I was talking to Colin Brent, economic historian, this morning and he told me that in Victorian times almost all Lewes businesses were owned by people who lived in Lewes or near Lewes.
Local people owned the gasworks and the waterworks. Local people owned the farms and the shops. Local people owned the barges that went up the river and the breweries. Local people owned the three newspapers and the print-works. Local people owned the foundries, including a big one called Phoenix. Local people owned the banks, including Lewes New Bank, on the site of Barclays Bank, and which joined with other banks to create the first Barclays Bank, a direct line from local to global. The only business that Lewes people did not own was the London to Brighton South Coast Railway, but local people initiated and were shareholders in the Lewes to Uckfield line.
In the age of capitalism, we Lewesians have given away our power; leaving ourselves vulnerable to the hunger of corporate and supermarket agendas and out of town developers. However, the tide might be turning. The picketers at Lewes Arms pulled off a great coup last week; another group is forming a community land trust to investigate community ownership of the land of Lewes, and Lewes Community Partnership is seeking funding to buy the Pinwell Road site for an array of local businesses. With troubles ahead, we might just be waking up to the need to rebuild our resilience and abundance. Colin Brent will be talking at Pelham House alongside Bill Collison and Topsy Jewell at the next Transition Town meeting, ‘Feeding Lewes - Past, present and Future’ Wed 2nd May, Pelham House 8pm, £3