18 August 2015

Southern Cross, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2015)

copyright © J.Middleton
This is how Southern Cross looked in the 1930s with Southern Cross Inn on the left.

The former well-known name for part of Portslade called Southern Cross seems to be in danger of falling into disuse. Mention it to young people and they often do not know where you are talking about and even some taxi drivers have never heard of it. There are no signs to notify where it is and the only time it is mentioned is if you are on board a 1 or 1A because there are two bus stops called Southern Cross.

The question of the derivation of the name has intrigued Portslade people for many years. Captain Bately, architect and local historian, was often asked about it. In volume 15 of the Sussex County Magazine (October 1941) he wrote, ‘Some years ago I went into the matter but could not find anything romantic about the name. Among old records, however, I found it was called the South Cross or the South Cross Road. Years ago when only the old village of Portslade existed this would have been the main crossing of the old track from Portslade to Copperas Gap with the very old Brighton to Shoreham Road. Undoubtedly, there was also a northern cross road with the High Street and Drove Road, the latter being the old Roman Road from Hangleton to Southwick.’ 

Confirmation for this theory can be found in the name of Easthill, now permanently enshrined in the name of a park. There was once a West Hill on the opposite side of the valley to East Hill, situated at the west end of High Street. The name West Hill may have been in use with local people but is not marked on maps and so far has only been discovered in one document.

Some people preferred a more romantic association for Southern Cross, perhaps linked with old seafaring days. Southern Cross is of course a well-known constellation in the southern hemisphere and then there was Robert Horne Penney, the largest local ship-owner, whose ships sailed to New Zealand and were often named after stars such as Aldebaran, Andromeda, Antares and Arcturus.

copyright © J.Middleton
Robert Horne Penney liked the names of his ships to begin with the letter ‘A’. 
This ship was the Alastor.

Local hero Walter Hubert Baddeley was well acquainted with Southern Cross, being born and brought up in Portslade-by-Sea. He later became 7th Bishop of Melanesia and because his diocese covered a scattering of islands set in 90,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, he needed a boat to get around. He must have found it ironic that the boat was called Southern Cross. It had nothing to do with his choice because there had been a boat for clergy use with that name dating back to the 1880s. The local hero definition is well earned because Baddeley had the rare distinction of being a war hero in both world wars.

 copyright © J.Middleton
Walter Baddeley used to teach Sunday School children at St Andrew’s Church, Portslade.

It is also interesting to note that when Mrs Scott Malden moved her school Windlesham House from Brighton to Portslade, she thought it wise to define the location of the premises as Southern Cross, rather than Portslade because it had a more up-market sound. She did not want prospective fee-paying parents to associate her school with industrial installations at Portslade-by-Sea.

  copyright © J.Middleton
Mrs Scott Malden liked the idea of her school Windlesham House being located at Southern Cross.

Southern Cross Cycle Club

The Hove Gazette (3 September 1898) reported that Southern Cross Cycle Sports would be held on Wednesday in an adjoining field starting at 5 p.m. by kind permission of owner Mrs Stallabrass; she also owned Portslade Farm and lived in the farmhouse adjacent to Robin’s Row.

The events included the following:

One-mile cycle race
100-yards handicap race (for juniors)
100-yards handicap race (for seniors)
Slow cycle race
Special race for club members

Joe Widger of the Paddocks Racing Stables at Mile Oak had kindly donated the prizes and as the admission was three pennies, a good crowd was expected.

Southern Cross Estates

This was the name of a company in the 1930s that was responsible for building houses and bungalows on part of what had once been the grounds of Windlesham House School. The company developed Maplehurst Road, Melrose Avenue and Newtimber Drive.

copyright © J.Middleton
The man who ran Southern Cross Post Office in Trafalgar Road, Portslade took this photograph and had it made into postcards for sale in his shop. It shows newly built Melrose Avenue with no defined pavement and a somewhat rough road surface.

