24 March 2014

Easthill Park, Portslade

Judy Middleton (2002 revised 2014)

copyright © J.Middleton
An unusual view of Easthill Park photographed on 24 February 2014. The dark trees standing up straight like
sentries on duty are at the back of the War Memorial. 

Easthill Park consists of six acres (3.9 hectares) and originally the land belonged to Easthill House, once one of the grand houses of Portslade.

Local parks in Hove and Portslade largely date back to Victorian and Edwardian times and so Easthill Park is a Johnny-come-lately by comparison. But to Portslade people it was a consolation prize after missing out on a prospective new park in the grounds of Windlesham House, which was given over to housing instead.

After the Second World War Easthill House, and its grounds, came up for sale. Roman Catholic authorities showed a keen interest in acquiring Easthill, which would neatly add to their property portfolio in Portslade. They already owned St Marye’s Convent and grounds (now Emmaus) Portslade Lodge and grounds, four fields north of Drove Road, and the large field between the lodge and Easthill. It is interesting to note that as late as 1974 this field was earmarked as a possible site for a new Roman Catholic Church.

copyright © J.Middleton
The field between Easthill Park and Portslade Lodge was photographed on 2 August 2002.

But Portslade Council also wished to own Easthill and to solve the difficulty a Public Inquiry was held. The Inspector came down on the side of Portslade Council because the land would become a public park and be of benefit to everyone. Therefore in 1947 Portslade Council purchased Easthill House and its grounds.

In July 1948 Mr W.G. Phillips, Chairman of Portslade Urban District Council, assisted by Mr W. Hunt, Chairman of Portslade Recreation and Burial Grounds, officially opened Easthill Park. Two football pitches were prepared for the 1948 season but local cricketers had to wait until the following summer before their cricket table was ready for action. 

copyright © J.Middleton
Easthill Park on a sunny day in the 1950s. Note the famous palm tree in the foreground.

The Kitchen Garden / Walled Garden

Fortunately, the 8-foot flint wall surrounding the kitchen garden was left alone and the garden was used as a nursery for all the bedding plants needed for Portslade. But by the 1970s the area began to look unloved. For a start, when Portslade was amalgamated with Hove in 1974, the production of bedding plants became concentrated at the Lloyd Road nurseries in Hove. At Easthill the kitchen garden still contained three old glasshouses, various outbuildings and a gardener’s cottage.

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph shows the way in to the walled garden with a notice prohibiting dogs. 

In 1978 Mr S.J. Humphries, the Parks Director, came up with an ambitious plan to turn the walled garden (approximately one-third of an acre) into a children’s corner. He envisaged animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, goats and piglets being there together with chickens, doves and pigeons. There could also be a paddling pool, Wendy house, sandpit, fort and stockade. He felt that it would be a great advantage to be able to lock up the garden and secure it at night. Not surprisingly, nothing came of the plan.

copyright © J.Middleton
If there is a blustery wind blowing then the walled garden is the place to go and enjoy winter sunshine. 

copyright © J.Middleton
A fine specimen tree rises up from
the central lawn in the walled garden. 
Today, the walled garden is a pleasant secluded area with some rare trees and unusual plants in the borders. In one corner there is a traditional park bench with an inscribed plaque Chusan Palm (Trachycarpus Fortunei) Presented to L.E. Hamilton on 5th February 1995 by members of Portslade Labour Party in grateful recognition of his long and loyal service to the party and local community. A similar plaque next to it with the same date records that the bench was presented to L.A. Hamilton. The Hamiltons (both father and son) are famous in local annals for their long service as councillors.

The choice of a palm tree serves as a reminder of another palm tree that used to stand in Easthill Park on the west side of the drive leading up to the house. It had been there at least since the 1950s quite happily when suddenly it was removed without notice in the early 1980s to grace the new swimming baths at the King Alfred in Hove. But not liking the chemicals in the atmosphere, it promptly died. Portslade people were outraged and felt it was indicative of the way Hove was taking over since the amalgamation. Unhappily it has to be said that the new palm tree at Easthill looks rather the worse for wear today.

