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10 March 2014

Easthill House, Portslade

Judy Middleton (2002 revised 2018)

copyright © J.Middleton
Easthill House was photographed on 24 February 2014

It is usually stated that Edward Blaker built the house in around 1848. But looking carefully at the building, it seems obvious that a new imposing structure facing west across the valley was added to an old house already in existence, which may date back to the 17th century. It is also a fact that Edward Blaker once lived in Churchfield House, which was known to be in the vicinity.
An interesting fact has been handed down in Blaker family lore that the old dwelling had the unusual name of Flagbrick Cottage.

The old part of the house is still to be seen on the north side and east sides, built of flints like cottages in Portslade Old Village. The oldest flint work is on the ground floor while the flint work in the upper storey of the north side is of a later date with red brick string-courses. Indeed, Easthill House and its environs could almost be an object lesson in the different kinds of flint work. On the north side there is a walled garden that was formerly the kitchen garden. The wall was constructed using whole pebbles laid horizontally.

copyright © J.Middleton
Photograph left:- Traces of an earlier house exist on the north side of Easthill House. Note the oldest flint work
seen on the ground floor near the drainpipe.
Photograph right:- This strongly built flint wall protected the kitchen garden from south-westerly gales.

The flint work in the stable block at the back is different again. It is formal with the flints being separated by ridges of mortar moulded to their shapes. The same style can be seen in the wall at Foredown Hospital built in 1883 and in Cemetery Lodge built in 1894 (now numbered 37 Trafalgar Road).

copyright © J.Middleton
Photograph left:- These two examples of flint work that might be contemporary with the old part of Easthill House are to be found in the Church Twitten. The west wall shown here was once the back wall of some old cottages known as Hangleton Court.
Photograph right:- The east wall of the Church Twitten marks the boundary of Portslade Manor.

In the entry for Portslade in the Post Office Directory for Sussex 1862 it was stated ‘Manor House … and East Hill are mansions commanding extensive views over sea and land.’

Edward Blaker (1821-1883)

He was born at Brighton, the eldest son of Edward Blaker of Brighton and Portslade (a grocer by trade) and Anna Kemp, daughter of John Marchant.

Edward Blaker married twice and was the father of twelve children, six by each wife. His first wife was Ellen, daughter of Thomas Isaacson, and their children were Edward, Charles, Thomas Frederick and Walter (each with Isaacson as part of their names) plus Edith Ellen and Elizabeth Jane. Thomas Frederick Isaacson Blaker was born at Easthill House in 1850 and like his great-uncle Harry he too became a surgeon. Walter became a priest and was vicar of Easterton, Wiltshire. Mrs Blaker died on 28 May 1856 aged 28 years; it was fifteen months after the birth of her last child and so it was unlikely there was a connection but all the same she had given birth to six babies in six years with two separate births in 1850.

Edward Blaker then married Emma Diana, daughter of Robert Lewis, and she was a year younger than his first wife. Their children were Emma Mary, Edward Spenser, Katherine, Alice, Ethel Anna and Isabella Maud.

Out of all this brood, two children died young; they were Edward Isaacson and Emma Mary, both when they were three years old. At least three of his daughters stayed spinsters and his youngest daughters remained in Portslade all their lives. Isabella died in 1926 and Ethel died in 1938. Edward Spenser became an engineer and died in Calcutta in 1897 aged 35. Therefore there was the not the large number of grandchildren you might expect.

When the 1851 census was taken, Edward was aged 29 and he lived at Portslade where he farmed 750 acres and employed seventeen men and ten boys. It seems probable that he purchased this farm from his uncle Harry Blaker. Edward’s acreage appeared to fluctuate between census returns because in 1861 he had 600 acres and employed thirteen men and six boys while in 1871 he had 550 acres and employed thirteen men and seven boys. However, by the end of his life he owned most of Easthill (except Portslade Manor) two large pieces in the centre of Portslade, Southwick Hill, part of Foredown Hill from the pathway to North House Farmhouse to Foredown Road, and a large piece east of Foredown Road south of New Barn, plus two farmhouses and ten cottages. His holdings included land with picturesque names such as Great Cow Hayes, Lucern Field, Mill Field and The Worth.

