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Lewes House


The site has a town garden enclosed by a high flint wall. It has been developed since the early-18th century, and has considerable historic map evidence of its layout. Between 1890 and 1929 the house was the home of the art collector Edward Percy Warren. The site is now in municipal ownership.

The sketch maps referred to in the following text are copied in the archives of the Sussex Gardens Trust.

The earliest maps to show any detail, Edwards' map of Lewes of 1788 (sketch map 1) and Marchant's of 1824 (sketch map 2), show the Lewes House grounds with the same divisions that continued down until the Litchen gardens and paddock were built over with local government offices and car parks. These divisions are indeed still echoed in the current layout. Edwards' map shows the upper ornamental garden adjoining the house, with its lawn and shrubbery. The two kitchen garden areas are shown with their multitude of beds schematically stippled in different colours and patterns, to indicate different crops. The paddock is also shown.

Marchant shows the same divisions, although with less detail in the kitchen gardens. The exceptional Figg map of 1830 (ESRO Figg 591), with its colour, large scale and great detail (sketch map 3 gives a very rough indication of its contents) shows the terrace along the garden front of the house, with borders along the western, eastern and southern boundaries of its lawn. There is also a path running along the eastern border, leading to a greenhouse in the kitchen garden, the triangular shrubbery and, at the southern tip of the lawn, a grotto and a sundial. The lawn is walled off from the stable and coach house, laundry block, wood house, ashes and cow lodge block on the west, and from the paddock, with its ‘leaping bar' and row of trees on its southern wall. There are also kitchen gardens to the south. The beds of the kitchen gardens are depicted in detail (possibly to some extent schematic) with shrubs, trees and smaller plants, and some beds in a more ornate parterre form.

The same features persist in the 1873 25" Ordnance Survey map (sketch map 4), although depicted in less detail. There is the lawn, triangular shrubbery, borders and the sundial (though possibly not the grotto), with the addition of a greenhouse, in the ornamental garden. The kitchen garden layout is depicted in a rather more simplified fashion. The paddock is shown with a border of trees along the west wall as well as the south. A little later, in October 1889, Warren describes the gardens as follows: ‘It is in the centre of Lewes and yet has a quiet garden, a big kitchen garden, a padock, a greenhouse and stables ad lib'. Roger Fry's 1910 watercolour of the garden front and part of the flower garden shows shrubs in tubs along the house front, people sitting on a bench by the house door, shrubs along the west wall, with a bench halfway along, and the curve of the shrubbery on the east side, with an overhanging tree.

The East Sussex Record Office copy of the Ordnance Survey 1910 25" map enlarged to 50" for the Inland Revenue (sketch map 5) is hand-annotated to indicate, as well as ‘lawn' and two ‘kitchen gardens', and a ‘hard tennis court' towards the top of the paddock. The 1932 0rdnance Survey 25" map depicts the outline of the tennis court on the ground. The 1929 sale particulars (East Sussex Record Office AMS 5947/43) describe the grounds as follows: ‘(they) extend to about 24 acres and comprise a Fine Old Lawn, Hard Tennis Court, Summer House, Paddock and two walled-in kitchen gardens'.

Although there have of course been developments (such as the tennis court) over the years, there has nevertheless been a high degree of continuity in the garden's basic layout and design from at least 1799 until, under local government ownership, the kitchen gardens, paddock and tennis court disappeared under car parks and office buildings. Even today, however, echoes remain of these lost gardens in the car park (in, for example, a wall following part of the line of the wall dividing kitchen garden and paddock, and in the line of trees along the southern wall).

The ornamental garden itself remains intact, with its terrace, lawn, a mixed border along its climber-covered western wall, and another at the top of the eastern wall, with a stepping stone pathway in front. The shape of the shrubbery has been somewhat modified, behind its sinuous holly hedge, and extended southwards, to enclose the flint grotto. The sundial (or a successor) remains, although moved a little westward and forming the centrepiece of a miniature parterre. The perimeter walls remain, to give the garden its sense of enclosure, and are listed grade II.

The ornamental garden is linked to the utilitarian areas at the eastern side via a path alongside the shrubbery, bordered with shade-loving plants, and leading through a keyed brick arch, with a wrought iron gate, to a path following the original line along the back of the shrubbery and revealing the flint grotto. To the south a low iron railing and steps give onto the car park. Even here, something of a garden flavour has been carefully retained, with a path bordered with trees and shrubs leading to a paved area with ornamental pond and steps. The topography of the site, falling away gently to the south-east, helps to conceal many of the utilitarian areas from any one viewpoint.

