05 December 2015

Mile Oak - Portslade

Judy Middleton (2002 revised 2017)

copyright © J.Middleton
This view of Mile Oak looking east from Southwick Hill was photographed on 19 March 2009. 
 The windows of the Good Shepherd can be seen just right of centre. 

There are at least 150 place names in Sussex referring to trees and by far the most popular tree is the oak. There are Broad Oaks, Fair Oaks and Mile Oaks. Neither is the name Mile Oak exclusive to Sussex because other Mile Oaks are scattered around the country.

According to old-timer Captain Bately the Portslade Mile Oak was ‘derived from an old oak that stood on the roadway until about thirty years ago, when it gradually rotted away. Old inhabitants inform me that they often played inside the tree when children. It was on the west side of the road, and was a mile from the old George Inn in the High Street. On walking the length of the road I found trees of many kinds, but not one oak, so this must have been the only one’. (Sussex County Magazine (October 1935 Volume 9 page 667). Bately’s letter was accompanied by a photograph of the site in Mile Oak Road and showed part of an old flint wall and a large board advertising the Kennels Estate, which was developed in 1935/1936. Part of this land included Chrisdory Road and probably the old oak tree stood opposite. It is interesting to note that recently a friend kindly measured the exact distance between the St George pub and the corner of Chrisdory Road and it came to one mile.

copyright © J.Middleton
Rural Mile Oak as it used to be. 

But there was another contender for the site of the venerable oak tree and this was to be found by the buildings of Mile Oak Farm. Apparently there was a notice affixed to a wall that proclaimed this was the site of the old Mile Oak. According to Mrs Joan Stanford, Mr Puttock, manager of the Waterworks, was responsible for placing it there. Bonny Cother remembers this oak tree, which was near the outside tap of the Waterworks. The tree was quite flat at the top and she and other youngsters used to enjoy climbing it and perching at the top to pretend they were in a ship. In the Argus (27 February 1999) there was a piece about Councillor Bob Carden who wanted to preserve a historic oak tree in the garden of a house in Mile Oak Road, once occupied by the foreman of the Waterworks. 

One of the earliest mentions of Mile Oak was in the Tithe Map of 1840 where it is placed in plot 155. This piece of land belonged to Harry Blaker, the well-known and fashionable surgeon; there is a wall plaque to his memory inside St Nicolas’s Church, Portslade. In the 1873 Ordnance Map the name is spelt as a single word rather than two; thus Mileoak Cottages were situated north of Portslade Paddocks, near where the end of Mils Oak Road is today. Mileoak Barn and a dewpond were opposite Whitelot Bottom. Presumably it was in these cottages that the 1881 census recorded two families living in Mile Oak; they were William Standen, agricultural labourer, his wife and son, and Henry Stringer, agricultural labourer, his wife and three sons. 

Until the 20th century was good farming land while the valley was home to productive market gardens. When the Waterworks were established the authorities regarded the preservation of the land for rural use of paramount importance in order to protect the purity of their water supply. Indeed, Brighton Council purchased swathes of farmland with this object in view. It is odd that this notion has fallen into disregard today while at the same time demand for water has shot up.

The development of much of Mile Oak was perhaps inevitable, given the proximity of Brighton and Hove. It was also accelerated by the break-up of large estates together with the land hunger of Portslade people squashed into a cramped area south of Old Shoreham Road with no possibility of expansion.

  copyright © G. Osborne
Mile Oak was still a small development in the 1930s.

Portslade Council started the ball rolling in the 1930s by the compulsory purchase of some of Farmer Broomfield’s land so that a girls’ school might be built, closely followed by the construction of council houses.

The first part of Mile Oak to be developed was land formerly occupied by the Paddocks Estate. In 1938 the built-up area of Mile Oak consisted of Sefton Road, Beechers Road, Foxhunters Road and Stanley Avenue. The inhabitants regarded themselves as a village and quite separate from the rest of Portslade.

copyright © J.Middleton
Mile Oak in the 1930s.

Pressure from developers was resisted for longer than might be expected. For example, in March 1968 the sixth Public Enquiry within ten years was held over the future of 33 acres owned by PB Properties (Portslade) and Stonery Properties (Portslade). The developers wished to build houses on four sites. East Sussex County Council objected because of the beauty of the landscape, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food objected to the potential loss of agricultural land and Brighton Council objected because of a perceived threat to their water supplies.

Boundaries

  copyright © G. Osborne
Mile Oak in Upper Portslade

In the 1920s the term Mile Oak was used exclusively for houses situated north of Chalky Road. The land north the Old Shoreham Road, including Portslade Old Village and Mile Oak was collectively known as Upper Portslade. But since that time there have been enormous changes in the valley area, which is now covered by housing rather than being agricultural land.

copyright © D.Sharp
A 1950s Upper Portslade Post Office sign in South Street (Portslade Old Village)

In 1969 the Church of the Good Shepherd, Mile Oak, was granted the status of a Conventional District. The boundary of the new district of Mile Oak moved south to include some of Foredown Hill, half of Southdown Road, along Crossway to Valley Road (dividing the shopping parade) and on to land once belonging to Mile Oak Approved School. The new parish boundaries were necessary because responsibility for people needed to be more equally divided between the Good Shepherd and St Nicolas’s Church.

By then the term Upper Portslade had fallen into disuse. Indeed in the 1960s local schoolchildren were advised not to say ‘Upper Portslade’ and ‘Lower Portslade’ in case children living south of Old Shoreham Road were made to feel inferior.

Neither is the term Upper Portslade used in official documents. For example, in Brighton & Hove City Council’s Urban Survey published in 2009, the area north of Old Shoreham Road is identified simply as Portslade Village and Mile Oak.

In 1994 the Church of the Good Shepherd, Mile Oak, was granted full parish status. One outcome of this was that people in Mile Oak lost the automatic right to be married in St Nicolas’s Church.

Today the parish boundary has reverted to its historical roots; that is the whole of Portslade is one parish as it used to be before the 20th century. It was created in 2013 with the Church of England’s official title of Portslade: St Nicolas and St Andrew and Mile Oak The Good Shepherd unofficially the more simple title of The Parish of Portslade & Mile Oak is creeping into usage. 

As for the question of school catchment areas in regard to Mile Oak, a former school governor informs me that the rules are quite arbitrary and can be changed by the Local Education Authority when it is deemed necessary to regulate intake at the schools, contracting when schools are over subscribed and expanded to other areas of Portslade when school rolls are falling.

In Local Council Ward elections the Brighton & Hove City Council makes no distinction between Mile Oak and Portslade Old Village, the whole area north of the Old Shoreham Road is simply known as North Portslade

Sidney West (1876-1944)

Before moving on to the Broomfield family, it might be relevant to mention Sidney West. Unlike the Broomfields, West’s background was not steeped in the practicalities of farming. His early career began as an articled pupil to surveyors and valuers Humbert & Flint at Watford. In 1900 he became a qualified member of the Surveyors’ Institute and he followed that up by becoming a partner in Famcombe & West in 1901 and practised at Steyning. But his career was cut brutally short because he had trouble with his voice and in his profession a commanding voice was a necessity.

Instead he turned to the countryside and in 1908 purchased farmland at Portslade. It was not quite as alien to him as it might have seemed because he loved horses and hunting and was an enthusiastic member of the Southdown Hunt. He was a sportsman and keen on swimming too. John Broomfield was his farm manager (and later partner). Sid West lived in North House Farmhouse; Francis Sclater, who worked for him in the 1920s, lived in the farmhouse during the week too. He was obliged to follow West’s habit of taking a cold bath every morning although he could not see the virtue of it on a frosty morning.

Sidney West retired in 1925 and moved to Burgess Hill where he lived at Garfield House.

The Broomfield Family

John Broomfield (1840-1911) was born at Cuckfield. He married Mary Dodd in 1863 and they had a large family of five daughters and three sons. The family moved to Portslade and John worked as a market gardener. Later on, he earned a living as a tobacconist and greengrocer (an odd combination) in Trafalgar Road, Portslade, next door to the Post Office.

 copyright © J.Middleton
The shop in Trafalgar Road run by John Broomfield (1840-1911) can be seen on the left in this postcard dating from 1905.

John Broomfield had an older brother Martin who was also born at Cuckfield and moved to Portslade. He worked 64 acres as a market gardener and farmer. The 1881 census records him living in Portslade Farmhouse in the village later known as the Old Schoolhouse. The Broomfields were certainly a prolific lot because Martin and his wife Eliza produced at least nine children.