As well as overseeing the farm work, Edward Blaker was identified in the 1861 census as being a Lieutenant in the 4th Sussex Regiment Artillery.

Edward Blaker died on 26 July 1883 aged 62 and under the terms of his will his land was to be auctioned off. But it seems that his widow continued ownership of the land all except for 294 acres of Mile Oak Farm that was sold to Brighton Corporation for £3,000 on 2ndJanuary 1897. Emma Diana Blaker also decided she did not want to live at Easthill House any more and the property was let. She died on 12 April 1894 aged 65 and it was only then that the land was sold.

copyright © J.Middleton
When Edward Blaker died he was buried in the family vault in St Nicolas’s Churchyard. The vault lies below the slab
tombstone behind the small railing photographed here. On the wall behind are three tablets commemorating other Blakers and indeed the Blakers are the most numerous family members recorded at St Nicolas. 

The auction took place on 21 October 1895 in thirteen lots at the Estate Agents Mart, 136 North Street, Brighton. Ten lots were sold for £11,975 but two were withdrawn. Lot 10 consisted of East Hill Farm of 65 acres and 14 poles and included East Hill Cottages, modern farm buildings, flint and slated double-bay barn with granary over, stabling for ten cart-horses, two loose boxes, horse stable, three covered piggeries, root house, walled-in bullock yard with open hovel, large walled-in lambing yard with hovel, five-bay wagon lodge, and chicken house. Lot 10 sold for £2,300.

Lot 1 was Robin’s Row, five substantial flint-built and tiled cottages. The tenants paid two shillings and two pence a week. Robin’s Row was a row of typical workers’ cottages with two up and two down plus an attic. There were four privies out the back used in common and water was laid on. Robin’s Row sold for £440.

copyright © J.Middleton
It is amusing to note that Robin’s Row (all five cottages)
sold for £440 in 1895. Then regarded as workmen’s
 cottages and now valued as desirable and unique

John Dudney (1810-1895)

When widow Mrs Emma Diana Blaker decided she did not want to continue living in Easthill House, the property was leased to John Dudney who only lived there for a few years because he was already an elderly man. But he had a long association with Portslade, having moved there in the 1840s from Henfield. His wife and children William, Ellen, John, Harriet and Elizabeth came with him.

In 1849 John Dudney founded Portslade Brewery. It was not of course the huge building standing in the village today – that was to come later. At first the brewing was a modest enterprise employing just two assistants while the Dudneys lived in a house on the corner of South Street and Drove Road known in 1858 as the Five Elms Inn. John Dudney’s son William worked as a brewer’s clerk while John Dudney, junior, tried his hand as a shopkeeper near the George Inn and he did not join his father in the brewing business until later.

Meanwhile John Dudney, senior, was busy buying up plots of land in the village in five different lots between 1869 and 1880 until he had enough for his purposes and in 1881 the large new brewery was erected, which is now classed as a fine example of a Victorian industrial building. It must have fulfilled his ambitions and at the age of 74 perhaps he felt like retiring. Whatever the reason, it is a fact the Dudneys sold the brewery, its land, properties and pubs in two separate lots to Walter and Henry Mews on 8 April 1884. The brewery plus land on both sides of South Street except for the south west corner sold for £17,000. It is interesting to note that particular part of South Street was called Frederick Terrace then.

copyright © J.Middleton
The brewery building still dominates Portslade Old Village and is now a listed building, The brewery chimney is a landmark in Portslade and the view from the top must be magnificent. But only steeplejacks who regularly visit for structural inspection get to enjoy it. The photograph on the right shows the fine decorative detail proclaiming the date of erection and the motif for Dudney & Son is a statement of pride for all to admire. Today, netting protects it from the attention of pigeons.

Sarah, wife of John Dudney, senior, died on 2 December 1885 and their daughter Elizabeth died in 1888. By 1891 the widower and his widowed daughter Ellen Fraser, his unmarried daughter Harriet and his son John lived in Easthill House together with four servants. John Dudney, senior, died on 26 March 1895 and Portslade Parish Council sent a letter of condolence to Easthill House. Ellen Fraser died in 1900 aged 66 and Harriett Dudney died in 1904 aged 64.

copyright © J.Middleton
You can just see the front of Lindfield House
on the left in this photograph of
Portslade Village dating from the 1930s.
Today the Baptist Church occupies the site
while the name of Lindfield has been preserved
in the housing behind the church.
John Dudney, junior, was a churchwarden of St Nicolas’s Church for many years and the large grounds of Easthill House were thrown open for fetes and bazaars held in aid of church funds. It was the venue for a celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee too.

