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26 July 2016

Portslade People

Judy Middleton 2012

 copyright © J.Middleton
North Street in the 1940s had remained virtually unchanged from the time Walter Baddeley lived above his father's grocery shop, which is just out of view in this photograph.


Walter Baddeley was born in Portslade on 22 March 1894 where his father ran a grocery shop in North Street, the main shopping area of Portslade in those days. His relatives called him Hubert (his second name) to avoid confusion with his father who was also called Walter. But in his later professional life he was always known as Walter. He had a younger brother and two sisters.

 copyright © J.Middleton
St Andrews Church, Portslade
Walter Baddeley had fond memories of his childhood at Portslade and especially the times he and his friends used to go down to the beach after school to watch the fishermen at work. The fishermen waited all ready on the shore until a shoal of mackerel was spotted and then they quickly embarked and let down their nets to enclose the fish. When the fishermen returned to shore, the boys helped them with the nets and were often given two or three mackerel for their tea.

The Baddeleys attended services at St Andrew’s and Walter became a Sunday School teacher. There cannot be many parishes that can claim to have nurtured the spiritual life of a future bishop.

In 1912 Walter Baddeley started on his studies at Keble College, Oxford with the help of a scholarship he was awarded. But when the Great War broke out, he had no hesitation in interrupting his academic life to do his bit for his country. He and his brother Alfred James Baddeley both served with the Royal Sussex Regiment. But the outcome was so different for the brothers. Lieutenant A.J. Baddeley was only nineteen years old when he was killed in action 19 days before the end of the War on the 11 November 1918.

Meanwhile, Walter seemed to lead a charmed life because although he was on active service from July 1915 to 1918, he came through unscathed and he was a military hero as well.  
He served with the Royal Sussex and the East Surrey regiments as a Major and acting Lieutenant-Colonel.
July 1916 saw action at the Battle of the Somme.
May 1917 mentioned in despatches 4 times.
August 1917 awarded the Military Cross at Arras,
June 1918 awarded the Military Cross and bar at St. Quintin.
June 1918 Major in the 8th battalion East Surrey regiment.
1919 awarded the DSO and bar and retired from the army . 

copyright © D.Sharp
The people of Melanesia made this 
cross with inlaid abalone shells for their 
Bishop, Right Revd Walter Baddeley.
Then he returned to his studies at Oxford and he was ordained a priest in 1921. In 1932 he was consecrated as the 7th Bishop of Melanesia at St Mary’s Church, Parnell, New Zealand on 30 November, the feast day of St Andrew to remind him of his links with his old church in Portslade. He looked after a vast diocese of islands scattered over the Pacific Ocean. To get around his thousand-island Diocese, he sailed 23,000 miles a year in his ship, "The Southern Cross"

But the storm clouds of the Second World War were gathering and when the Japanese threat of invasion seemed imminent, he ensured his wife and children were taken to safety in Adelaide. The Bishop famously said ‘I’m staying’ and disappeared into the bush, bringing comfort to the people he served as best he could. He was in the Solomon Islands when the Japanese invaded on 26 January 1942. The Bishop was also on hand when the Americans arrived and he became honorary chaplain to USA troops as well as those from New Zealand.

The Americans recognized the sterling work he carried out under Japanese occupation in saving many lives of American servicemen, through medical care of the wounded and rescuing soldiers and airmen from the Japanese. and awarded him the United States Medal of Freedom with Palm.

In 1944 the Bishop was created an honorary Doctor of Sacred Theology of Columbia University, New York. The Times Magazine dated Dec 4, 1944 reported: "Columbia University last week gave an Anglican Bishop from the South Seas an honorary degree for outstanding service in the task of winning this war".

copyright © D.Sharp
The Alfred James Baddeley Cross
In 1954 Walter Baddeley was appointed Bishop of Blackburn and served as a Member of the House of Lords.

The Right Rev. W.H. Baddeley, DSO., MC., DD., Bishop of Blackburn died in 1960.

Walter Hubert Baddeley’s life as the 7th Missionary Bishop of Melanesia is commemorated each year on February 6th in the Melanesia Church’s Calendar of Saint's Days and Holy Days

In the early 1960s the north aisle of St Andrew’s Church, Portslade, was altered to become a memorial to Bishop Walter Baddeley. L. Keir Hett prepared the plans and the Faculty was dated 21 August 1962. The church was presented with a beautiful cross the people of Melanesia created from abalone shells for their Bishop.

Another beautiful cross with a Baddeley connection was given to 
St Andrew’s in honour of the Bishop’s brother who died aged only nineteen in the Great War. He was Lieutenant Alfred James Baddeley of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment. He was killed in action on 23 October 1918, a poignant late casualty in the war that was to end the following month: the cross has lovely mother-of-pearl inlays. His family felt their loss deeply and also installed the stained-glass windows in the sanctuary in his memory.


copyright © George Fuller
Young George Fuller
wearing his Sunday best c1914.
George Fuller left school at the age of 13. His first job was delivering furniture by means of a horse-drawn van and his wages were 6/- a week. It was not long before he took the reins himself but this was when he was employed at Baker’s in North Street, Portslade. He worked in the yard there but when the regular driver failed to turn up, he was told to take over. He had to deal with Captain, a huge black horse of around 17 hands, and George had to stand on a box when it was time to throw a blanket over Captain’s back. But he needed a strong horse because his job involved a daily delivery of 12 tons of coal from Portslade Railway Station to Flynn’s laundry. One of Flynn’s regular orders was to clean Army blankets sent from Preston Barracks. 

