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21 August 2015

Stanley Arms, 47 Wolseley Road, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2019)

 copyright © J.Middleton
A commanding corner site was the most popular place to build a pub in Victorian times and so the Stanley Arms is a fine example.

 copyright © J.Middleton
Henry Morton Stanley 
has a quizzical look on the inn sign.
It seems probable that the Stanley Arms in Wolseley Road was named after British explorer and journalist Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) who discovered the ‘lost’ Dr Livingstone in Africa. At the time of his most famous exploit Stanley was working for the New York Times and was told to go and find Livingstone, of whom nothing had been heard for two years. On 10 November 1871 Stanley entered Ujiji at the head of a large escort, spotted his man, raised his hat and said ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’

In 1872 he published an account of his journey entitled How I found Livingstone followed in 1878 by Through the Dark Continent. Thus the name of Stanley as a British hero would still have been in the forefront of people’s minds when this new pub opened shortly after the latter book was published. The inn sign depicts Stanley in the jungle with a quizzical look and a firm grasp on his pint of beer while the sun blazes down.

The Stanley Arms was erected in around 1881 and the Albion Brewery owned it from that year until 1892 when Tamplin’s took over.
Remarkably, Tamplin’s continued to own the pub until 1965.

1906 advert for Tamplin's Brewery  
who owned the Stanley Arms from 1892-1965, 
shows the price of beer at 2.5 pence per pint.
In 1887 Edward Goble was noted as the landlord and he was still there in 1910. Then came the long tenure of Arthur Birchfield who ran the pub from at least 1915 until 1940. There is a famous old photograph dating back to the 1920s taken as a souvenir of a pub outing. The group are outside the pub while Arthur Birchfield sits in front holding his young son and his wife and grown-up daughter look out of the window. The seated man on the left was Mr Wakeham who had a glass eye.

The Second World War

John O’Neill was a youngster during the Second World War. He and his family lived in a house opposite the Stanley – moreover he was a friend of the landlord’s son and often had a sleep-over at the pub. Mr O’Neill remembers the occasion when someone brought in a hand grenade to show off as a war souvenir: perhaps the person thought It was ‘spent’. It was placed in the back room and exploded suddenly – it was fortunate that nobody was injured.

Local children had become so used to the war situation that they continued to play in the street as usual, even after the air-raid siren had sounded. This was not surprising because there had been several false alarms. However, John O’Neill also remembered the time when the air-raid siren going off was a genuine alarm. Suddenly, there was a German plane approaching, spraying bullets up the road, and all the mums rushed to their doorsteps shouting at their children to take cover. John and his friend dived over a garden wall and ducked down while bullets hit the wall. Once the all-clear had sounded, the boys climbed back over the wall and began to dig out the bullets, which were still hot.

When VE Day was celebrated, John O’Neill climbed the lamp-post opposite the Stanley in order to gain a better view of the proceedings, which included all the mums and dads doing the conga up the street, cheering with relief that the war was over.

More Recent Times

By 1947 George William Packham ran the pub and in a nice irony by 1954 Henry George Stanley was the landlord; he probably soon grew tired of the inevitable jokes.

In September 1997 Roy and Pat Bond purchased the freehold of the Stanley Arms. It was Mr Bond’s first experience of running a pub because he had worked for the railway for nineteen years before that. There was an open fireplace in the saloon bar with a brass coal-scuttle and brass implements. The wooden floor was original and it is interesting to note its age was gauged by the broad width of the planks. When the pub was renovated, the floor covering was removed but parts of it had become so embedded in the wood that the planks had to be turned over; then they were sanded and polished.

In 1999 there was a pub garden where a regular had painted a colourful scene on the west brick wall featuring a jungle scene with tiger, lion and elephant.

On 13 September 1999 there was a party at the pub to celebrate the 25th anniversary of CAMRA, (Campaign for Real Ale, Brighton and South Downs branch). Harveys of Lewes produced a bottled beer with a commemorative label and there was anniversary ale from Dark Star Brewery too. In 2002 the Stanley Arms was awarded CAMRA’s Pub of the Year title.

Pubs have a long history of raising money for charity and in 2001 the Stanley Arms raised some £4,000 for charity.  

After running the pub for five years Roy and Pat Bond decided to sell up. They asked one of their regulars, Steve Bennett if he might be interested in taking it over and the purchase was made in September 2002. The Bennetts then moved in; the family consisting of Steve and his wife Barbara, daughter Sam and sons Russell and Steven. It seemed like all hands to the pump.

However, running an independent pub is no easy task these days. Although so many Portslade pubs have gone and so there is less competition on that score, there are many modern factors to consider. A landlord can no longer rest his elbows on the counter and wait for the customers to roll in; instead patronage has to be constantly sought. One innovation at the Stanley Arms that has proved popular is cellar night, which is held every two weeks on a Monday evening.

Independent family businesses cannot compete in pricing with the big boys, which is one reason the ‘indies’ have to work so hard. Steve Bennett wrote a letter to the Argus with a summary of his outgoings. Although he owned the freehold, he had to fork out £900 a month in business rates, Sky TV cost him £1,000 a month and the electricity bill was £400 a month. Perhaps it was all too much. He announced his pub was up for sale. After several months on the market a sale was going through but the Bennetts decided not to proceed with it.   

Outside the pub notices advise the public that the beer garden is open and that the pub serves real ale from around the United Kingdom from seven hand pumps along with real cider and real perry.

 copyright © J.Middleton
These Morris dancers went through their paces outside the Stanley Arms on 31 May 2006 bringing a touch of traditional colour and music with them.
 copyright © J.Middleton
Lady Morris dancers outside the Stanley Arms on 31 May 2006


In 2017 and 2018 there was much concern about the future of the Stanley. The owner had been trying to sell the pub as a going concern for some time, but there were no takers, while waiting in the wings there were probably eager developers wanting to turn the premises into residential properties.

Finally, on 24 October 2018 an on-line auction was held to settle the matter;  the winners were business partners Ashley Grout and Elizabeth Boucher – both of them having been regular customers for years who did not want the community to lose such a valuable asset. The auction was a nail-biting experience  for them, especially when just three minutes before the auction ended, someone else put in a bid that was close to their own maximum bid. When their bid won, there were mixed emotions of euphoria plus the worry of what on earth they had done. It is re-assuring to note that locals were  very grateful for their action.

The Stanley re-opened under their management on 9 November 2018 as a free house with an emphasis on locally-brewed ales, of which they were both fans. Apparently, the outside sign had been missing for some years but has now been restored. For Ashley Grout it seems that running a pub is in his genes because his grandparents ran a pub in Hampshire, and he has many fond childhood memories of the place.


Argus 5 January 2019 / 11 January 2019
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

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