John Broomfield’s three sons all gained experience of market gardening by working for their father at Portslade before embarking upon their own enterprises. William moved away and had his own market garden at Southbourne, West Sussex. He and his wife Emma had eight children.

John (1868-1942) came to farm a great swathe of Portslade over the years and his brother Martin worked for him as foreman and farm bailiff. Martin married Eva Voller and they started married life in Mile Oak Cottages. They had three children but unhappily, one baby died a few days after birth. Apparently, Martin’s character was entirely different from his outgoing brother John because he was quiet and reserved. But Martin enjoyed bell-ringing in St Leonard’s Church, Aldrington where his name is recorded on a board inside the church. He must have been one of those ringing a full muffled peal to mark the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. Martin Broomfield died in 1945.

John Broomfield (1868-1942) was born in Portslade Grange, High Street, (the site now covered by modern housing opposite the George pub). By 1901 he was living at 7 Beaconsfield Road. Broomfield started his farming career on a smallholding called Four Acres (the site now covered by the back gardens of houses in Southdown Road). In 1901 he began working at North House Farm although he did not occupy the farmhouse until his partner Sid West retired in 1925. In around 1905 Broomfield moved into the Stonery. Besides managing Mile Oak Farm and the Stonery, Broomfield later ran Easthill Farm too, which he rented from Brighton Corporation.

  copyright © Broomfield
John Broomfield (1868-1942) poses proudly beside three cups he won at three separate agricultural shows for Best Butcher’s Beast

John Broomfield married Amy Dearing in 1895 and they had four children; twins Albert and Amy arrived in 1898, followed by Frank and Maurice and they were all expected to lend a hand around the farms.

Albert would have preferred a career at sea but his father wanted to keep his sons at home to help run his business. However, the outbreak of the Great War caused disruption to this plan. Albert lost no time in rallying to the flag, enlisting at Brighton on 6 August 1914 at the age of seventeen. His occupation was noted as ‘gardener’ and he was 5 feet 6 inches in height, a standard height in those days. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and eventually became a Corporal. He seems to have survived his experiences in relatively good shape but his medical records indicate he suffered his last attack of malaria in November 1918. Then when the war was over he fell dangerously ill with paratyphoid in February 1919 and just as he was recovering he went down with a dose of enteric fever; it was July 1919 before he recovered completely but he must have had a tough constitution to survive such illnesses. He was discharged from the Army on 31 July 1919. It seems he felt he deserved something extra besides his war pension because a medical board examined him at Brighton in January 1920. He was awarded the magnificent sum of £5 and that apparently was the government’s final offer.

Maurice tried to join the Army too but he told a fib about his age and when his mother alerted the authorities to the fact he was too young for military service, he was swiftly returned to Portslade. Maurice later married Mabel Turner and they had two sons, Robert and Frank, and a daughter Elizabeth. Maurice continued to work on the farm with his brother Albert and when their father died in 1942, they took over.

Frank also joined the armed forces and he returned home in one piece. However, he was never the same man again, having been harmed by the war, either through injury or illness. He was engaged to Ethel Taylor but he never married her because he died at Stonery in November 1920; his name is on Portslade’s war memorial in Easthill Park
 
copyright © J.Middleton
Frank Broomfield’s name is recorded on Portslade’s War memorial in Easthill Park.

That leaves us with the only girl of the family, Amy, who by all accounts was a feisty lady and a match for her brothers. She thoroughly enjoyed her time as a Land Girl in the Great War. In the Thirties she went skiing in Switzerland and in 1938 travelled aboard a large luxury liner to visit a cousin who was a beef farmer in Buenos Aires.
copyright © Broomfield 
The Amy Broomfields in around 1942 –  
mother and daughter shared the same name.

In the 1930s Portslade Council offered John Broomfield a generous sum for the land they wished to buy in order to build a school and houses. Broomfield was outraged to think his precious farmland could be covered with bricks and mortar and turned them down. But a Compulsory Purchase Order was made and Broomfield suffered the indignity of being paid less than the sum he was offered in the first place.

Meanwhile, Albert Broomfield served as a Portslade councillor for twenty-one years but life became difficult when the topic of compulsory purchase of Broomfield farmland came up; since he had a vested interest in the outcome he had to leave the room and could not vote on the issue. In April 1937 Albert Broomfield came top of the polls with 596 votes but it was also the year the council wanted to buy 25 acres north of Chalky Road. In 1953 he became Chairman of Portslade Council. He was also a keen photographer and enjoyed swimming too.

Albert Broomfield married Mabel Goodwin and they had two sons; Peter born in 1922 and John born in 1925. They both inherited their father’s love of the sea; Peter joined the Royal Navy and John served for four years with the Merchant Navy during the Second World War. Afterwards, John was quite happy to return to the family farm and keep sailing as a leisure pursuit. Young John Broomfield lived at Stonery for some forty years. On retirement, he moved to Hove and he died on 15 July 1999. It is a neat twist in the tale to record that his daughter Julia Cross lives at Mile Oak Farmhouse.

 copyright © Ken Broomfield
This evocative photograph dates from 1947 and shows John Broomfield (son of Albert) his cousin Bill Broomfield (son of Martin the bell-ringer) and Bill's young son Ken.

Mile Oak Farm

On 2 January 1890 Edward Blaker sold some land from Mile Oak Farm comprising some 294 acres to Brighton Corporation for £3,000. In the 1920s farmer John Broomfield sold more acres to Brighton Corporation Waterworks.

In 1904 farmer Mr Dudney asked Portslade Council for the loan of the Bexley Cart so that he could empty his cesspool. But the council refused to help because Mile Oak Farm was outside the urban district boundary. The farmhouse was originally one of a pair of cottages but was enlarged in 1927.
copyright © D.Sharp
Mile Oak Farmhouse in 2014

George Redman farmed Mile Oak Farm in the 1930s. He had ten milking cows and stayed for around ten years but he became very fed up with conditions during the Second World War because the Army occupied most of the land and it became almost impossible for him to carry on.

During the Second World War a British Blenheim aircraft came down at Mile Oak and both the pilot and navigator were killed. It is claimed there was some sort of memorial to the unfortunate pilot but if there was, nobody seems to know of its whereabouts today. Official records place the site where the Blenheim Mark I bomber crashed on 24 March 1940 as near Dyke Hovel on the Downs. The aircraft was returning to Tangmere from France but crashed on top of some gorse bushes and caught fire. Three men soon arrived on the scene and one of them, Gerald Winter, pulled Gunner L.A.C. Oultram from the burning wreckage for which heroic deed he was awarded the George Cross. Squadron-Leader George Lapwood was also aboard the bomber but managed to free himself. In June 1986 Mr Lapwood appealed for information about the incident and retired nurse Sister Helen Tookey remembered nursing him for burns at the Royal Sussex County Hospital where he remained for four months,

In 1945 Alfred Clement Cross took over Mile Oak Farm; he had previously been farming at Hangleton Manor Farm where he arrived in 1924 after farming in Dorset. When the Hangleton Farm closed down, all the cows were moved to Mile Oak, which was a tuberculosis-free area.

In 1945 Alfred Cross’s son, Howard John Cross, was married at Holland Road Baptist Church and the young couple moved to Mile Oak Farm in 1947. Meanwhile Brighton Council had made some additions and alterations to the dairy and cowshed. Howard Cross was already knowledgeable about farming because he had helped his father at Hangleton.

The land at Mile Oak could hardly be called a farm because most of it was still utilised as a military training ground and the only usable part was a strip running from Mile Oak to Hangleton. It was not until 1950 that the rest of the land was restored to agricultural use and even then ploughing could prove hazardous because bombs or spent bullets kept on being unearthed. The Army Disposal Unit was a frequent visitor to Mile Oak Farm.

The main crop was barley but there were also some cattle and a flock of around 500 sheep, which were penned every night. Once, when Mr Cross was spraying his crop, he looked up and saw two or three deer watching him. Deer are still to be seen sometimes on the Downs but usually only by early morning dog-walkers.

In July 1958 there was a proposal for new farm buildings such as covered yards, a bull service pen, bull yard, single-storey milking parlour and dairy pen. The plans included the conversion of existing open hovels into loose boxes and calf pens, the conversion of an existing stable into a tractor store and concrete paving to be laid on existing open yards and milking parlour. There was also a proposal for a new dairy building 38 feet x 6 inches in length and 35 feet x 9 inches in width to be covered with corrugated asbestos roofing on a site north of the Isolation Hospital with access from a farm track, the continuation of Foredown Road.

