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12 August 2016

Copperas Gap Windmill, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2016)

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
An early 1800s painting of the windmills at Copperas Gap, with Shoreham Harbour in the distant background and storm clouds approaching. Painting attributed to Frederick Ford


The Copperas Gap windmill was situated south of St Andrew’s Road and on the corner of West Street and North Street. It was a white post-mill with a tail pole.

Copperas Gap

The name Copperas Gap arouses considerable interest. It is not of ancient origin as some may imagine because the small area it covers was once known as West Aldrington. In the Armada Map drawn in 1587 Aldrington Beacon is recorded and W. Scott’s drawing of around 1816 depicts some cottages at Copperas Gap with the beacon on the cliff. The ‘Gap’ part derives from Anglo-Saxon and in Sussex meant an opening in the chalk cliffs.

The name Copperas Gap was certainly in use in October 1795 when a local newspaper carried a paragraph about the Princess of Wales and Lady Cholmondley taking an airing to Copperas Gap where they sat on a bank and enjoyed a picnic.

Historian Geoffrey Mead is of the opinion the name derives from the 17th century when the locals collected stones made of iron pyrites (copperas) from the tidal area of Shoreham Harbour. The stones were exported out of the area and used for the manufacture of sulphuric acid.

Local Historian Captain Bately thought that sulphate of iron, or green vitriol was employed in the manufacture of inks and dyes. Others say the stones were used in glass-making.

It is interesting to note that copperas has a long history as an ingredient in black ink going back to Anglo-Saxon times and used in early manuscripts – the other ingredients being oak-galls and gum Arabic. Black ink could also be made using lamp-black, or charcoal mixed with gum. Either of these inks, or both, could have been used in the creation on parchment of the designs for the Bayeux Tapestry, which was worked by Anglo-Saxon female embroiderers in the south of England. England was renowned for the skills of her needle-women, and the females involved in embroidering the Bayeux Tapestry are thought to have been nuns, and high-born ladies who had fled to the nunneries for protection as a result of the Norman Conquest in 1066. (Jan Messent The Bayeux Tapestry Embroiderers’ Story 1999).

Chambers Dictionary defines copperas as the name formerly used for copper and other sulphates and derives from the Latin ‘cupri rosa’ (rose of copper).

Old-timers told Bert Pierce that Copperas Gap was the name of a particular rock in the sea south of where the Electricity Works were built and it was well known to local fishermen as a fine place to catch large conger eels.

There is also the possibility that it was simply named after a person living there because the area was named Coppard’s Gap in Ordnance Survey Maps up to around 1873 and in the Directory for 1855; Coppard is a recognised Sussex surname.

It is interesting to note that the original Portslade Railway Station built in 1841 once rejoiced in the name of Copperas Gap Station.

copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
A Victorian photograph of Copperas Gap Windmill


Richard Tidy was the first recorded miller and he died in 1790. He left his house, mill and warehouse to his wife Ann. She sold the mill in 1793.

William Huggett was miller for around 24 years. In 1813 he had the unnerving experience of being severely burned when lightning struck Copperas Gap. The year 1813 was also memorable for him in another way too because his daughter Sarah was baptised at St Nicolas Church, Portslade. At the time he was unmarried and the mother was recorded as being Mary Pockney, single-woman. But at least he acknowledged being the father, which was not always the case with illegitimate births. Perhaps his family thought he was too young for marriage. But whatever the reason the pair had married by the time the next child came along in 1818.

William Huggett was in partnership with William Pennington Gorringe whose name was associated with another prominent landmark in the locality, the lighthouse at Shoreham Harbour, which was built on land formerly belonging to him. Naturally, Gorringe had an interest in what went on at Shoreham Harbour because he was also a Shoreham Harbour Commissioner, as well as being a ship-owner with an interest in the timber trade, and a landowner.

In 1837 the partnership was dissolved and in April of that year all the stock-in-trade was advertised for sale including the following:

Two useful, strong horses
A light, tilted van
A new coal cart with trace harnesses
A new winnowing machine  
A coal-weighing machine
A corn measure
A quantity of corn
Building bricks

Copperas Gap by W.H. Stothard Scott (1783-1850)

John Borrer (1785-1866)

John Borrer purchased the mill and let it. Borrer was born in Hurstpierpoint but had lived in Portslade since 1807. He became a considerable landowner in Portslade and lived in his newly constructed Portslade Manor, which was quite near the ancient manor house. He had his own private doorway cut into the churchyard wall so that he and his family had easier access to their parish church. Borrer married three times but unhappily for him both Kitty and Mary Anne died at the early age of 27, the latter after childbirth. All Mary Anne’s children came to an untimely end; the last two sons died at the age of two or three months, Ellen died aged seventeen, John died after a carriage accident and William was lost at sea. You can still see the touching memorials to these children on the wall of the North Aisle at St Nicolas Church, Portslade. Borrer’s third wife Sarah Ann produced three children and although Lindfield died before he was two months old, at least Henry survived to adulthood (he was also a mariner) while Kate lived to the grand old age of 84. Borrer’s first wife Kitty had two children Mary and Kate. Out of a family of ten children there were just two marriages and only Mary, who married John Blaker at St Nicolas Church on 18 April 1839, had children. John Borrer certainly experienced a great deal of sorrow during his life and it is remarkable that he lived to the age of 81 and died on 12 August 1866, having outlived three wives.