The garden is exceptionally well-maintained, under the care of Philip Pople, the gardener.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

This is a municipal site for general public use. Please see:


Lewes District Council

Southover House, Southover Rd, Lewes, East Sussex,, BN7 1AB

According to the Lewes District Council history of the house, and to Walter Godfrey and William Figg, it was not until the early-18th century that the house now known as Lewes House came into the same ownership as the bulk of the land which came to form its rear garden. This gave a total site area of 2 acres, 1 rod and 12 perches. References to an earlier house on the site of Lewes House have been traced back to 1620. References to approximately 2 acres of land to the south, called ‘Bugates' (owned by the manor of Hurstpierpoint), have been traced back to the 14th century. In the early-18th century the owner of Bugates, John Tabor, a ‘Doctor of Physick' married the owner of the house in front, the widow Elizabeth Board. In 1733, after his death, Elizabeth sold her house to William Kempe, who married the then owner of Bugates (Philadelphia, Tabor's daughter from his first marriage).

The physical joining of the two areas of land, according to Lewes Twittens (p12), occurred in 1700-1720 when Church Twitten (then Church Lane) was diverted from its original line which had divided the two sites.

It is speculated that the earlier two-storey part of the present house was built, or remodelled, around the late-medieval core, by either Tabor or Kempe. A 1783 sketch by James Lambert (BL Addit Ms 5671,fol.46) shows the front elevation of this two-storeyed, gable-roofed facade. There is a garden on the site of the front and western parts of present house, enclosed by high flint wall, with an imposing gateway added by the then owner, Henry Humphrey. The 1799 Kigg map shows the present front. In 1812 his nephew Henry Jackson, the then owner, added a west wing and extended the front of the house, building over most of the front garden.

The property was owned from 1836 to 1890 by members of the Shewell family, Edward until his death in 1838, his second wife until her death in 1883, two grandsons, and then a distant aunt.

The property's artistic associations centre around the residence of Edward Percy Warren, the wealthy American collector of and dealer in antiquities. Warren leased the house from 1890 and bought it in 1913, establishing the Lewes House Brotherhood, with the young men who assisted him in his collecting (including that for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts), cataloguing, cleaning and restoring. The stables housed his Arab horses and his St Bernard dogs must have romped in the garden. The coach house - ‘Thebes' - was his private study. An undated Edward Reeves photograph shows a torso of Hermes adorning the garden.

Visitors to the house and garden included Augustus John, William Rothenstein, Eric Gill, John Cowper Powys, members of the Bloomsbury Circle (including Roger Fry who painted a view of the house and garden in 1910) and, most notably, Rodin, from whom Warren commissioned a version of the Kiss. The Kiss lived in Thebes from 1906 until its move to the town hall in 1914, returning to Thebes in 1917 until Warren's death in 1928.

In 1928 Warren gifted the house to H Asa Thomas and after Warren's death, in December 1928, the house contents and subsequently the property itself were bought in 1929 by Thomas Sutton (who worked for Sothebys). Walter Hines Godfrey, the architect and historian bought the property in 1936 to save it from a proposal to have the gardens cut up for building plots. The front of the house was used as his offices and his family lived in the back. In 1945 the property was bought by Chailey District Council for offices, and subsequently passed to Lewes District Council on local government re-organisation in 1974.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building

  • Reference: Lewes House
  • Grade: II*
  • The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building

  • Reference: Perimeter walls
  • Grade: II
  • The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building

  • Reference: Stables
  • Grade: II


  • House (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Stable Block
  • Garden Wall
  • Description: Enclosing wall around the garden.
  • Garden Terrace
  • Lawn
  • Mixed Border
  • Shrubbery
  • Hedge
  • Description: Sinuous holly hedge.
  • Grotto
  • Description: Flint grotto.
  • Sundial
  • Parterre
  • Arch
  • Description: Brick arch.
  • Gate
  • Description: Wrought iron gate.
  • Ornamental Pond
  • Gardens
  • Wall
Key Information





Principal Building

Parks, Gardens And Urban Spaces


Part: standing remains

Open to the public


Civil Parish





  • Sharyn Hedge

  • Sussex Gardens Trust