In 1984 Howard Cross’s son, David, married Julia Broomfield of the well-known Portslade farming family. There was plenty of space for the wedding reception, which was held in the grounds. David and Julia Cross celebrated their Silver Wedding in 2009. David Cross went to Benfield School and finally to college in Oxfordshire. He then worked for a spell at Penfolds in Arundel before returning to Portslade. David Cross is the third generation of his family to farm at Mile Oak, his parents having spent over 46 years there. His wife Julia was educated at Deepdene School, New Church Road, Hove, and later worked as a bi-lingual secretary.

Farm horses were still used at Mile Oak Farm. First there was Harvey who lived to the ripe old age of forty or more, then came Nathan who fulfilled his role for twenty-one years. They were both gentle giants.

The building of the Brighton bypass caused a great deal of disruption and noise to Mile Oak Farm, which found itself virtually isolated from the rest of Portslade with access restricted to an underpass. In March 1994 it was announced that the Department of Transport was to erect a two-metre fence between the bypass and the farm, following pressure from Councillor Leslie Hamilton, junior.
copyright © D.Sharp
Mile Oak Farm Shop and one of the rare breeds enclosures

In early 2001 there was a very serious outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the country as a whole. Nowhere seemed to be safe from the threat of infection and farms were place out-of-bounds to walkers. David Cross, 53, said ‘We are a dairy and arable farm with about 300 animals so it would be disastrous if we lost them. We have got straw with disinfectant on in the entrance to the farm, buckets for people to wash their feet in and have stopped visitors from other farms.’ Fortunately, foot and mouth disease did not invade Sussex.

In 2003 it was no longer possible to maintain a dairy herd at Mile Oak Farm because of new regulations regarding the environment. Instead a beef herd was instituted. Today Julia Cross enjoys her rare breeds of poultry and the couple have established a popular farm shop and café as well as a place where local children can enjoy seeing donkeys, horses, goats and ducks. The farm still covers some 1,100 acres.

Mile Oak Rifle Range

It was Hugh Gorringe J.P. who first suggested that Mile Oak would make a fine rifle range for the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. A move was necessary because the old rifle range at Sheepcote Valley had been condemned. Negotiations were carried out between the Volunteers, Brighton Corporation and Mr Bridger and his tenants. Although the new range was not quite as accessible as Sheepcote Valley, a reporter from the Brighton Gazette found that ‘Mile Oak is distinctly pleasant in fine weather’. In fact it was like being in open countryside and indeed the seclusion of the site was its chief recommendation. The firing points were so arranged that firing could take place simultaneously at any distance.

On 28 April 1900 the firing range was officially opened. A special train brought dignitaries from Brighton to Portslade Railway Station where conveyances were waiting to take them to Mile Oak. But for the 400 Volunteers, it was a case of marching. They made an impressive sight dressed in their scarlet jackets with the sun glinting off their steel helmet spikes. Their band was in attendance and a strong cycling section acted as a rearguard. Lieutenant Colonel Somers Clarke was the officer in command of the Volunteers.

The Mayor of Brighton, Alderman J.E. Stafford, opened the proceedings by taking up the prone position and firing a few shots until he scored a bull’s eye. A few other councillors also took a few pot shots, including Alderman Reeves. The Mayor and Alderman Reeves were veteran Volunteers and the former challenged the latter to a 5-shot match, which the Mayor won 18 to 17.

Then it was the turn of the Volunteers and Sergeant Crone won the competition with a score of 86. Hundreds of civilians watched the free show and refreshments were taken at the cottage and shed at Mile Oak.

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Two newspaper cuttings from the Brighton Graphic mentioning the Army and the Portslade Rifle Club's use of the Mile Oak Rifle Range

  copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
A photograph from the 1916 Brighton Graphic
 copyright © D.Sharp
The Brighton & Hove Ladies Rifle Club were one of the many rifle clubs in the Brighton & Hove area and would
have taken part in Brighton & Hove Shooting League competitions at the Mile Oak Rifle Range. 

The photograph is from the Brighton Season Magazine of 1908

The rifle range was situated west of the track and north of Mile Oak Farmhouse with the buts being at the foot of Thundersbarrow Hill. James Short was the range warden from at least 1903 while David Short took over in around 1927 and he was there during the 1930s. Short lived in a green-painted corrugated iron cottage sited north of the Waterworks cottage.

On 13 May 1922 Captain P.S. Carden was team captain of the Sussex VIII who defeated the Royal Marine Artillery VIII. Captain Carden made the top score of 96 and shooting was at ranges of 200, 500 and 600 yards.

The Brighton & Hove Imperial Rifle Club used the Mile Oak range during the 1920s although they also had an indoor range at Brighton Aquarium. The Cadet Corps of the Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School were regular visitors to Mile Oak while on 24 September 1925 the Sussex County Rifle Association held a competition there.

In 1926 it was stated that shooting at Mile Oak was carried out under favourable weather conditions but in June 1927 proceedings were seriously hampered by bad weather. In 1928 around sixty non-commissioned officers from the Cadet Corps completed a musketry course at Mile Oak.

In October 1929 the Sussex County Rifle Association held its competition at Mile Oak. The event was supposed to last from 8 a.m. until dusk but as the day progressed, conditions grew worse. What had started as a light breeze turned into a near gale and dusk fell before the last of the competitions had taken place. In the individual competitions there were 131 competitors and altogether some 6,600 rounds were fired.

It was reported that the rifle range shut down on 29 September 1934 because the land was to be given over to the house builder. But it seems this did not happen. At any rate during the Second World War the rifle range was well used by the Army, as well as the Home Guard and the Canadians. It seems that the men of the Home Guard were not well versed in the handling of firearms and several casualties were reported in 1944.

Shooting still takes place at Mile Oak to this day although not for military use but rather to practise the skills of clay pigeon shooting.
 
In August 1991 members of the Piltdown Clay Pigeon Shooting Club enjoyed a Sunday morning’s sport at the club’s ground at Mile Oak Farm. It was stated there were around seventy members, all of whom were thoroughly vetted before being allowed to join. Ralph Walker was the club chairman.

Local people used to enjoy bagging wild rabbits for the pot on the Downs. A few practised hands might use a snare but others preferred firearms. On 3 October 1900 Anthony David Brazier, landlord of the Clifton Arms, Worthing, was hunting rabbits on the Downs at Portslade with his brother George and their father. The landlord made the fatal error of standing up suddenly when he had been lying down by a rabbit hole and at that precise moment his father fired his gun. The inquest was held at the Battle of Trafalgar pub. 

Mile Oak Inn

 copyright © G. Osborne
1950s postcard of the Mile Oak Inn

Messrs Denman & Son of 27 Queen’s Road, Brighton drew up plans on behalf of Kemp Town Brewery for a new pub and they were dated 27 January 1951. Margery Batchelor worked in the pub in the 1950s and stated that except for weekends it was very quiet during its first year. Then Bobby Lee took over and everything changed. Bobby Lee was the erstwhile captain of the popular Brighton Tigers ice hockey team and naturally enough many former colleagues used to turn up besides many a loyal fan. At that stage there was no pavement outside the pub and the bus service was not very frequent and so many customers arrived by car.

Two tragedies were connected with the pub. One Sunday morning Margery served a customer with his usual drink and when he left he carried with him a quart bottle, which he always had filled with beer at the pub. On the way home, he slipped on a patch of oil, the bottle smashed and severed an artery and he died.

copyright © D.Sharp
Mile Oak Inn in 2014
In 1990 publican’s wife Edna Lane was locking up one night when she accidentally fell down the cellar steps, fracturing her skull. She did not realize she was badly hurt and did not go to hospital at once. She died the next day. At the inquest it was revealed that there were three identical doors close together. One led upstairs, one led to the toilet and the other led to the cellar. It was supposed she meant to lock the toilet door but fell down the cellar steps instead. Stanley Lane said he would leave the pub and take early retirement. He died on 27 July 1999 aged 73.

The pub has also suffered from flooding from time to time due to run-off from the Downs. In January 1994 firemen had to pump out the cellar after a heavy rainfall. In November 2000 landlady Louise Carpenter, 25, found she had water to a depth of 4 feet in her cellar. She managed to keep open for business despite losing all heating and hot water. A farmer helped to shift some of the water and by 10 November there were six pumps hard at work drawing 1,500 litres of water a minute out of the cellar.

Mile Oak Road

This was one of the original roads of Portslade, winding its way up the hill and turning north towards Mile Oak. Of course it used to be nothing more than a cart track with farmland on either side. It led to Mile Oak Farm, the Paddocks Racing Stables and the Waterworks. (Valley Road was a later development).

