Lewes’ celebrated Phoenix Ironworks will rise again – at least through the recorded memories, photographs and artefacts of local people, thanks to a history project awarded a £50,000 grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The Lewes Phoenix project is the brainchild of locally-based Artemis Arts Ltd who will be working with the community – from schoolchildren to elderly residents – to capture the stories and images of the former iron foundry and engineering company, the site of which is to form part of a major town centre redevelopment.
A documentary film will cover the history of the ironworks whose products included the railings of St Paul’s Cathedral and girders for the piers at Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. Many lampposts in Sussex streets, along with oven doors, soot boxes for local homes as well as parts for oil wells and sugar refineries, were manufactured at the ironworks which for part of the 19th century was the largest employer in the town of Lewes.
In addition to the film, a website will be created and a series of exhibitions, presentations and workshops will be held targeting the whole community. Educational materials linked to the National Curriculum will also be produced. The oral history recordings, photographs and other documents collected will form a heritage archive to be kept at Lewes Record Office with copies at the Lewes Castle Museum.
Enthusiastic support has come from many quarters, including the county, district and town councils; East Sussex Youth Development Service and the YMCA, Sussex Archaeological Trust, and half a dozen local schools. Support has also come from developer Angel Property which has given permission for access to the normally closed site for the duration of the project.
Project managers Christine Hall and Wenda Bradley said: “We are delighted that we have an opportunity to research a vital part of Lewes’ industrial past and to record the important contribution made by the foundry workers and engineers who worked at the Phoenix. We look forward to inspiring young and old in creative responses to the project and exciting outcomes for all those who will be involved.”
For the Heritage Lottery Fund, Head of HLF South East Region Michelle Davies said: “This project will provide many opportunities for the local community and local schools to participate in researching heritage, gathering information and celebrating their local history together.”