John Dudney’s brother William was also a stalwart worker for the church and lived in Lindfield House, the site now covered by the Baptist Church. He served on Portslade Parish Council and East Sussex County Council and was a member of Steyning Board of Guardians. He and his wife Fanny had a large family of three sons and four daughters although the firstborn Horace died young and was buried in St Nicolas’s Churchyard in 1859. But by the time William Dudney died on 6 February 1896, St Nicolas’s was closed for burials and he was buried in a large plot with an elegant monument in Portslade Cemetery. His widow moved to Lindfield in 1900; perhaps she came from there originally and named the house in its honour.  Revd Vicars Boyle, vicar of St Nicolas, wrote in the parish magazine

A parish can ill spare a family, which furnished one Churchwarden, two Sunday School teachers, four district visitors, and managed a mothers’ meeting, a library and a coal club.

William Dudney’s eldest son was William Hudson Dudney and like the rest of his family he was interested in church matters but he was also a noted cricketer. Sussex Daily News (17 June 1922) wrote Mr Dudney took to cricket as a duck takes to water, and as far back as 1879 he was playing in an important match on the Queen’s Park Ground, Brighton. The promising form he displayed on that occasion gave him an introduction into the ranks of Brighton Brunswick and subsequently he was the foremost ‘bat’ in the Portslade and Southwick Clubs.

copyright © J.Middleton
The grave of Horace Dudney in St Nicolas’s Churchyard is the small one near the doorway. He was born 10 August 1856 and died 14 April 1859 and there is an inscription Not Lost but Gone Before,
The inscription was still legible in 1983 when a record was made but now is almost lost.

In one of the trial matches arranged by Lord Sheffield in early 1882 Dudney was one of the thirteen Gentlemen and Young Players and punished Mr Mycroft’s bowling with a vengeance. He was in New Zealand in 1883-1884 where he took part in an inter-colonial match for Canterbury against Tasmania and apparently he hit hard and vigorously. Back home he headed the batting averages for both Brighton Brunswick and Portslade and Southwick Clubs. He played twenty-nine matches between 1887 and 1893 for the Sussex County Cricket Club and was a wicket-keeper too, taking thirty-eight catches and making six stumpings. It was noted many old-time cricketers owed their departure from the field to the nimbleness and quick-sightedness displayed by him.

copyright © J.Middleton
This fine memorial in a picturesque setting is to be found in Portslade Cemetery. It is the Dudney family grave
and the name of William Hudson Dudney, a famous cricketer of his day, can just be seen in the photograph.

He died on 16 June 1922 at his home Somerville, Western Lawns, Hove but his funeral was held at St Nicolas’s Church, Portslade, and he was buried in the family plot at Portslade Cemetery. On the day of his funeral the flag flew at half-mast at Sussex County Cricket Ground.

House Plans 

In 1911 Mr S.H. Harris was the occupant of Easthill House.

In 1913 Samuel Denman of Denman & Mathews prepared plans for some alterations to the house, which Portslade Council duly approved. Samuel Denman was a local architect based at 27 Queen’s Road, Brighton and perhaps his first important work was the conversion of the old Star Inn at Lewes into Lewes Town Hall. Closer to home he designed Hove Club in Fourth Avenue in 1896, Loxdale, Locks Hill, Portslade in 1899 and the Mineral Water Factory in Stoneham Road, Hove, in 1901.

Denman’s plans for Easthill House are useful because they give us some idea of how the house was arranged. In the basement there was a wine cellar and a plate room where the family silver and silver plated items were stored. The lounge was on the south west corner of the ground floor and north of it were the dining room, pantry, kitchen, scullery, larder and wash house. (The projection of the hearth in the dining room was to be reduced). The drawing room was on the south east corner and then there was the library plus a gentleman’s water closet and the servants’ hall. Upstairs there were four bedrooms, a dressing room, a linen room, a sewing room and a bathroom. (Two new bedrooms were to be added).

