01 November 2013

Vale Park, Portslade

Judy Middleton (2013)

copyright © J.Middleton
A riot of roses in Vale Park photographed on 18 July 2002. 

Previous Land Use

The land upon which Vale Park exists today was formerly used for the extraction of sand and flints. The sand pits were near the foot of Franklin Road while the flint pits were in an area bordered by the railway line on the north, St Andrew’s Road on the south, Church Road on the west and Norway Street on the east.

Flints were dug from the top eight or ten feet of soil and coombe rock was extracted by the following method: an oblong sieve was erected and a shovel-full of flints was thrown against it, the fine coombe rock shooting straight through the sieve while the heavy flints fell on the near side. Coombe rock was used as a good foundation for building purposes while flints were used to repair roads and fill in potholes.

The pits were liable to flooding. During the First World War the area was used as a training ground for soldiers who built bridges over the water-filled pits.

Children also liked to play in the sand and flint pits when the weather was dry. In 1917 children were playing in a sand pit when the sides suddenly caved in burying ten-year old Sid Ford and a little girl. Sid managed to dig his way out but was left traumatised and with a life-long fear of sand and cliffs. The little girl died and the authorities informed her parents who were watching a show at the Hippodrome.

Another dangerous hazard in the area was at the south east corner where a deep pond was fed by a natural spring. The water had a depth of between ten and twelve feet and a five-foot high fence surrounded the pond in an attempt to keep children out. But still boys managed to get in.

On 12 February 1936 a group of five boys after finishing their school-day at St Nicolas, decided to have a sail on the pond using a homemade craft consisting of two pieces of planking with a cross piece. One boy fell off into the water and after coming up twice, disappeared from view. Young Frank Lucas, son of  Portslade Gas Work's ferryman, was standing on the bank and lost no time in diving in to try and save his friend. But the water was icy and his boots weighed him down.

Meanwhile two council workmen, Philip McCarty and Albert Stevens, had been alerted by the children’s shouts and also ventured into the water. P.C. Adams then took charge of the dragging operations. The fire engine drew up alongside and suction hoses were set to work while lorries and cars illumined the scene with their headlights. The Gas Works and harbour authorities lent grappling irons and Fred Harlett, the Portslade ferryman, lent his boat. A crowd of nearly one thousand people gathered to watch and it was Harlett who recovered the body of Cyril James Cooper of 88 St Leonard’s Road who had just celebrated his thirteenth birthday.
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 Lucas, junior, received a silver cup for his rescue attempt and Councillor H.F. Parker presented him with a certificate from the Royal Humane Society at the Pavilion Cinema. The children of Coleridge Street Roman Catholic School clubbed together to present him with a watch ‘in admiration of his courage and unselfishness’.

Portslade councillors discussed the fatal accident and apparently there had been another drowning at the same place some years previously. The surveyor stated that a sub-soil spring fed into the pond and there was also water coming from a tank in the north west corner, which flowed into the pond but this flow had never been observed before. He thought filling up the pond manually would prove to be too expensive; he suggested the disused area should become a public tip although technically it was illegal to dump household waste into water. Meanwhile, it was suggested that a double barbed-wire fence should be erected around the pond at a cost of £57. But amazingly enough, councillors decided not to take any action. Perhaps they thought there had been too much expense already over the accident because there was £4-10s owing to Hove Fire Brigade, £4-4-3d owing to Portslade Fire Brigade and overtime payment due to council workmen amounting to £2-11-4d.
copyright © J.Middleton
You would never think looking at this view taken on 31 August 2002 that this was once the site of an urban tip.

Legal Wrangles

Whatever the rights or wrongs of using the area as a public rubbish dump, that is what some of it became. No doubt this served to fill in the various pits and craters but it also meant the land was too unstable for housing. The instability extended much further than was realised because the council housing erected in Denmark Road in the 1950s began cracking up in the 1990s because of subsidence. The housing consisted of twenty one-bedroom flats in separate blocks and distraught tenants were obliged to leave their homes in 2003. There was some debate as to whether remedial work might be carried out but it was eventually decided it would be better to demolish the lot and start again from scratch, with special attention being paid to the foundations.