Probably the oldest properties are the two cottages set into the hillside and almost opposite Chalky Road. At one time they were known as Vera Cruz Cottages although nobody seems to know why such a name was chosen. Perhaps some old timbers from a ship of the same name were used in the construction. Agricultural labourers probably lived in the cottages.

In 1909 Mr T. Trigwell submitted plans for a new house to be called The Elms. It cannot be said to have had the most salubrious surroundings because there was a slaughterhouse situated behind the house, which was extended in 1929. It was still in use in 1933 when his slaughterhouse licence was extended for three years.

Mile Oak Road remained a country road until the 1920s but development of the area had already begun in a small way. Mr D.J. Stallabrass was one of the first developers and he was the son of Marianne Stallabrass the owner of Portslade Farm in the village. His first enterprise was to convert an old Army hut into a bungalow. It seems he was fond of flowers because every dwelling he erected always appeared in Council Minutes by name – thus Buttercup in 1919, Daisy in 1920 and Daffodil in 1921. He followed a similar scheme when he developed Brasslands Drive, the street name being derived from his surname. In the 1920s Mr Stallabrass opened a tea garden in Mile Oak Road near the south lodge of the Industrial School. It was only a humble establishment but he rather grandly called it the Royal Tea Gardens.

copyright © J.Middleton
Mile Oak Road in the 1920s. The modest structure in the centre grandly proclaims itself to be the Royal Tea Garden

Portslade Council endeavoured to regularise the vexed question of cesspool drainage. They sent letters to all property owners in Mile Oak Road enquiring if they would like the council to organise the emptying of cesspools at the expense of the occupants. But the inhabitants were an independent lot and not one person was in favour of the proposal, sixteen were against it and 30 did not bother to reply. Therefore nothing was done. But there were complaints that one person had emptied his cesspool after 6 a.m., which was not permitted.

Building plans were submitted to Portslade Council all through the 1920s and 1930s. For example, in 1933 Mr M.A. Saunders produced plans for sixteen houses in Mile Oak Gardens (north side) and three houses in Mile Oak Road. Further up the same road in the same year development was taking place on the Paddocks Estate while the Kennels Estate was developed in 1935/1936.

copyright © J.Middleton
Mile Oak Road at its southern end. The wall on the left was breached in 1933 when houses on the north side of
Mile Oak Gardens were built.

It was not until April 1933 that a recommendation was made to number the houses in Mile Oak Road. In January 1935 Portslade Council again considered the question of providing a footpath on the east side of the road. Although such a scheme was desirable, the matter kept on being postponed because of the expense involved. The surveyor also suggested that it would be a waste of money to construct a footpath before the proposed widening of the road under the town planning scheme had been carried out. Mr Phillips said the path was essential, Mr Farrell said the work was long overdue and Mr Webb commented that he knew of no other road that was so dangerous at night.

copyright © J.Middleton
Mile Oak was photographed in the early 1930s with not a pavement in sight. 

According to Betty Figg who was born in 1925, there used to be several little wooden huts, complete with rain barrels, iron stoves and stack pipes strung along Mile Oak Road. Her grandmother told her the people living in them were establishing squatters’ rights.

Mrs Joan Stanford used to live in a wooden, black-painted bungalow, a one-time Army hut. Her then husband Tom Barnett had a piggery there and kept ducks and chickens. If anyone required eggs or plucked chickens, they dropped a note through the letterbox and returned for the goods later. Tom Barnett was killed while serving in the Royal Navy during the Second World War.

Bonny Cother, who was born in 1944, remembers Joan Stanford well because as a child she often spent time with her while her mother went to work at what was locally known as the Naughty Boys' School up on the hill. The friendship between the families continued and Bonny and her mother often went to the bungalow on a Saturday evening to watch television with Joan and her second husband Ray.

Joan Stanford sold some of the land behind the bungalow and Bert Brundle had his greenhouse there and grew wonderful flowers for sale.

Joan Stanford remembered a cottage with the evocative name of Rats' Ramble that was situated north of the Rifle Range but no other details were forthcoming.

 copyright © G. Osborne

On the site later occupied by Mile Oak Garage at number 345, there used to be a large Victorian house and at the back there was a factory that made pickles and sausages. At the side there was a wooden hut where the Mile Oak Ratepayers held their social events. The Mile Oak Garage was eventually known as Mile Oak Toyota Garage and it was demolished in the early 1990s. Compass Court was built on the site.

On 15 March 1943 Canadian soldier Charles Gauthier seized a gun from the top of the Portslade Brewery in the Old Village, walked up to a house called Hillcrest in Mile Oak Road and shot dead his lover Mrs Annette Pepper because of a love triangle. She was lodging at the house with her young daughter and was upstairs when Gauthier arrived demanding to speak to her. Naturally, she was frightened but he assured her he would not harm her. As soon as she came down the stairs he opened fire. He was later hanged for the crime.

A single-decker bus ran from Portslade Station (return fare five pennies) and the driver was most obliging and would set down passengers where they wished. When double-decker buses were introduced on the Mile Oak Road route in 1946 (after the old bridge across High Street had been removed) the tall trees along the road were cut back, among them several elms. The part where Stonery Road meets Mile Oak Road was known for some obscure reason as Hell Fire Corner and was well wooded too. 

Nearly opposite Chalky Road there is an old chalk pit. In the 1930s it was used to store rubbish but in 1938 some thirty-six residents signed a petition protesting about the pit being used for this purpose. Penfold Public Works acquired the site in the 1970s and it was used as a scrap yard until 1990 when it served as a depot with garage, workshops and offices.

The Paddocks

 copyright © G. Osborne
Edwardian postcard of the Paddocks Tea Garden and Model Farm

The Paddocks was the name of some celebrated racing stables at Mile Oak. Originally the land had been part of Great Cow Down, marked as 167 on the 1840 Tithe Map and consisted of 12 acres, 2 rods and 15 perches. The name Cowdowne goes back at least as far as the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) when it was common land where tenants could pasture their cattle while one herdsman looked after all of them.
In the 1871 census the establishment was identified as the Racing Stables, Portslade. People living there were John Aldridge, aged 36, his wife Emma, two jockeys, three stablemen and a stable lad. John Aldridge was head trainer and he is known to have ridden at two meetings at Lewes in 1871.

By 1891 William Roser, described as a trainer of horses, was in charge. Roser, aged 37, was born at Tonbridge, Kent. Also living at the stables was a male servant, Emily Rogers servant, William Nye an 18-year old jockey, William A. McRee a 24-year old jockey groom and one other jockey groom. In the rooms above the stables lived Elijah Hill, 51-year old coachman, his 46-year old wife Fanny, their daughter Emily aged 24 and their son Joseph aged 20. In addition there were twelve men employed as stablemen /grooms. They were George Moon 25, Frank Dawson 15, Henry Brassier 18, Joseph Broughton 26, J. Abis 24, E. Sargeant 21, E. White 19, Harry Wheeler 15, Henry Daley 20, Alfred Patching 29, William Sargeant 27 and George Croft 16.

A long, illustrated article on the stables was published in Racing Illustrated (11 March 1896). It stated that Portslade Paddocks presented a very pretty picture ‘the place wears a particularly neat and trim appearance and is very compact and charmingly situated … Additions and improvements have been made of late and the establishment presents quite a model look, evidence of sound sense shown in the arrangement and conduct of the establishment being everywhere perceptible. No purer air could be breathed by horse or man than that of the Portslade Downs.’

For many years William Roser trained horses privately for Sir James Miller, Lord George Nevill, Lord Henry Nevill and Viscount Cantalupe. By 1896 he was training horses for Mr M. Widger, Major Brinckman, Mr F.E. Irving, Mr W.F. Felton and Mr C.P. Cunliffe. Roser possessed a silver cigarette box that commemorated a number of victories gained by horses he trained.

In 1896 the jockeys Joe Widger and T.J. Widger were much in evidence at the Paddocks. The reporter was pleased to see Joe Widger riding the mare Alice H because the mare was a well-known winner in Ireland. Joe Widger first came to prominence in the 1895 Grand National when he rode Wild Man From Borneo and won by a length and a half. The horse had to cope with the cream of cross-country competitors as well as a jockey weighing 10 stone 11 lbs. The reporter was particularly impressed by the bay horse Waterford who was ‘in the very brightest bloom of health – no horse could possibly look better’.

