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Anne of Cleves House: A Window into Tudor England

Anne of Cleves House in Lewes

Lewes is an absolute treasure trove of historical homes, cobbled streets, and has its very own castle. The town itself is surrounded by white cliffs and sits on the River Ouse, which helped it grow significantly in the late 16th century as an important port and Sussex town.

Many of the Tudor and Elizabethan properties have survived to this day and the Anne of Cleves House Lewes Museum is a testament to Tudor architecture and history.

This historic house, which once belonged to Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of King Henry VIII, offers visitors a fascinating glimpse into life during one of England’s most tumultuous and transformative eras.

Historical Background

a tudor house on a street
Tudor House next door to Anne of Cleves House

Anne of Cleves House has a rich history that dates back to the 15th century. The house was part of a larger estate given to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement from Henry VIII.

Though Anne never lived there, preferring to live in the nearby Hever Castle, the house remains an important symbol of her brief marriage to the notorious king.

Anne of Cleves married Henry VIII in January 1540, but their union was short-lived. The marriage was annulled just six months later, largely due to Henry’s dissatisfaction with Anne’s appearance and his swift infatuation with Catherine Howard.

a tudor house and garden

Despite the annulment, Anne was treated generously by Henry, receiving several properties, including the house in Lewes, which became known as Anne of Cleves House. They eventually became friends, with Anne becoming close to his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.

After the death of Anne, the house was transferred back to the Crown and had subsequent owners. The most notable was J. Saxpes, who made many changes and improvements to the house in the 16th century, his initials are still seen in the chequerboard tiles of the porch with the date 1599.

By the 19th century, the house had fallen into disrepair and in 1923, it was gifted to The Sussex Archaeological Society who restored it to how we see it today.

How to get there:

  • 🚌 The 28 and 29 buses run frequently from Brighton to Lewes.
  • πŸš— Take the A27 towards Lewes, and follow the signs for Lewes town centre, Anne of Cleves House is located at 52 Southover High Street, Lewes, BN7 1JA.
  • πŸš† Trains to Lewes run from London Victoria and London Bridge which are around an hour. Trains from Brighton to Lewes run regularly and take around 15 minutes.

Top Tips:

  • πŸ‘Ÿ Take advantage of guided tours if available.
  • πŸ•β€πŸ¦Ί Note that due to the historic nature of the building, some areas may not be fully accessible. Contact the venue in advance if you have specific accessibility needs.
  • πŸ“· Capture the unique architecture and interiors of the house. However, check if photography is allowed in all areas and respect any restrictions.
  • πŸ“… Check opening hours and special events.

Where to Stay:

Nearby Excursions:

Anne of Cleves House

a tudor house with rose bushes in the garden

Anne of Cleves House is an excellent example of Tudor architecture, characterized by its timber-framed structure, intricate woodwork, and brick chimneys.

The house’s design reflects the building styles prevalent during the late medieval period and the early Renaissance, and the interiors are well-preserved so we can get a good insight into how they lived.

The Hall

a tudor house in a street
You can see the huge window to the Hall on the outside of the building

The reception and small shop are situated in the hall, which would have been the heart of the home. It boasts an impressive brick chimney, a hallmark of Tudor architecture. The elaborate design of these chimneys not only served a practical purpose but also demonstrated the wealth and status of the house’s owner.

The hall once had a second-floor built-in, but this was removed and a large window was placed to show the importance of the owner, J. Saxpes. Glass was extremely expensive in the 16th century so an oversized window would show how wealthy they were.

East Room

a tudor room with timber frame

In the east room, you will find a huge fireplace which is where people would have gathered to keep warm. It was once separated into 2 rooms, a parlour at the front and a service room to store beer.

