LEWES Large parts of Lewes, the county town of Sussex, are still medieval in style, particularly along the main street, which follows the route of an ancient causeway. The passages winding away from it are an irresistible invitation for shoppers to explore. Bookshops, antiques shops and 15th-century timbered cottages lean against colour-washed houses. The Bloomsbury connection (Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant used to live here, and Virginia Woolf lived at Rodmell, two miles away) has left an arty-crafty atmosphere and the town is always alive with exhibitions and craft shows. It has its own coterie of resident artists, several of whom work in studios at the Star Brewery.
Property is more expensive than in the surrounding areas. A modern two-bedroom terraced house costs £180,000 to £220,000; a two-bedroom character terraced home, over £220,000. It would be likely to have a mean garden or a small courtyard since the town is tight for space, so parking is like playing sardines. The tiny cobbled streets just off the High Street have a particular cachet and houses here do not often come on the market. When they do, you can expect to pay £500,000 for a Victorian or Edwardian semi. There are some bland modern private estates which generate little interest among incomers.
Shopping is adequate. Lewes has Boots, Waitrose and Tesco, and Eastbourne and Brighton are not far away. The local private school is The Old School. The great social occasion of the year is the huge Bonfire Night party, which commemorates the burning not of Guy Fawkes, but of a batch of Protestant martyrs.
There are some extraordinarily lovely Downland villages around Lewes. Kingston, in the south, has a street of distinguished old houses and a modern estate where four-bedroom detached houses sell for around £325,000. A three-bedroom Thirties’ semi could cost £420,000. The village is something of an enclave for Sussex university professors. Then there is Rodmell, which seduced the Bloomsbury Group with its mix of flint-and-thatch and tile-hung cottages, folded into the Ouse valley. A three-bedroom cottage will cost over £300,000. Neither of these villages has shops, though both have pubs. Any house with views of the Downs sells for 15–20 per cent more.
To the north is Barcombe, which has prices to match its beauty. A four-bedroom chalet bungalow just off the High Street might sell for £430,000. It is really a village of three parts. Barcombe Cross has tile-hung houses and shops, a pub and a 16th-century Forge House. Barcombe Mills, on the River Ouse, is where people go for picnics. A detached four-bedroom family home here could cost over £750,000. Old Barcombe, by St Mary’s Church, was abandoned by the population during the plague. Ringmer is more of a dormitory to Lewes, where houses sell briskly on the prettiness factor. Three-bedroom semis fetch about £220,000 to £250,000; a large four-bedroom detached farmhouse around £450,000; a three-bedroom barn conversion with four acres, £675,000. The centrepiece is the village green, fringed with old cottages overlooked by the parish church, where cricket is played in the summer.