A Visit to Lewes Castle with its Fascinating History and Fabulous Views

High up on its ‘Motte’ in the heart of Lewes you will find the remains of Lewes Castle presiding over the town, still proudly standing more than 950 years since building commenced.

Lewes Castle Remains

On a recent bright and breezy day I took a bus ride to visit the castle, and take advantage of the clear day for some photographs from the top of the towers.

View of St Michael’s Church, from the Castle keep

 

River Ouse in the distance, as seen from Castle keep

Lewes Castle was a Norman castle of ‘Motte and Bailey’ design, built after the Battle of Hastings by supporters of William the Conqueror. Building began in 1067 and was the seat of William de Warenne, a supporter of William the Conqueror. Various additions and changes were made over the centuries. Motte and Bailey castles were a Norman design.

The Motte was a steep, man-made mound on which a tower or ‘Keep’ was built. The Bailey was a flat area of land enclosed by fencing and adjacent to the Motte, where people lived and worked.  The Bailey of Lewes Castle is now a bowling green, and can be clearly seen from the top of the Motte. Lewes Castle is unusual in that it had two Mottes; the later second one is where the remains of the tower now stand. The earlier original Motte these days can be seen as a hill on the other side of the Bailey, but no building exists on it now.

Bailey and Both Mottes

 

Fireplace that was once in the Great Hall

 

Arched door in the remains of the keep

The climb up to the Keep is not too onerous, and there are benches along the path.  Once there, you can enter the tower and continue up to the roof via several flights of steep, spiral wooden stairs; however, be prepared as they are very small, narrow steps. The climb is worth it for the stunning 360° views across Lewes, the Downs, and the High and Low Wealds. Various landmarks (including Lewes prison) are pointed out on the information boards around the perimeter of the roof.

The climb up to the keep on the motte

 

Lots of tiny spiral steps to climb

 

View over Lewes from the keep towards the windmill

 

View across Lewes from keep

 

On the way up, the life and times of the castle can be found on information boards on each floor, and you can look out at the views through the windows and arrow slits.

Then and Now:  View from the keep with the historical view depicted below

 

One of the informative display boards

 

Another display board about the Battle of Lewes

 

The Barbican tower, opposite the Keep, can be reached via a walkway.

Walkway across to the Barbican Tower

 

Again, you can climb up to the roof of the tower. There are various displays on each floor, including some with costumes for photo opportunities.

Display in the Barbican – with very realistic model!

 

At ground level, you can admire the Barbican archway and castle gatehouse which span the cobbled street below.

Barbican arch and castle gatehouse

 

Look up from the street and you will see the ‘machicolations’ hanging out from the top of the wall, through which rocks and stones (or even less pleasant deterrents!) could be dropped down onto any intruders below.

Barbican with remaining wall of gatehouse

 

The machicolations and arrow slits

 

Doorway into Barbican Tower

On a warm day, you can bring and enjoy a picnic in the lovely gardens during your visit.

View down to the garden & Barbican

In the adjoining Museum of Sussex Archaeology you can discover the full history of the castle, as well as various exhibitions, film shows, and artefacts from prehistoric to medieval Sussex.

So lots to see, steeped in history and extremely interesting.  I highly recommend adding a visit to Lewes Castle to your to do list when visiting Sussex.

Opening times and entry prices can be found at:
https://sussexpast.co.uk/attraction/lewes-castle/

Author

  • Ann Ritchie

    Ann was born and raised in Sussex. She spent some years living in Cornwall where she drove a vintage tractor as a hobby, and did rather well in local ploughing contests, before moving to France where she was fully involved in all aspects of their house renovations. Having moved back to Sussex in 2013, Ann has recently retired from the NHS. A keen walker, with an excellent knowledge of nature, Unknown Kent and Sussex readers can enjoy the stunning photos Ann takes on her hikes throughout our counties.

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