One of the most striking features you can see in the East Room is its timber framing. This method, commonly used during the Tudor period, involves creating a frame of wooden beams and filling the spaces with materials like wattle and daub or brick. The exposed timber beams, often arranged in decorative patterns, give the house its distinctive look.

tapestry on a wall

A huge tapestry now hangs in the room with chairs and tables. Chairs with armrests were reserved for the owners of the house, with benches provided for guests. The children and servants would have had to sit on the floor.

The Kitchens

the kitchens in Anne of Cleves House

In the 16th century, after improvements to the Anne of Cleves house, the kitchen was moved to the east side of the building. You can see the huge fireplace where food was prepared.

a fireplace with bread oven

This would have been a very hot room, with a fire constantly lit and the servants preparing meat, bread and pies in the bread oven.

a tudor kitchen with copper pots

It also includes the pantry (which is derived from the word Pain – bread, where the bread would have been kept), and a buttery which housed the beer and wine. Again, the term buttery comes from the butts that were used to store wine and beer and a Butler would have served the drinks to its residents.

Parlour

a tudor house parlour and bedroom

Carrying on up the stairs from the kitchens, you will find the parlour. It is displayed to show how it would have looked in the early 17th century. The women would have spent most of their time in the parlour, spinning and doing domestic chores, as well as looking after the children.

a tudor house with a wonky window
The wonky window and the “baby walker”

There is a day bed and cot where the children would have slept and a very medieval-looking “baby walker” which would have been used to place babies and toddlers in to stop them from getting under the women’s feet!

The windows of Anne of Cleves House are another notable feature. Mullioned windows, which are divided into multiple sections by vertical and horizontal bars, were typical in Tudor homes. These windows allowed more light into the rooms while maintaining the structural integrity of the walls.

the parlour bedroom with children's bed

The floor slopes quite dramatically in the Parlour, due to the fact that the foundations were not properly laid. You can see a wonky window as you walk into the room where the walls have sunk!

Bedroom – The Great Chamber

a tudor bedroom with four poster bed

Walking back down the stairs and through the hall, another, older, staircase leads you up to the huge bedroom. This was originally divided into 2 rooms, with a huge fireplace and an 18th-century airing cupboard which would have dried clothes.

table and chairs in a tudor house

The main feature is the four-poster bed in the middle of the room. You can try out the mattress, which is made of straw and I can’t imagine would have been very comfortable! We visited the Anne of Cleves House with our kids and they loved the dressing-up box which is by the fireplace.

Saxpes Gallery

Walking past the bed leads you behind a stone wall and into the Saxpes Gallery. Here you can learn more about the history of the house, with activities laid out for kids.

The Gardens

a medlar tree in a tudor garden
The gardens with the Medlar in the middle

Walking into the garden gives you a beautiful view of the Tudor house and how a garden would have looked in Tudor times. There are plenty of plants which would have been popular in the 16th century, the most prominent tree being the Medlar in the middle.

a medlar tree in a garden

The Medlar tree would have produced fruit which would have been used in sauces or eaten by the residents.

The Cafe

the lewes patisserie at anne of cleves house

The Lewes Patisserie sits behind the reception area and is open to the public. It leads out into a courtyard with plenty of seats and serves tea, coffee, pastries and a lunch menu. I had a delicious spinach and goat cheese quiche with an English breakfast tea, a perfect end to a delightful morning of walking around the house!

anne of cleves house and garden

Anne of Cleves House Information

  • Prices: Adults Β£6.60, Children Β£3.90, children under 5 go free. You can get a combined ticket and visit the Lewes Castle Museum for Β£15 (children – Β£8.50)
  • Opening Times: April to October – Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm
  • Address: 52 Southover High Street, Lewes BN7 1JA

Anne of Cleves House Museum is significant not only because of its association with Anne but also because it offers valuable insights into Tudor life and architecture.

The house provides a tangible connection to the past, allowing visitors to experience the environment in which people of the period lived and worked.

It is an essential part of England’s cultural heritage and shows how important it is to preserve historic buildings which help future generations to appreciate and learn from our past.

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