25 October 2014

Portslade Village Green

Judy Middleton (2003 revised 2016)


copyright © J.Middleton
A small part of the Village Green was photographed on 12 May 2010.

Background

People imagine the Village Green has been a public open space since time immemorial. But this is not the case and it only dates from recent times. But the path running alongside it, is an ancient right of way whose origins do go back a very long way. It forms part of the old track starting off in Wellington Road and winding its way up onto the Downs. It enabled people living in south Portslade, with certain property rights, to move their cattle or sheep onto the Downs for free pasturing on common land. Open access to common land on the Downs lasted longer in Portslade than in many other places and private ownership only came into the picture in the late 19th century.

As for our Village Green, it was providential that it was not built upon in bygone days when planning regulations were not an issue. It seems natural that such a green should be near the church and indeed the writer Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882) held this notion. In his book Old Court Ainsworth mentions the green near the church at Portslade and one chapter was headed The Grave in Portslade Churchyard. He was obviously familiar with the area because he stayed at Hove in the 1840s.

The Fight for an Open Space

By the 1930s this green space belonged to Andrew Melville (1884-1938) the theatrical impresario who owned Whychcote. He kept ponies in the field where they enjoyed freedom until required to pull Cinderella’s coach onto the stage during the pantomime he produced at the Grand Theatre in North Street, Brighton, which he also owned.

But Melville had ideas about developing this field and accordingly in February 1930 he submitted his plans to Portslade Council. Fortunately, Melville’s application was turned down. Then, very sensibly, Portslade councillors decided to include the field in their Town Planning Scheme Number 1 and moreover declare it to be a public open space.

This decision sent the Town Clerk scurrying to check records on the land. He looked at the 1840 Tithe Map to see if it had been an open space in those days; he also got in touch with the Footpaths Preservation Society to ask for their advice.

Meanwhile, Andrew Melville was fuming. As far as he could see, the land was his to do with as he pleased. He lodged an appeal with the Ministry of Health against Portslade Council’s action in turning down his planning application.

By December 1930 Portslade Council announced they were prepared to buy the field at an agreed price. In February 1931 Melville said he would sell, provided the price was right. The Minister then announced a postponement in the hearing of Melville’s appeal in order for the purchase to go forward.

Also in February 1931 a draft order for Melville’s land, being 1.83 acres of meadow, was prepared under Section 2 of the Public Works Facilities Act 1930. The compulsory purchase order was confirmed on 27 April 1931.

In June 1931 Melville lodged a claim for £3,030 compensation. But the following month, probably fed up with the way things were dragging on, he said he was prepared to accept £2,500 to prevent delay and expense, although Melville’s valuer had reckoned the land was worth £3,000.

Mr Nye stated he thought the correct value was £2,100 but he recommended Portslade Council to make an unconditional but sealed offer of £2,250. Melville’s solicitors came back insisting that £2,500 was the price. But the council declined. Eventually a deal was hammered out and Melville agreed to accept £2,250 provided Portslade Council paid £100 towards his expenses. If Melville sounds like a hard man, it was because he was probably in financial difficulties. Although successful, he never built up a fortune and was known to be generous towards those in the theatrical profession who had fallen on hard times. When he died there was so little money left that his widow had to sell Whychote immediately and move to a more modest house.

In October 1931 Mr Nye advised the council to agree to Melville’s terms. He said that should the case be forwarded to the official arbitrator, his award might well exceed £2,250 and moreover the council would have to pay the cost of the conveyance.

At last agreement was reached and on 29 December 1931 the Ministry of Health wrote to Portslade Council agreeing to their request to be allowed to borrow £2,600 to acquire the land. The Town Clerk then had the task of negotiating with Messrs F.G. Grocott to borrow the money and the deed was completed by February 1932.

Apparently, there was no ill-feeling between Andrew Melville and Portslade Council about the protracted proceedings. Perhaps it was a case of, if you cannot beat them, join them. At any rate in April 1932 Melville was elected a Portslade Councillor and sat on the Planning Committee, the Works Committee and the Finance Committee. He became Chairman of the Council in 1933 and Chairman of Portslade Fire Brigade Sub-committee from 1933 to 1934.

Recreation Ground

Although the open space has been called the Village Green for many years, back in the 1930s it was known as a Recreation Ground. At that time there was only one public open space at Portslade and this was Victoria Recreation Ground, which was officially opened in 1902. Easthill Park did not open until 1948.
copyright © D.Sharp
Old Village Recreation Ground, Portslade. c1932
In April 1932 it was reported that the estimate for expenses regarding the new Recreation Ground came to £38-10s. The items included the following:

New entrance at the south east corner £10
New gate at the north west corner £5-10s
Six seats @ £3 each £18
Notice boards £5

The Recreation Ground opened in July 1932 but it was not long before neighbours complained about the children’s boisterous behaviour. Mrs A.M. Tyson was the chief complainant and by May 1933 Portslade Council had received two letters from her. Mrs Tyson lived in Lindfield House, right next door (the site now covered by the Baptist Church and grounds). The council discussed the desirability of having a man around to keep an eye on things, particularly during the school holidays. Since the verger who used to look after the churchyard around St Nicolas had just retired, it was thought it might be a good idea to combine both responsibilities. Presumably, nothing was done because in June 1934 Mrs Tyson complained again. This time the council agreed to employ a man on a temporary basis to supervise the ground during the evenings of June, July and August.