Benjamin Broadbridge and John Bodle

The 1841 census records these two men as the resident millers.

Benjamin Broadbridge aged 59
Wife Fanny 57
Daughter Jane 17
Son William 10
Son Henry 7

John Bodle aged 25
Wife Eliza 25
Daughter Eliza 1

Many years later when Eliza Bodle was a widow she ran the Crown Inn at Copperas Gap in the 1870s until her son William took over.

Henry Whiting

By 1842 Henry Whiting was the miller and he was there again from 1855 to 1856. As well as being a miller, he was also the local postmaster. In 1856 his son James Whiting was baptised at St Nicolas Church, Portslade.

James Everest

In between times James Everest was the miller. In the 1851 census he was described as a 43-year old widower who lived with his daughter Georgina aged 13 and son 12-year old James.

Thomas Hicks

By 1858 Thomas Hicks was at the mill and the Directory described him as a bread and biscuit maker. He was there for around four years but was followed by other millers. However, he was back by 1870 and was the last recorded miller.

Charles Richard Smith

He was a member of the well-known Portslade family who were involved with the nearby Britannia Flour Mills. The 1861 census recorded 48 year-old C.R. Smith living in Palatine House, near or next to Halfway House pub in Station Road, Portslade. He lived there with his wife Ann aged 39, and the two eldest sons, Frederick and Richard were of an age to earn their living as clerks while the younger siblings were Charles 9, Jane 7 and three-year old Wilhelmina, plus two servants. By 1862 C.R. Smith was running Copperas Gap windmill. He rented the mill from Borrer but he did not stay there for long because Borrer died in 1866 and the aftermath was a quick succession of millers, Herbert Maynard in 1867 and John Muddle in 1869.


It is interesting to note that the name Copperas Gap was falling out of use by the late 1860s. When John Muddle took his children to be baptised, daughter Rosa in 1868 and son Charles some eighteen months later, he was specifically described as a miller of Portslade-by-Sea.

But soon the mill was up for sale again and Thomas Hicks returned, perhaps for old times sake. However, the mill was at the end of its working life and it is thought to have been demolished in around 1872.

 copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
This historic photograph dating from around 1914 shows long-vanished parts of Copperas Gap, Portslade. The Britannia Flour Mills, which replaced Copperas Gap windmill, stands at the centre with a ship at the wharf, the Crown Inn is on the right, the Star Model Laundry is on the left while in the background the spire of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, and St Denis is visible.
copyright © D.Sharp
The former Copperas Gap area of south Portslade in August 2016, the red brick building is the former Salvation Army Hall built in 1910.


1725 – possible date of mill’s construction
1790 – Richard Tidy died, leaving house, mill and warehouse to wife Ann and others
1793 – Owner Ann sold the mill at the White Horse, Brighton
1801 – It was recorded that there were two windmills at Portslade capable of grinding ten quarters in 24 hours
1804 – Mill to be sold at Sloop Inn, Copperas Gap
1808 – Mill to be sold at Old Ship, Brighton
1813 – Severe storm, miller William Huggett badly burned by lightning
1813 – Sarah, daughter of William Huggett, miller, baptised at St Nicolas Church, Portslade
1818 – William, son of William Huggett, miller, baptised at St Nicolas Church, Portslade
1820 – John, son of William Huggett, miller, baptised at St Nicolas Church, Portslade
1837 – Partnership of William Huggett and William Pennington Gorringe dissolved. Mill sold to John Borrer of Portslade Manor.
1841 – Millers were Benjamin Broadbridge, 59, and John Bodle, 25
1843 – John Whiting, miller
1845 – Mill let to James Everest
1855 – Henry Whiting, baker, miller and postmaster
1856 – James, son of Henry Whiting, miller, baptised at St Nicolas Church, Portslade
1858 – Thomas Hicks, miller, bread and biscuit maker
1862Charles Richard Smith, miller
1866 – John Borrer died
1868 – John Muddle, miller
1869 – Mill to be sold
1870 – Thomas Hicks, miller and baker
c.1872 – Mill demolished

See also Easthill Windmill in north Portslade


Census returns
Middleton J Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

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