There really was nothing to be done with the land except to create a public open space. But first Portslade Council had to acquire the land. In Council Minutes dated 8 April 1930 it was stated the council had purchased land at the rear of St Andrew’s Road from Mr J. Hillman and they now wanted to purchase land at the rear of Norway Street from Mr A. C. Waugh and would issue proceedings to enforce the contract.

In June 1930 the Minister of Health sanctioned Portslade Council’s request to borrow £325 in order to purchase the land. In December 1930 Braybons Ltd wrote a letter complaining about the terrible condition of council land opposite their land in the continuance of Vale Road. Braybons offered to pay something towards the cost of putting things in order.

But the council’s hands were tied until the litigation with Alfred Charles Waugh was resolved. The case was heard in the Chancery Division of the High Court from 17 to 19 December 1930 before Mr Justice Clauson. Portslade Council claimed for specific performance of contract with Waugh for the purchase of land near the west side of Norway Street. The opinion seemed to be that the judge mis-directed himself by saying Mr R.H. Waugh (agent of vendor) did not know the District Valuer had previously evaluated twelve acres, including the three in question. But it was not worthwhile to appeal. It was suggested the vendor be invited to sell the land at a price fixed by the Public Arbitrator, or, if that failed, to take steps to acquire the land under compulsory purchase under the provision of Public Works Facilities 1930.

In January 1931 Portslade Councillors discussed Mr Waugh and his land. Public Health officials had been obliged to visit the site many times because it was being used as a tip with ‘decaying vegetable matter in fairly large quantities’ plus tins all left exposed. Theodore Roberts, Waugh’s solicitor, objected to these inspections and the taking of photographs and threatened to apply for an injunction. Portslade Council retorted they had a perfect right to take a look under section 102 of the Public Health Act 1875.

The land in question measured two acres, three roods and twenty-eight perches and some eighteen square yards was to be allocated to a continuation of Vale Road. There were also some twenty-nine perches pencilled in to become a continuation of Franklin Road. The latter road was of course never built but it would be interesting to know whether or not modern-day planners knew of this earlier proposal when they instigated the creation of a footpath linking Franklin Road to Church Road.

To complicate matters further, there were other landowners besides Waugh and compulsory purchases were set in motion to acquire their pieces of land.

In March 1931 Waugh was on the warpath again, claiming damages of £649-0-4d from Portslade Council who offered him £100 with costs, and if refused, they resolved to contest the claim. The costs of Portslade Council versus Alfred Charles Waugh stood at £364-04d and the provisional amount was to be treated as part of the costs of acquiring the land.

In May 1931 Mr H.P. Nye, Portslade Council’s Valuer, advised that a sealed bit of £1,365 be made to Waugh for his interest in the lands marked one and three on the deposited map. Tandy Ltd and Mr R. Breach both offered to give up a portion of number three without compensation.

In June 1931 there was an inquiry as to damages sustained by Waugh in consequence of an injunction obtained by Portslade Council in April 1930 before Watkins Williams in Chambers of the Chancery Division of the High Court. Mr C. Montgomery White represented the council and he had also been their junior counsel in the principal action. He suggested it was a matter of compromise. Ultimately, it was agreed that the council should pay £200 damages and the costs of the inquiry were to be taxed in default of an agreement. There was further correspondence between the parties and Waugh agreed to accept the terms of the compromise if the council paid him £50 instead of £25. Not surprisingly, Portslade Council agreed; they probably thought it was cheap at the price if it meant an end to Mr Waugh’s litigations.

In February 1932 negotiations were made with Messrs F.G. Grocott & Sons to borrow £2,600 to purchase the land west of Norway Street. In view of all the difficulties with rubbish tipped on Waugh’s land, it seems incredible that Portslade Council thought of doing the same thing. But the surveyor stated there were plenty of free tips in the district and so it would not be worthwhile.

Vale Park

In July 1932 Portslade Council accepted the tender of James Morley & Sons to erect fencing around the area at a cost of £76-16s; it was the lowest tender. It is interesting to note that originally it was known as Vale Recreation Ground but there were no official sports pitches and it soon became Vale Park, covering 2.4 hectares.  It served as a green lung in an area of dense housing and even into the Sixties it was just a grassed area with no attempt at planting flowers or shrubs. In 1960 public conveniences were built near Denmark Road. In around 2011 a cash-strapped council decided these toilets ought to be closed to save money. But a further study led to a change of heart and in January 2012 it was stated they would remain open after all.