Southern Cross Flint Pits

Digging for flints was a dangerous way to earn a living. The local flints were often to be found in soft, clay soil, which by its nature was unstable and liable to collapse without warning. Fatalities occurred and the following are two examples although it is highly probable that there were more deaths.

In the 1870s a Mr Peters owned Southern Cross Flint Pits. In January 1877 Amos Lelliott and his brother-in-law William Taylor were busy digging when the bank suddenly gave way and Amos Lelliott died from his injuries.

By 1900 Mr Hillman owned the same flint pits and he warned his employees always to have a look-out man at the top to warm of signs of cracking. But often they did not follow orders because they worked piece-rate and they wanted to earn as much as possible. In January 1900 Edward Gray, his son George, Richard Sharp and Robert Woolger were at work when suddenly a bank of earth weighing around 30 tons descended on them. Gray was killed instantly and Sharp died a day later at Hove Hospital. The inquest was held at Battle of Trafalgar pub.

Southern Cross Inn

This pub stood on the south-west corner of Southern Cross and was probably constructed in the 1860s. It is marked and named on the Ordnance Survey Map of 1861 (revised 1873).

Edward White was the landlord in 1870 but there was a swift turnaround in the job because Samuel West arrived in around 1874 while Thomas Nye was in charge by 1878. Nye was still there when the 1881 census was taken. Brighton-born Nye, aged 40, lived with his wife Elizabeth and their 18-year old son Thomas who was a carpenter. By 1887 Thomas Peters was the landlord.

Chapman & Co owned the pub and in February 1890 F.N. Tasher of Brighton produced plans on their behalf for new stabling to contain three stables and a coach-house.

On 8 May 1891 an inquest was held at the pub into the death of Thomas Evans, a 34-year old labourer. He had been ill with pneumonia and the infection left him quite delirious. He asked his wife to pass him his white-handled razor so that he cut his corns. But later she found he had cut his throat.

By 1904 the pub had passed into the hands of Rock Brewery and by the following year George Ashman began his long association with the pub because he was still the landlord in the 1920s. His successor Louis Carroll remained even longer because he was in charge in 1930 and still behind the bar in 1954.

According to William Grinyer, who was born in 1909, the landlord of the Southern Cross Inn used to stage a charity cricket match for his regulars on Boxing Day. There was only one rule and that was that the cricketers had to be over 70 years of age. But it was all good fun and nobody dropped dead from the exertion. Instead the participants looked forward to the generous spread laid on for them at the pub after the match.

The pub served its last customers in October 1973 and was demolished shortly afterwards because of Old Shoreham Road’s extensive road-widening scheme.

The inn sign showing a red Maltese cross on a white background, was propped forlornly against a wall but soon vanished. Whether it was removed by a nostalgic regular or merely taken away with the rest of the debris is not known.

Southern Cross Laundry and the Tate Family

The Tate family have a long association with the Southern Cross area. Alfred Tate is famous in local annals because he took part in the Emancipation Run of 1896 from London to Brighton in his Daimler car, registration number AP 23. Unfortunately, he did not complete the trip because the car overturned at Handcross.

copyright © J.Tate
Alfred Tate sits proudly in his majestic-looking Daimler.

In 1900 Alfred Tate opened his Southern Cross Laundry situated on the corner of Foredown Road and Old Shoreham Road. The enterprise lasted until the late 1940s.

This part of Portslade became something of a Tate enclave. Alfred Tate built himself a house at 206 Old Shoreham Road, his brother-in-law lived next door at number 208 while one son lived at number 210. At the back of number 208 were stables for the horses that pulled the laundry delivery vans and there was an underground storage tank capable of holding 300 gallons of petrol. Later on Alfred’s son Albert lived with his family at 1 Benfield Way.

Two of Alfred’s three sons served in the Armed Forces during the Great War and were with the Expeditionary Force. A photograph of Albert Tate in his uniform standing outside his tent in Malta was published in the Brighton Graphic (18 May 1916).