For twelve years the head lad at the Paddocks was H. Nye who apparently lost his jockey’s licence in unfortunate circumstances. The reporter wrote ‘horses are curious animals and this is not the first occasion on which one has upset his rider’s reputation.’ In conclusion the reporter stated that the Paddocks was one of the best stables ever to feature within the pages of Racing Illustrated.
There is a local tradition that the bay filly Signorinetta who won the Derby in 1908 was trained at the Paddocks. But this does not accord with official records. According to the National Horse Racing Museum, Cavaliere Odoardo Ginistrelli bred, owned and trained the horse at Newmarket. Fred Bullock was the jockey who rode Signorinetta to victory at the Derby by two lengths at 100-1, closely followed by the Duke of Portland’s Primer ridden by William Bullock. Fred Bullock lived in a cottage south of The Hall at Southwick Green. Two days after the Derby, Signorinetta won the Oaks but she never won another race. Lord Roseberry purchased her but she did not make a lasting mark as a brood mare.

An amusing anecdote about Signorinetta appeared in The Sun in the Morning, the first part of M.M. Kaye’s autobiography published in 1990. Apparently her father Sir Cecil Kaye was serving in Simla when he dreamed of the Derby winner. Unfortunately, just as he was about to read the number going up on the board, his wife turned over in bed and the movement woke him up. All he could remember was that the name began with a ‘c’ sound and that there were at least five syllables. However, the Derby attracted a great number of entrants and India’s three English language newspapers did not bother to print the names of those horses they considered ‘also rans’. Although half the Army Headquarters at Simla plus members of the United Services Club scanned the newspapers with enthusiasm, they were none the wiser because the filly was not mentioned.

The following description comes from the Hove Year Book 1907. ‘Delightfully situated at the foot of the South Downs … stands an old racing establishment the Paddocks at Mile Oak converted in 1906 into a pleasure resort conducted by Mr Robert Price, a genial host, assisted by his wife and daughter. A tour of inspection of the Paddocks is a task of time, and as additional attractions are contemplated we can prophecy a popularity for the Mile Oak grounds that rival places will incline to envy.’

 copyright © G. Osborne

There were 40 acres of grounds laid out for all kinds of games including cricket, football, tennis, croquet, bowls and quoits; there was a quiet, shady orchard for small parties plus a farmyard, aviary and stables; there was also a steep bank much used by children tobogganing down the glassy slope. Finally, there was enough accommodation to serve teas to 500 visitors.

 copyright © G. Osborne

The training stables were still in operation; Joe Widger ran it from 1898 to 1904 and John Williams was in charge by 1912. In 1917 Mrs Boswall-Preston purchased the property.
By the early 1930s the Boswall-Prestons were prepared to develop the land into housing. In May 1932 Mr G.H. Boswall-Preston offered the land to Portslade Council for the sum of £9,000. He stipulated that this was his lowest price but Portslade Council must have considered the price was too much for their modest means and nothing came of the offer. 

By 1934 Mr Boswall-Preston had decided to start developing some of the land himself by building houses in Mile Oak Road. There was some correspondence with the council on the subject and in May 1934 the council refused him permission to construct temporary cesspools in front of the houses. Instead he was invited to submit drainage plans. Meanwhile, the sewers from the houses could be discharged temporarily into special tanks until the main sewer was available.

copyright © J.Middleton
An old postcard of the Mile Oak area where the Paddocks were.





Portslade Council passed plans for road building on the Paddocks estate including Sefton Road, Beechers Road and Stanley Avenue (all in 1933) and Foxhunter Road in 1934. Although the plans were passed, house building started later on. In April 1948 Mrs Daisy Boswall-Preston sold some land to Portslade Council.

The entrance to the Paddocks was opposite to where the Spar Stores stood on the Mile Oak Road while on the east side a row of trees marked the spot for some years.

The Stonery

 copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
Samuel Godsmark was responsible for building this house known as Stone Hall or Stone House and as The Stonery in later years.

The Stonery was a small farm and market garden situated north east of where North Road is today. It was most probably named after an area called Stoney Field mentioned in 1759 when a pauper was set to work there picking up stones; the stones being the ubiquitous flints that had the strange habit of working themselves up to the surface, thus giving some old-timers the notion that they grew, like a crop.

The Stonery was a small farm and market garden situated north east of where North Road is today. It was most probably named after an area called Stoney Field mentioned in 1759 when a pauper was set to work there picking up stones; the stones being the ubiquitous flints that had the strange habit of working themselves up to the surface, thus giving some old-timers the notion that they grew, like a crop.

Samuel Godsmark (1773-1829) was a man of unusual strength and stature and rented some land at Portslade that he farmed. His residence was more than a mere cottage because he built his own house, which according to his son James Godsmark was called Stone Hall (or Stone House). 
James Godsmark, who went on to become a fiery preacher and the author, also states the house was ‘near the pleasant little village of Portslade’ rather than in the village. The house later became known as the Stonery.

By 1841 John Borrer owned Stonery, which was rented to 60-year old Reuben Reed who lived in Stonery Cottage with his 40-year old wife Ann, their son Thomas, a 24-year old market gardener, and Edward Peters, a 25-year old agricultural labourer.

By 1851 it was clear there were two residences with the main one upgraded to Stonery House while the labourers lived at Stonery. Reuben Read was still in charge in 1851 and he employed eight men including Thomas Dunstable who lived with his wife, two sons and a daughter plus a lodger at Stonery. It appears that Reuben’s son Thomas had met with an accident or an illness because he was described in the census as an invalid living with his parents.

In 1861 the census enumerator placed both residences under one heading. By then 80-year old Reuben Reed had retired from his labours and had saved enough to be able to live on his own means with his wife. It was 39-year old William Peters who was running the place. He was described as a farmer employing three men and three boys. He lived with his wife Maria, aged 39, and their children Ruth 15, Frank 6, Annie 4, and one-year old Georgina. Edward Peters a 46-year old gardener also lived there with his wife Ann aged 30 and their children Stephen 19, Edward 17, Eli 13, David 12 and 11-month old Agnes plus James Standen and his family and Henry Hills and his family, the men being identified as agricultural labourers.

By 1871 William and Ruth Reed were the proud parents of four sons and three daughters and the married agricultural labourers occupying Stonery were James Standing, John Stone, Thomas Olliver and Mr Reed.

copyright © J.Middleton
A nostalgic view of Mile Oak and its rural past. North House Farmhouse is set amongst trees while the Stonery
is the building facing south amidst its market gardens. 

The 1881 census provides additional information in that Stonery consisted of 60 acres. William Reed now employed eight men and two boys and he was assisted by two of his sons 25-year old Frank and 14-year old Albert Edward. But William George, aged 16, was a carpenter while 21-year old Georgina and 19-year old Hariette were unmarried and still living at home; there is no mention of the rest of the brood.

By 1891 market gardener William Reed was a 69-year old widower sharing his home with his daughter Georgina and his 14-year old grand-daughter Kitty Berry. The Reeds were associated with Stonery from at least 1841 until 1901. When William Reed retired, he went to live in his daughter’s house at Hove and died aged 82 in 1905.

John Broomfield (1868-1942) acquired the tenancy and moved into the house at Stonery in around 1905; in 1922 the Broomfields made some alterations to the property. By 1960 John Broomfield’s son A.J. Broomfield was the occupant. The house was demolished in around 1968.

New England Farm

In the old days this farm was tucked away in the Downs with open countryside all around. The 1851 census recorded that William Miles, agricultural labourer, lived there with his wife, three sons and two daughters; twenty years later William Standen was the occupant. He was aged 27 and lived with his wife and daughter.
The Ordnance Survey Map of 1873 showed a large dew-pond south of New England.

The 1881 census had an interesting entry because it recorded that Samuel Denman, agricultural labourer, was staying in New England barn; presumably, he was an itinerant worker.

In the 1930s New England was still so remote that Portslade Council did not collect house refuse from it. An Ordnance Survey map of the same era depicts a chalk pit situated a quarter of a mile south of New England; there was a second chalk pit one-third of a mile north east of the farm while a third one was just 700 yards to the north east.

New England cottages were still mentioned in the 1951 Directory but they did not appear in the 1960 Directory. In 1958 farmer A. Broomfield was granted planning permission to erect a Dutch barn at New England.

North House Farm

The farm was located in the Mile Oak valley and according to the 1840 Tithe Map John Borrer owned the property while John Hodson farmed it. The 1841 census recorded 50-year old John Hodson living in the farmhouse with his sisters Sarah and Jane and both females were described as being of independent means. There was more detail about the farm in the 1851 census when it was stated John Hodson farmed 840 acres, employing sixteen men and eight boys. Westmeston-born Hodson still lived with his sisters and there were three servants in the household.
 
copyright © Uridge
An evocative photograph of North House Farm in 1924 with a meeting of the Southdown Foxhounds.
Joe Mackarness, huntsman, is seen on the left.

