Sitting in a prime location in the heart of the County Town of Lewes in East Sussex, Fitzroy House is a beautiful rather forbidding Victorian building abutting the pedestrian shopping precinct. The Tardis from Doctor Who comes to mind; as you walk through the beautiful double oak doors you step into the world of neo-Gothic architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott with an entrance hall full of curved arches and stone pillars, turquoise ceiling and an oak bannistered stairway with Fleur de Lis iron railings. The original tiled floor leads you through double doors into a domed glass-roofed octagonal space with a balcony full of cascading flowers around the entire perimeter, reminiscent of the Globe Theatre or Spanish hacienda piazza if the fountain is in use.
Fitzroy House was built in 1862 on the former site of a large mansion called The Friars on the instruction of Hannah Fitzroy (nee Rothschild) as a Memorial Library in honour of her deceased husband the Right Honourable Sir Henry Fitzroy, a long time MP for Lewes. Hannah commissioned Queen Victoria's favourite architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, (who created the Albert Memorial in London) to design what has been described as “one of the best small Gothic buildings in the country”
In 1897 it was adopted by the town of Lewes as the first public library and remained so until 1956. It was said to have been frequented by Virginia Woolf herself!
After that time it became offices but as gothic buildings fell out of fashion and the country was in recession, it was suggested that the building be demolished as so many around it were. Demolition began but the building was saved and restored by the vision and hard work of the Franks family and friends and the Friends of Lewes.
It became their family home for the next 40 years and in that time a railway via-duct was removed next door, a by-pass for Lewes was built and the road outside Fitzroy was pedestrianised which is now teeming with the life of markets, craft sales, street performers and social gathering.
Now on to the next chapter in the life of this illustrious and gracious gem of a building.......