History, Folklore and Literature Topics


Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November

No one quite knows how long the people of Lewes have been commemorating the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, but the chances are that the celebrations go back to the seventeen century. But it is not only November 5th 1605 that has awakened the historical passions of Lewes folk, they also remember November 5th 1688, when William of Orange landed with an army at Brixham, bringing to an end the reign of the Roman Catholic, James II; and they remember the British victory at the Battle of Inkerman in 1854 during the Crimean War.

Yet, behind these three significant dates, lies an even older commemoration, one steeped in persecution and death. During the reign of the Roman Catholic, Queen Mary (1553 – 1558), 17 protestant martyrs were burned at the stake in the centre of Lewes, close to where the modern-day war memorial now stands. Most of these men and woman died this terrible death for the ‘crime’ of reading the Bible in English. Their deaths, borne with immense bravery, transformed them from being seen as marginal, even eccentric figures, to national heroes and martyrs.

The photographs accompanying this article were taken in Cliffe High Street, Lewes, on 5th November 2021. You will notice the ‘No Popery’ banner; although Cliffe Bonfire Society makes it clear that its Papal hostility is directed to the 16th century incumbent, not the current pontiff.

(Photos: Sam Hare)

The martyrs are still recalled every November 5th at Lewes, when a respectful silence falls over the boisterous crowd when they gather at the war memorial, to remember all local people who died for their country over a period of 565 years.

Chris Hare.


Michelgrove and the Shelley family

There once stood on the South Downs, a great ancestral country house that was said to have rivalled Arundel Castle for both size and splendour. In this video, Chris Hare recalls the Shelley family of Michelgrove, and how their imposing home was demolished, leaving just a few remnants, for the modern-day walker in the Downs to discover.


Richard Jefferies, After London (climate change disaster predicted in 1885)

We hope you enjoy the film. Chris has also written these further notes about Jefferies and After London

You might also like to look at ‘Beggars of the South Downs’ 



Rough Music

In the days before any village had a policeman, or before school education became compulsory, local communities were very prepared to ‘take the law into their own hands,’ whenever the need arose.

A man might have been beating his wife, or parents cruelly ill-using their children, or a couple may have strayed away from the moral code of their village, in which case they might receive some ‘rough music.’ A time would be chosen, usually at night, when a group of local people (generally lads and men) would assemble, sometimes with blackened faces or some other disguise and proceed in procession to the victim’s house. As they went, they would blow on crude musical instruments and bang together pots and pans, tin trays and anything else that would make a loud discordant noise – this was ‘rough music.’

The point of this nocturnal row was to ‘encourage’ the culprit to change his or her ways. Usually, one visit was more than enough to have the desired effect, but not always. If the wrong-doer carried on with their bad behaviour, the rough-musickers would return, but this time they would have an effigy of the person which they would proceed to burn outside their house. If the mob were really angry, they would throw stones at the windows of the house and chant out dire threats.


Very, very occasionally, a third visit would be needed and this was always the last. This time the mob would seize the miscreant, throw him onto a cart, and wheel him to the parish boundary, often dumping him in a ditch or in bushes by the road. Such a person would never be allowed back in the village, as their very life could be in danger if they did return.

In the coming weeks I will write more about rough music, including outbreaks in towns, which were often linked to local political and religious disputes.

🔉The following link is an extract of an interview I recorded with Nobby Kinnard of Clapham in 1997, where he describes the last rough music demonstration in his village.


The Street, Clapham, as it looks today. The scene of ‘rough music’ in days gone by.


The publication in 1954 of an article in the West Sussex Gazette about rough music, led to a flurry of correspondence from older readers who recalled the practice.

Lillian Brown, then living in Cuckfield remembered the days of her youth, when she lived in Bury. In that village the rough-musickers referred to themselves as the “Kangaroo Band” (any connection there with “kangaroo court” I wonder?), and Mrs Brown well recalled the verses they used to holler out on such occasions:

There is a man lives in this place
He beat his wife – a sad disgrace!
He beat her black, he beat her blue;
He made her poor bones rattle, too.

Now if this man don’t mend his manners
We’ll have to send him to the tanner’s;
And if the Tanner don’t tan him well
We’ll nail him on a nail him hell

And if that nail should chance to crack
He’ll fall upon the Devils back;
And should the Devil chance to run
We’ll shoot him with his fiery gun.

At the end of the last stanza a gun would be fired, presumably in the air rather than at the miscreant or his property. J.S. Chandler recalled his boyhood in a Hampshire village, where rough music was a fairly common occurrence. He remembered that the victims were usually middle-aged, childless couples, and rarely younger couples with children. Also men rather than women were the general targets; seldom did a wife receive the same punishment for similar conduct. Chandler recounted one rough music demonstration that rather backfired on the demonstrators:

“My father told me of a rough musicking against a butcher in the village, who was supposed to have ill-treated his love wife. When the demonstration was at its height, the butcher filled his blunderbuss with blood and fired it at the crowd. The blood was well spread and the crowd quickly dispersed, thinking that some of their number had been shot.”

Chris Hare recently did a talk to the Catalyst Club about Rough Music:

Manhunt on the Downs

Margaret Scourfield Davies lived at Myrtlegrove Farm and in the interview she recalls a manhunt that took place on the Downs around Myrtlegrove (between Findon and Patching) in May 1934.


A burglar named Hills robbed a house in High Salvington. The police were alerted. Two policeman in a car were driving along the Long Furlong road (now A 280) when they spotted the suspect by the entrance to Tolmare Farm. They got out of the car to question the man. However Hills drew a gun and shot one of the officers. P.C. Jex. It was the middle of the night and dark and Hills easily made his escape.

Over the next few days the police scoured the Downs but could not find their man. Captain Bendtick Budd, leader of the British Union of Fascists in Worthing organised his own manhunt, with his blackshirted followers conducting their own search for the fugitive.

Hills was eventually run to ground in Patching Woods where he was shot dead. The police later claimed he shot himself; but Vic Jacobs, a local cowman I interviewed in 1987 was convinced that the police shot him.

PC Jex recovered from his wound and later ran Jex newsagent in Broadwater for many years.

🔉Listen to Margaret’s own lively interview and see what you think!


A recollection

From Richard Howell:

“Thanks for the link to your website. I was particularly interested in your piece about the manhunt on the Downs, as in your interview with the lady, the policeman she refers to who borrowed a horse to hunt for the killer, was my uncle, Cecil Morris. He was married to my father’s sister, Doris and was the village bobby in Findon at that time. I remember him relating this story to me many, many years ago, how a man had been shot and how he had ridden a horse across the Downs looking for the culprit. I particularly remember it because he mentioned PC Jex, and living near Broadwater, I knew Jex’s newsagents well.

Uncle Cecil was an interesting character, who could always tell a good yarn. He had joined the Royal Flying Corps at the age of 16, having lied about his age, and then joined the police after the end of World War I. Apparently he pioneered the use of motor cars for the police, but never rose above the rank of sergeant because he couldn’t be bothered to take the necessary exam for promotion to Inspector!”

Note: The man being hunted, the burglar, Hills, had shot PC Jex, but not killed him