By 1861 George Hodson, aged 43, was running the farm and he had been born at West Blatchington. The farm contained 857 acres, mainly sheep-walk, and Hodson employed eighteen men and eight boys. His wife Elizabeth was aged 37 and there were two servants.

In 1871 Thomas Dudney was in charge. He was aged 48 and he lived with his wife Rebecca and son Thomas aged 15. The acreage appears to have diminished and was now 750 acres. Dudney employed fourteen labourers and four boys. By 1881 the acreage was even less and was recorded at 481 acres. There was no need for a host of labourers and Dudney managed the farm with the assistance of his 22-year old son James. There were still two servants in the household. It appears that Thomas Dudney must have died shortly after the census because Mrs Rebecca Dudney was recorded as living in the farmhouse in the 1881 Directory and the 1891 census identified her as a widow but her son Thomas was still at home together with three servants. By 1901 Rebecca was still there and so was her widowed sister-in-law Ann Mighell.

In 1901 John Broomfield began working at North House Farm. But he did not live in the farmhouse at that time and only moved in when Sid West retired in 1925. Meanwhile, the Broomfield family lived in Portslade-by-Sea before moving to Stonery in around 1905.

Francis Sclater went to work at the farm straight from school and was there from 1922 to 1925. At that stage Sclater said the farm was run as a partnership between John Broomfield and Sidney West. Broomfield was responsible for the milking herd up at Easthill, the cattle, sheep and arable land while West’s speciality was the market gardens in the valley.

copyright © Broomfield
This photograph of some of Broomfield’s sheep folded within hurdles woven from hazel was taken in 1924.

The sheep were large Oxford Down cross animals and full-time shepherd Charley took care of them with Fred the under-shepherd. When Charley sent the rams into the flock, he called it knitting time. The sheep were dipped in a yard at Mile Oak. The wooden dipping bath had a flat surface at one end onto which a sheep was lifted on its back before being immersed. The other sheep dipping time took place over the Downs at Fulking where the road was blocked off to allow the natural spring gushing out from the foot of the Downs to form a pool. But the spring water was ice-cold and the shepherds’ legs soon grew numb. When the task was completed the shepherds had certainly earned a pint or two at the adjacent Shepherd and Dog pub and there was a welcome chance to thaw before driving the sheep back home over the hill.
Sid West lived at the farmhouse together with Francis Sclater, Mill Mower (farm carpenter) Mr Standing (carter) who worked one of the horse teams, and little Joey who looked after Sid’s cob Topsy. Other farmhands were Big Joe (father of little Joey) Jack Benfield (nicknamed Nebby) Jack Tester, old Arthur and young Puggle.

On one occasion Broomfield discovered there were cockroaches in the scullery. He asked Sclater to bring him back a couple of hedgehogs when he went home to Newick for the weekend. Sclater carried them in a sack on horseback all the way back to Portslade and the hedgehogs did the trick.

There were several horses on the farm – enough for four or five teams to work the land and some fine specimens to pull the delivery van to Brighton market. Topsy pulled Sid West’s dog-cart but she was also used for the delicate task of hoeing in the market gardens. Other horses were named Old Bob, Jane, Laddie, ‘Erbert and Commie.

Jolly was the big shire horse who came to an untimely end. The horse was being led from the stables in full harness by young Puggle to have a foot inspection. Over the grass they went when there was a loud rumble and poor Jolly disappeared backwards down a large hole some 50 or 60 feet deep. It was the site of an old well and according to West’s plan of the farm, it was supposed to have been filled in. But in reality only old railway sleepers had been laid over the hole. The water authority had to be informed because Mile Oak was a source of pure water for the area. It was a terrible job to winch the carcass to the surface. Jolly was such a weight that several farmhands had to jump onto the base of the winch to stop it rising up.

Steam power was also in use at the farm. Two large steam engines provided the power but they remained stationary at either side of the field while the plough or cultivator was pulled back and forth between them. Three old chaps had the care of the engines and they lived in a little hut on wheels that travelled with them from field to field.    

 Bert Hyde went to work at North House Farm in 1933. His working day began at 6 a.m. when he milked three cows by hand, perched on the traditional three-legged stool. He also tended the market gardens that produced potatoes, carrots, sprouts and turnips; there were tomatoes in the greenhouses and a good spread of gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes. Wheat, barley and oats were grown in the fields. One year there was a fine crop of cauliflowers on 40 acres at Benfield Valley. Unhappily, there was a glut of them on the market and they could not be sold.
copyright © Hyde
Bert Hyde on the Massey Ferguson tractor at
North House Farm in the 1950s.

Horses were still being used in the 1940s but by the 1950s Bert Hyde had mastered the art of driving a Massey Ferguson tractor. But he still possessed such old-time skills as being able to thatch a haystack.

During the Second World War there were plenty of workers to help out at the farm because as well as the Land Girls, there were German prisoners of war who came over daily from Shoreham. It fell to Hyde to explain what needed to be done. For example when it came to weeding a field of beetroots, he took care to explain that they must leave the red tops of the plants alone while pulling out all the other green bits and pieces.

Bert Hyde worked at North House for forty years and for three generations of the Broomfield family. He was happy in his work but his wife Gladys never felt 32/- a week was a sufficient wage and she went out to work to augment their income.  They lived at 31 High Street, a tied cottage between the Stag's Head and the George pubs. The rent was 4/- a week but there was no electricity, bathroom or inside toilet. By the 1950s the Hydes were so fed up with not having electricity while other people enjoyed watching television that he handed in his notice. When Broomfield found out the reason, electricity was installed at once.

North House Farm was still marked on the 1955 Ordnance Survey Map and Mrs A. Broomfield still lived there in 1960. Some of the old farm buildings in North Road and Southdown Road were only demolished in 1970.

Mile Oak Waterworks


 copyright © G. Osborne
Mile Oak Waterworks in the early 1930s

On 2 January 1890 Brighton Corporation purchased 294 acres from Mile Oak Farm. James Johnson, waterworks engineer, produced plans for Mile Oak Pumping Station dated 21 September 1899. He also designed cottages for waterworks staff (479 and 481 Mile Oak Road). They were semi-detached with a projecting bay and the plans were dated 24 July 1900.

A plan dated 8 May 1900 showed the wells and headings as they existed at that date; the winding shaft had 9-inch brickwork in cement and it was 161 feet to the top of the well while the east and west wells were 50 feet apart.

Later on there were two triple-expansion Fleming and Ferguson steam engines operating lift pumps through helical gearing.

In 1921 there was an abnormal drought that on 9 October necessitated the water being cut off between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. In response to this crisis Johnson drew up plans dated 8 February 1922 for a new winding shaft as well as new headings, and to sink bore holes in connection with existing adits.

copyright © D.Sharp
Brighton Corporation waterworks boundary
marker, between Foredown Close and Anvil Close
on the Foredown Road near the East Hill estate.
Samuel Turner was the resident engineer from around 1900 until his death in 1917. His daughter Mabel Gertrude was born in the Waterworks house and she attended St Nicolas’s School, which involved a two-mile walk every weekday. She became a friend of Amy Broomfield who lived nearby, was around the same age and also attended St Nicolas’s School. When Mabel grew up, she married Maurice Broomfield, Amy’s brother and old John Broomfield’s youngest son.

A well-known later occupant of the superintendent’s house was Tom Puttock.

According to the 1947 Directory there was a reservoir at Cock Roost Hill with a capacity of 1,640,000 gallons and a reservoir at East Hill capable of holding 80,000 gallons. In 1948 the Waterworks Company sought a loan of  £165, 875 for an extension to Mile Oak Pumping Station although there was the small matter of still owing £10,000 from the previous round of works.

In December 1961 the new Mile Oak Pumping Station was opened. It was a groundbreaking venture and merited mentions in the The Times (14 December 1961) and Brighton Herald (16 December 1961). This was because it was operated by remote control and was the first of its kind because this type of management was a relatively new concept.

The Times wrote ‘The Mile Oak Pumping Station can draw up to 4 million gallons a day and uses cheap electricity for night pumping… The water purification plant maintains a chlorine tolerance level within limits of one part in 50 million. It claims to be the first fully automatic unmanned plant and interested parties from all over the world are expected to visit. The automatic equipment cost £4,500.’
The Brighton Herald stated ‘Brighton’s world-beating robot Pumping Station at Mile Oak, which, once set, controls all the complicated operations necessary and can be set to work for a week without attention, was officially opened yesterday by Earl Jellicoe, Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Housing and Local Government.’

