Museums at Night 2013: A twilight tour of the second motte of Lewes Castle

By Jenni Davidson | 18 May 2013

Museums at Night Report: From Motte to Motte – A Twilight Tour of Lewes Castle, May 17.


a photo of a castle on a hill with a house and trees in the foreground
© Jenni Davidson
You can’t go wrong with a talk that begins with a description of pre-Christian burial mounds. Not in my book anyway. And this was indeed where this Museums at Night, and the history of Lewes, began, with the intriguing theory that Lewes Castle might be built on Iron Age burials.

Our guide for the evening, local history expert John Bleach, began with a map showing the sites of four Romano-British burial mounds, which seem to form a line towards Lewes Castle.

Sadly there’s no sign of any of them now, the last one having been destroyed in the 19th century to build St John’s Church, but it’s exciting to think there might have been something on the same site 1,000 years before the current castle was built.

Following the next stage in Lewes’ history, the Anglo-Saxon walled town, we reached the Normans, who really put Sussex on the map.

Lewes might seem small and politically insignificant now, but in the 11th century it was at the centre of an important territory.

After the Norman Conquest, Sussex was divided up into four parts which were given to four of William the Conqueror’s most loyal supporters. The area around Lewes went to William de Warenne, who built the castle.  

Lewes Castle is notable not only because it was one of the first castles to be built after the Battle of Hastings, but also because it is one of only two castles in the country to have two mottes.

History lesson over, we set off for to explore Lewes Castle’s special second motte, Brack Mount. This isn’t usually open to the public, and it was clear to see why. Approached by a steep, tricky path, the top has an unfenced drop on all sides.

Very little archaeological work has been done on Brack Mount, so it’s a fascinating mystery as to what lies beneath the grass, and it was exciting to be one of the few people to stand on it.

After Brack Mount, we set off for the second part of the tour, an easier climb to Lewes Castle itself.

Two of the castle’s towers remain standing and our destination was the highest point, the top of the south tower where the flag of the de Warennes is still flown today.

The evening ended with the lowering of the flag. Sadly the weather didn’t oblige with a sunset and no-one knew an appropriately Norman version of Taps to mark the occasion, but you can’t have it all in one night.

  • Museums at Night continues until Saturday (May 18 2013). Visit museumsatnight.org.uk to find out what's on near you.

More pictures:

a photo of a man on a rampart lowering a flag
© Jenni Davidson

a photo across a town and hills beyond from a castle rampart
© Jenni Davidson

a photo of a castle keep from ramparts
© Jenni Davidson

a photo of people walking up a walkway to a rampart
© Jenni Davidson

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