20 September 2021

Sellaby House, 126 Old Shoreham Road, Portslade.

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2021)

copyright © D. Sharp
The main entrance to Sellaby House


The deeds concerning this property go back to 19 February 1819 when the Archbishop of Canterbury did devise, grant, let and allow to be farmed ‘all his parsonage in Portslade’ to William Borrer for a rent of £4 a year and an annual stipend of £16 to be paid to the vicar or curate of the parish. However, the canny archbishop kept hold of all the woods at Portslade, as well the gift of the vicarage and the right of patronage. At the time of this transaction, the land was occupied by George Lambe, Richard Patching, and W. P. Lambe.

At some stage during William Borrer’s lifetime, he must have purchased the Lambe’s right to the land, as well as the Duke of Norfolk’s interest because when William Borrer died on 18 January 1832, he was able to leave the land to his son John Borrer.

John Borrer died on 12 August 1866, having appointed the following gentlemen to be his executors:

Eardley Nicholas Hall, banker, of Brighton

Revd Carey Hampton Borrer, of Hurstpierpoint

William Hall, gentleman, late of Shoreham, now of Southwick

John Borrer’s estate was to be divided equally between his surviving children:

Mary Blaker, widow, of Lewes

Kate and Sarah Borrer, spinsters, of The Lodge, Portslade

Henry Hall Borrer

On 1 December 1870 the three trustees reached an agreement with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners whereby the latter paid the former the sum of £1,090, and conveyed the reversionary estate while the trustees surrendered to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners the hereditaments and premises, but charged in perpetuity with an annual stipend of £16 and the repair of the chancel of St Nicolas Church, Portslade.

On 22 March 1871 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (in whom were invested the Canterbury Archbishopric and Estates) conveyed the property to Hannah Brackenbury, described as containing one acre, one rood and seventeen perches. It was once part of a larger piece of land known as Freeman’s Court, and was numbered 44 on the Tithe Map. On this site the Brackenbury Schools were built – all paid for by Hannah Brackenbury – and opened on 25 May 1872.

It seems probable that Miss Brackenbury also caused the dwelling later known as Sellaby House to be built at around the same time, and there was certainly a house in place by 1873.

Miss Brackenbury never lived at Portslade herself, but was friends with the vicar of St Nicolas Church. She lived in some splendour in Adelaide Crsecent, Hove, where she died on 28 February 1873, and was buried in the Brackenbury Chapel at Portslade. The trustees of her will were as follows:

Edward Lewes, of the Rye Bank, Charlton cum Hardy, near Manchester

Edward Harper, of 8 Brunswick Terrace, Hove

Revd W. H. Rooper, of Old Windsor

copyright © D. Sharp
The north side of Sellaby House

Alice King

The three trustees of Hannah Brackenbury’s Will sold the villa, already erected, and the grounds surrounding it to Miss Alice King for £1,000. Alice King was born in Ripon in 1814 and had been in Miss Brackenbury’s household for many years; she was her house-keeper in 1851 but later on she became her devoted companion. It is interesting to note that Alice King had savings of her own, and indeed she and her sister possessed investments. Therefore, she must have enjoyed being with Miss Brackenbury, and was not there out of necessity. Alice King named her villa Sellaby House, after Sellaby in County Durham (a later spelling used only one ‘l’) to which Hannah Brackenbury believed there was an ancient family connection.

An extract from The Denham Tracts (1892)
Hannah claimed descent from the ancient Brackenbury Family of Sellaby

In writing her will, Miss Brackenbury was well aware of the grasping nature of Alice King’s relatives, and consequently she did not leave her a cash bequest, but instead left £10,000 to be invested on behalf of Alice King, and the trustees would pay her an income. Miss Brackenbury was so adamant that the money must be in the name of the trustees that she underlined the relevant sentence in her will.

Indeed, the trustees did not know what they had let themselves in for – experiencing continuous demands or expectations. For example, the King family felt that all Miss Brackenbury’s jewellery should be theirs by right. A particular thorn in the flesh of the trustees was Alice’s brother, John King, who was a surveyor, and it seems probable that he oversaw the building of the Brackenbury Schools. For a while, John King lived in Alma Cottage in Portslade Old Village, but he died in 1880.

Unfortunately, it was not only the family who badgered the trustees, it is sad to report that a man of the cloth also made a claim in 1875. He was Revd Holbrooke who wanted a grant towards enlarging the Brackenbury Schools. No doubt the trustees were not amused, seeing as the good lady had paid for the site and the building out of her own purse in the first place, besides numerous other donations to various charities in her will.

