Heritage loss for Britain as a chunk of 1000-year-old Lewes Castle’s curtain wall collapses

Thankfully, no one was injured in the fall of the standalone wall, which was privately owned.

Britain lost a piece of its heritage yesterday when one of the last remaining sections of Lewes Castle’s curtain wall crumbled to the ground.

The 600-tonne wall caved in just after 12.20pm, falling onto a neighbouring house and garden. The emergency services were called to carry out search and rescue operations amid fears that there may be people or animals trapped in the rubble but luckily there were no casualties.

Lewes Castle was built soon after the Norman invasion of Britain to control the area and secure access to the coast and Normandy beyond. It’s unusual in that it has two mottes — defensive earth mounds topped by a keep that overlooks an enclosed courtyard called a bailey — whereas most castles only have one. In 1264, the fortress became the backdrop to the Battle of Lewes between Henry III and Simon de Montfort (which the latter won, thus becoming able to curtail Royal power) and, about seventy years later, it acquired a magnificent barbican.

No one knows why the wall collapsed. A standalone portion of the Castle complex, it’s situated away from the main structure and privately owned by a local resident. It had apparently been undergoing some works to remove ivy, although the operation may not have any link to the incident. The area had also been severely affected by bad weather in the past few days.

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The Sussex Archaeological Society, which owns and takes care of the part of the Castle that’s open to the public, expressed sadness at the loss of an important slice of Lewes’ medieval past. ‘We are very sad,’ marketing officer Debbie Matthews told The Sussex Express. ‘The Sussex Archaeological Society’s aim is to protect the heritage of Sussex. It is sad, a piece of history has gone.’

The monument was closed yesterday as a precaution but, the Society explains on its website, ‘The Castle site has been visually inspected and checked following the wall collapse and the building fabric shows no sign of loss of integrity.’

The museum and the barbican are already open today while the South Tower remains temporarily closed ‘to allow for further inspection by a specialist team.’  This will be completed by Friday, November 15.