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04 February 2019

Foredown Hill, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2019) 

copyright © J.Middleton
The former Foredown Hospital water tower and the 1990s housing development on Foredown Hill

The name Foredown Hill goes back at least as far as the 16th century. John Rowe, steward of the Manors of Lord Bergavenny 1597-1622, 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 were written down. Tenants could put their sheep on Foredown from 24 August, and they could remain there until 2 February. But then sheep were barred until March. Tenants could return their sheep to Foredown for two weeks before lambs enjoyed the fresh grass. Foredown was also common pasture for all tenants with cattle.

copyright © G. Osborne
An Edwardian view (now partly covered by woods, allotments, housing and Brighton By-Pass Link road) of the arable land on the east side of Foredown Hill and the view across the valley to Hangleton, in the distance is the route of the former Devil's Dyke railway
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph  from his private collection.

In the early 19th century Mrs Elizabeth Bridger owned a great swathe of land in Portslade including parts of Mile Oak in north Portslade and the Abinger Road area of south Portslade, and it appeared she also owned part of Foredown. However, on an estate map of 1840, the land is still marked as having 32 bullock leases. There is a memorial inscription to Elizabeth Bridger and her family in the north aisle of St Nicolas Church.

copyright © D.Sharp
The west side of Foredown Hill and Foredown Tower

In 1861 Foredown Hill and Tenantry Hill, which had also been common land, were both formally enclosed by an Act of Parliament, and the ordinary people of Portslade ceased to have any rights there. Instead, the land went to local landowners, who had most probably already been encroaching on ancient rights. If only this had been delayed a few years because in 1876 the government passed the Curtailment of Enclosures, which prohibited the enclosure of common land unless the Enclosure Committee sanctioned the act and thought it would be of benefit to the community. 

copyright © D.Sharp
View from Foredown Hill looking north to Mount Zion (beyond telegraph poles) and the South Downs

In 1928 plans were submitted for a motor racing track to be built on the east side of Foredown Hill. This caused a great furore with some people being all for it while others were passionately against such a scheme. The matter was not quickly resolved either and in 1935 the land was still earmarked as a possible motor racing track while discussions were going on about the possibility of turning 230 acres on the west side of Foredown Hill into a public park. In the event neither scheme was ever realised.

Bricks and Mortar

In March 1981 the Southern Water Authority wanted to sell a two-acre site but unfortunately Hove Council did not have enough money at short notice to make the purchase. Instead Hove Council gave planning permission for 27 houses to be built on the site, despite the objections of residents.

Once Foredown Hospital had closed, there was tremendous pressure for land to be released for housing purposes. In May 1989 Hove Council gave permission for low-cost housing to be built on a council-owned site near the hospital. The plans included 32 two- and three-bedroom houses for renting, and 37 maisonettes and houses for sale. The Sutton Housing Trust and Paxton Homes were the developers and it was stated the scheme would provide homes for some of the homeless on the council’s waiting list. Work was due to start in 1990 and the development was called Warrior Close.

copyright © D.Sharp
Warrior Close on the east side of Foredown Hill

In 1991 there was a huge rumpus over Hove Council’s plans to stop up a network of footpaths and bridle-ways 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 building development affects their use.’
copyright © D.Sharp
  This steel boundary marker  is a reminder 
of the times when the Water Authority 
owned most of Foredown Hill this marker
 is situated on  junction of
Foredown Road and Anvil Close

in June 1991 Hove Council received 90 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 paths to be closed. The developers then agreed to retain all the paths 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 in question was then sold to two development companies – Bovis and Barratt’s. Hove Council again incurred public wrath by demanding all paths must be covered with tarmac and lit, except for the path that was supposed to run along the western field at the top of the bank, which they stated had never existed and therefore did not need consent to close it.

By July 1994 a pressure group called SORROW (Save our Rural Rights) was in action against the Bovis plan to build 85 houses, which they said would ruin historic Downland pathways. They did not want hard surfaces on these paths, or to have them lit. But the canny developers had offered to do all the work themselves, without cost to the council, and the council agreed.

In September 1994 local residents were again up in arms when diggers uprooted a 100-yd length of ancient hedge on Foredown Hill, and there were fears for local wildlife, particularly badgers. The following month SORROW organised a public meeting that agreed to report Hove Council to the Ombudsman for going back on their word to safeguard paths and hedges on Foredown Hill. The move had the backing of the Society of Sussex Downsmen, the Chalky Hill Badger Group, plus local councillors.

In May 1995 there was a change in the control of Hove Council, which was no longer dominated by the Conservatives. One effect of the change was that the western path on Foredown Hill was retained in its rural state with hedges and trees intact and no sign of tarmac.

Forest School

copyright © D.Sharp
The allotments on the east side of Foredown Hill

Meanwhile, it was decided that some allotments should be provided on a 5-acre site near Foredown Hospital.

Sometime after the Great Gale of 1987 the local Aboriculture Manager came up with the idea of creating a plantation of native trees. It is interesting to note that no elms were included in the scheme because the toll of elms lost in the storm was horrendous, and the new ethos was to have a diversity of species. Thus such trees as yew, holly, hazel, hawthorn, blackthorn, ash and beech, plus other species, were planted. It was something of a change in the environment of Foredown Hill, which had once been used for the pasturing of sheep and cattle.

A further innovation was created in around 2010 when the Sussex Wildlife Trust, who had taken over management of the site after the failure of the allotments, and the council ranger, created a pond. Today, the pond is home to palmate and smooth newts.

copyright © D.Sharp
The path on the right is the track into the woods and the area used by the Forest School

In 2016 Simone Thorne and Lucy Collins were on the look-out for a suitable site in which they could establish a 'Bee in The Woods'-Forest School.

copyright © 2017 Bee in The Woods
The concept of a Forest School is relatively new, and has gained popularity in recent times due to the anxiety that today’s children have become divorced from natural surroundings. A Forest School takes children back to a less frenetic time when youngsters played much more outside and were acquainted with with nature to a greater extent.

Renzo Spano of the Sussex Wildlife Trust introduced Simone Thorne to the possibilities of the site at Foredown. It seemed to fit the bill completely – apart from the mountain of rubbish accumulated over the years that needed to be cleared.

In January 2018 Rampion Windfarm awarded the two women funding to create a community Forest School, while in March 2018 the school achieved Ofsted registration to become a childcare facility.


Sources

Argus
Collins, Lucy Foredown Woods: Ecological Impact Assessment (2018)
Middleton J, Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Copyright © J.Middleton 2019
page layout by D.Sharp