I’m excited to be in England on an odd holiday as it is with restaurants having limited capacities and menus, and museums wanting pre-booked tickets to ensure those who show up can be allowed in. This is why my itineraries are all lists of outside and things that can be seen or done while being in the outdoors because I don’t want to deal with the hassle of knowing exactly what time I’ll be where. There would be guilt if I was late, missed my window, and then caused someone to miss out because I’m not experienced yet with London’s public transportation.
Add to this the excitement that I’m going on a trip within a trip and getting out of the boroughs today, of which there are 32, and the City of London that comprise the districts of Greater London. There are 12 inner boroughs, 20 outer, and three that have achieved royal status — Kensington and Chelsea: in memory of Queen Victoria born in Kensington Palace in 1901, Kingston upon Thames: declared by George V in 1927 confirming the coronation of and description by King Æthelstan in 925, and Greenwich: to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 2012.
Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years, 1837-1901, four years longer than any of her predecessors during a period of political, military, industrial, and scientific changes with an expanding British Empire. King Æthelstan is regarded as the first Anglo-Saxon king of England, one who never married or had kids. Greenwich is also the location of the Palace of Placentia that is the birthplace of Henry VIII, king 1509-1547; Mary I, first queen regnant of England; and Elizabeth I, queen of England and Ireland for 44 years. The current record holder is Elizabeth II, still going strong after 68 years, and getting a gate, tower, and park named after her that will outlast the parades and displays.
Today’s plan is to go south and see the beach (with whatever rules are in place). I run my fingers through my hair and put on a clean outfit, especially since there’s a washing machine available for free use. I pack my pockets for a day in Lewes and Brighton on this crisp and clear morning. I enjoy that each day has been different in weather and am grateful for my coat today and that I shouldn’t get too hot as the temperature is cooler at 60*F.
I’m in coach 3 of 12 and Cooksbridge Station only has enough platform to accommodate six of the cars. This is announced giving off-going passengers enough time to get nearer to the correct door to continue their journey, otherwise they’ll be pushing the open button to get a better view of the wall, fence, ivy, and graffiti that is commonly along the tracks. Caleb calls and I switch between the train’s wifi and local signal trying to stay connected on the overground train, which still goes through some deep tunnels that make my ears pop. I’d rather talk now so I can focus on my surroundings off the train, but he’ll be underway soon and then I’ll miss his voice, so I’ll take his calls when he’s available regardless of what I’m doing.
I get to Lewes and was going to walk directly to the castle, then the ruins, and get back on the train but this town is intoxicating on the eyeballs and now I want to walk every street. I hear this lovely voice singing an upbeat tune and don’t know if I’m wandering onto an abandoned driveway or into a littered alleyway but inside a room is a woman leading a morning mum and baby group. Close by, I learn of a group called Subud, which is an acronym for the Indonesian founder of the movement in the 1920s. The local group was formed here in 1978. The members practice latihan kejiwaan (an inner teaching and spontaneous insight from God) that can be shared with others in the proximity of those who have been ‘opened’.
I see a paint shop that names their colors Reginald, Prosthetic Limb, I Think That Ship Has Sailed, etc., and while looking up Cuttlefish Eco Salons (because who doesn’t like a hairdresser who offers vegan refillable products) come across a post about fibular hemimelia (fibula leg bone deformity) that can lead to amputation to gain better use of the affected limb and occurs in 1 of 40,000 births. This occurrence reminds me of those crossword puzzles where you’re asked to highlight the first word that catches your eye. I can’t ever return for my first time, but I wonder what will stick out to my senses then.
Another shop has driftwood key-rings, recycled pub wax candles, and vintage bottles with the original labels still on. I love things with age and history. I appreciate those willing to preserve buildings, sites, and their health so that they may share their lessons with us and show us ways of repurposing places and things to be used again in a way that ties the past to the present, without destroying the future. As much as I enjoy these knick-knack shops, I don’t seem to be in the mood for tire sandals or a seatbelt purse while perusing but I can still be grateful they exist.
I see beautiful Cliffe Hill to my right that overlooks the golf course as I’m headed to The Old Needlemakers thinking I can pick up a craft to partially finish. The building is where Broad’s Candle Factory was founded in 1821, enlarged and rebuilt in 1866 for using tallow and later used for the manufacture of hypodermic needles. The name makes more sense now. The place was converted into a retail shopping center in 1984 that today sells mostly paintings, books, and plant seeds with a restaurant too.
I start to get hungry and wander into a cafe. The guys who work there were “loitering outside” and asked if I prefer meat or veg before suggesting an egg-mushroom muffin, one of today’s specials. I thought I was getting something like a breakfast cupcake but the ciabatta bun sandwich wrapped and sealed with a “hand made with love” sticker did not disappoint. I was also there while a t-shirt from Girls Who Grind Coffee was delivered and they’re all about empowering other women growers, roasters, drinkers, and all things coffee.