On 18 March 1898 Alice King sold the north-east corner of her property to Walter Mews, who no doubt had exerted some pressure upon her. This land contained a foot-path, which was probably part of the ancient right-of-way leading all the way from Station Road up onto the Downs. If that was so, the foot-path should not have been stopped up, but it was diverted so as to avoid intruding on Mews’s privacy at Loxdale.

copyright © D. Sharp
The ancient right-of-way next to the flint boundary wall of Sellaby House

In 1891 the man recording the Portslade census had difficulty with the house name spelling it ‘Saliby’ House. He recorded Alice King, aged 78, living in the property on independent means, and, generous as always, she shared the property with three grand-nieces – Hannah King, aged 22, Eliza Wilson, aged 21, and seven-year old Ada Elizabeth King; there were also two visitors but only one resident servant, although with such a full house, it seems likely that other servants came in during the day. Alice King died at Sellaby House on 5 February 1901.

The Well

An aggravation for Alice King was the matter of the well because the villagers retained the right to draw water from a well situated on her land. A reason why Revd Holbrooke’s application for a grant towards enlarging the school was turned down, was expressed by one of the trustees Edward Harper. He said that the reverend gentleman ‘had been very supine about constructing a well near the schools for the relief of Alice King’. In other words, the ball was in his court. Instead, the trustees agreed to donate £100 towards the construction of a new well in the school grounds with the condition that the parishioners abandon their rights to Alice’s well.

copyright © G. Osborne
Sellaby House in the early 1900s overlooking Victoria Recreation Ground

New Owners

Alice King chose two executors for her will – one was her friend Mrs Lucy Jane Farnham Smith, wife of William Smith of 81 Sackville Road, and the other was Athelston Arthur Baines, solicitor, of 3 Pavilion Buildings, Brighton. It is sad to note that his son, 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Atheleston Arthur Baines, was killed aged only nineteen during the Second Battle of Ypres in May 1915. His military career was heartbreakingly brief – he joined his battalion on Sunday and died on Tuesday. He must have been an exceptional young man; his old headmaster from Winchester College sent a letter of condolence to his parents in which he wrote ‘he was such a wholesome, honourable and attractive fellow, truly a white soul, if ever there was one’.

Into Council Ownership

On 25 April 1901 the two executors sold Sellaby House for £1,470 to retired Lieutenant Colonel Booth Hay Metcalfe of Santa Rosa, New Church Road, Hove; he had served with the Royal Irish Rifles. By 1913 his main residence was in Ryde, Isle of Wight in a house called Beechwood. On 12 August in the same year he sold Sellaby House for £1,200 to East Sussex County Council, and it would be interesting to know why the house had dropped so much in value in twelve years.

copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Sellaby House in 1909,  before the west side garden was sold off for
the site of a new Portslade Infant School on the corner of Southern Cross

On 8 February 1927 Portslade Urban District Council purchased a strip of garden measuring 65 sq-yds so that the road at Locks Hill could be widened.

East Sussex County Council had purchased the property as an investment, and with an eye to the future when the land might be needed for a new school. This happened in the 1930s when Portslade Infants’ School (now Brackenbury School) was built on part of the garden, and opened in 1938. There were still some large and beautiful trees bordering the west side, and these remained until the 1970s when Lock’s Hill was drastically widened.

Meanwhile, Sellaby House was let to various tenants, although for a few years it appears to have been left unoccupied. In 1917 Revd Hamlin Hubert Jones took up residence, and he remained there for some years, it being convenient for St Nicolas Church where he was a curate.

In around 1923 the two spinster daughters of Edward Blaker of Easthill House, moved in – they were Isabella Maud Blaker and Edith Ellen Blaker. The former died on 17 October 1926, and the latter died on 15 June 1938. Their names are inscribed on a Blaker tombstone in St Nicolas Churchyard, although of course the place has long been closed for burials.

Miss M. E. Lewes, a teacher, then took over the tenancy. It seems that in 1939 East Sussex County Council was all set to sell Sellaby House for £900 but the outbreak of the Second World War meant that it never happened. In the event, the property proved useful, being used to accommodate evacuee teachers, and later on, the military. Air-raid shelters were constructed at the back of the house.