On 14 October 1988 a meeting was held at Portslade Town Hall to find out how people would like money to be spent on sprucing up the park. Various suggestions were taken on board and in September 1989 the Mayor of Hove, Margaret Adams, opened a new £30,000 playground with adventure play equipment and a soft safety surface in the south east area. It was surrounded by low iron fencing to make it a dog-free area. The playground replaced a much-vandalised play area that was sited near the old people’s bungalows on the north side and gave rise to many complaints about noise.

On 22 June 1991 the Mayor of Hove, Audrey Buttimer, opened the new headquarters of the 14th Hove Scouts in Vale Park, near the St Andrew’s Road entrance. In December 1991 it was stated that 1,000 whips (young trees) would be planted at Vale Park between noon and 4 p.m. to mark the end of National Tree Week. Members of the public were invited to join in.

In the 1990s the new layout of the park took shape. Particularly noticeable was the ‘wild’ area in the centre with trees, azaleas and rose bushes arranged near the asphalt path winding its way from Vale Gardens entrance to Denmark Road entrance. North of this there was a quiet area with several benches and a good planting of rose bushes. To the south there was a grassed area suitable for informal ball games. 

In 1996 an unfortunate Russian student attending Bellerby’s College was mistaken for a German and stabbed. Germany had just beaten England at football in the Euro 1996 series. Andre Mockhart, aged seventeen, was walking in Vale Park shortly before  11 p.m. when he was stabbed five times in the neck, chest and leg. Fortunately he survived and a youth was arrested within four days.

In June 1998 a 24-year old dustman was jailed for a year after sexually assaulting a young mother walking with her four-year old son along the path in Vale Park on 7 February 1998.
copyright © J.Middleton
The ‘wild’ area of Vale Park viewed from the south was photographed on 18 July 2002. Health and safety concerns 
led to the bushes on the north side being cut down in 1999.

In July 1999 police advised the council to cut down some of the bushes on the north side in the ‘wild’ area because they might provide cover for an attacker. This advice came after a man approached a twelve-year old girl as she walked through the park.  The Argus reported that colourful azaleas were being cut down but the gardener who was doing the work, insisted they were rose bushes. The incident was reported on TV news with film of the bush cutting under way. Today in 2013 this area is still kept clear of undergrowth but the trees are now well established.
copyright © J.Middleton
Looking towards Vale Road across yellow rose bushes in July 2002. 
On 5 July 2000 the 1st Portslade Brownies (St Andrew’s) walked ten times around the park and raised £255 to be shared between the NSPCC and the Brownies’ Christmas Fund.

In July 2000 a recycling centre opened with access from the Denmark Road car park. 
copyright © D.SharpVale Park playground in the background
In August 2002 the council removed without notice some of the play equipment in Vale Park and all of the play equipment in Victoria Recreation Ground. It was stated the equipment was too dangerous to leave but naturally enough people were upset. In Vale Park’s case, it might have had something to do with an arson attack that occurred on 29 March 2001 when vandals set a pile of rubbish alight under the children’s climbing frame. Another popular feature removed was a slide where the child slid through a tunnel to reach the bottom. At first it appeared there was no money in the budget to pay for new equipment but after protests, petitions and complaints, funds for such a purpose were miraculously identified.

copyright © J.Middleton
These exercise and fitness pieces of equipment were installed in 2010
copyright © D.SharpTwo of the fitness apparatus with 
St Andrew's Church in the background.

In the spring of 2010 new equipment was installed on the west side of Vale Park for the benefit of adults who wished to improve their fitness but might not be able to afford gym fees. The equipment, costing some £25,000, was designed to improve core stability, provide cardiovascular exercise and lead to weight loss.
In April 2013 Portslade Community Forum organised a Family Fun Day in Vale Park. The event included music and sports, zumba dancing and the appearance of Zaz the clown.


Sources
Argus
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

copyright © D.Sharp 
Stone sculpture in Vale Park


Copyright © J.Middleton 2013
page layout by D.Sharp