Alfred Tate owned the Majestic Cinema in Edward Street, Brighton and his third son Lyndsay was the manager. Films were changed weekly and new films arrived from London by train. In 1919 there was a train strike and so Albert and Fred borrowed a laundry van and drove it to London to pick up new films. When other cinema owners heard about their enterprise, they asked Tate’s to change their films as well. The business grew until Tate’s were collecting and supplying some 30 cinemas and it lasted for 59 years.

In 1919 Tate’s opened their garage at Southern Cross. In January 1935 Portslade Council approved plans for a new garage and workshop on the corner of Lock’s Hill and Old Shoreham Road. Tate’s continued with their small engineering section and it is important to note they invented a gun depression gear for use on the well-known Oerlikon guns that were to be found on so many ships of the Royal Navy. Without the benefit of this device, a temperamental Oerlikon could inflict more damage on the funnel than it did on enemy ships.

During the Second World War Tate’s went into salvage and ship repair. Their first customer was tanker Shell Brit, which was bombed while berthed at Shell Wharf in Shoreham Harbour. Tate’s made her seaworthy.

In late December 1944 during a fierce gale Polish trading steamer Chorzow bound for Shoreham from Port Talbot with a cargo of 1,000 tons of coal for the Power Station, went aground on the lea shore west of the entrance to the harbour. The Admiralty made several unsuccessful attempts to haul her off and eventually the vessel was written off as a total loss. Tate Brothers, described as motor, marine and general engineers of Portslade were handed the ship for salvage on 3 January 1945. The Chorzow was a steel ship 209 feet in length and with a 31-foot beam. She lay head-on to the shore with a 15-degree list because her cargo had shifted to port. But within a fortnight the ship was safely docked at Shoreham and in September 1945 she was certified seaworthy.

The Tates expanded their business to include sites on both sides of Trafalgar Road at the north end and there was a garage opposite the foot of Applesham Way. By 1990 the Tate family ran Garden Paradise in Newhaven and in recent years opened Mayberry Garden Centre at Portslade.

 copyright © J.Middleton
Tates Garage on the north side of Southern Cross in 2015

Tragic Death of an Eminent Cricketer

George Benjamin Street (1889-1924) was a famous Sussex cricketer. He played 192 matches for Sussex during the period 1909-1923 scoring 3,629 runs. His highest score was 109 against Essex in 1922. In 1923 it transpired he had played in several matches with a broken finger.

He was also a wicket keeper of some note and in 1913 came close to beating F.H. Huish’s record by recording 102 victims (70 caught and 32 stumped).

Street was not originally selected for MCC’s tour of South Africa in 1922-1923 but he was called upon when Livesay was injured and Street played in the Third Test at Durban. Afterwards he was presented with two ostrich eggs, one with a design of St George and the dragon and the other with a springbok.

During the Great War Street served with the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and saw service in Mesopotamia and India. It is sadly ironic that he should have survived the war only to die in a motorcycle accident at Southern Cross.

 copyright © R. Jeeves
George Street would have been familiar with the style of bicycle shown in this evocative Great War photograph of the entrance to the Sussex County Cricket Ground.

On Thursday 24 April 1924 Street had attended cricket practice at the Sussex County Cricket Ground in the morning and a boys’ football match at the Goldstone in the afternoon. He was returning home to Warnham riding his BSA solo motorcycle when at the Southern Cross junction he spotted a van in the middle of Old Shoreham Road and swerved to avoid it. But he then crashed head-on into a newly-built brick wall on the north west corner by Tate’s Garage.

Witnesses said he was travelling at around 18 mph. whereas the speed limit was 10 mph. Dr Frank Portas arrived at the scene within seven minutes but there was nothing he could do and Street died four minutes later. John Hayden Higginbotham, was a motor mechanic working at Tate’s Garage. He did not see the crash but he heard the tyre burst. The inquest was held at Portslade Fire Station.

A Dangerous Crossroads

Even before traffic increased along Old Shoreham Road, Southern Cross was known to be a hazardous spot. This was because the area was built-up and visibility from a distance was a real problem. Indeed at the inquest into George Street’s death it was stated that a person driving from the east would not be able to see anything until he was 12 yards away from oncoming vehicles.