The plans specified the materials to be used such as bricks to be hard, sound, well burnt stocks. The mortar to be composed of fresh burnt lime and clean sharp sand and a proportion of clean, suitable hair. Presumably, he means horse hair.

Mr and Mrs Ernest Webb

By 1920 Ernest Webb and his family lived at Easthill House and he remained there until his death. It was rumoured in the village that Webb was connected with the famous London jewellers of Mappin & Webb who once supplied a maharajah with a complete set of bedroom furniture created out of sterling silver. There was certainly a George Webb associated with Mappin in the 1860s and brothers called Joseph and Edward Webb were with the firm in the 1880s but whether or not the Portslade Webb had anything to do with Mappin & Webb has proved impossible to verify.

When the Webbs lived at Easthill House, the domestic establishment consisted of a cook, a parlour maid, a kitchen maid, a chauffeur and gardeners. The kitchen garden had the usual vegetable beds but there were also large greenhouses containing prize peach trees. Naturally, visiting tradesmen did not approach the house by the front drive but had to go round the back to the kitchen area. Near the back door there was a walk-in pantry with slate shelves to keep food cool. This was also the place where in season pheasants were hung before being cooked. Mr Webb was keen that his pheasants should be well hung and the cook was given instructions that the birds should not be cooked until one of the legs had come away from the body.

Mrs Webb continued to live in the house after she was widowed. She preserved the air of a an Edwardian lady with her ramrod straight back, hair piled on top of her head, floor-length skirts and long-sleeved blouses. In September 1930 Mrs Webb complained about whippet racing staged at nearby Mill House Farm and the following month Revd Noel E.C. Hemsworth, vicar of St Nicolas’s Church, joined in the protest. It seems that some whippet racing took place on Sundays, which brought down the wrath of the Lord’s Day Observance Society. By October 1931 whippet racing had ceased at Portslade.  

Mrs Webb’s chauffeur was Mr Cleverley who occupied quarters in the old part of the house with his wife and two daughters Madge and June. Pam Dry, whose family moved to Fairfield Crescent in 1936, was June Cleverley’s best friend and they had a fine time playing ‘house’ in the disused stables at the back. They put up makeshift curtains, arranged furniture and held tea parties. Occasionally, they liked to help the gardener busy at work in the kitchen garden. But there was a big commotion when June inadvertently plunged a garden fork through her Wellington boot and into her foot.  

During the Second World War police took over Easthill House.

In July 1947 Portslade Council purchased the house and grounds from Mrs Webb and Mr V.J. Gadban, executors of the will of Ernest Webb. (Incidentally, it is interesting to note that the title deeds went back to 1840). Apparently, the house was empty for two years before it opened as a community centre in 1948. The community association had 250 individual members and twenty-seven organisations attached to it.

In 1964 Portslade Council decided Easthill House had outlived its usefulness and were all set to have it demolished. But Mrs Lillian Bately urged them to think again and the house was reprieved. Mrs Bately had a powerful voice in matters appertaining to Portslade. She was the widow of Captain Irvine Bately who died in 1962 and the couple, together with the writer Thurston Hopkins, had founded the Society of Sussex Downsmen in 1923. The Batelys had lived in Portslade since 1921 and Captain Bately took part in many aspects of local affairs. He was also the first Portslade local historian, writing up his notes on the material he gathered.

Part of Easthill House was converted into flats for council tenants while the downstairs rooms were put to various uses, including a toy library.

In 1964 the council was obliged to remove large quantities of asbestos that had been found in the basement.

Some council tenants went on to purchase their flats and in January 2000 a two-bedroom flat went on sale for £72,950. Besides its unique parkland setting, the property had a 17-foot lounge with an open fireplace.

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph verifies that indeed Easthill House was built upon a small eminence.
But the term West Hill for the opposite side of the village has been lost.

copyright © D. Sharp
The usually long period of hot weather in June-July 2018 has revealed ‘cropmark’ foundations of a small building from earlier times near Easthill House.

See also the Easthill Park page

Middleton, J Encyclopaedis of Hove & Portslade
Middleton, J Memories of Portslade & Hove (2004)

Copyright © J.Middleton 2014
page layout by D.Sharp