26 May 2017

Lewes: some street signs

I found much to love about Lewes during the day I spent there on my recent visit to East Sussex, as you will see in this and the blogs that follow.


Church Twitten
Move over road, street and boulevard, in Lewes we have the twitten. As the Oxford Dictionary defines it, a twitten is ‘a narrow path or passage between two walls or hedges’, and the word’s origin may be Low German, from the word tweite meaning lane or alley. If wiktionary and William Douglas Parish (from his 1875 book A dictionary of the Sussex dialect and collection of provincialisms in use in the county of Sussex) are to be believed, this is an exclusively Sussex word that is a corruption of betwixt and between. The word is obviously rather old as Church Twitten, and the many other twittens in Lewes, are the subject of a book by Kim Clark, The Twittens: The Saxon and Norman Lanes of Lewes (Pomegranate Press, 2012).

Pipe Passage
As well as the twitten, Lewes also has the passage, several of them in fact, leading hither and yon. 

This one had its own plaque explaining that Pipe Passage is ‘named after [a] 19th century clay pipe kiln’ and that the route ‘follows Saxon and Medieval access to [the] town wall defences’. 

I found out a little more:

... formerly Westgate Passage. It follows the line of the old town wall which still remains in this quarter of the town. A little way up Pipe Passage on the left is a small piece of ground between it and the town wall. It was formerly roofed over and was used as a workshop for making clay pipes, and the kiln for firing them still partially remains built into the north wall which owes its survival to the fact that it is a retaining wall for higher ground behind. [From N.E.S. Norris, ‘A Victorian Pipe Kiln in Lewes’, Journal of Post-Medieval Archaeology, Vol.4, Issue 1, 1970]


English’s Passage
What can I say? The story behind English’s Passage has eluded me. 

The alleyway itself is certainly very old as one of the buildings at the High Street end is heritage-listed and dates from the 16th century, and these old lanes and passages are all thought to date from Saxon or Norman times. 

The very picturesque row of cottages shown in my photo at right is not so old – the houses date from the early 19th century. They may perhaps have been built for the managers and overseers who worked at nearby Harvey’s Brewery. 

But the reason why this passage is named English’s will have to remain a mystery for now.


Cockshut Road
England would not be England without its weird, wonderful and sometimes downright rude place names. Just as Stonesfield in Oxfordshire has its Cockshoot Close and West End in Surrey has its Cocknmouth Close, so Lewes has Cockshut Road and, indeed, a Cockshut stream. The word Cockshut is actually pronounced Cock-chute by the locals and is apparently derived from a 13th-century Sussex word to describe a place where woodcocks or geese could be ensnared. The waterway, The Cockshut, is a tributary of the River Ouse and its course has been much altered over the years: back in the 12th century one of its branches flowed through the grounds of Lewes Priory and was used to cleanse the reredorter.

I do enjoy flushing out these fascinating dollops of local history.