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31 July 2018

Portslade Allotments - 2018 Centenary

Judy Middleton 2001 (revised 2018)

copyright © D. Sharp
A view of the  allotments looking north to Portslade's former Brewery and the tower of St Nicolas Church on the right  in June 2018

Background

At one time ordinary folk had access to common land to pasture their animals or grow crops and there was an open field system. But from way back in Tudor times, the pernicious practice of enclosure began to grow apace. This meant that great swathes of common land were taken away from the general populace and handed over to wealthy landowners. It is interesting to note that the last such Act of Enclosure locally occurred at Portslade in relatively recent times in 1861 when Tenantry Hill and Foredown Hill ceased to be common land. Before this, some tenants enjoyed certain rights to pasture their sheep or cows on the hills at designated times of the year.

Some of the clergy recognised the injustice done to the working man trying to support his family and it is thought the Bishop of Bath and Wells was the first person to come up with the idea of allotments in 1807. The Bishop was also of the opinion that it would be good for the health of industrial workers if they could get out in the fresh air and grow produce to feed their families.

This idea caught on to such an extent that under the Allotments Acts of 1887 and 1890 the provision of allotments for the labouring classes was made compulsory if such a need existed. In the Smallholdings and Allotments Act of 1908 local authorities had a duty to provide allotments while the Allotment Act of 1922 stated that all places with a population of over 10,000 people must have an Allotment Committee. These Acts remain relevant to this day.

Early Portslade Allotments

  copyright © D. Sharp
The former St Nicolas Church Hall in Abinger Road
the venue of Portslade Allotments annual shows
(The Church sold the hall in the 1960s to fund the building
of new Vicarage and Parish Centre near
St Nicolas Church in the Old Village)
The story starts in the 1890s. In March 1895 Portslade Parish Meeting was told that the quest for suitable land south of the railway line had been unsuccessful. But presumably Portslade already had allotments because the following year there was a waiting list of two persons for an allotment. In July 1899 nineteen plot holders complained about not being able to water their gardens until the tenants of the lower portion of land had finished watering theirs. It was resolved to provide water butts.

The Ordnance Survey Map for 1909 show that there were allotments south of Shelldale Road. There were other allotments north of Victoria Road but there were still brickworks between the allotments and Victoria Recreation Ground. In 1945 the tenants of allotments situated at the back of Fryco’s factory were told that the land was required for the new Benfield School.

The Portslade and District Allotment Holders and Amateur Gardener's Association. 

Under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 (DORA) the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing gave powers to local authorities to take over unused plots of land for allotments, to help solve the problem of ever increasing food shortages caused by German blockades.

The Brighton Herald reported on 12 September 1914, 'vegetables and fruits were donated by Portslade’s allotment holders to Belgian Refugees housed in St Mary’s School in Church Road."
See the Belgian Refugees in Portslade page

1 September 1915 the Portslade and District Allotments Holders and Amateur Gardeners Association held their second annual show at St Nicolas Church Hall in Abinger Road. The Association had 104 members and there were twenty-five classes in the exhibition. One of the three judges was Mr N. Higgs, gardener to Walter Mews of Loxdale.

  copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
A report from the Brighton & Hove & South Sussex Graphic
  for the 9 September 1915

The above Brighton & Hove & South Sussex Graphic newspaper report  shows Mr Walter Mews of Loxdale and co-owner with his brother of Portslade Brewery, as the President of Portslade and District Allotment Holders and Amateur Gardener's Association. (His brother Herbert lived at Whychcote in the Old Village)

Some of the notable Vice-Presidents of  the Portslade Allotments Association in 1915 :- 

Revd V.A. Boyle, Vicar of Portslade and Chairman of the Portslade Allotments Association, who served as the personal secretary and editor to the social reformers Canon Samuel and Henrietta  Barnett at Toynbee Hall in the East End of London in the early 1900s.

Mr J.H. Bristow, Hon. Sec. of the Portslade Allotments Association and Hon. Sec. of the Independent Labour Party (Brighton Branch)

Colonel W.R. Campion D.S.O, Conservative MP for Lewes, In 1915 he served with the Royal Sussex Regiment in the Gallipoli Campaign. In 1924 he was awarded a knighthood and appointed Governor of Western Australia. Colonel Campion lived at Danny Park, Hurstpierpoint.

Mr T.B. French, grocer in Bampfield Street.

Mr A.W. Green, owner and manager of Petersfield Laundry.

Mr F. Hart, butcher in Trafalgar Road.

Mr W. Hillman J.P., Chairman of Portslade Council, Churchwarden of St Andrew's Church, Farmer at East Hill, builder and Chief Officer of Portslade Fire Brigade in Church Road.

