The 1980s

The 1980s: Priory School and Lewes Technical College recreate a medieval herb garden

The idea

The herb garden was part of a major project to recreate as accurately as possible an original infirmary garden. It was undertaken in 1983 by the pupils of Lewes Priory School and students of Lewes Technical College with support of the Rotary Club of Lewes and many other individuals and organisations under the guidance of the Lewes Priory Trust.

The idea was conceived by Anthony Freeman, a local history teacher and Schools Liaison Officer of Lewes Priory Trust, who wanted to stimulate public interest in the remains of the Cluniac Priory. The project set out to recreate a herb garden close to the original site and stocked with herbs that were likely to have been in the original garden and to use, as far as was practically possible, materials and layouts consistent with medieval practice.

Arthur Franklin, a historian also from Priory School produced a ground plan for the project, based on the 'ideal' plan of St. Gall (c. 895AD).

Raising the beds

Research revealed that typical to the monastic herb garden were long, narrow, raised beds that stood at a height of around 15cm and retained by wooden planking or other material. Choice of materials for the re-creation depended on a variety of factors: cost, available materials and what students would be able to build. Pupils of Lewes Priory constructed beds of flint, wattle and turf and students of Lewes Technical College built the brick beds. Though bricks were not common in Sussex until Tudor times, it is possible that the monks of the 1530s had used bricks. The bricks used were exact hand-made replicas of the early Tudor brickwork of Laughton Place and were supplied by the Swanage Brick Company, the same company that had made the bricks for Laughton Place, which had just been restored by the Landmark Trust.

Filling the beds

Once the beds had been built they needed filling. One morning at 8.30am 160 1st year pupils from Priory Lower School tipped soil from their gardens at home into the beds, from bags, boxes, barrows, even socks! Four teachers also moved earth adjacent to Lewes Cemetery to the herb garden. The garden was now ready for planting

Planting  the 'demonstration' garden

In the original garden it is likely that a few select herbs would have been grown in considerable quantities to satisfy the monastery's medicinal, culinary, liturgical and industrial needs. In preference to this, it was decided it would be more useful to have a 'demonstration' garden to show what might have been grown in medieval times.

Many of the plants were gifts. Sussex Archaeological Society donated a number of herbs and the task of arranging, planting and labelling fell to the pupils of Lewes Priory School and overseen by Tony Crabb of Sifelle Herbs, Isfield.