Weekend in Lewes, Sussex

Just back from Lewes in Sussex, where Thomas Paine, the famous radical propagandist and voice of the common man, served as an excise officer from around 1768.   His most important work was The Rights of Man, a book in which he urged political rights and equality for all men, calling for legislation to help change the shocking conditions of the late 18th century poor in England.  Paine was influential in the American war of Independence and the French Revolution.

Considering the man’s importance I was surprised to find little to connect this giant revolutionary figure with Lewes, although I did buy an exquisite print of part of a pamphlet from Peter Chasseaud at The Market Tower, Lewes (The Tom Paine Printing Press), on hand-made paper.  Harvey’s, the local brewery, whose well-stocked shop is always busy, sells a tee-shirt on which  Tom Paine’s image is printed, but this is to sell its beer, not to honour the man.

Maybe Lewes, the perfect conservative market town, has little taste for revolutionaries?

That aside, the town is delightful and easily accessible, with cobbled streets leading up to the castle from which the views over the surrounding area are breathtaking.  Shopping is decidedly upmarket, whether for clothing or jewellry, but there are the usual supermarkets and department stores in the main part of town for more budget conscious buyers.

Nearby Brighton is, as ever, a great city in which to spend a few hours, and I spent nearly 3 at the exhibition on The Land Girls from both world wars at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, always a pleasant place in which to browse the changing exhibitions and display rooms.  The icing on the cake is the excellent cafe alongside and a shop selling the most tempting array of gifts I’ve ever seen.  Definitely my No. 1 Museum Gift shop.

The Land Girls exhibition highlights personal stories, propaganda, paintings, posters and photographs, revealing women’s experiences as they left home to live on farms and learn milking, rat catching and tractor driving, to help the war effort.  A fascinating glimpse into a world many people know little about.

The Brighton Film Festival is running until 6th December and I managed to catch up with some films I’d missed as well as viewing the more recent arrivals.

And then came the rain – but this is England in December, so what can we expect?  Brighton still put on its sunniest smiles and welcomed visitors despite the downpours.  It says a lot for this busy, energetic city, often called London by Sea, that the restaurants and cafes were packing them in and the people in the streets seemed stoic in the face of the torrential downpour.

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