“ 52 Southover High Street / Lewes BN7 1JA East Sussex / Tel: : 01273 474610 „
I really enjoyed my holiday down in Sussex this year - largely because I managed to visit lots of places that appealed to my passion for history . I'd been wanting to visit Anne of Cleves house for a while, but despite visiting Lewes several times, I always managed to get sidetracked by the Harveys Brewery!
The house is located on Southover High Street, Lewes . There is pay-and-display parking directly outside, though it is limited . However, there is a larger pay-and-display car park outside Lewes train station, which is less than five minutes walk away . The entrance to the house is quite easy to walk past without noticing, although there is a small sign hanging over the door.
The museum is open between March and October as follows:
10.00am-5.00pm Tuesday - Saturday
11.00am-5.00pm Sunday, Monday and Bank Hols.
Last admission: 4.30pm
However, the museum does frequently close for private events, such as weddings and concerts, and I would advise looking at the website (http://www.sussexpast.co.uk/property/site.php?site_id=14) to get details of any closures, and of special events.
Admission charges were very reasonable I thought, at 4.40 per adult, 2.20 per child, and 3.90 for senior citizens and children. A family ticket costs £11.80, and can be with the standard 2 adults and two children, or one adult and up to four children.
Anne of Cleves house was presented to her in 1541 as part of her divorce settlement from Henry VIII. She made a wise decision agreeing to an amicable divorce, as not only did it stop her having her head lopped off, it also made her a fairly wealthy woman, with at least three properties (Richmond Palace, Hever Castle, and Anne of Cleves house) awarded to her as part of the deal . She never lived in this particular house though, but it has been incredibly well preserved, and is now a wonderful museum of Tudor life, as well as hosting a section displaying examples of local Lewes ironwork.
Upon entering the museum, you come into a small gift shop, which is where you pay to enter . The gift shop is nothing too remarkable, selling a small selection of old fashioned sweets, wooden swords, and childrens dressing up costumes. It's the sort of old tat you'll find in any castle gift shop really. However, what I did find immediately pleasing was that there were sets of laminated cards hanging on a hook that children could take around with them, telling them what to look out for, and asking them questions. So many museums don't have anything to really engage children in learning, but this place was off to a good start - and it only got better as we climbed the stairs to the parlour.
The stairs had clearly been made level for safety reasons - but the floor of the large parlour room was original wooden floorboards covered over with a thin woven rug. It was very uneven, and walking across it resulted in an odd lumbering gait and a feeling of incredible drunkenness The room houses a daybed, an assortment of chairs, and several items of furniture, and there was plenty of information about each item and it's purpose . In addition, there were lots of information boards around the walls, explaining that this was usually where the ladies of the house would spend their time, perhaps spinning, perhaps embroidering, or perhaps checking over the household expenses .
My positive impression of the place grew when I realised that this was not a museum where you were expected to look but not touch. We were positively encouraged to open up the doors of 17th century cupboards, sit on delicate wooden chairs, and play with the most amusing implement in the room - a metal baby walker, fixed onto a beam on the ceiling.
The two other Tudor themed rooms were just as good - the kitchen had so much to do. Bowls of fresh herbs were provided for children to grind with a pestle and mortar, and there were plastic smelling cubes for children to try and identify herbs and spices.
There were maids aprons and caps for girls to wear, as well as tunics for boys, and once again there was plenty of information presented in a clear and easy to read format, including laminated cards written as a sort of serving-maids diary, detailing the jobs she might have to do in her daily life. The highlight of the kitchen for me though was a beautiful table made of Sussex marble. It's not like real marble, more of a polished limestone, but there were literally thousands of tiny fossils within the table, and it was a simply stunning thing to see!
The Bedroom was lots of fun - and included a large selection of dressing up objects for children and adults alike. I really wish I had taken my camera with me when we visited, as I had so much fun with my daughter and my boyfriends mum, dressing up in elaborate outfits and curtseying in front of the mirror. We barely paid attention to the actual exhibits in the room, although I was very taken with the large segment of a tester bed, and with a curious piece of furniture that changed from a chair, to a desk, to a storage box.
We next went into the ironwork room, which displayed many wonderful old firebacks, many of which were elaborately embellished, and each with a small card detailing it's provenance . There was information here about the ironworking process, and how ironwork had once been a large Sussex industry, but I have to confess this room interested me the least, and we didn't spend too much time in here!
However, the Lewes local history room was wonderful. It told of the various floods the town has seen, of the local bonfire night traditions, and of the history of the Harvey Brewery. It also had some incredibly interesting exhibits, including several saints teeth from Gundrada, the Countess of Surrey, who with her husband built Lewes Castle and founded the local priory. I was particularly taken with the wax figures here that were used for ill-wishing, and a tiny set of dominoes carved from bone.
I also liked the 'Lewes rat and spoon' which is a mummified rat and a silver spoon housed in a frame. Apparently a serving maid was once accused of stealing a silver spoon from a house, and was booted out into the street, left with no job and no home. Many years later, when the house was being renovated, a rats nest was found, containing a large mummified rat , and the missing spoon. They were both framed and preserved as a tribute to the luckless maid.
The gardens of the house are lovely - and there is an interesting fruit tree, a medlar. Apparently, although these are rare now, they were a popular fruit in Tudor times, although they were so hard to eat that you had to let them rot a little first! There is also a large room, a kind of hall, but we were not able to really see this room on our visit as it was being set up for a wedding that evening.
Overall, this is a wonderful little museum. It is inexpensive, and has plenty for adults and children alike, and gives a real sense of what life in a Tudor home might have been like. I don't have a single criticism at all, although I will note, for those interested, that disabled/pushchair access is incredibly limited in this building.It is well worth visiting, and shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to go round.
The full five stars from me - a fantastic place!