In 1920 George was stood off from Baker’s. It was a difficult time due to the numbers of demobbed men looking for work and at Baker’s preference was given to married men. George then went to work for Hillman’s, the contractor, of Chapel Place, North Street, Portslade. Walter Hillman was chairman of Portslade Council and his son AW Hillman became mayor of Hove 1936-1940. Walter Hillman died in 1926 and before his death straw was laid in the road outside his house to deaden the noise of passing traffic.

Working for Hillman’s, George had two horses to manage, harnessed in traces. When he had to deliver cattle food to Partridge Green, it was an all-day trip. He would leave Portslade at 5am and return home at 8pm. In 1924 while still employed at Hillman’s, he got married at St Nicolas’s Church. He took the Saturday off work but of course had to lose the money. There were no photographs and no honeymoon but there was a wedding cake purchased from the Aldrington Bakery at 12 Boundary Road for one guinea.

Before returning to work for Baker’s, there was an intervening period on the dole. The payout was 18/- a week and he was obliged to sign on three times a week. It was no mere formality either because it involved a long walk there and back from Albion Street, Portslade, to Montpelier Road, Brighton because there was no spare cash for a bus fare.

Meanwhile Baker’s had dispensed with horse power and instead invested in some motor lorries. It was not long before George was driving one of these vehicles. But first of all he was despatched to the Post Office with 5/- to buy a driving licence – you did not need a driving test then, it was a case of learning as you go. By way of being thrown in at the deep end, two days after he had begun to drive, he was sent off to Rottingdean with a load of clinker.

Then Baker’s acquired some 5-ton ex-American Army lorries that had solid tyres and no windscreen. Instead a piece of sacking was spread across the gap to afford some protection from the elements. On one occasion George was quietly driving along a road when the piece of sacking became detached and blew over his head; he had to brake sharply, not being able to see a thing.

The lights were another hazard because they were powered by paraffin and were liable to blow out in a wind; in addition, if the road were bumpy, every jolt could extinguish them. Once, when his lights had blown out yet again, a policeman stopped him and enquired if he knew about the lights being out. ‘Yes’ came the reply ‘have you got a match?’ When George was driving at night the only way he could tell if his tail-lights were working, was by looking for the reflection in a passing shop window.

Baker’s got rid of these lorries and purchased new vehicles with pneumatic tyres and electric lights. These lorries were smoother, more comfortable and safer no doubt but human nature being what it is, they were not so much fun.


 copyright © J.Middleton
Baker's Workshop, North Street
see photograph at the top of this page for a larger image 
In the days before they were called funeral directors, undertakers found it hard to make ends meet, especially in a place like Portslade where there was not much money to splash out on funerals. In fact it was necessary to turn one’s hand to other trades and this is what Baker’s did in the early days. One of the earliest sidelines was stone-crushing – not disposing of unwanted headstones but breaking up flints for top dressing roads. Before roads were surfaced properly, this was a constant requirement. Baker’s also had a workshop opposite the Pavilion cinema in North Street where they operated a forge and did any sort of blacksmithing work including shoeing horses. They also made iron hoops as playthings for boys, which were held by a rod called a skeeder. Girls had to make do with wooden hoops propelled by being hit with a short stick. The workshop was shared with a separate firm known as H Baker & Co founded by Syd’s uncle Herbert. The two were independent businesses but the same surname and the same initial H for uncle and nephew caused endless confusion.

The undertaker’s business was founded in 1855 when it was known as Constable & Everton but later it was run by three generations of Bakers. Daniel Baker ran it in the 1890s and he was followed by his sons Norman and Britain Baker; they were followed by Norman’s two sons Herbert Harold and Syd Baker and the latter only retired in the 1970s. It was during World War 11 that the business became Baker & Son (Sussex) Ltd.
 copyright © Syd Baker
Syd Baker, undertaker’s assistant c1929.

Syd Baker was born in 1910 at 51 North Street, Portslade – over the shop in fact. He grew up surrounded by coffins and they held no terrors for him. Once a coffin was left standing on two tubs ready for the attentions of the French polisher and during a game of hide and seek, Syd was shut in it for a joke. But young Syd was quite unconcerned because he knew his father would be along shortly and when he heard his footsteps, he knocked on the side of the coffin to be let out.

His father was a formidable figure, very exact in all his dealings and a disciplinarian as regards his children. Occasionally Syd was required to purchase a new cane from Savill’s the tobacconist (and unofficial bookmaker). It was an added humiliation to have to walk home carrying the cane since everybody could guess what was in store.

Syd’s mother was a remarkable woman but tiny in size being just over 4 feet tall. She was a bundle of energy, labouring from 5.30am until late at night to keep her large family well fed and with clean clothes. The firstborn died as a baby but there followed three sons Herbert, Syd and Leonard, and six daughters May, Jean, Ethel, Margery, Winnie and Millie. Mrs Baker’s blue bag was constantly employed making sure all her daughters’ dresses and petticoats, not to mention the bed linen, were spotlessly white. There was always a mound of ironing to be done using the old flat irons that had to be heated on the black-leaded range. She was an expert cook and the lightness of her sponges was fondly recalled. Such industry did her no harm at all because she lived to the ripe old age of 94. Their house was one of the few three-storey houses in North Street but family life was still a squash. Syd and Len shared a room that also housed the bath-tub and geyser for hot water. Needless to say the lavatory was outside in the garden.

