27 February 2017

The George Inn, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2017)

 copyright © D. Sharp
St George, High Street, Portslade Old Village in February 2017.

Early Days

The George Inn was already in existence when George II was on the throne; he reigned from 1727-1760. In the Sussex Weekly Advertiser (7 May 1759) there is a notice to the creditors of Thomas Whitpaine, wine merchant of West Tarring, about a meeting to be held at the George. Whatever the outcome of that meeting it seems the Whitpaine family retained ownership of the George because we know a William Whitpaine later owned it while in 1793 Henry Whitpaine was recorded as the landlord. In May 1793 the George was up for auction at the Royal Oak, Hurstpierpoint. Perhaps it was Thomas Barber who purchased the inn because in his will written in 1794 he left the George to his daughter Elizabeth.

The George continued to act as a place in which to hold meetings and auctions. For example, in August 1793 a horse sale was held there. Interested readers of the Sussex Weekly Advertiser were advised to contact John Peters of Portslade for further details. When Mrs Mary Stedman, a widow, died in 1794, the auction of her large dwelling house was held at the George. There was another property sale in April 1801 when five lots of messuages were put up for auction at the inn.

William Godsmark (1800-1829) was landlord of the George in 1827 when he married Sarah Whitpaine and he died at a comparatively youthful age of 29, his wife died two years later. No doubt he owed his job to his father-in-law William Whitpaine who actually owned the premises. Mr Whitpaine was a wine merchant who lived at West Tarring.

The Godsmarks were a Portslade family and there is a fascinating if tenuous link between the George and a celebrated itinerant preacher in Victorian times. William’s father Samuel Godsmark (1773-1829) was married twice; he had two children (William and Samuel) by his first wife who died in 1803, and six children by his second wife including William’s stepbrother James Godsmark (1816-1891). It was James who after a somewhat feckless youth in Portslade felt called to preach the Word as he interpreted it. He left a remarkable account of his experiences, which brings his life with all its highs and lows vividly to life.

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Henry Earp, senior, painted this delightful picture of Portslade in 1840. Note St Nicolas Church to the right and the impressive mansion called Portslade House on the left, near the site occupied by King’s School today.
The George Inn can be seen behind the grey roof barn.

By 1841 William Cole owned the pub (marked 48 on the 1841 Tithe Map) while Thomas Trussler was the landlord. Trussler was then aged 50 and he ran the premises with his wife Sarah who was also the same age.

By 1851 George Peters, the son of miller William Peters of Easthill Windmill, was the innkeeper; he was aged 33 and lived with his wife Lois, 32, and their brood of six children:

Elizabeth, 10
George, 9
Mary, 7
Lois, 5
Naomi, 3
Kate, one year

There were also two servants on the premises on census night.

It seems probable that George Peters’ income as a landlord was not sufficient to keep his family because he was also listed as a cow-keeper. Indeed, during the 19th century it became a trend for landlords to follow more than one gainful pursuit.

By 1855 the Peters family had left and William Clent was in charge of the George.

In around 1861 Robert Simmons and his wife Phillis moved in but they did not remain for long.

In around 1867 William Howell was the landlord. He was still there on census night 1871 when he was noted as living with his wife, three sons, one daughter, and one servant.

In 1881 Ringmer-born William Howell was still in charge; he was aged 55 while his wife Mary Ann was aged 38 and there were four children:

Arthur, 11
Jesse, 9
Amy Louise, 7
Ada, one year

Isaac Holland

copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
This marvellous photograph dates to around 1905. Isaac Holland stands by the cart while the man with powerful shoulders is Mr Humphreys, the blacksmith. In the background the thatched building was known as the Hook and Eye and served as an unofficial village hall.

Isaac Holland was landlord of the George by 1887. In 1891 he was described as a 48-year old victualler who was born in Warnham, Sussex and now lived at the George with his wife Elizabeth, 49 and their children:

Esther, 20
William, 19, a plumber
Elizabeth, 17
Evelyn, 12

 copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
This unique drawing allows us to see what Fraser’s Court
 looked like with its cobbled yard and narrow twitten. 
To the left of the twitten is a small shop and the George
while the cottage to the right of the twitten is still in existence.
Isaac Holland was certainly a jack-of-all-trades. In 1893 the bill he sent to Miss Borrer of Portslade Lodge for work done was headed thus:  
I. Holland, builder, plumber, painter, gas fitter etc

By 1898 another bill despatched to Miss Borrer boasted an expanded letter-head, thus:

I. Holland, builder, plumber, painter, paper-hanger, wheelwright, shoeing and general smith

It is not surprising that with such energy and enterprise Isaac Holland should have become a property owner. On 20 October 1903 he purchased some property adjoining the George from William Alfred D. Pern who was a nephew of Ellen Fraser of East Hill. This deal included a grocer’s shop in High Street, eight old flint cottages up a twitten on the east side of the George called Fraser’s Court, and possibly the house named Notherlea in Drove Road.