In some store and office windows I notice these historical black and white photos of men with guns in 1907 (guarding Princess Victoria outside Town Hall), men on motor bikes in 1911 (as a hobby for the rich), and private houses from 1885 (converted to a list of businesses throughout the years before being returned to residential purposes). They are part of a collection “Stories Seen Through A Glass Plate” throughout Lewes as a tribute to their creator Edward Reeves and the generations that followed in his steps, as his great grandson now runs the world’s longest established photographic studio.
There are over 250,000 negatives preserved along with lighting equipment, furniture, and props. In 2013, Brigitte Lardinois undertook a project to make the images from the first three generations more accessible and to digitize the business documents that go with them to create a database to showcase the importance of commercial photography and its role in society over the last century and a half. Besides being curious about the lives of others, perhaps part of my intrigue in this great project is the hope that just one of my pictures will make a difference to someone a hundred years from now.
The Lewes Castle and Museum is closed. I walk by the first time and notice the sign saying to use another entrance that I can’t find and after standing outside St Michael in Lewes Church to not disturb inside while on the phone I come up to a locked clear door — a covid barrier so that prayers get in and coughs do not. I’m ok appreciating the 13 & 14th-century remnants amongst the 18th-century remodel and modern fixes that keeps this 800 year old church still standing. It’s here that Thomas Paine, the ‘father of the American revolution’ married his second wife in 1771.
Back to the castle gate and this time the sign says the days to visit have been reduced and it’s not open today. West on High Street (England’s version of Main St in the US) is the Bull House where Thomas Paine, writer and revolutionary, lived from 1768-74. I approach the thick door and ring the long-handled bell to the left. The man who answered was kind enough to invite me in, but I didn’t stay long to look at his office as this was no museum and there was no shrine in a corner to the author of “Common Sense,” who argued to create a democratic republic independent of England and quoted the Bible to reinforce his arguments.
Another Thomas, this one a woolen draper, donated his house to the poor of St Michael in Lewes Church in 1688. This and other almshouses were closed in 1960. Going down Keere St offers a cloudy view of the land in the distance, and also a chance for George IV, when Prince Regent between 1811-20, to wager his coach and four horses could safely descend the max 15.8% gradient that has now been closed to through traffic, but allows the work truck access for the crew on the scaffolding, which is a constant in a country needing to keep its history standing elegantly.
A stroll through Southover Grange Gardens fills: my camera with squirrel pictures, my eyes with varying shades of green and yellow, and my heart with joy and peace as the calmness of the people, animals, plants, and weather surrounding me give appreciation for all the history and technology that delivered me to this moment and to my health and station in life that made this trip possible during the year of a global pandemic, violent protests, mass pauperdom, the death of 2.6 million Americans (below the annual increasing trend), and billions of animals burned to death in the Amazon, Australia, and American West Coast, and trillions more killed for human consumption.
The Anne of Cleves House is a 15th-century timber-framed Wealden hall medieval-Tudor house, which consists of four bays forming the main hall that can vary in room distribution and cross passage location. There are less than 800 of these homes left, most commonly found in Kent and Sussex. This one was an annulment gift to Queen Anne from King Henry VIII in 1541 after just six months of marriage to his fourth wife without consummation. He married Katherine of Aragon for love and alliance, divorced her for Anne Boleyn who he had killed hoping to please the gods into giving him a male heir, and Jane Seymour died during child birth.
Queen Anne was replaced with Catherine Howard who was killed for having an affair and the king’s sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr, outlived him by almost two years. It was Anne of Cleves who got to live like a queen with all the gifts (manors, jewels, annual income) King Henry VIII gave her, but she also lived past the king, his son Edward who reigned for six years, his other two surviving wives, and witnessed the coronation of Queen Mary I, the daughter from his first marriage, before Anne died at 41 years old and was given a royal funeral at Westminster Abbey.
The doors might be locked, but the history remains behind this beautiful mixed-materials facade. I’ll take a right on Cockshut (British for twilight) Road and think of Cockfosters and giggle because as a kid cocks could also be roosters and as an adult cocks can also be made of silicone, glass, wood, and porcelain. Perhaps we could change street names to words in the dictionary so that we can learn more vocabulary, have a laugh sometimes, allow businesses to get more creative names, and let citizens live on Fur Pie Boulevard.
I walk through a short tunnel and it’s one of many different systems in place where cars, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians are required to give the right-of-way to each other or oncoming traffic. This seems to instill a set of manners and builds patience amongst all travelers as there’s a sense of equality and kindness without requiring one to constantly wait on the other. People also apologize as they pass you on foot as perhaps a way to say sorry for going faster, encroaching on your personal space, or somehow offending you in their rush to get to the bus stop in time or out of the rain and into the grocery store. A culture that was once ok killing to gain world domination is now inspiring others to insult with a sweet tongue if the need arises.