Mrs Baker’s maiden name was Patching – a good old Portslade family. There was an Ethel Patching who taught at St Nicolas’s School; her sisters Annie and Hettie Patching ran a grocery shop at Southern Cross and they were renowned for the quality of their sausages. Grandad Patching lived in an old cottage (now demolished) in High Street, Portslade, next door to Portslade Brewery. The family told a tale of a severe winter in the 1860s when Grandad’s whiskers froze solid and had to be thawed out over a bowl of hot water. After a heavy snowfall in the night, the front door was opened gingerly, when there was a whoosh and a huge snowdrift cascaded through the door. Grandad Patching used to come down to spend Christmas with the Bakers in North Street and there was always a sing-song around the piano – a time of magic for Syd.

Syd was educated at St Andrew’s School in Wellington Road. He was kept busy on Sundays by attending the twin-turreted Baptist Church that was practically on his doorstep. Not only did he sit through morning and evening services but also Sunday School, which attracted between 200 and 300 children. There were compensations – such as Sunday School treats. The excursions only went as far as Hassocks or Burgess Hill but for children accustomed to living in a small place it was the equivalent to foreign travel. Even the passage of the train through Clayton Tunnel was a cause of excitement.

Syd had his first experience of the undertaking business in 1928 when he was aged 17 and they were short of a bearer. There was no permanent staff to act as bearers – the undertaker used whoever was at hand. A large number of men were employed at the Gas Works and Electricity Works and if the deceased had a connection to them, the undertaker could usually count on a few volunteers. In 1928 there were 90 funerals but it was not considered worthwhile to own a hearse. When the need arose, Baker’s hired a hearse and horses from Ashton’s, the carriage proprietors, in St James’s Street, Brighton. The number of horses employed depended on the importance of the deceased. You could have four black horses for a grand funeral or a single one for a modest affair and sometimes no horse was needed at all. This would be the case for a child’s funeral when the undertaker carried the small coffin to the cemetery with the parents and mourners following behind. It is sad to recall that the proportion of children’s funerals to adults was regrettably high. The cost of any funeral was difficult for poor folk but some managed to pay a few coppers to fraternal societies like the Buffaloes or the Foresters as insurance.

If a headstone was required, Baker’s gave the order to Phillips, the monumental mason in Lewes Road, Brighton. Before World War II a small headstone and kerb plus letter cutting cost £12. But in the old days some people preferred to buy everlasting flowers as a memorial, which were placed under a glass dome on the grave. There were a variety of colours and flowers to choose from. The globes and domes lasted for years and none were ever smashed by vandals but occasionally a hard frost would crack a dome and then the family ordered a new one from Baker’s.

Funerals were traditionally held on a Saturday afternoon, as the family could not afford to lose a day’s pay by holding it on a weekday. This practice was hardly a blessing for the undertaker because embalming did not come into general use until after World War II. Meanwhile the deceased would be lying in state in the parlour with the coffin lid open, chin bandaged up and pennies covering the eyelids. One can imagine the appalling atmosphere when the weather was hot but fortunately it was the tradition to offer the bearers a stiff drink on arrival at the bereaved household. The coffin was placed in the hearse, the flowers were put on the roof and the bearers walked solemnly beside the vehicle until it turned out of the street, Then they climbed up onto the back, which was remarkably high off the ground. The slow walk ceased during the war when everything speeded up. Other practices went by the board too such as the drawing down of the blinds in a house where someone had died and not raising them until after the funeral. One of Syd’s tasks was to take black-painted boards to put over the windows if somebody died in a public house or shop.

Baker’s bought their own timber and made the coffins and they were all hand finished. The standard one was made of elm with electro brass handles while the more expensive coffin was made of oak with solid brass fittings. Back in the 1890s it had been the custom to paint the handles black.

In the early days the undertaker’s standard dress was never purchased new because there were plenty of good second-hand shops where a decent frock coat or black silk top hat could be bought for a modest sum. The one disadvantage was that the frock coat tended to take on a green tinge with age. The top hat was rather a nuisance to keep in good condition. If it rained at a funeral, the hat to be wiped carefully round and round with a damp cloth, otherwise it would dry out spotted with raindrops. The beautiful starched white shirt was a pretence – in reality it was a false shirt front that looped onto the trousers but once the frock coat was done up you could not tell the difference.

Syd Baker met his future wife Margery Mepham when they were children at Sunday School. There was a great deal of saving up to do before they could contemplate marriage and it took four years to accumulate £90. Then off they went to Johnson’s in Western Road, Brighton, where they furnished their house completely. The staff were very helpful, moving chairs onto carpets so that they could see the effect. The kitchen chairs cost 4/- and the dining room suite cost £12. But the quality was such that the furniture lasted for years and years. Syd and Margery were married on 30 April 1935 at the Baptist Church.


copyright © Tony Flude
Walter Baldock holding the reins in 1910. He is outside the front entrance to Hove Manor.

