08 August 2015

The Harbour View (Formally Alexandra Tavern) Portslade


Judy Middleton 2001 (revised 2016)

 copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken on 17 February 2015. The derelict Flexer Sacks building can be seen in the background.

The pub has frontages to Camden Street (formerly Camden Place) and Wellington Road and consequently the building could appear under either location in old Directories. The building is marked in the 1861 Ordnance Survey Map (revised in 1873) although it is not identified by name, perhaps because there was not space to do so, although the Halfway House and Crown and Anchor have their names recorded.
copyright © J.Middleton
Princess Alexandra married
 Edward, Prince of Wales in 1863.

The pub was probably constructed in the 1860s and might have been named in honour of Princess Alexandra, elder daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark who married Edward, Prince of Wales on 10 March 1863. The bride was beautiful and she was only eighteen years old. She evoked an enthusiastic response from the public, not least because she was the first future Queen since the 17th century that did not originate from one of the German royal houses. The couple became King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1901, following the death of Queen Victoria.

William Osborne was the landlord of the Alexandra Inn (its original name) in 1870 and the 1871 census records him aged 45 living on the premises with his wife Lucy, 39, and their sons William, 17, and George aged seven years. Osborne was still in charge in 1905.

W.H. Dickinson was landlord by 1910 and was there during the Great War. Frederick Burstow was the next landlord but he only stayed for a short time in the early 1920s. But John Woodhouse almost equalled Osborne’s tenure because he was in charge of the pub from around 1924 until the 1950s.

Meanwhile, the pub had been changing hands. The Bear Brewery, Lewes, owned it from 1889 until 1898 and then it was taken over by Steyning Brewery. In 1903 Steyning Brewery sold the pub to Southdown and East Grinstead United Breweries. By 1937 Portsmouth & Brighton United Breweries were owners.

Meanwhile the Alexandra’s publican was busy pulling pints for customers, many of whom earned their living at the Portslade Gasworks opposite the pub on the south side of the canal. South west of the pub there was a long landing stage where workers waited for the small ferry boat to take them across. No doubt their evening drink was therapeutic because in those days they were subject to noxious fumes in making town gas. Foreign sailors off the boats docked in the harbour also frequented the pub.

In the 1960s the pub was called Alexandra Tavern. In 1961 Waldo Humphreys became the landlord. He was a Welsh rugby-playing ex-miner who came to Brighton in 1943 and he was landlord of the Sea House, Southwick. In fact he ran both pubs together for a period of four years. Among his most notable customers were Norman Wisdom and Max Miller.

Waldo was a keen opera buff and once a year he would dress up to the nines and treat himself to a performance at Glyndebourne Opera House.

During Waldo’s time the Alexandra retained its old-fashioned air with separate bars. The saloon bar was on the south side and had wood panelling and brass ornaments. Waldo also added an exotic touch to the bars with his display of souvenirs brought home from his travels including a stuffed crocodile. Waldo retired in 1964 after twenty-three years as a landlord, being Portslade’s oldest licensee at the age of sixty-nine.

In October 1989 Byron Manning, a 43-year old truck salesman, skipped non-stop for three hours, ten minutes and forty seconds at the pub in aid of charity. He hoped that this marathon might earn him a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

In April 1988 it was stated that the regulars had raised £400 for the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital’s Rocking-horse Appeal.

In 1992 the pub’s name was changed to Harbour View. In 1993 the owners became bankrupt. It was their great misfortune to purchase the premises when property prices were sky-high only to see the value plummet downwards.

In 2001 Harbour View was still an independent concern. Frances Davies, a friendly lady from the north, had been landlady for the previous five years. Soon after she took over a small conservatory-style extension was constructed on the south side. This improvement followed the abandonment of plans to widen Wellington Road, which had been on the cards for some time. The bars have been knocked through and so there was just one bar but a glance at the ceiling reveals the dimensions of the previous bars. Some old features were retained such as the massive wooden bar and corresponding shelves and fitments. The fireplace that used to grace the saloon bar was still there but unfortunately the red bricks were covered by green paint. The chimney was swept once a year and so the possibility of a real fire remained. Other survivors were the windows embellished with advertisements in leaf-green lettering reading from south to north as follows: Saloon Bar / United Ales / Wines / United Stout / United Ales / Spirits. From the outside it was quite a contrast with the upper storey, which has modern windows amongst the half-timbering.

In 2004 there were ambitious re-building plans for this part of Portslade and the uncertainty of what might happen certainly did not help the area. If the plans had gone ahead, the pub would have been demolished. The idea was to build a 39-storey tower on the site of disused Flexer Sacks complex. The development was to be called City Gateway and director Fash Ghiaci said plans for a new pub had not been decided. It all came to nothing and here we are in August 2015 and Flexer Sacks is only now being demolished, months after vandals broke in and started a fire.       

In December 2004 Nathaniel Hanmer, 62-year old van driver, said he had been a regular at the pub for the last twelve years and that it was one of the last traditional pubs around there. He commented ‘It’s a homely, workman’s pub.’ Another regular, 72-year old Ken Bass thought there were enough trendy pubs for the young. He said ‘It is important to keep some character in some of the pubs. You want pubs where the publican knows exactly what you want to drink.’ Ray Searle, 56-year old carpenter, had an even longer acquaintance with the pub, having visited it on and off during the past 28 years. Mr Searle lamented the fact that so many traditional pubs had disappeared locally within the last forty years such as the Windmill, Clarence, Jolly Sailors, Clarendon and the Crown.

On 17 November 2013 a small fire started in the loft of Harbour View and the fire brigade was called at 2. 50 p.m. The fire spread to the roof and it took firemen 50 minutes to tackle the blaze. Meanwhile, the incident caused a tailback on Wellington Road and police traffic controllers had to direct vehicles.

Harbour View was in dire straits by 2014, having changed licensees and the clientele was different. Several incidents including customers being drunk and disorderly, sexual assault, people using class A drugs and underage drinking compelled Sussex Police to ask magistrates to revoke the pub’s licence; the licence was revoked in October 2014.

In December 2014 Brighton & Hove City Council received plans to demolish the pub and replace it with a 4-storey building, which would have a pub on the ground floor and nine flats above it.

The licensee was said to be appealing the decision to revoke the licence. In August 2015 the exterior of the pub was a sorry sight with the pub garden in a mess. Once there was the delightful sight of hens and cockerels strutting about and there was a secure henhouse for night use behind the outdoor seating. Just as well because an urban fox was spotted one evening not far away in Albion Street.

copyright © J.Middleton
In this photograph you can see the green lettering on the pub windows.

During the weeks 16 November to 11 December 2015 the pub was demolished although the wooden screens already erected on the eastern side served as a warning of its imminent demise. All the same it is sad to see a piece of social history being destroyed and the gaping half-demolished bedrooms brought to mind the sort of bomb damage often seen during the Second World War.

copyright © D.Sharp
 Demolishion of the Harbour View in progress, December 2015
copyright © D.Sharp
The former site of Harbour View in August 2016 now covered in weeds and wild flowers

Sources

Argus
Census Returns
Directories
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

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