Isaac Holland died in 1908 aged 64. On 22 May 1913 his widow Elizabeth sold the properties to Messrs Mews of Portslade Brewery
Elizabeth Holland died in 1925 and both she and her husband were buried in Portslade Cemetery. Unfortunately, today the stone slab is broken right across some carved flowers.

copyright ©  Mr G. Osborne
Early 1900s postcard looking east down the High Street past the Hook and Eye thatched building to the George Inn
the roof of the brewery was removed to increase the buildings height for a water tank in the 1920s 

Quoits
 copyright © D. Sharp
Some of the many clay pipe fragments dug up in a 
Southdown Road garden

In the years leading up to the Great War, quoits was a popular game and teams were often based in a pub. There was probably a quoits team at the George. The men did not have far to walk to play the game because there was a quoits field situated on the east side of North Road (called North Lane then) where the bungalow numbered 45 was later built. It is also of interest that some householders on the west side of Southdown Road have encountered a quantity of broken clay pipe stems when digging in their gardens. This seems to indicate a group of men taking their ease, smoking and chatting, in days gone by.

The game of quoits involved throwing a ring to encircle a peg or stake. Later on there was a standard-sized ring with a bevelled edge. But in earlier times men would use something that came easily to hand such as discarded horseshoes. It was no problem to obtain a supply because there were forges in the village, on Foredown Hill and at Southern Cross.

Memories of the old pub

copyright ©  Mr G. Osborne
A 1910s view of the George Inn, the Hook and Eye has had its thatch replaced with tiles

Thomas Avenall was the next landlord of the George but he did not stay long and William Reeves was there by 1915.

In those days of course the George was still the original old-fashioned pub and William Reeves’ daughter, who became Mrs Winstanley, has left us a description of it.

The large front room was always known as the Long Bar and behind it was the Smoking Room. There was a Billliard Room upstairs and her parents’ double bedroom; the children slept in the attic. There was no bathroom and all the hot water had to be heated in a copper. Opposite the pub was a water trough for the benefit of horses.

Little Miss Reeves was just nine years old when her family left the pub.

The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes

copyright ©  Mr G. Osborne
The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes sitting outside the George in the 1930s

There is a fascinating photograph taken in the 1930s by T.W. Tubb featuring a group of twelve men outside the George. They belonged to the fraternal organisation with the marvellous name of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, called the Buffs for short. Presumably, the George served as the Portslade headquarters of the local group although it is not known for how long they were associated with the pub. But it was a fitting location because the Buffs originated in a London tavern in 1822 and it is still in existence today.

The man in the centre appears to be wearing something approximately similar to a Masonic apron. But the Buffs were not a secretive organisation like the Masons although both were expected to help out their fellow members as well as the public at large. The Buffs wore a smart enamel badge with a Latin motto that translates as No Man is at all Times Wise. 

A new George

copyright ©  Mr G. Osborne
A 1950s view of the 'new' George Inn

Henry David Clark was landlord from around 1920 until the Second World War.

copyright © D. Sharp  
1906 advert for Tamplin's,
owners of the George from 1843-1965 
In March 1924 at the Brighton County Court, a claim for damages was made by Mr Walter Murphy against the landlord H. D. Clark,  Murphy had swallowed a dead wasp in a glass of stout. 'When he called Clark's attention to it, the defendant remarked, “You're lucky, the last case I heard of it was a dead mouse” which was followed by laughter. The judge fined Clark £5 5s.

Henry Clark saw the biggest change of all because the old premises were demolished in the 1930s and a substantial new building erected on the site.

Tamplin’s had owned the George since 1843 and continued to own it until 1965 and it was they who initiated the re-building. In April 1932 Tamplin’s applied to Portslade Council for permission to reconstruct the pub and the council approved provided that the building line was straightened up. H. Clark drew up the plans and formal approval was granted in June 1933.

At the time the George was numbered as 17-19 High Street but by 1939 there had been a re-numbering and the pub was now noted as number 27.

Henry Joseph Clark ran the pub after the Second World War but by 1951 Albert Hobden had taken over

The name’s not the same

 copyright © J.Middleton
The St George flags are flying to celebrate St George’s Day on 23 April 2009.

The pub has been known as the George Inn or simply the George for generations. But there was a curious anomaly when the Sussex Weekly Advertiser (13 May 1793) called it the St George and Dragon in the notice that the pub was up for auction. This may be a printer’s error because the same newspaper referred to the inn as the George later on in the same year and in 1794 and 1801.

Since at least 1980 the pub has acquired saintly patronage and become the St George (but no dragon). The change gave sign-writers a chance to create a stirring inn sign and because St George is also patron saint of England, the modern-day pub is noted for hanging out St George’s flags to encourage the prowess of the English football team.

Inn Signs
 copyright © D. Sharp
St George sign in February 2017

The first inn sign featuring St George showed the splendid armour-clad figure of St George standing in front of a large, unfurled flag of St George.