Public Health and Education

In the early 1950s Sellaby House was used as offices for the Hove and Portslade Public Health Committee. There was also a school clinic and a dentist there, besides ante-natal check-ups. The latter was still on-going in the early 1960s, long before scans came along, and the only way a mid-wife could hear a heart-beat was to put what looked like an inverted metal vase on the bump of the expectant mother, and apply her ear to the top. Children also queued up to be given protection from the great scourge of the time – polio, or infantile paralysis, not by a jab but on a lump of sugar.

In September 1963 an Adult Education Centre opened in Sellaby House, boasting just two classes. Later developments led to the basement being converted to an art studio for pottery and sculpture. Some sculpture classes were held in the morning, and some in the evening, and surprisingly enough, attracted some 100 students. In September 1965 a prefabricated classroom was added, and in May 1968 when St Nicolas School moved into new premises, Sellaby House took over some of the old premises. By 1972 there were around 900 students, and some 50 different classes being held at Sellaby House. It laid claim to being the first fully adult education centre in the whole of Sussex offering day and evening classes. One grateful student was Barrie Huntbach.

Later on, the role of adult education was taken over by Portslade Community College, now Portslade Aldridge Community Academy, while Sellaby House was used for remedial teaching. It is fascinating to note that while East Sussex County Council wanted to put Sellaby House on the market in 1939, they in fact retained ownership for another sixty-nine years until 1998 when Brighton & Hove Council took over.

Today, Sellaby House is still in use for social purposes, and it is where the NACCC – National Association of Child Contact Centre – performs its vital work. It is a place where a child can have contact with an estranged parent because although the child’s parents might have separated or been acrimoniously divorced, it is in the child’s best interest to keep in touch with the absent parent.

The House

copyright © D. Sharp
The east side of Sellaby House

This Victorian villa echoed the main building material used in the village by being flint-faced. But this did not preclude the use of red brick and yellow brick dressings to add variety. Sellaby House pre-dates its large neighbour Loxdale, and the equally large Whychcote, both built of red bricks.

The front door is set at an angle in the south front, and looks east. The rounded opening for the doorway is decorated with a contrasting band of red and cream bricks, while above is a drip-stone, reminiscent of a church window. To the right of the door there is a small window with a matching round top and decorated in a similar style. The door-knocker is a solid construction of iron and is believed to be the original one.

Inside the main door in the hall, a staircase leads off to the west, behind one of the principal rooms. The ironwork on the staircase is particularly fine and unusual with three basic rods decorated and supported by a Renaissance-style head for each baluster. It is not clear as to whether the face is male, female, or perhaps an angel – at any rate the hair is curled above the ears. Below each head, an inverted fleur-de-lys design incorporates three massive screws supporting the balusters. The handrail is of dark wood and curves round to the newel post designed as a thick, barley-sugar twist – a motif echoed in the part of the balusters just under the handrail.

The west room could have served as the dining room, and it is decorated in a somewhat masculine style. For example, the fireplace of black marble is large and solid with minimal carving under the mantel. The ceiling is decorated with a frieze of vine leaves and bunches of grapes. At each corner of the room, and at either side of the fireplace, there is a different decoration of swirled leaves in a circle. The windows are high and deep-set.

The east room is large, and could have served as a drawing room or morning room. The fireplace is of white marble, and finely carved with a small fish-scale pattern under the mantle. The frieze features a pattern of swirling four-petalled flowers and leaves. At each corner, and over the fireplace there is a separate circular detail with a daffodil-like flower. The room has lovely deep windows to the east as well as to the south.

The other large room on the ground floor was presumably the kitchen – the over-mantel that once surrounded the range can still be seen, and there is a scullery beyond. Upstairs, there are four good-sized bedrooms, some with dressing rooms attached, and the front bedrooms enjoy extensive views from windows facing in two directions. The fireplaces are white marble with grey flecks, but unfortunately there is only one in its original condition, the others having been covered with paint.

The basement contains two rooms, with smaller ones for storage.

copyright © D. Sharp
 Sellaby House viewed from the Old Shoreham Road


Census Returns

Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Letters concerning Hannah Brackenbury, Autograph Collection, Hove Library

Mr G. Osborne

Middleton, J. Hove and Portslade in the Great War (2014)

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Street Directories

The Keep

ACC 2409 / 777 – Hannah Brackenbury’s Will

ACC 2409 / 819-823 – Correspondence of the trustees of Hannah Brackenbury’s Will

R / C4 / 221 – Relating to Sellaby House

Copyright © J.Middleton 2021
page layout by D.Sharp