Dignitaries who were there to greet him included Councillor G.B. Baldwin (Mayor of Brighton) Councillor F. Mansfield Baker (Chairman of the waterworks committee) and Mr. F. Needham Green (waterworks’ engineer). Earl Jellicoe said ‘I have been deeply impressed … that you do not take your water for granted and have planned and looked ahead.’

Meanwhile, the old works and the tall landmark chimney were demolished.

copyright © D.Sharp
Mile Oak Pumping Station in 2014

In 1998 it was stated that Mile Oak Pumping Station provided 7.42 mega litres of water daily.    

Foredown Hill

The name Foredown goes back at least as far as the 16th century. John Rowe, steward of the Manors of Lord Bergavenny from 1597 to 1622, wrote that the ‘somer foredowne’ was reserved for lambs between April and 24 August.

At Portslade Manor Court on 19 October 1719 the rules for common land use were written down. Tenants could put their sheep on Foredown from 24 August to 2nd February but then sheep were barred until 25 March. Tenants could return their sheep to Foredown for two weeks before lambs had exclusive use.

Foredown also served as common pasture for all tenants with cattle. When Mrs Elizabeth Bridger owned a great swathe of Portslade land during the early part of the 19th century, it appears she owned part of Foredown but on an 1840 estate map the land is still marked as having 32 bullock leases.

copyright © D.Sharp
Foredown Hill looking east to Foredown Tower

Tenantry Hill was also common land and the 1840 estate map reveals it had 1,650 sheep leases. Foredown Hill and Tenantry Hill were the last bastions at Portslade of the ancient custom of common ownership of land. Naturally, surrounding landowners had been chipping away at their rights for many years; indeed most of Portslade’s common fields had already been enclosed by 1610. The last act affecting Portslade was dated 13 August 1859 (Inclosure Act) and the award was granted in 1861. It meant that the 384 acres of common land at Foredown Hill and Tenantry Hill were enclosed and became the private property of local landowners. The formal document was accompanied by a huge map surveyed by W. Bridger of Chichester in 1859. It shows that at Foredown Hill, John Borrer owned land to the north and south east and abutting his land on the south east the owners were C. Bridger and E. Blaker. Edward Blaker and Cattley’s trustees owned land to the west of Foredown. There were four footpaths west of Cockroost Hill but these too were annexed and two bridle paths substituted. It seems the Act merely formalised what was already taking place. It is tantalising to record that only fifteen years later in 1876 there came the Curtailment of Enclosures Act that prohibited the enclosure of common land unless the Enclosure Committee sanctioned it and thought it would be of benefit to the community as a whole. Some of those in authority recognised how enclosures caused the disconnection of ordinary people from the land, particularly churchmen and it was from this realization that the Allotments Act of 1887 came into force.

In 1928 plans were submitted for a motor racing track on the east side of Foredown Hill. This caused a great furore with some people being in favour of it while others were passionately against such a scheme. Apparently Brighton Council proposed to build an aerodrome as well as a motor racing track at Mile Oak. The Society of Sussex Downsmen naturally came out against the plans. But nothing happened. Then in 1933 the scheme was revived. Strangely enough Albert Broomfield, a Tory member of Portslade Council, was enthusiastically in favour. The people living around Benfield Way were horrified at his stance and told him if he continued to support the scheme they would stop voting for him; from then on he stood as an independent. The Society of Sussex Downsmen thought gloomily that their cause was lost. Indeed in January 1935 an agreement was signed between the Brighton Road Racing Company, promoters of the track, and Brighton & Hove Motor Club, which had 260 members. Two months later the local Labour Exchange was informed that soon some 200 workers would be required. But again nothing happened.

The land on the slopes of Foredown Hill was popularly called Piggy Bank Land and Brighton Council owned it. In June 1969 a scheme to develop the site failed to win approval. But a similar scheme in 1971 for the development of 66 acres was approved. The scheme involved the building of 702 houses, eight shops, an old people’s home and a hostel for mentally-ill people. Some houses were built but the people who came to live there felt isolated and forgotten. There was no play area for the children, local schools were under pressure and it was difficult to get on a doctor’s list.

In June 1975 Hove Council approved what was known as Option Five, which involved the full development of the land plus around 350 extra houses in a non-skyline development. Option Five also included the preservation of as much as possible of the green area in Benfield Valley.

In 1979 Hove Council gave permission for another 48 houses to be built. In 1981 Teg Close, Bush Farm Drive, Bush Cottage Close and Sheepbell Close were built with Drover’s Close following in 1983, Sycamore Close in 1985 and Crest Way in 1989.  

After Foredown Hospital was closed down with the rest of the buildings being demolished in 1988, there was tremendous pressure to open up the land for housing. In May 1989 Hove Council gave permission for low-cost housing to be built near the hospital site. The plans included 32 two-bedroom and three-bedroom houses for renting and 37 maisonettes for sale. The Sutton Housing Trust and Paxton Homes were the developers and it was hoped the scheme would provide homes for some of the people on the Council’s waiting list. Work was due to start in 1990 on what was later named Warrior Close.

On 28 September 1989 at Hove Town Hall, Parsons, Sons & Basley, acting on behalf of Brighton Council sold 24 acres between Foredown Hill and Chalky Road. It was expected that some £7 million would be raised. Hove Council said it would allow thirteen houses to the acre but no building must be higher than two stories and the developer must build an access road.

In September 1990 Brighton Council sold 25 ½ acres west of Foredown Hill for £5 million to Fairclough Homes and Rayford Properties. There was outline permission for the construction of 370 homes.

In May 1991 there was an outcry over Hove Council’s plans to stop up a network of footpaths and bridle paths on Foredown Hill, Croft Drive, Anvil Close and Foredown Road. Local councillors Leslie Hamilton, senior, Leslie Hamilton, junior, and Bob Carden said ‘we see no justification for closing these well used paths at present as it will be some years before developments affect their use.’

In June 1991 the council stated they had received ninety written objections to the footpath closure scheme. The matter went to a Public Inquiry and in the end the department of the Environment refused permission for the paths to be closed. The developers then agreed to retain them all in their existing state except for the path along the southern edge of the development, which would be covered with tarmac and lit. The land was then sold to two development companies, Bovis and Barratt’s.

Hove Council again incurred local wrath by demanding all paths must be covered with tarmac and lit. By July 1994 a local pressure group called SORROW (Save our Rural Rights of Way) was in action against the Bovis plan to build 85 houses, which they said would ruin historic downland pathways. They did not want a hard surface or street lighting. However, the developers offered to undertake the work at no cost to the council and the council agreed.

In September 1994 people were again furious when diggers uprooted a 100-yard length of ancient hedge on Foredown Hill and there were fears for wildlife, particularly badgers. The following month SORROW organised a public meeting that agreed to report Hove Council to the Ombudsman for going back on its word to safeguard footpaths and hedgerows on Foredown Hill. The Society of Sussex Downsmen, the Chalky Hill Badger Group and local councillors all supported the move. In May 1995 there was a change in the political makeup of Hove Council and the Tories no longer dominated it. One effect of the change was that the western path on Foredown Hill was retained in its rural state with hedges and trees and no sign of tarmac.

Church of the Good Shepherd, Mile Oak

The land on which the church was later built was purchased from the Paddocks Estate (plots 37 and 38). Plans for a temporary building were agreed by the Mile Oak Estates Ltd. The Revd E.P.W. Holmes, vicar of St Nicolas’s Church, Portslade, obtained planning permission from Portslade Council in March 1936. 

copyright © Parish of Portslade & Mile Oak
This wonderful photograph of the Good Shepherd was taken in 1959 and the view is certainly enhanced by the car.

The original building was donated by the vicar of the Good Shepherd, Brighton, and Mrs Gerald Moor, a local benefactor. The cost of the site, erecting the structure and equipping it was put at £450. The project got off to a disastrous start when a gale ripped through the area when the building was only partially erected and the ground was littered with twisted and torn debris.

But this setback caused more people to rally round and the Bishop of Lewes dedicated the church on 8th November 1936. In 1940 the church hall was used for four mornings a week by a girls’ school evacuated from London. It was called St Saviour’s and St Cleves’s Grammar School for Girls. The church was nicknamed the tin hut but this was a term of affection because the congregation valued its church. The church hall provided the focus for the social life of people living in Mile Oak and events staged there ranged from jumble sales to parties, and from beetle drives to concerts.

