For centuries an inn has occupied the corner site where the present King's Head is situated. It could probably date back to Tudor times, for inns bearing this sign frequently had their origin as hostels belonging to religious orders, and their signs were related to the Pope or Abbott. When Henry VIII quarrelled with Rome and dissolved the monasteries, the landlords (like the Vicar of Bray) hastily changed their signs , which is perhaps why so many 'King's Heads' portray a likeness to Henry VIII.

There were riotous scenes at this inn when in 1857 it provided sanctuary for a troublesome priest, the Rev Neale, who sheltered there from an angry mob after attending the funeral at All Saints church of the daughter of Rev Scobell, rector of that church. Neale, accused of Jesuit tendencies, had apparently persuaded her, against her father's wish, to join his Anglican HighChurch Sisterhood in a convent at East Grinstead, where she died as a result of ministering to scarlet fever victims. The crowd, carrying torches and shouting "No Popery", demonstrated in a manner akin to Bonfire Night. His reverence tried to placate them by buying everyone drinks, but his nly means of eventual escape was over the garden wall at the rear."

The King’s Head was rebuilt in 1888 into a Tudor-Swiss style.

After 1830, residential development took place to the east of St John’s Church along the northern side of the precinct. This construction cut into the Priory burial grounds, most significantly Regency Priory Crescent (originally known as "New Crescent"). Despite its grand façade, this collection of houses is somewhat random at the back with a wide range of rear elevations. The individual gardens of Priory Crescent end at a private lane to the south which is linked to the original path connecting the Gatehouse to the Priory. This Gatehouse was rotated 90 degrees and moved just a few metres from its original location in order to widen the road. The current gate is the smaller arch that pedestrians would have walked through, rather than the larger one (used for traffic such as horses and carts). The builders sold the human bones, teeth and skulls that they excavated whilst digging foundations. Priory Street was built in several stages with Mount Street projected southwards in to the Priory precinct. This is directly opposite the King’s Head Inn.

The King's Head is of course the closest Lewes Inn to the entrance to the former Lewes Priory.

Sometimes the cellars of local inns were used to store the dead, prior to burial , being the coolest place in the town.

The Hospitium outside the gate is known from 1202 AD, and so as late as 1802 the 'Great Gate' beside which the Chapel stood, remained relatively intact at the east end of the present Church. The drawing on the left shows the remains of the gatehouse as it would have been in 1823. Southover Church is on the right, and the building at the end of the street is the King's Head public house.

 

 

 

In the medieval period alehouses were ordinary dwellings where the householder served home-brewed ale and beer. If lodging for travellers was offered, this might be no more than bedding on the floor in the kitchen, or in a barn. Inns by contrast were generally purpose-built to accommodate travellers. They needed more bedrooms than the average house and substantial stabling. Some of the earliest great inns were built by monasteries in centres of pilgrimage. Taverns sold wine. Since wine was far more expensive than ale or beer, taverns catered to richer patrons who could afford it. They were restricted to towns and hugely outnumbered by alehouses. All three were social centres, but the larger inns had more scope for events. The type built with galleries around a courtyard provided an arena for plays or cockfights.

In common with other tradesmen of the time, inns, taverns and alehouses advertised their business with a sign hanging outside. A pole above the door, garlanded with foliage, signified an alehouse. From the 14th century inns and taverns hung out a pictorial sign by which they could be identified in this illiterate age.

Tudor Inns were built not only to serve ale and food but also to provide rooms for travellers. The architecture of the inns often featured the black and white half-timbered style of the architecture of 15th and 16th century houses. During the 15th and 16th century the usual form of transport was on horseback, so all of the major inns had large cobblestone yards.

The number of travellers attracted to these 15th and 16th century inn lodgings increased substantially during the Tudor period due to the dissolution of the monasteries which had traditionally provided rooms, food and drink for travellers. There was gambling and there was even bear baiting in some of the Tudor Inns and travelling minstrels and troubadours provided entertainment in the inns, using the courtyards as the area to perform plays.

The very first purpose-built theatre was built by James Burbage and was appropriately named 'The Theatre'. The Tudor Inns had served their purpose providing venues for plays which proved to be an exciting and inexpensive form of entertainment attracting crowds of up to 500 people. The vast number of people included undesirables, including thieves, harlots and pickpockets and there were disturbances and fights which lead to complaints from local people, especially in London. In 1574 the City of London started regulating the Tudor Inn yard activities and in 1576 James Burbage built 'The Theatre' in Finsbury Fields, Shoreditch, London. It was designed in the style of a Roman open air theatre, with three tiers of galleries and a covered stage. The Tudor Inns reverted to their original purpose of providing lodgings to weary travellers.

The coaching era is imbedded in English history as a time of romance and legend, a Golden Age. To this day, prints hanging on pub walls depict idyllic scenes; a coach and horses outside a rustic inn, its passengers greeted with ale and wine by a rotund, red-cheeked landlord; or a speeding coach, its team of horses wild-eyed, nostrils flared, gallop along a country track, the coach driver leaning into the wind. Pubs, even new ones, are adorned with relics of the time; postal horns, horse brasses, copper pots, bed pans, lanterns and whips.

The growth of coaching and its inns gathered pace at the start of the industrial revolution. The movement of goods and people was essential to trade and commerce.

Although the speed and range of coaches increased, there were frequent stops to rest, feed and water the horses, as well as refresh the coachmen and passengers. The coaching inn fulfilled this need. An entire industry grew and the coaching inn was at the centre of it.

Coaching inns came in many guises and location was everything. Those on minor routes on remote country roads barely survived, others on busy established routes thrived. For some old Tudor inns, their good fortune was to be on a revived coaching route and they flourished once again. Many were purpose-built.

Travellers tales complain of damp rooms and linen, bed clothes soiled and stinking, food that was stale and rancid, incompetent staff and landlords who were indifferent to their needs or plain rude. Some were also criminal, in cahoots with highwaymen, the landlord telling them which guests had full purses.

All these activities enhanced the standing of the inns owners. They may not have been educated, some were illiterate, but their premises provided a place for commerce as well as livery, accommodation and food. A landlord's position carried influence and power, as well as an opportunity to become rich.