This was later replaced by a second sign that rumour has it, was painted by the landlord’s wife. It depicted a fierce, rearing, black horse with a youthful and diminutive figure of St George astride his back.

In 2000 a new sign was installed; it was professionally painted and in proper perspective but you could not see the face because his head was enclosed in a steel helmet. St George carried a lance and shield while his red cloak billowed romantically against the sky. His horse was strange because it was black behind the saint and white in front.

Other Landlords

By 1981 John Farnham was the landlord. At this time pub regulars took an interest in local affairs. For example, in 1981 they raised £1,000 towards the cost of a new swimming pool at Peter Gladwin School in Drove Road. On Easter Monday in April 1982 there was a picturesque scene on Portslade Village Green when a tug-of-war was staged between regulars of the St George and those from Mile Oak Inn with around 200 spectators cheering them on. The two landlords arranged the event – that is John Farnham, and Stan Lane of Mile Oak Inn but it was men from St George who prevailed.
(According to the 1930s Portslade historian, Captain Bately, the area known as Mile Oak Portslade 'derived its name from an old oak that once stood on the roadway a mile from the George Inn')

A Snake Scare

By 1988 Jeff Pigott was landlord of St George. In May of that year Jeff Miles went into the bar for a drink after an exhausting time watching the cup final. During the course of convivial conversation, it was suggested that Jeff went home and collected his pet snake so that they could all admire it. Jeff re-appeared with a royal python wrapped around his arm. But suddenly the snake slithered off his arm and shot down a two-inch hole at the back of the seat. The top was removed and anxious faces peered down hoping for a glimpse of the reptile. But it had vanished. Jeff said reassuringly that the python had just been fed and besides it was not poisonous. It seems the python could exist without food for three or four months, Peter Piggot said he had no idea where it was.

A Tragedy

By 1994 Debbie Jones was in charge of St George. Peter Fox, aged 30, was a regular at the pub and he was a popular bloke. On 24 December 1994 he came in with his girlfriend Melanie Downes, 23, to enjoy the party atmosphere and afterwards they returned to Fox’s home in Mile Oak Road. On Christmas Day 1994 the young couple were discovered dead from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a blocked flue behind the gas fire. 

From California to Portslade

In 1994 William Jones left California and arrived at Portslade to become landlord of St George. Originally, he came from north Wales where his mother still lived. Jones was blind and had a guide dog called Hoby and they both became a familiar sight in the village.

In August 1995 Jones and Hoby had the distressing experience of hearing the pub being broken into but there was nothing they could do about it. The break-in occurred at 3 a.m. and the thieves smashed open the door to the first floor office and stole some money. Later on Jones offered a reward of £300 for information leading to the arrest of the burglars.

William Jones was also manager of the Mill House, Portslade.

In April 1996 six pool-playing lads who played for the St George team decided to stage a 24-hour pool marathon in aid of charity. They challenged people to support their efforts and to play for £1. They raised the astonishing sum of £700.

Leasehold Property

In March 1999 the leasehold of St George was up for sale and offers in the region of £67,000 were invited.

Bus Stop

  copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken in June 2002 and shows a modest bus stop that is hardly noticeable.

In March 2001 the bus stop was moved from its old position outside the newsagent Rishi News to a new position opposite St George. The pub’s managers were not happy about it at all and expressed their displeasure by placing a a large A-board advertising the pub opposite the bus stop.

Modern Times

It seems that there was a scheme to redevelop the St George site because it was generally felt that in these hard times having two pubs so close to each other did not make economic sense. There was even the idea of using the car park for housing with building land being in such short supply.

However, the St George is firmly in the Portslade Old Village Conservation Area and as such any proposed plans are subject to intense scrutiny. Moreover, the pub building is a handsome edifice and part of the village scene; it would detrimental to the overall picture to lose it.

But did planners really give approval for the windows and sills to be painted bright red? In 2014 people were astonished to see red when they had been used to white or cream. The colour scheme was not carried out to completion.

 copyright © J.Middleton
There is a rash of red paint and some pleasant hanging baskets outside the St George in this photograph taken on 
17 July 2014. Note also the bus shelter and large electronic notice board.

In the summer of 2016 scaffolding went up and a serious refurbishment took place. The red paint was banished for good and badly needed new sills installed, the old ones having rotted away in places. But it was unexpected to find plastic was used instead of hardwood although it must be admitted that when the sills were finished and painted, they looked fine.

The two pubs continue to exist but have sensibly decided to cater for different clienteles. If you want a quiet pint and a good chat, or a pub quiz and occasional live music, you go to the Stag. If you want to play pool or watch sport on a giant screen, you go to the St George.

Sources

Argus
Census Returns
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Godsmark, James Memories of Mercies and Miseries in the Spiritual and Providential Dealings of Almighty God (1867)
Sussex Weekly Advertiser (7 May 1759 / 13 May 1793 / 12 August 1793 / 22 December 1794 / 13 April 1801)

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

Copyright © J.Middleton 2017
page layout by D.Sharp