Revd H.H. Jones, Curate at St Nicolas Church (away at the War Front in France, serving in the military chaplaincy)

Mr G. Miles, Portslade builder, (notably, decorated the Chapels in Portslade Cemetery)

Mr R. Price, Headmaster of St Nicolas Boys School and Hon. Treasurer of Portslade Allotments Association

Mr J.C. Rokeby-Hallen, a prolific author of sports books and proprietor of the Brighton & Hove & South Sussex Graphic newspaper. He lived at the Highlands in the Old Shoreham Road. Mr Rokeby-Hallen was the Hon. Recruiting Officer for the 'Sportsmen's Battalion' in Brighton and Hove.

Mr C.H. Rutter C.E., general manager of Portslade Gas Works

Mr W. Swaysland, naturalist, taxidermist and author of bird books, quoted by Charles Darwin in the Origin of Species, Councillor on Portslade Council and Vice Chairman of the Portslade Allotments Association. Some of Walter Swaysland's taxidermy specimens can be seen in Brighton's Booth Museum.

Misses K. and M. Watson  lived at Portslade House. and were the granddaughters of the Dowager Viscountess Hood of Whitley.

The auditors of the Association were Mr E Abraham, landlord of the Battle of Trafalgar Inn and Mr J. Miles, Headmaster of St Andrew's School, Portslade.

With so many major Portslade employers, community leaders and local personalities represented amongst the President and Vice Presidents of the Portslade and District Allotment Holders Association, there must have been extra pressure on employees and Portslade residents to take up allotments and help with the War effort.

After the First World War
in 1918 the Portslade Allotments and Horticultural Society was founded, and thus it is celebrating its centenary in 2018.

Camp Site Allotments

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.
Portslade's Army Camp on the playing fields of Windlesham School in 1917 later to become the site of Portslade's Camp Allotments.

There have been allotments on this site since 1919. It was once part of land belonging to Portslade House and later occupied by Windlesham House School.
During the Great War a military camp occupied the area which included the Army School of Cooking – hence the name 'Camp'.

In September 1933 holders asked Portslade Council about the possibility of re-opening the entrance to the site from South Street and they also asked for water to be laid on. The Council conducted a survey among the holders to find out how many people were in favour. Out of 228 holders, there was no reply from 115, 27 were against it and 86 in favour. The Council was not satisfied with the number of people who did not bother to reply and resolved to try again.

copyright © D. Sharp
Portslade Allotments & Horticultural Society's shop in Windlesham Close.

From 1938 allotment holders could purchase seeds from their very own ‘shop' set up in a hut on site. On occasions there were queues of as many as 50 keen gardeners waiting outside to buy their chosen seeds, which would be placed in brown envelopes. It is pleasant to record that even after the establishment of Mayberry Garden Centre practically opposite, the little 'shop' is still open for business to members of Portslade Allotments and Horticultural Society on three mornings a week.

copyright © D. Sharp
Portslade Allotments looking north west towards the King's School

In 1994 it was reported that high levels of lead had been discovered in the soil and there was also some contamination with arsenic and zinc. The Council had no idea of how this had occurred and said that vegetables grown there were safe to eat provided they were washed thoroughly before use.

copyright © D. Sharp
The land on the east side of road (Windlesham Close) was once a part of Portslade Allotments, now occupied by Rotary Point,  Evelyn Court and blocks of flats and houses.

By 1994 the site consisted of 127 plots of varying size. In its heyday the allotment site had stretched across the east part as well. But then the popularity of allotments waned while the need for building land shot up and so that part was given over to housing. First came Portslade Old People’s Club built by the WVS in 1958. Then followed Rotary Point and Evelyn Court for old folk and finally blocks of flats and houses.

copyright © D. Sharp
A view of Portslade Allotments from the tower of St Nicolas Church, the building in the foreground is Whychcote.

Some Portslade Allotments in 1923

Portslade Council rented land for allotments as follows:

1) 12 acres, 1 rood, 30 poles between Victoria Road and Old Shoreham Road @ £59-7-10d a year

2) 5 acres, 1 rood and 16 poles in Shelldale Road @ £24-10s a year

3) A small plot at the back of  St Nicolas Church Hall in Abinger Road @ £1-03d a year

These three plots were put up for auction at the Old Ship Hotel, Brighton on 29 May 1923

St Andrew’s Road

By 1932 Portslade Council had 31.5 acres of permanent allotments and three acres of temporary allotments. Part of the latter may have included a site near the back of St Andrew’s Road close to Portslade Police Station that the Council purchased in 1930. There were some cultivated plots that three men requested permission to continue to use. Mr J. Goble, tenant of an orchard on this land, rented it from the Council for £18-15s for nine months in 1930.

