Anne of Cleves House is a 15th-century timber-framed Wealden hall house on Southover High Street in Lewes, East Sussex. It formed part of Queen Anne's annulment settlement from King Henry VIII in 1541, although she never visited the property. Anne of Cleves was perhaps the luckiest of Henry VIII’s wives. Henry VIII never consummated the marriage with a bride he called a ‘Flanders mare’ and within six months they were divorced, from which act she received substantial property. It was restored by the architect Walter Godfrey.
Owned and operated as a museum by the Sussex Archaeological Society under the operating name "Sussex Past", it is home to wide-ranging collections of furniture and artefacts of Sussex interest. These include one of the best exhibitions on wealden iron making including large machinery such as a hammer from Etchingham Forge and cannon boring apparatus together with a collection of iron fire backs. The Romans had made full use of the brown- and ochre-coloured stone in the Weald, and many of their roads there are the means of transport for the ore, and were extensively metalled with slag from iron smelting. The sites of about 113 bloomeries have been identified as Roman, mainly in East Sussex. The Weald was in this period one of the most important iron-producing regions in Roman Britain. Excavations at a few sites have produced tiles of the Classis Britannica, suggesting that they were actually run by, or were supplying iron to this Roman fleet. Total iron production has been estimated at 750 tons per year, but under 200 tons per year after 250 AD.
A new ironmaking process was devised in the Namur region of what is now Belgium in the 15th century. This spread to the pays de Bray on the eastern boundary of Normandy and then to the Weald. The new smelting process involved a blast furnace and finery forge. It was introduced in about 1490 at Queenstock in Buxted parish. The number of ironworks increased greatly from about 1540. Nearly 180 sites in all were used for this process, having a furnace, a forge or both between the 15th century and 18th century. Waterpower was the means of operating the bellows in the blast furnaces and for operating bellows and helve hammers in finery forges. Scattered through the Weald are ponds still to be found called ’Furnace Pond’ or ’Hammer Pond’. The iron was used for making household utensils, nails and hinges; and for casting cannon. The first blast furnace was recorded at Buxted in 1490. The industry was at its peak towards the end of Queen Elizabeth I's reign. Most works were small, but at Brenchley one ironmaster employed 200 men. Most of them would have been engaged in mining ore and cutting wood (for charcoal), as the actual ironworks only required a small workforce. The wars fought during the reign of Henry VIII increased the need for armaments, and the Weald became the centre of an armaments industry. Cast-iron cannon were made in the Weald from 1543 when Buxted's Ralf Hogge cast the first iron cannon for his unlikely employer: a Sussex vicar who was gunstonemaker to the king.
In the 16th century and the early 17th century, the Weald was a major source of iron for manufacture in London, peaking at over 9000 tons per year in the 1590s. However, after 1650, Wealden production became increasingly focused on the production of cannon; and bar iron was only produced for local consumption. This decline may have begun as early as the 1610s, when Midland ironware began to be sold in London. Certainly after Swedish iron began to be imported in large quantities after the Restoration, Wealden bar iron seems to have been unable to compete in the London market. Cannon production was a major activity in the Weald until the end of the Seven Years' War, but a cut in the price paid by the Board of Ordnance drove several Wealden ironmasters into bankruptcy. They were unable to match the much lower price that was acceptable to the Scottish Carron Company, whose fuel was coke. A few ironworks continued operating on a very small scale. With no local source of mineral coal, the Wealden iron industry was unable to compete with the new coke-fired ironworks of the Industrial Revolution. The last to close was the forge at Ashburnham. Little survives of the furnace and forge buildings, although there are still scores of the industry's hammer and furnace ponds scattered throughout the Weald.
At Anne of Cleves House you can explore how the Tudors and Elizabethans lived, worked and relaxed at home. Find out about the part played by this beautiful medieval house in the story of one of England’s most famous kings, Henry VIII. Other highlights include the authentically furnished kitchen and the garden which uses traditional plants and Tudor planting schemes.The bedroom and kitchen are furnished to resemble their appearance at the time of Anne's ownership. Due to the nature of this historic building access for visitors with mobility difficulties is limited to the ground floor level. There are portable ramps to facilitate access where possible. Assistance dogs are welcome. Nearby Bull House is the headquarters of Sussex Archaeological Society. For six years between 1768 and 1774 it was the home of revolutionary writer Tom Paine, the intellectual inspiration behind the American revolution. The house is not generally open to the public, but tours of the house can be booked at the weekend with local historic tour guide Mary Burke.
Location : Anne of Cleves House, 52, Southover High St, Lewes, BN7 1JA
Transport : Lewes (National Rail) then 7 minutes. Bus Routes : 123, 129 and 132 'Town + Downs' stop close by.
Opening Times : 1st February to 16th December Daily 10:00 to 17:00; February, November, December until 16:00
Tickets : Adults £5.60; Concessions £5.30; Children £3.10.
Tel. : 01273 474610