m in height, is in appearance and construction, a typical Norman motte. It is situated at the eastern end of a low spur of land at the northern edge of 'The Brooks', a wide expanse of land which, in Md times, was covered by sea water at high tides

The position commands the entrance to three valleys, to the W, N and SE.

It is possible, in the absence of a ditch, that the material for the mound came from the nearby 'Dripping Pan' but would account for little more than a third of the soil that has been removed from that place.

The spiral walk to the summit is most probably an added feature of late date.

The situation of 'The Dripping Pan', now a sports ground, rules out any probability of it having been a salt pan. It has been cut out of the lower slopes of the spur, whereas a salt pan could more easily have been created upon the water meadows immediately below. It may have been no more than a chalk or clay pit (F2 ASP 11-MAY-72).

Just east of the priory ruins is 'the Mount', a mound some 45 ft. in height, the top of which is reached by a spiral path. (Toms) Nothing is known as to its origin; but the fact that it adjoins 'the Dripping Pan', a large sunken rectangular piece of ground surrounded by banks, may point to there having been a salt-pan here, since in Essex such pans are accompanied by mounds, (Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. N.S. xviii, 27–54) perhaps for windmill-pumps. (VCH)

Gatehouse Comments

The reason for an earlier castle at Lewes is gone into by Allcroft although his argument, mainly seemingly based of interpretation of placename evidence from the Domesday Book, seems somewhat convoluted and doesn't seem to be supported by archaeological evidence. However his discussion on the C11 topography of the area is of interest. This may well be a mound of relatively late date the spoil from a salt works used as a prospect mound or, based on the name, a feature used in religious ceremony.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTQ415096
Latitude50.8690986633301
Longitude0.0105299996212125
Eastings541560
Northings109660
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Copyright Kevin Gordon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Simon Carey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.

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Books

  • Salter, Mike, 2000, The Castles of Sussex (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 48
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 472
  • Salzman, L.F. (ed), 1940, VCH Sussex Vol. 7 p. 48 online transcription
  • Horsfield, T.W., 1824, History and Antiquities of Lewes and Its Vicinity (Lewes: J. Baxter) p. 250-1 online copy

Journals

  • King, D.J.Cathcart, 1972, 'The Field Archaeology of mottes; Eine kurze übersicht' Château Gaillard Vol. 5 p. 101-112
  • Renn, D.F., 1959, 'Mottes: a classification' Antiquity Vol. 33 p. 106-12
  • Christie, M. and Dalton, W.H., 1928, Essex Archaeological Society Transactions Vol. 18 p. 27-54 (on salt pans)
  • Toms, Herbert S, 1922, ' Mounts at Lewes and Ringmer' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 63 p. 223-226
  • Salzman, Louis F, 1922, 'The Castle of Lewes' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 63 p. 166-179
  • Allcroft, A.H., 1917, 'The First Castle of William de Warrenne' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 75 p. 36-78 online copy
  • Figg, William, 1861, 'Some Memorials of Old Lewes' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 13 p. 1-48 online copy