A reminder of times past is an iron tank with C. & J. Reed 1869 on its side, which is set at the end of the garden near the wall.

The Great Gale

Easthill Park was devastated by the Great Gale of 16 / 17 October 1987 when no less than 160 mature trees were lost for good. That left only some 74 still standing upright but most of them were mutilated and all needed a certain degree of attention to help them survive.
 
copyright © J.Middleton
This view of Easthill Park in the 1950s was taken looking north. Apart from the slope of the ground and
a glimpse of the house, it does not look familiar because so many trees were lost in the Great Gale. 

Improvements

Easthill Park was re-landscaped in 1989 and large new shrub beds were planted in 1991. In March 1991 Councillor Francis Dupre, Mayor of Hove opened the new children’s playground, which was surrounded by a fence to keep it a dog-free zone. It was further south than the old children’s area and had more to offer than just swings. It was stated that Hove Council had spent £60,000 on updating and improving children’s playgrounds in Easthill Park and Victoria Recreation Ground.

copyright © J.Middleton
The children’s playground was photographed on 24 February 2014 and further innovations have been installed.

In April 1992 boys from the 6th Hove Mile Oak Cubs planted four cherry trees that they sold to Hove Council as part of a national appeal to raise £10 million for the scouting movement.

During the winter of 1993 /1994 some 1,200 trees or whips were planted on the north side. At the same time a telegraph pole in the park was removed and replaced by an underground cable.

copyright © J.Middleton
This souvenir of the days of formal planting was photographed on 2 August 2002 with the flagstaff visible.

In August 1999 Easthill was awarded a Green Flag for the first time. To qualify for such an award, park management must reach high standards and meet strict criteria. It was stated that the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management and the Pesticide Trust were the people behind Green Flag Awards. The Green Flag flies from the top of a white flagstaff in front of Easthill House. It used to be surrounded by an elaborate flowerbed of summer planting. But such days have long gone. Today summer bedding is reckoned to be too expensive, besides not being especially ‘green’. Nowadays, a more subdued display of shrubs and grasses are favoured. Another large flowerbed has been returned to grass. Perhaps the last hurrah for the Green Flag formal flowerbed was in the summer of 2004 when Mile Hollis and his team put on a special display to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings. They created a map of southern England, the English Channel and the north coast of France out of 4,500 Chrysanthemums with Ageratums being used for arrows to show the route the boats sailed.
       
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The tranquil setting of Portslade’s War Memorial was photographed on 25 April 2009. 

But thankfully, cutbacks have not affected the attractive area in front of the War Memorial where you will find different flowers in their season. Dignity is added by the sombre tone of the trees at the back of the memorial. The memorial to men from Portslade and Fishersgate who fell in the Great War was originally located outside the Royal British Legion Hall in Trafalgar Road and was unveiled in 1930. But in 1954 it was moved to Easthill Park.

In the autumn of 2001 a handsome iron arch mounted on brick pillars was erected over the road entrance to the park. It was embellished with arrows and scrolls and EHP in elaborate letters. The archway arrived in the nick of time because shortly afterwards it became apparent that Brighton & Hove City Council’s budget was badly overspent and swingeing cutbacks were ordered on all fronts.

copyright © J.Middleton
This iron arch over the entrance to Easthill Park was installed in 2001. 

In March 2005 Adam Pride, chairman of Easthill Park Group, said people had made a great effort to raise £810 in order to make a living tunnel for children from willows. They created the stunning tunnel with advice from professionals and were very proud of their handiwork. But within three days of completion, vandals had destroyed it. The experiment was not repeated.   

copyright © J.Middleton
Photograph on the left:- A hint of spring at last photographed on 24 February 2014.
Photograph on the right:- This circle of wooden seats is an innovative use of reclaimed timber. 


Remembrance Sunday 9 November 2014


copyright © J.Middleton
copyright © J.Middleton


Sources
Argus
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Copyright © J.Middleton 2014
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