Agnes Russell, Tony Flude’s grandmother, had been employed as a maid since 1897. She worked at Portslade House, a large private residence that was taken over by Windlesham House School in 1913. Also on the staff was one Walter Baldock who was employed as a coachman and groomsman. Of course she had to leave her post when she married Walter and the couple went to live at 93 Old Shoreham Road, Portslade. Their eldest child Evelyn was born in 1904 and Kathleen followed two years later. There were also two sons of the marriage, Benja and Walter. The girls had two ponies called Kitty and Eva and they grazed in a paddock that eventually became the Village Green.

copyright © Tony Flude
Albert Flude
When Kathleen grew up she worked at Forfars Bakery in Hove and when they opened a new shop in Old Shoreham Road, Portslade, opposite Applesham Way, she was employed there as a manageress.

In 1929 Kathleen married Albert Flude and they rented a house at 102 Trafalgar Road. They had two sons, Tony (born in 1932) and Michael who was five years younger. Albert Flude earned his living by running a grocery shop at 84 Trafalgar Road for the owner JS Hills, senior. It was quite a little Hills’ enclave because the Hills also owned Southern Cross Post Office at 86 Trafalgar Road (run by their son Ernie Hill) as well as the small shop on the corner of Bampfield Street occupied for many years by Sonny Inskip, the draper.

In 1935 the couple bought their first house at 22 Windlesham Close newly built by Ray Edmunds of Downsview Road. Their house was one of the first to be built in the road, formerly part of the grounds of Windlesham House School. There was plenty of activity with the builders still hard at work on the other houses. When the family first went to live in Windlesham Close, the horse pulling the Co-op bread van used to stop and crop the grass outside their house. But soon garden walls were built and chains hung between dwarf pillars. However, the chains were only there for a short while before being removed for scrap metal  - vital for the war effort – or so it was said. Metal gates and railings were taken away too.

copyright © J.Middleton
84, Trafalgar Road showing where Albert Flude had his grocery shop, next door to Southern Cross Post Office. The former butcher’s shop is now a private residence. By coincidence the commercial estate agent’s board on the previous bookmaker’s shop has been erected by Flude’s.

84, Trafalgar Road showing where Albert Flude had his grocery shop, next door to Southern Cross Post Office. The former butcher’s shop is now a private residence. By coincidence the commercial estate agent’s board on the previous bookmaker’s shop has been erected by Flude’s.

Early in 1940 Tony was sent to live with an aunt in Croydon because it was felt to be safer with the threat of invasion hanging over the south coast. But when Croydon started to be bombed, Tony soon returned to Portslade. His brother was not sent away because he was too young. Canadian soldiers were billeted in the village and a Canadian officer occupied their small bedroom for several months. Village children found chewing gum irresistible and often undertook the walk to Mile Oak waterworks where some Canadians were stationed to ask for some. There were anti-aircraft guns at the waterworks and barrage balloons too. The Canadian Army vehicles and tanks made a terrible mess of the road going through the village, tearing up the tarmac and creating pot-holes. No doubt they were unused to such sharp corners.
After a raid, boys were soon out and about collecting brass bullet cases, pieces of gunmetal from shells and shrapnel. Their father would inspect the boys’ finds to ensure there was nothing dangerous or likely to go off and would remove suspect items. When aircraft crashed in the vicinity, a guard was always set around it. This was both for security and to prevent the attentions of souvenir hunters. In 1943 an American Liberator Bomber crashed on return from France and skidded across one of the fields at the end of Valley Road belonging to Mr Broomfield. There were military police guarding it and keeping the curious at bay. But large holes could be seen in the fuselage and wings. By next day it had gone. The wings had been removed and the body loaded aboard an air force truck with the dismantled wings secured on either side.

Albert Flude became an air raid warden. When the sirens went his family crawled into the Morrison shelter in the dining room while he donned his white helmet and went out. Later on a refuge was made under the stairs instead. In March 1940 after a night raid he returned home from duty. He was just beginning to relax when there was a loud knock on the door and a frantic Mrs Baker shouted that a bomb had gone off in her cupboard. On went the white helmet, and off he raced with the stirrup pump to put out any fire. The family were somewhat bemused when he later returned grinning broadly. The ‘bomb’ turned out to be Mrs Baker’s fermenting blackberry wine, which had exploded.

copyright © Tony Flude
A group at Portslade Infants’ School in 1938 when the class teacher was Miss Lewis. Tony Flude is in the centre at the front.

In 1942 a cluster of incendiary bombs fell on the village, probably jettisoned by a German bomber to lighten the load on the way home. Some houses in Windlesham Close, South Street and the brewery area were set alight. There were other dramas too. For instance a raider suddenly appeared flying low when soldiers were on parade outside the Brewery. Machine gun bullets were peppered about. There was a similar incident in the playground of St Nicolas’s School when the children had to dive for cover. A member of staff or a child was usually on watch on the roof but the raiders could arrive so swiftly, there was no opportunity to give a warning.

Another time the children saw a Spitfire with its wing shot off, plummeting to the ground near the manor house ruins during an engagement with German bombers high above. The Germans tried to bomb the Gas Works once or twice but fortunately missed. On one famous occasion a bomb landed on a huge pile of coke at the Gas Works, sending it shooting up into the sky to land with a clatter on the area around North Street. As soon as it was safe, the street was full of people busily shovelling the coke into bags and buckets.

One of the highlights of the wartime years was the Christmas party held in the Hook and Eye – the old thatched building next door to the George pub. It was a combined effort put on by the Fire Department, Police, ARP Wardens, the WVS and the local WI. Volunteers decorated the hall and people pooled some of their rations so that there was a good festive spread including sandwiches and savouries, ice cream and cakes while the Canadians provided Christmas puddings and soft drinks. There were games for both children and adults alike, singing, dancing and various entertainments put on by local talent. Then Father Christmas arrived with his bag of toys to the great delight of the children. The party went on until midnight and everyone was relieved that the celebrations were not interrupted by the mournful wailing of the air raid siren at the top of the Portslade Brewery.