In June 1966 it was announced that a new church would be built instead of the temporary building as part of the Sussex Church Campaign. The Sussex Church Campaign made a grant of £23,000 (to which All Saints, Hove, had contributed £7,500) and St Nicolas’s Church, Portslade, provided the remaining £2,000. The architects were Clayton, Black & Daviel with Mr M.G. Alford, partner in charge. Natural daylight falling on the centrally placed altar, was achieved by designing two roof slopes at different angles, and placing windows in the spaces between. Kenneth Budd designed the two modern-style stained glass windows and the bright colours are lovely. Ian Potts of the Brighton College of Art designed the wrought-iron and beaten-copper work. An inscribed ship’s bell replaced the larger bell that had been used in the temporary church.

On 28 October 1967 the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Roger Wilson, dedicated the church and the church was not consecrated until 6 November 1994 when the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Eric Kemp, performed the ceremony.

The Good Shepherd remained a conventional district with a priest-in-charge until July 1994 when the Good Shepherd acquired the status of parish. This was short-lived because in 2013 it was re-united with St Nicolas; in fact the whole of Portslade became a single parish under the title of  Portslade: St Nicolas and St Andrew and Mile Oak The Good Shepherd

copyright © D.Sharp
The Church of the Good Shepherd in 2014

The Revd John Eifion Lloyd-James was the first priest-in-charge of the Good Shepherd and he was instituted on 7 December 1968 by the Bishop Morrell of Lewes. Father Lloyd-James was born in 1939 and was described as the rugby-playing son of a Welsh Baptist Minister. He was curate at St Andrew’s Church, Burgess Hill from 1965 to 1968. Father Lloyd-James was a popular priest at Mile Oak with his warm, friendly manner. In 1974 he left Portslade to become vicar of St Michael’s Church, Lancing, where he remained until 1988. After that he became vicar of Billinghurst, which he left in 1993 to take the post of vicar of St Mary’s Church, Kemp Town, Brighton and stayed until 1999. While he was there he became something of a TV star when he featured in the six-part Meridian TV series The Parish. The series also showed the emotional occasion when his son Duncan was ordained to the priesthood. By 2000 Father Lloyd-James had served as a parish priest in Sussex for 33 years and had recently moved to St Andrew’s Church, Bishopstone. In 2000 it was announced that he was to be made a Canon. He died on 1 May 2009 and his Requiem Mass was held at St Mary’s Church, Brighton, on 14 May 2009. The church was packed.

Southwick Hill

 copyright © G. Osborne 
This 1930s postcard has been incorrectly entitled ‘The Downs above Southwick’. The photograph was taken close to Southwick Hill, and should have been titled ‘The Downs above Mile Oak’. The houses in Mile Oak Road and the ‘grey coloured’ bungalows in Stanley Avenue can be seen. In the top right corner both Southdown Road and Downsview Road can be seen bordering the blue/grey field.

On the west boundary of Portslade there runs a footpath from the south that will take you over the railway and all the way onto Southwick Hill. To west of the path lies Southwick in West Sussex and to the east is Portslade in East Sussex but now Portslade is part of the city of Brighton & Hove.

Southwick Hill is mentioned here because it provides a green lung on the west side of Portslade. Southwick Hill was given to the National Trust in 1945/1946 and consisted of 596 acres of farm and Downland, including Bushy Bottom and The Warren that were subject to long leases. Southwick Hill and Whitelot Bottom are open to the public and the area is very popular with walkers, dog-walkers and horse riders. One only has to look across the valley to the sprawl of housing covering Foredown Hill to be grateful for such a gift. This National Trust land is also rich in reminders of the ancient past such as extensive remains of an Iron Age / Romano British field system. (see below for more information on Mile Oak's ancient past)

In 1991 the National Trust had to fight its corner when the developers of the Brighton bypass wanted to cut right through Southwick Hill to take their road to Southwick and Shoreham. The National Trust stated that its land was inalienable; if the Government were allowed to appropriate pieces when it felt the need, it would create a dangerous precedent.

The result of the battle was that the Southwick tunnel was made much longer than originally planned because it was extended by 100 metres to become 500 metres in length. The projected cost of the Brighton bypass was put at £33.6 million of which half of that amount was expended on the construction of the tunnel, the longest in Sussex.


copyright © D.Sharp
The Mile Oak side of the Southwick Hill tunnels in 2013

Work began in 1992 and on 6 July 1993 workmen engaged on digging the tunnel met up in the middle for the first time. On 18 March 1996 Southwick Hill tunnel was officially opened, nearly eighteen months later than expected. One aspect of the tunnel that cannot be remedied unless the road surface is altered is the noise of traffic, which travels a surprising distance and effectively destroys the peaceful ambience of Southwick Hill.  

PORTSLADE HENGE

The first positively identified henge monument in the south-east was discovered at Mile Oak in August 1990. This came about because before the A27 Brighton by-pass was built, a Field Archaeology Group with Miles Russell as Project Director scoured the proposed route to ensure no valuable clues to the distant past went unrecorded. This work along the whole route was said to have cost English Heritage some £200,000.
  
copyright © D.Sharp
Site of Portslade Henge in the valley, looking east, now bisected with the embankment of the A27 

The discovery of a henge was big news in the world of archaeology because previously henges had only been found in a strip running from the south-west to Norfolk, and also in Scotland and North Wales. The Portslade henge was excavated entirely by hand and the henge was believed to date back to around 2,000BC. It was a ditched enclosure some 35m in diameter and it is thought there was once an external bank. Its north-west entrance was aligned to the opposing hill on which there was probably once a large Neolithic structure. Both the hill and the henge were close to a recently identified Neolithic causewayed enclosure. The henge was situated in a dry valley running south from Cockroost Hill, east of Mile Oak Pumping Station and south-east of Mile Oak Farm. (Is it a coincidence that a pumping station is to be found in close proximity to an ancient monument both at Mile Oak and Goldstone Bottom?)  Today the Mile Oak site is covered by the by-pass but if you venture through the tunnel under the by-pass near the allotments, you will find on the other side a clump of trees and an old barn – the henge was nearby.

copyright © D.Sharp
Site of Portslade Henge in the valley, looking west, now bisected with the embankment of the A27


Just inside the north-west entrance of the henge a human skeleton was discovered, crouched in a foetal position near a faced sandstone block. It seems likely the burial had a ritual significance. In the Evening Argus (18th October 1990) it was stated ‘experts will now examine it for clues as to whether its owner was a human sacrifice’. The article was accompanied by a photograph of Miles Russell holding up the skull, which boasted a full set of teeth. The small sandstone block was deposited at Foredown Tower. It is flattened on one side and it may have been used as a sighting device.

There was an interesting article in the Daily Mail (10th June 2000). It stated that four complete skeletons were unearthed at Stonehenge but two had since been lost. One was thought to be a victim of the London blitz but recently came to light again. The skeleton came from the foot of the circle of great stones and it was excavated in 1923 with clear indications the victim had been beheaded. In 1978 the other skeleton was rediscovered and he must have been a fine specimen in his prime. He was still wearing his bowstring wrist-guard indicating his status as an archer. The young man had been shot in the back and the flint arrowhead had gone through his heart and embedded itself in the back of the breastbone: there were other flint arrowheads inside his ribcage.

The Roman writer Strabo recorded that Druids shot arrows into the backs of their victims and they were able to predict the future by close observation of the victim’s death throes. At Stonehenge another burial pit revealed the remains of a small child whose head had been split by a stone axe. At Sarn-y-bryn-caled, the timber circle also yielded a burial with four flint arrowheads, two of them with tips broken off due to impact.

There was another important discovery at Mile Oak, Portslade too during this preliminary search before the building of the by-pass. It was a Bronze Age metal working site with the evidence being finds of charcoal, ash, fire-cracked flints, fired clay lead droplets, scrap copper alloy, grinding stones and whetstones. It is estimated that metal-working took place here from around 1,000 to 800BC.

During previous years other finds have turned up at Mile Oak from this period. A palstave (a Bronze Age axe) was found at Scabe’s Castle and from Whitelot Bottom there came a looped palstave, a looped and socketed celt (an axe-like instrument) a piece of large, socketed spearhead, two rings, and pins of the ‘swan neck’ variety.  

Sources
Census returns
J.Middleton Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
North Portslade Newsletter August / September 2009
Various newspapers and magazines (identified in the text)
Worthing Pub History (The Clifton Arms)
Information from Ken Broomfield and the late John Broomfield.

Thanks are due to Mr G. Osborne for allowing me to reproduce nine of his wonderful photographs.

More on the history of Mile Oak, including many interesting photographs and illustrations, can be found at the Mile Oak Revisited website

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
page layout by D.Sharp