English Castles: A Guide by Counties
On a hill above the River Ouse is the historic town of Lewes. After the Norman Conquest this Saxon burgh and a large estate around it were granted to William de Warenne, Chief Justiciar and subsequently Earl of Surrey. He raised a castle on the highest ground and founded England's first Cluniac priory to the south of the town. Lewes Castle is a motte-and-bailey stronghold with the curious feature of two mottes, one at each end of the oval bailey. Only Lincoln can compare with it. It is assumed - but by no means certain - that the smaller Brack's Mount came first, only to be superseded by the larger motte at the west end which is better placed to command the town. Certainly it is the latter which now has a keep but masonry has been found on Brack's Mount as well, so could it be that for some unknown reason the castle was bipolar? The keep crowning the larger motte was a circular shell keep. Only its southern half remains but patches of herringbone masonry suggest an early date, probably no later than the second William de Warenne (d. 1138). The two semi-octagonal flanking towers were added in the late thirteenth century. Much of the curved stretch of curtain between the bailey and the town survives in a ruinous state, again with herringbone masonry. Unfortunately the bailey can no longer be fully appreciated because the town has encroached upon it. A gate tower stood at the foot of the larger motte but only its outer face still stands. In the fourteenth century a short barbican was built in front, terminating in an outer gatehouse which is the best preserved part of the castle. This gatehouse has a machicolated front flanked by circular turrets which project on corbels (one of them hasfallen). It was probably built by John, the last of the Warenne earls. On his death in 1347 the Honour of Lewes passed to the Fitzalan earls of Arundel. Lewes Castle fell into decay and the other buildings were ultimately demolished. Lewes had earthwork defences in Saxon times. The right to collect murage was granted for the building of a stone wall in 1266. Significantly this was just two years after the Battle of Lewes, which overspilled into the town after the royal army had been put to flight. The western part of the town wall can still be followed, but it is quite featureless and obscured in parts by later houses. It begins below the castle keep and continues along Pipe Passage to the High Street. One bastion of the West Gate survives concealed behind a house. The wall continues beside Keere Street to the south-west corner of the old circuit.
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