In 1943 there was a great deal of excitement when Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery came to inspect troops stationed at Portslade. He arrived in an Army jeep with a small red flag with silver stars flying from the bonnet.  The first stop was to inspect the Home Guard Unit in the village and afterwards the main parade took place in Victoria Recreation Ground.

copyright © J.Middleton
The bridge across the High Street pictured in 1929.
In the run-up to D-Day in 1944 the roads around the village became full of tanks, Bren-gun carriers and large mobile guns parked under trees in the recreation ground and surrounding roads. At around this time Army engineers removed the metal bridge spanning High Street – they cut it at both ends and lowered it behind a flint wall. It was done because the bridge was too low and prevented large vehicles from getting up the hill. (NB This information about the old bridge received in 2010 is extremely interesting because I had been told previously that it was not removed until after the war. However, it now seems logical to assume that having been taken down it was not re-erected because nobody was willing to accept responsibility for it. JM)

Meanwhile, Albert Flude continued to work at his grocery shop in Trafalgar Road. He was not called up because his business was deemed to be a ‘reserved occupation.’ The war certainly increased the workload especially with food rationing. Coupons had to be cut out of a customer’s ration book and deposited as appropriate in separate cardboard boxes labelled butter, margarine, lard, bacon, reconstituted egg etc. The boxes were carted home at the end of the month and the family had the task of sorting and counting them before being taken to the council food office at Portslade Town Hall. The ration books were coloured buff for adults and green for children. Ration books sporting the familiar utility sign were used for clothes and shoes. People tried to get around the chronic shortages by exchanging points. For example, people with cars were always on the look out for an extra gallon or two of petrol.

Bread, fruit and vegetables were not rationed but they were hard to find. Later in the war the occasional sealed case of bananas or oranges were delivered to the shop. They were kept under the counter and distributed sparingly as a special treat to the best customers. Thursday was a notable day in the locality because it was then that he prepared sides of bacon ready for the machine to cut into rashers. The remaining small bacon hocks priced at 2//6d were not on ration and were displayed on a white enamel plate. There was always a rush of customers and within a few minutes the plate was empty.

At the nearby butcher’s, whale meat was on sale early on in the war. It smelt vile as you cooked it but it was certainly different. Sausages were not on ration and Tony used to watch them being made. What he saw put him off sausages and mince for many years. The sausages contained a very small amount of the worst sort of gristly meat, heavily reinforced with oatmeal and seasoning and they always burst open with an explosive popping sound when being fried.

Soon after the end of the war in 1945 Albert Flude purchased the grocery business from JS Hills. Tony continued his education at Hove County Grammar School and fifteen years later his father retired from the shop because of ill-health.

copyright © J.Middleton
St Andrew Church, Portslade

In 1953 Tony married Joyce Brooks at St Andrew’s Church, Portslade. She had worked as an assistant at Ernie Hill’s Southern Cross Post Office for several years. The couple bought a new bungalow at 142 Valley Road on land that had once been part of Broomfield’s farm but was under development at that time. He worked as a representative for Peak, Frean & Co, the biscuit manufacturers. In 1963 the Fludes and their four young sons emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand. Tony Flude became interested in the history of early pioneers in New Zealand in 1840 and has published three books on the subject as well as setting up an internet site. Meanwhile, his brother Michael remained in England where he became a Customs Officer.

copyright © Tony Flude
Tony and Joyce, Wedding Day 1953


William Grinyer was born on 14 November 1909 in one of the cottages in Wellington Road, near the Crown pub. He clearly remembered the Britannia Flour Mills and the barges full of corn moored at the wharf while the sacks were swung up. He watched the sailing barges being propelled silently along the canal by a man wielding a long pole that he pushed against the bottom. There were two ferries in the shape of small rowing boats for people who wanted to cross to the other side of the canal. One was opposite the Gas Works and the other was near the Southwick end. The Portslade one remained in operation until the 1960s.

On an exotic note, William recalled the peacocks that used to strut proudly about the grounds of Portslade Grange in the village. There were plenty of good-sized trees in which they could roost at night. Their eerie call was one of the sounds of old Portslade. Opposite the Grange stood an old thatched building that served as an unofficial village hall. He always knew it by the name of the Hook and Eye although nobody seems to know how it was acquired. It became a soup kitchen for needy folk in time of hardship and served as a canteen for Canadian troops in World War II.

copyright © J.Middleton
65, High Street, Portslade Old Village
William lived at 65 High Street, one of the old flint cottages. His rent was 7/- but he reckoned it would cost a lot more than that to live there today.

In the 1920s William helped with alterations to West Hove Golf Course. It was an exciting day when they stumbled across an archaeological site and discovered the skeleton of an Anglo-Saxon warrior with the head of a bronze spear still firmly embedded in his chest cavity. Unfortunately, the men were somewhat ham-fisted in moving the remains with the result that the skeleton was soon nothing more than a heap of bones but the magnificent choppers remained intact. They put the find into a hut overnight. But word quickly spread to the ears of the curator at Hove Museum who came and removed the lot. However, when the manager of the golf course heard about it, he was not at all pleased. He insisted that as the items were found on his land, they were his property and so he recovered them. Eventually the artefacts returned to Hove Museum and they consist of the blades of the warrior’s knife and spear plus a boss and a stud, which were all that survived of his shield. William insisted that the warrior was found at the 14th hole and not the 14th tee as has sometimes been asserted.