Search for More Land

In December 1935 Portslade Council were considering whether or not to acquire more land for allotments from the following sources:

1) Land owned by Lord Sackville on the east side of Mill House Estate 5.666 acres

2) Land owned by Brighton Council approximately 530 yards from St Nicolas Church and north of land owned by the Convent

3) Land on Mile Oak Road and east of land owned by London County Council (Mile Oak Approved School) 2.848 acres

In 1936 Portslade Council approached Mr H. Reed about selling three acres near Mile Oak Road. They also talked to Brighton Council about selling or leasing 10 acres called the Jubilee Field.

Then in 1937 Portslade Council started looking further north and talked about the compulsory purchase of 25 acres north of Chalky Road from farmers A.J. Broomfield and S.H. West. The Council wanted 5 acres on the east side to be devoted to allotments. But Mr Broomfield thought otherwise. He did not mind 20 acres being used for housing or as a public open space but he certainly did not want allotments. Instead he offered the Council 5 acres adjacent to the east side of the Paddocks Estate. If the Council refused this offer, Mr Broomfield would fight the Compulsory Purchase Order. The Council agreed and the Mile Oak allotments were established. But this site had a short lifespan because in the 1960s the land was sold for development and Heathfield Crescent and Heathfield Drive were built on it.

copyright © D. Sharp
Mile Oak Allotments looking east towards Mont Zion and Foredown Hill in june 2018.

The new Mile Oak allotments were sited further north with the main access being from Gorse Close. The allotments are situated in a hollow and a planting of trees and whips have been made on the east side.

copyright © D. Sharp
Mile Oak Allotments looking west towards Southwick Hill in June 2018.

By 1974 Portslade had 460 allotments. In June 1981 it was announced that that a new 5 acre site would be provided near Foredown Hospital. The ground was part grass and part market garden. Hove Council agreed to spend £30,000 on converting the site. This was because the smallholding site at Elm Drive, Hove had been closed. But by January 1994 Hove Council was concerned because only three of the 46 plots were occupied; by April 2000 just two allotments were being worked. There was an idea it might be turned into a nature reserve.

Eastbrook Farm Allotments

  copyright © D. Sharp
The Brighton & Hove City Council owned Eastbrook Farm Allotments on the West Sussex side of the East Sussex boundary path in June 2018.

At some stage, most probably in the 1920s, Portslade Council acquired the Eastbrook Farm site for allotments. Technically of course the site was not in Portslade at all but over the border in Southwick. But land was so scarce in south Portslade with the area becoming so built up that there was not a great deal of choice. The proximity of the Power Station did nothing to enhance the site either. In fact in December 1930 the sum of £13-1-3d was paid in compensation to those holders who had suffered damage during the erection of cable towers in connection with the Southwick sub-station.

In March 1930 holders complained to Portslade Council that people persisted in using the site as a short cut or as a place in which to exercise their dogs. The Council responded by erecting a notice Private Property. Trespassers will be Prosecuted.

In 1933 Portslade Council conducted a survey to see how many holders wanted a water supply laid on. Out of 222 holders, 112 did not deign to reply, 30 were against it and 80 were in favour of a water supply.

copyright © D. Sharp
The southern section of Eastbrook Farm Allotments

In 1934 the holders thought the Council ought to prohibit the use of fish offal for fertiliser because the smell attracted stray dogs and cats.

In June 1939 the holder of plot 333 wanted his rent suspended because his plot was unusable due to pylons erected by the Central Electricity Board.

In March 1993 it was stated that two holders would have to vacate their plots so that pylons could be re-sited but they would be compensated.

By June 1996 it was reported that there were 25% of vacancies at the site.

copyright © D. Sharp
The cleared area of the north section of Eastbrook Allotments comprising of 1.5 hectares of land owned by Brighton & Hove City Council, was released in 2005 by the Secretary of State for the purpose of 'business development', photographed in June 2018.

In recent time there have been ambitious plans to re-develop the land for housing or industrial use and indeed the part nearest Old Shoreham Road has been cleared. But the south part continues in use while the rest remains disused. The problem is of course the pylons with health fears for people who might occupy houses underneath the power lines.

For the latest news and further information on allotments in Portslade see the  Portslade Allotments & Horticultural Society website.

Sources

Middleton J, Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Local newspapers
Portslade Council Minutes at The Keep
Portslade Local August 2018

copyright © J.Middleton 2018
page layout and additional research by D. Sharp