In 1938 it was decided to build a public lavatory in the ground at a cost of £370. Messrs A.W. Butt built the convenience, which was officially opened on 3 April 1939. Already by May of the same year, there were reports of damage.

A Venue for Church Fundraising

In recent times people have become accustomed to the annual Summer Fete held on the Village Green in aid of funds for the Anglican parish of Portslade. It takes place on the last Saturday before the August Bank Holiday and organisers are nervous at the famous vagaries of the British weather. If the day is fine, setting up the stalls, displaying the goods, moving tables and chairs, filling the tea urn, laying out plates, cups and saucers in the tea tent, setting up the machine to make candy floss etc takes a great deal of time and effort; activity on the Village Green can be seen before 8 a.m. in order to meet the midday opening time. If rain and gales prevail, the fete has to be crammed into a much smaller space in the Parish Centre with a few stalls set up in the car park.
copyright © J.Middleton
These four photographs of the Summer Fete were taken on 23 August 2014
It is interesting to note just how old this tradition is. In June 1938 Mr F.W. Burn applied to Portslade Council for permission to hold a comic dog competition at the Green on 15 June in connection with a church bazaar. Let us hope he received permission because asking for it the same month the event was to take place, was cutting things a bit fine. Nowadays, all the planning and legal options have to be gone into months beforehand.

Trees

For many years a feature of the Village Green were the three large trees in the centre – an elm, an ash and a beech.

The loss of the elm was particularly sad because it was an unusual specimen, being a Huntingdon elm. The tree was 24 metres high and its circumference was 146 centimetres, which meant it had the second largest circumference of its species in the whole country. The great gale of October 1987 damaged part of it and Dutch elm disease also launched an attack. An attempt was made to save the tree by pruning out the affected part and for a while the battle appeared to be won. But another attack from the disease meant the tree had to be felled.

The ash tree was also damaged in the storm of 1987. It lost a limb but new growth started to spurt from the top. It does not help if such large trees are in a public open space because the safety of the public is paramount. The ash tree was felled on 14 November 1991. The sawdust around the base remained as a poignant reminder for many days.

On 27 October 2002 high winds caused a massive branch to snap off the beech tree, leaving a great, raw wound on the main trunk. The tree was obviously in a dangerous condition and two other giant branches were felled the following day. But it took two days to reduce the great tree to a sad stump.
copyright © J.Middleton
Photo left:- The beech tree was photographed on 2 August 2002. The size of the tree can be gauged by the small figure walking past it. Photo right:- This was the sad sight on 27 October 2002 after a gale ripped off a huge branch.
In February 1993 some 70 children helped to plant a new elm tree to replace the lost one.

In December 2000 a large Christmas tree was installed on the north side of the Village Green and lights were connected to the electricity supply. It was a lovely festive tough in the heart of the village and the lights could be seen from the west end of High Street. Unfortunately, it proved irresistible to vandals who swooped on it on 16 December, only three days after installation, and put the lights out of action. It is sad to say the experiment was not repeated.
copyright © J.Middleton
The planting of bulbs on the east bank makes for a cheerful display in the spring. The photograph was taken on 
27 March 2003.
Carols

In December 2014 and 2015 the Revd Andrew Perry, vicar of Portslade, began a new innovation by organising carol singing on the Village Green with mulled wine and minced pies served in the Parish Centre afterwards. It proved to be such a popular event that it is likely to become a new tradition in the village.

A New Feature

 copyright © D.Sharp 
The 'wet garden' in March 2016

copyright © D.Sharp 
The 'wet garden' in July 2016

At the end of February and the beginning of March 2016 a new feature began to take shape on the north side of the Village Green. This is part of the ‘wet garden’ scheme carried out in other locations in the city as well. The feature is in fact a glorified soak-away and it is a further attempt to address the problem of flooding in the village after violent storms. The area has been greatly helped by enlarging the storm drains and in 2007 two huge storage tanks were placed under the car park adjacent to the Village Green. These tanks can accommodate up to one million litres of storm-water and sewage, which prevents the sewerage system from being overwhelmed during a storm.

The official report about the tanks claimed such measures were necessary due to climate change. But the Sussex coast has always been subject to violent storms from time to time. The real problem is the changing use of the surrounding land from pasture and agriculture to being covered with bricks and mortar and hard-standing for cars. If rain cannot soak into the ground it will rush down the hills and into the village. The old village already has a high water table and indeed easy access to water was one of the reasons why the village grew here in the first place. It is interesting to note that the creators of Portslade Brewery were well aware of the fine quality of the water at Portslade and made abundant use of it. 

Sources
Argus
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Original Documents

(When I studied them, they were located at the East Sussex Record Office at The Maltings, Lewes).

DO/A35/23 Portslade UDC 1930
DO/A35/24 Portslade UDC 1930-1931
DO/A35/25 Portslade UDC 1931
DO/A35/26 Portslade UDC 1931-1932
DO/A35/27 Portslade UDC 1932-1933
DO/A35/28 Portslade UDC 1933
DO/A35/29 Portslade UDC 1934
DO/A35/30 Portslade UDC 1934
DO/A35/31 Portslade UDC 1934-1935
DO/A35/38 Portslade UDC 1938
DO/A35/39 Portslade UDC 1938


Autumn colours in October 2002.

Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
page layout by D.Sharp