Another of William’s stories concerned the Southern Cross Pub. The landlord used to run a charity football match on Boxing Day. There was one stipulation and that was the players must be over 70 years old. It was all good fun and nobody dropped dead and afterwards the exhausted players were given plenty of refreshment in the pub.

copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
1954 photograph of Portslade Gas Works

Frank Lucas, senior, operated the ferry belonging to Portslade Gas Works, ferrying the workers back and forth across the canal. The exercise had little effect on his waistline for he was always a chubby fellow. He enjoyed amateur dramatics and he joined in with enthusiasm whenever the Gas Works concert party put on a show. In one memorable production he was cast as a Hawaiian maiden and had to wear an ample grass skirt and not much else. At other times he played the piano for the Gasco band, made up of accordionists and a drummer. His piano playing skills were in demand at local pubs and he was often to be found playing either at the Windmill or the Clarence (Monty’s) in North Street, Portslade.

Frank’s bride had the unusual distinction of being described as a gas labourer on her marriage certificate, the reason being there was a shortage of able-bodied men during World War 1 and females had to be employed instead. Her duties at the Gas Works included helping to push a bogey cart full of coal from the dockside to the works. She had also worked at Woolwich Munitions Factory where the pay was good but the girls had to be at least 18 years old. She pretended she was old enough and went to work there aged sixteen. But the authorities soon discovered her real age and she was sent home. She was popularly known as Joe although her given names were Millicent Mary.

The couple lived in Church Road, Portslade, and they had four sons – Len, Jack, Frank and Denis. Frank Lucas, junior, was a small lad for his age but what he lacked in height, he made up for in fitness. He belonged to Portslade and Hove Boxing Club and he fought bouts at Shoreham and Bognor. He was a member of Portslade and Hove Athletic Club as well. He taught himself how to swim and it was claimed he could swim across the canal at the age of six. The first his parents knew of his prowess was when they caught him diving off ships in the canal.

Near Frank’s home was a piece of wasteland with a chequered past. Once there had been pits there from which flint and sand were extracted; during World War 1 it was used as a training ground for soldiers and by the 1930s Portslade Council was busy filling up the various pits and workings with local household waste. (Since that time it has been transformed into Vale Park). In the 1930s at the south-west corner of the site there was a deep pond fed by a natural spring. The pond was reputed to be 10 to 15 feet deep and was a great attraction to local children who ignored the 5-foot fence placed around it to keep them out.

In February 1936 five boys left St Nicolas’s School one afternoon and decided to sail on the pond using a home-made raft consisting of two planks with a cross piece. Suddenly, one of the boys fell into the water – he could not swim and after surfacing twice he disappeared. Frank was standing on the bank when it happened and seeing his school friend in trouble he lost no time in throwing off his outer garments and diving in. He was hampered by the weight of his boots and the iciness of the water but he kept swimming and searching for his friend. He told his mother later that he would never forget the expression on the boy’s face as he went down for the last time.

The children’s shouts alerted two council workmen, Philip McCarty and Albert Stevens who also went into the pond to try and find the boy but without success. PC Adams, the local policeman, then took charge of the dragging operations. A path was made to the edge of the pond so that the fire engine could draw up alongside and the suction hoses could get to work. Lorries and motor cars shone their headlights on the water to illuminate the proceedings and a large crowd gathered, many of them offering to help. The Gas Works and Shoreham Harbour authorities lent grappling hooks and Fred Harlett, local ferryman, lent his boat. It was Mr Harlett who recovered the body that had been lying six feet down, entangled by wire. It was not found until 9pm although the accident occurred at 4.40pm.

The coroner was to say later on that Frank and the two men had been extremely brave in entering the water, both because of the freezing conditions and because of the unseen hazards lurking beneath the surface. But it was young Frank who captured the public imagination, being only 12 years old. A reporter from the Evening Argus went hotfoot to the Lucas house, expecting Frank to be tucked up in bed after his ordeal but his mother was surprised at the idea and said he had gone to school as usual. 

copyright © D Lucas
Official presentation of a certificate in 1936 from the Royal Humane Society to Frank Lucas in the foyer of the Pavilion Cinema. Left to right. Philip McCarty, Frank Lucas, Albert J Stevens, Frank Lucas senior, councillor Harry Parker, unknown.

Frank received a silver cup for his rescue attempt plus a certificate from the Royal Humane Society and councillor HF Parker did the presentation at the Pavilion Cinema in North Street. Frank was smartly dressed in a dark suit for the occasion. The photograph appeared in the local press and there was another one of him holding his cup in the midst of his friends in the school playground. An unexpected present was the gift of a watch ‘in admiration of his courage and unselfishness’ from the children of the Coleridge Street Roman Catholic School. Frank Lucas went on to see active service with the Royal Navy during World War II.  

copyright © D Lucas
Frank Lucas with other boys at St Nicolas’s School in February 1936.


copyright © J.Middleton
Whychcote, the house where the Melville family lived.