On the other side is the site of the Priory of St Pancras (saint of keeping promises), built in the 11th and 12th centuries and known for being the first Cluniac monastery in Britain, it stood until King Henry VIII felt in 1538 that it should not survive the Reformation and had the monks’, and twice as many servants’, home destroyed. Afterwards, other buildings throughout Lewes took advantage of the free materials and scavenged them for reuse. The founder and his wife were found in their lead caskets among hundreds of bodies in 1845 by men digging the railway still in use today. William and Gundrada de Warenne also built Lewes Castle.
This priory became the wealthiest in Sussex through benefactors who wanted to get into heaven. The monks were given farmland, estates, and vineyards in exchange for prayer and would sell the produce and products their servants tended year-round. The rule of St Benedict required that a lamp be kept burning through the night in the dormitory but fires were only allowed in the kitchen, infirmary, and the warming house, so to help keep warm they would change into fur shoes to sleep and remain in their clothes to pad against the straw mattress and be ready for attending night services as part of their eight masses and processions done daily.
The toilet block, consisting of 59 toilet cubicles to reduce queue times, is the largest surviving structure of the priory, as it was converted into a malt house. I’m not sure if both floors were used but the hole in the top floor was sandwiched between two walls that led to the sewer below, so I’m confident that one of the four main ingredients to go into their beer would’ve been safe from contamination from digested pottage, a stew of garden vegetables and grains with onions, leeks, and garlic added for flavor. Out of the ruins and behind a large tree stands this Helmet Sculpture erected by Enzo Plazzotta in 1964 to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes.
The statue is almost 15 feet tall and has a frieze in bas-relief by the lost wax process that consists of eight scenes depicting the story of the fight. There’s an inscription too and I like, “the law is like fire, for it lights as truth, warms as charity, burns as zeal” as it’s part of a poem taken from ‘The Song of Lewes.’ The battle was fought between King Henry III and barons led by Simon de Montfort in which the treaty restricted the authority of the king. This led to a division among the monks and some went back to Cluny while others were punished at Lewes.
I see a father and daughter on the playground, him in his aviators and business casual attire with the little one in a puffy dress and comfy velcro shoes. I watch a dog as he runs along and then looks back to make sure his person is keeping up. There are plenty of dogs off their leads finding new acquaintances at the park to run around with until it’s time to go. There’s a mound with a circular dirt path around it and I will climb it for a view that goes over the houses and trees.
Caleb and I learned the hard way last time about the scan-in and scan-out system for the Oyster card or you’ll be charged the daily max and quickly use up more of your transportation dollars than anticipated. When I got to Lewes, my card didn’t work so I pressed the help button and the little gate was opened for me. Perhaps I took a less used exit and was given consideration, but upon return to take the train to Brighton I learn that I was let out because my trip here is paid for, but in order to continue I must buy a specific ticket as I’m out of the gray zone of the Oyster coverage area.
When I arrive in Brighton I buy a ticket that will get me back to Norwood Junction, asking if I could just go part of the way to save some money, but certain routes don’t work like that. I’m given a phone number to call if I want to sort the situation the next day, but the amount charged was fair and I still have money on my card, so there will be no need. I just need to pay more attention so that I could’ve planned ahead better. I call Caleb to let him know about my faux pas and he thinks it’s cute how I worry over $7, but I like to save our money so he can buy me nice things — dive gear, shoes, bike parts, and vacations.
Exit the station and the beach is about a 20 minutes walk ahead, but I detour left. The zebra crossings (an area of road painted with broad white stripes) are anything but that still give pedestrians the right-of-way but increase the joy as they go about their day. I’m standing in the parking lot of Travis Perkins Timber & Building Supplies when this guy in a van says something about me waiting to take his picture and then offers to get out of my way so I can continue with my photographing. He was nice and already gone, but that wouldn’t be the last of him. I continue down the street where he and his friend are picking up supplies.
It’s here that these construction workers tell me about a street full of beautiful graffiti near an Aldi, so I thank them and let them get back to work as I let myself get lost for a bit of exploring the art and shops that they adorn — mostly books, secondhand clothes, cafes, antiques, and a sex shop with cunt coffee cups, a bondage section, nipple-less models on the lingerie, and lesbians on a fetish set… which gives me the same feeling when reading more female pronouns or being able to play with an African-American Contemporary Barbie growing up. It feels empowering to have other women noticed.
There’s this giant green cross in a window that belongs to a pharmacy and then I see butt cheeks in the corner of my eye, the same ones that the guy at the bus stop is watching pass him in heels and a coat. Then I’m back to noticing how many places sell books or at least display them before returning a percentage to the publisher. I get the same feeling walking into someone’s house and seeing books, regardless if they actually read them or not, the idea is pleasing, even if more people are making the switch to an e-reader (with the environmental impact of 23 books over its lifetime) to save trees, water, fuel, and electricity.