Local people were well aware of the problem and wanted to do something about it themselves. For instance, in 1909 Herbert Mews of Portslade Brewery wrote to Portslade Council telling them the Motor Union was prepared to supply two special crossroads signs to warn drivers of the hazard and they would contribute five shillings towards the cost if Portslade Council were to provide the balance of five shillings. Portslade Councillors were so enthusiastic about the idea they wanted to put up four such signs at Southern Cross as well as two at South Street. They preferred the new sign to those already supplied by East Sussex County Council.

By March 1910 Portslade Council had received a pompous reply from East Sussex County Council reminding them that they were the authority for erecting motor signs in all cases. But they would graciously allow the council to attach metal signs with the word ‘crossroads’ to the triangular ones already in place.

In 1911 a census was taken during the course of one week to count traffic along Old Shoreham Road at Portslade and revealed the following figures: 

Motor cars 513
Motorcycles 113
Bicycles 1,522

The problem of Southern Cross and its crossroads was not properly addressed until the 1970s. The financial cost was tremendous no doubt but the human cost was also substantial. The ambitious road-widening scheme meant a large-scale demolition of serviceable housing, shops and businesses on the south side of Old Shoreham Road from Beaconsfield Road to Wolseley Road. Demolition also affected Trafalgar Road, lopping off those properties at the north end including houses, shop, businesses and the pub. The road surface at the cross was raised too.

A town planner today would probably have second thoughts about getting rid of so much useful housing stock. But it was an era when demolition of old housing was the modern thing to do. It is ironic that some high-rise flats built to replace old dwellings have since had to be demolished while solidly built Victorian houses are valued. 

In January 1976 the Government gave the go ahead for the £1.1 million road-widening scheme.

copyright © J.Middleton
Demolition work had already begun on these houses between Beaconsfield Road and Southern Cross with the removal of tiles. This series of photographs were taken with a Kodak Box Brownie, vintage 1950.
copyright © J.Middleton
These houses have all gone too while those on the north side remain.

The Flint Cottages Battle

copyright © J.Middleton
It was a shame such fine looking cottages had to be demolished so that Old Shoreham Road could be widened.

Mr John McElrea brought the plight of demolition-threatened homeowners to national attention in a long battle concerning his two properties at Southern Cross. He owned two charming 18th century flint-built cottages, which were more deserving of a preservation order than being knocked down. 

Mr McElrea purchased one of them in 1957 for £550 and then spent £2,000 modernising it. The saga began in October 1970. He might have accepted the inevitable if he had been offered a reasonable price for them. Instead the Government offered him £2,600 and £3,800 respectively for them. He decided to test the market value by putting them up for sale. He received over 30 offers and all of them were at least £1,000 higher then the compensation price.

In 1972 Mr McElrea was offered £9,000 but a local estate agent said £16,000 would have been a more realistic figure. 

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said that when the Compulsory Purchase Order came into effect in August 1972 Mr McElrea could apply to the Lands Tribunal for an independent assessment.

On 25 March 1973 the Lands Tribunal assessed the two cottages as being worth £20,532. The case seemed to be settled at last but Mr McElrea was left fuming because the money had still not been paid by 1974. He was not going to give up the battle and in July 1974 he went to the High Court and won a writ of fieri-facias, which made Anthony Crosland, Minister of the Environment, responsible for the money owed by his department. As a result in August 1974, the country at large was entertained by the prospect of the Procurator-General and Treasury Solicitor having to take steps to stop Mr Crosland’s furniture being seized by bailiffs.

copyright © D.Sharp
This is from the same series of Southern Cross 1930s photographs as at the top of this page, 
this former cross roads layout shows no road traffic !

Sources

Argus
Census Returns
Directories
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Portslade Council Minutes
Thanks to Robert Jeeves of Step Back in Time, Queen’s Road, Brighton for allowing the use of the photo of Sussex County Cricket Ground.

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
page layout by D.Sharp