Looking at the exterior of Whychcote, it is easy to see why a theatrical impresario at the height of his powers should make it his residence. It is so wonderfully dramatic – all gables, bargeboards and small diamond-paned windows. Andrew Melville purchased Whychcote in 1928. It was a substantial property with nine bedrooms, two bathrooms and two reception rooms with an imposing hall measuring 25 feet by 10 feet 6 inches. There was a profusion of oak, being used for floors, panelling and beams while one bedroom had a maple floor. There were spacious cellars and because the house was built into a slope, you could enter them at ground level on one side while the other side was completely underneath the house. There was special provision in the cellars for polishing boots and for grinding and cleaning knives. There was also an iron cage, like a small room, where the master of the house could keep his wines and spirits safely locked away. Naturally the servants’ quarters were completely separate from the main accommodation. The house was built in the 1880s for Herbert Mews, one of the Mews brothers, owners of the brewery in South Street.

There were spacious gardens extending for one and a quarter acres and included a kitchen garden, plenty of fruit trees, formal stone walks and rose bushes, mature trees such as chestnut, beech and fir and a particularly fine lime tree. Later on there were two tennis courts and a conservatory. Mr Still, the full-time gardener, tended the grounds. The outbuildings on the west side of the house included two stables, a loose box, a forage room, a harness room, a garage and a cottage for the chauffeur-handyman.

Andrew Melville brought his young bride Dorothy to this desirable residence in 1928 – he was aged 44 and she was 29. They met under circumstances that could have come straight from the pages of a romantic novel. Dorothy was a trained nurse who had gone to France during World War 1 at the tender age of 16 to nurse wounded soldiers. When Melville’s first wife contracted a grave illness, Dorothy was hired to look after her. They were too discreet to reveal precisely when they fell in love but the first Mrs Melville died in 1927 and they married the following year.

 copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries  (from the Brighton & Hove & South Sussex Graphic 1915)  
Grand Theatre, North Road, Brighton.

Andrew Melville was the proprietor of the Grand Theatre, North Road, Brighton. At the age of 44 he was still good looking and his frequent appearances on stage caused many a female heart to flutter. It used to amuse him that when he played the most villainous roles, such as Sweeny Todd, his fan mail from besotted women rose dramatically. It is worth noting that Dick Milton thought Melville turned in a great performance as Sweeny Todd, the demon barber. There was a catchphrase in the play ‘I’ll polish ‘em off’ and the boys up in the ‘gods’ shouted this out with great relish at every performance.

Melville certainly understood his audience’s capacity for lurid melodrama. In 1930 he produced Jack the Ripper after a battle with the Lord Chamberlain who did not think the subject matter was suitable for the stage. Melville believed in authentic detail and he did his homework beforehand. He inspected the records at Scotland Yard and interviewed the coroner who presided over the inquests of the victims. The play was such a huge success at Brighton that large numbers had to be turned away nightly.

copyright © John Melville
An exciting scene from the melodrama Robespierre performed at the Grand Theatre, Brighton.

Melville came from a theatrical family whose connection with the stage went back to 1760. His father had managed two theatres in Birmingham in the 1880s and 1890s and his two brothers Walter and Frederick also managed theatres. The Melville brothers were popularly known as the Three Musketeers of Melodrama. Andrew was involved in all aspects of running the Grand Theatre because as well as producing shows, he could paint the scenery or compose music, play an instrument or conduct the orchestra as well as being an actor and playwright. Sometimes in a single play, he would perform two different roles, which meant a quick change of costume and wig. When he did this, the programme would credit one role to Andrew Melville and the other to Andrew Emm, which was his pseudonym if you like, because he wrote plays under this name too. One such play was Robespierre, a gory historical drama featuring a large guillotine and plenty of stage blood. The props included several severed heads, which always provoked gasps from the audience.

Melville believed in the show going on at all costs. When his musicians walked out on strike, he went and hired as many street musicians as he could find. It certainly made for an unusual but enthusiastic orchestra that night.

copyright © John Melville
Andrew Melville canvassing for election to St Nicholas Ward 
in Brighton c1927.
Melville kept Shetland ponies, including one called May, in a field opposite Whychcote (now the Village Green) and they were used to pull Cinderella’s coach onto the stage. He also found a convenient storage place for his stage scenery and various props, including a small cannon, in a disused pickle factory at Mile Oak. Melville allowed an eccentric old man to live in a caravan adjoining the pickle factory because he had no relatives and nowhere to go. In his heyday the man had earned his living with a cowboy act, doing tricks with ropes and whips. Such kindness was typical of Melville and he was always ready to help people in a tight spot. No doubt this was one reason he left so little money when he died. His family frequently came across improbable objects he had purchased at an inflated price to help someone out. He never drank wine or spirits but he had a great fondness for tea (in huge quantities) and strong tobacco. He took a great interest in local affairs and tried three times to become a Brighton councillor. Later he served as a Portslade councillor, becoming chairman at one time. In 1935 he was kept busy organising pageants in various parts of Sussex to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary.

copyright © John Melville
Andrew Melville and his son John  c1932

John Melville was born at Whychcote in 1930 and he felt like an only child because the children of the first marriage were so much older – there was Rosamund, then Andrew (19 years older than John) and Robin (12 years older). John’s childhood was idyllic if a little lonely. He had a vivid memory of watching the village boys playing snowballs from his vantage point within the grounds of Whychote. The ground level was higher inside and so he was able to peer over the wall, unobserved and slightly envious. His father was a remote if kindly figure and there was the occasional burst of excitement when he was taken on stage at the end of a show.