I’m walking towards the pebbled beach and notice less racial diversity in the restaurants that are at half-capacity or less and the little groups distancing themselves in front of the small waves crashing onshore. As those people are distracted by coffee and beers, I get free access to the Brighton Fishing Museum, just one of many attractions in the stall market that extends from the famous Palace Pier, finished in 1896, to the now derelict West Pier that opened in 1866 and closed in 1975. These piers stood watch over the day-trippers, bathing machines, pleasure boats, and fishing boats and nets.
The piers allowed visitors to take in panoramic views while listening to music on deck chairs and eventually in a concert hall. Palace Pier has continued to upgrade its entertainment to keep it suitable for guests of the 21st century. The piers were also a place where the Swimming Club could dive from when they weren’t busy spearfishing, surf lifesaving (think Baywatch), playing water polo, and having aquatic tea parties.. fancy that. In the club’s 1860s beginning, the town bylaws allowed them two hours in the morning for swimming without a bathing machine or costume in the open sea in a designated area. In 1980, more beach was assigned for this purpose as well and took the lead in nudist beaches now located throughout England.
On my way east, I pass Doughnut Groyne, a low wall built into the sea from the beach to check for erosion and drifting — and a spot to take selfies next to a giant bagel. On the other side of the pier is a tall white tower with a spiral staircase that leads up to a zip line on the beach that claims to be the longest and fastest (not always worth the brag) on the South Coast. I’ll go to the left side to partake in their one-way system and continue people watching — standing, sitting, eating, talking, reading, and taking family photos against the beautiful backdrop — all the same things I’m doing but different.
There are carnival games and candy booths but I’m more interested in the people and architecture that have been on this pier throughout its history and the different weather and wars it endured to maintain its grandiose stature in this location. One mural, off the pier, is in remembrance of Anne Campbell, the only British woman to die fighting for the Women’s Protection Units in the Rojava Conflict of the Syrian civil war. She was in her mid-twenties and survived by her father, a multi-instrumentalist who formed the progressive rock band Egg in 1968 and then became a composer who is still active and turning 70 this year.
I walk along Old Steine Gardens taking pictures of people, bikes, buildings, and murals. In front of Dutch Pot, the owner and artist, stops me while stirring something in a giant dish to tell me he’d appreciate a hello and that I ask permission before capturing his art and face. I tell him it’s not often that a photographer gets to meet the artist, unless in a studio or an art-walk or market, but when you paint on a large public wall you should assume people will copy its likeness without asking who has the rights to it. Most countries agree that it’s illegal to take pictures of nudes (beaches, red-light district, children), certain structures — military, palaces, bridges, embassies, churches, and private property.
Some countries that deem women as property forbid their photo from being taken without the permission of a man of their house. You need consent in both Koreas for everything. Commercial shooting in Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square in the UK requires permission from the mayor. Photographing accidents is ok in the US as long as you’re not in the way of emergency personnel and of individuals as long as the photos aren’t discrediting — though that’s how thieves are caught on camera, but that’s private property which comes with its own laws. The owner tells me that his brother leaves the camera around his neck and uses the hand remote to do street photography without getting caught, so he’d rather me be sneaky about it instead of own what I do.
I finish my day visit in Brighton by visiting an outdoor covered plaza with produce stands, restaurants, and craft shops. I talk with an artist about the rough life his skeleton piece has lived being moved around town for parties and other social events. I walk through HISBE Food — supermarket rebels, and enjoy seeing less plastic and more reusable, less toxic and more biodegradable, less packaging and more bulk — all things I like to purchase in the same store. Outside I see a pizzaboobs sticker, a definite eye-catcher to get your attention for the artist and illustrator, Gabriel Hollington.
I got to the station at sunset, figuring I might not want to walk the streets at night, but I can sit on a well-lit and mostly empty train. I got on, heading north to East Croydon, a 50-minute ride, where I was supposed to switch trains for a five-minute ride to Norwood Junction, except that I got on the train taking me to London Victoria which is a 20-minute ride one-way. I get there, wait on the return train, and hope this is why the system gives you hours to travel to account for accidents like this, trains parking on the tracks to let others pass, and stopping for a meal in the station before carrying on with your journey.
I snack so that I can have the energy to write and feed my tired muscles. Caleb calls and that distraction is enough to make me debate posting a picture to Instagram or reaching my arm through the bed to turn off the light so I don’t have to dust my feet off again as I climb the little ladder over the multiple outlet cord at the top. I’m glad for the cabinet that is at the same height as the bed railing so I can set everything there and be careful lying down that I don’t hit my head on the light that hangs inches from the ceiling.