Pelham House History
The origins of Pelham House in Lewes
John Cotmot, the church warden of St Andrews, lived for at least forty years in a humble dwelling on the site where Pelham House now stands.
The house and land was purchased by George Goring, a lawyer and one of the two MPs for Lewes in 1559 and 1563, who had Cotmot’s original building demolished and spent £2,000 on the construction of a mansion ‘in stone’, the outline of which is largely preserved in the building we see today.
Hopelessly inept with money, he died intestate in 1594, owing the Crown £20,000, a colossal sum for that time. His son, George Goring (II), had great difficulty sorting out his estate but managed to retain the House, where he lived with his wife Anne and their five sons and four daughters.
On his death in 1602, it passed to his son George Goring (III), who followed in his grandfather’s footsteps to become one of Lewes’ MPs in the 1620s. His unwavering support of the Royalist cause exhausted his fortune and he was forced to sell most of his estates, including the Lewes house.
The house and its estate, which by now included three other houses, barns, stables, outbuildings, garden, orchards and land elsewhere in the town, was sold for £500 to Parliamentarian Peter Courthope, who became Sheriff of Sussex in 1650. We know little about his short tenancy except that it ended in 1653, when he sold the house to the powerful and wealthy Pelham family, who were to remain in occupancy almost continuously for just over 150 years.
The history of Pelham ownership of the House is long and complex but, in brief, three Thomas Pelhams and two Henry Pelhams were resident there at various times; three of these were MPs for Lewes, holding office in a nearly continuous run from 1695 to 1743.
The Thomas Pelham who purchased the house in 1725 left the greatest mark by funding a major refurbishment, which may have included refronting the Elizabethan mansion in the late classical style.
During this period, the ownership of the house passed through a number of hands. These include, in chronological sequence: Wine merchant William Campion, followed by his wife and daughter and her son, attorney John E. Fullager, Brighton brewer William Robins, land agent and magistrate John Ingham Blencowe, spinster Margaret Sikes Duval and stockbroker William Taylor Banks, who bought it for £3,580 in 1926 and spent £2,500 on alterations and decorating.
In September 1928, Pelham House was bought by East Sussex County Council for £7,500 and remained as the Council’s administrative headquarters for more than 75 years. In 1938 a major extension was added to the original building, to house a Council Chamber, committee rooms, offices and storerooms.
Pelham House was bought jointly by a group of four families - and converted into a hotel and conference centre.