On a summer’s day in July 1555 Deryk Carver was standing at the bottom of the stone steps of the Star Inn in Lewes moments before he was burned at the stake for heresy. It’s where Deryk’s life ended but is where the story of ‘The Black Lion’ begins.
The first time I visited Lewes was twenty years ago when I was staying with a friend in Hove. The weather was nice and he suggested to vist a nearby medieval town. We went there by train and I remember that journey like it was yesterday. I walked from the station through Friars Walk passing a lovely old little church with a pretty graveyard and, before I knew it, I ended up in the town centre. I was totally mesmerised by the looks and atmosphere of this charming town which is steeped in history. If you’ve never visited Lewes before, it has lots of independent stores such as bookshops, boutiques, craft workshops and restaurants, cafes, and old pubs. The local Harvey’s Brewery is the oldest independent brewery in Sussex. After a delightful lunch we walked up the very steep hill of Cliffe High Street and stopped at the impressive War Memorial , a winged ‘Victory’ statue sited at the junction of High Street and Market Street. In my opinion, it was situated in an odd location, right in the middle of a busy street. Whilst doing research for the book I discovered the reason why the memorial was built on this particular site. The War Memorial was erected at the same spot where the seventeen Lewes Martyrs were burned at the stake. Ten of them were imprisoned in the vaults below the pavement of the Star Inn. Many centuries later, in 1893 the Star Inn converted to Lewes Town Hall.
In 2016 it was decided to create a hole in the pavement on the High Street, to allow people to see the steps associated so closely with the story of the martyrs. Through the glass panel you can see the original steps to the cellar of the old Star Inn, the same steps all martyrs would have walked up on their way to the stake. On the pictures above and below you can see the glass panel surrounded by railings.
Further reading: The Lewes Town Hall Complex A brief history