Andrew Melville began to suffer from ill-health when his son was five years old but he never thought of altering his life-style. He died suddenly of heart failure at Whychcote on 4 March 1938 aged 54. His son was aged seven and his widow was 39. Melville had been greatly upset by the death of his brother Leonard the previous year.

As well as the shock of losing her husband, Mrs Melville had to face up to financial uncertainty and it was decided that Whychcote would have to be sold. It fetched £10,000 and they moved to a smaller property at Shoreham. John was sent off to boarding school at Belmont, on the other side of the Downs at Clayton. Then came the war and John was one of the Belmont boys evacuated abroad. On 11 August 1940 a party of eighteen set out aboard the Orduna. This ship was two days ahead of the City of Benares, also full of evacuee children, which was torpedoed and sunk. John thought it possible the same U-boat that sunk the City of Benares, also shadowed the Orduna and three ships in their convoy were sunk. On one occasion the passengers were standing at their boat stations (John was on the port side) when he saw quite distinctly the fin and tail of a torpedo rushing towards them. But it passed beneath the overhanging stern and struck the ship behind. Eventually the children arrived at Nassau in the Bahamas where they lived in a large house loaned to the school by Sir Harry Oakes. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor took an interest in them, giving tea parties and arranging Christmas treats. Wallis even gave John a cuddle and he remembered her as a kind and gentle lady. The Belmont boys arrived home in England in February 1944. After Belmont, John went on to Lancing College and later served in the Royal Ordnance Corps for his National Service.

There is a curious footnote to the story of the Grand Theatre. In 1961 the Grand was destroyed by fire, having suffered the indignity of being turned into a furniture warehouse. Not long afterwards, John was working at Norris Brothers in Haywards Heath. It was a newly built block of offices erected on a somewhat damp site where a stream used to flow. It was decided that a load of hard core was urgently required. John was at work at the top of the building when he glanced out of the window and saw a lorry tipping out the hard core. What he saw made him rush down the stairs and ask the driver ‘Have you just come from North Road, Brighton?’ The driver replied that indeed he had and how did John know. John knew because he recognised the bricks as belonging to the poor old Grand. The theatre had been built of red brick and the front was painted grey. The same bricks were in front of him.


It was a drought in the 1920s that finally drove the Walter family from their smallholding at Laughton, East Sussex. The crops were lost and so Mr Walter had to earn a living where he could. He was offered a job in Portslade and went to work putting up fencing around new houses in the Windlesham Close area. It seemed pointless travelling back and forth to Laughton, and so it was decided to move the whole family to Portslade. They lived in a house three doors down from the Battle of Trafalgar pub.

copyright © Olive Patching
Milkmaids from Aldrington Dairy in 1941. From left to right, Olive Walter, Beryl Sears, unknown, Vi Prosser,
Edith Walter, Barbara Robinson and Doris Walter in front.

The Walters had six children, five daughters and a son who was the youngest. The children were amazed at their new home, which seemed luxurious compared to their former dwelling. There was electric lighting, not to mention a proper bathroom and a gas stove. The oldest daughter Olive was 14 in 1932 and it was school-leaving age. A friendly neighbour told her she had two choices, laundry work or housework. Olive did not fancy labouring in a steamy laundry and so it had to be housework. Her first post was in a house in Shirley Drive but she soon found another through a domestic agency.

The job was for an upstairs maid at Whychcote, working for the Melville family. The staff consisted of a cook, maid and a handyman/gardener. In addition Mrs Knapp used to come in to spring clean a room and polish the silver. Mr and Mrs Melville had a young son called John and there were also children from the first marriage who came to stay now and again. The household included Mrs Gregory, Mrs Melville’s mother, who was very particular and liked everything to be just so.

In the morning Olive wore a pale blue dress with a white bib-top apron and a cap with a starched front. In the afternoon she changed into a black dress and a frilly white apron. Her duties included waiting at table and she remembered the time Tessie O’Shea came to dinner. As Mr Melville was a theatrical impresario, the staff became used to seeing theatre folk about. At Christmas the staff were treated to a pantomime he staged at the Grand Theatre, Brighton. In March 1938 Andrew Melville died and Olive helped his widow with the sad task of packing up Whychcote, which was to be sold at auction.

In June 1940 Olive went to work at Aldrington Dairies in Trafalgar Road, Portslade. She joined several other girls to become the new generation of milkmaids as the men were called up into the services. It was hard, heavy work carried out seven days a week. Olive had to get accustomed to riding a trade bike and she made deliveries twice a day to houses in north Portslade. Later she moved to a different round and delivered milk to the south Portslade area. If it poured with rain, she got soaked to the skin. She had to go home and change her clothes and then it was back for the second round. It was not just the pint size bottles she carried either, as milk was sold in half pints, a pint and a half and two pints.

When deliveries were done, Olive returned to the depot to wash out the bottles. Next day she bottled the fresh milk, capping the bottles with a cardboard disc that needed to be pressed down. On Saturday morning, the money was collected and the books balanced (hopefully). At first Olive earned £2 a week but eventually she received £3-3s, which was a man’s wage. Some of the milkmaids were drafted to munitions but Olive stayed with the dairy.

In 1944 Olive married Bert Patching whose family lived in an old flint cottage at 46 High Street. By coincidence, Bert Patching, senior, used to sweep the chimneys at Whychcote when Olive was upstairs maid. Bert and Olive Patching had two daughters.

Copyright © J.Middleton 2012
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