10 January 2015

Stag's Head, Portslade

Judy Middleton (2003 revised 2022)

copyright © J.Middleton
The Stag’s Head was photographed on 18 June 2009. The saloon bar on the west side was not part of the original 
pub and was once a private cottage.

What’s in a Name?

The building occupied today by the Stag’s Head dates back to the 16th century and although it now has an address in High Street, when it was built folk only knew it as being situated in Portslade Village. During its long years the Stag was subject to re-numbering on more than one occasion. In the 1920s it was 27 High Street; by 1939 it had become 39 High Street while by 1960 it was numbered at 35/37 High Street.

It may come as a surprise to some people that the pub’s name is not nearly as old as they might think but we can at least be grateful it has not been subjected to a new name during the recent vogue for pub name changing.
copyright © J.Middleton
The Stag’s Head was photographed on 18 June 2009

It seems certain that the pub was called the Bull Inn in the early 19th century. Evidence for this lies in the 1840 Tithe Map when it was recorded that Thomas Peters owned the Bull Inn, while William Peters was the landlord. The Bull Inn and yard was numbered at 51 while the George Inn was numbered at 48. Looking at the proximity of the George and the Stag today, it is impossible not to conclude that the Bull and the Stag were one and the same. Thus the annoying recent trend to rename pubs has a precedent after all.

The reason why the name Stag’s Head was chosen is open to conjecture. It could be as simple as the fact that there were deer nearby on the Downs and there are still a few there to this day. But the name could also be seen as a compliment to John Borrer, Lord of the Manor of Portslade who owned 764 acres in the parish. The Borrer family’s crest featured a stag’s head – a buck with an augur in its mouth. The augur represents the ordinary tool called a borer and thus it was a pun on their surname. Punning allusions were popular in heraldry. The Blakers were another important Portslade family whose coat-of-arms featured blackamoors’ heads, which had nothing to do with ancestors or the slave trade but was also a pun on their surname.

Further proof the two titles relate to one pub occurs in 1886 when the brewers, Walter and Henry Mews, wanted to purchase two pieces of land near the Stag’s Head. Harry Peters owned one piece and Frederick Peters owned the other. As no extant deeds existed, the Peters were obliged to make and sign a statement of ownership. On 26 January 1886 Harry Peters stated his grandfather John Peters purchased the plot from John Borrer and that the Peters had enjoyed it undisturbed ever since. On 5 September 1888 Frederick Peters stated he and his brother Abraham Peters had purchased their plot of land in 1861.   

An Ancient Document

On the wall of the saloon bar there was an ancient, framed parchment. Some of the writing had faded badly and the central part had almost vanished from sight. It was also obvious there had been a clumsy attempt to overwrite some of the fading words.

It is interesting to note that King Charles II had been on the throne for two years when the document was drawn up. The king had a fleeting acquaintance with this area because after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 his route of flight to safety in France led him across the Downs at Portslade. (See The Royal Escape)

The document appears to be an indenture dated 5 November 1662 between Edward Blaker of Buckingham, Old Shoreham, and Abraham Winnie involving ‘all that messuage or dwelling house … lodging adjoining land of Thomas Hamlin on the east, land of Thomas Hartfield on the west and Edward Blaker to the north.’ It seems that Blaker sold the land to Winnie and it stretched from High Street north to where Northerlea was later built. There is also mention of waters, the highway, the term of a thousand years and the amount of money involved was £30. The transaction was no doubt recorded in Portslade Manor Court Books but deeds of that date were usually written in Latin and English was not used in such legal documents until 1680.

It is interesting to note that when the death of John Kemp was recorded in 1774, he owned five acres that used to belong to the late John Wyne, perhaps a member of the same family mentioned in the deed; the difference in spelling is not significant at that date.

Another interesting fact is that in the 1890s pub landlord H. Winn also owned stables at the back of Montgomery Street, Hove. The mews have long gone and a modern development is there instead dignified with the name Wynne’s Mews.

Some Landlords

By the 1860s and 1870s Thomas Miles was landlord of the Stag’s Head. Apart from St Nicolas’s Church, the pub was the only place in the village where a number of people could gather. It was quite usual at this time for pubs to be used for inquests because if the dead person was found nearby, it was customary to hold an inquest as close to the scene as possible. This happened in 1875 when in January of that year an inquest was held at the Stag’s Head into the death of 60-year old John Blaber who had hanged himself.
 copyright © J.Middleton
The Dudney's Stag's Head pub sign

In 1878 John Dudney, who owned the nearby Portslade Brewery, purchased the Stag’s Head and in the following year, Dudney also purchased the shop adjoining it.

In around 1878 David Brazier became landlord. Southwick-born David Brazier was still in residence in 1881 when the census was taken. It recorded his age as 40 and he lived with his wife Kate 36, sons George 14, David 9, and daughters Kate 15, Edith 13, Minnie 11, Ada 2 plus two-month Lilian. It must have been a bit of a squash for the family because the pub was not so spacious then as the premises we see today. David Brazier was an oyster merchant as well as a publican.

Perhaps it was the pressure of a large family in the confined space of the old pub that induced David Brazier to move to more spacious surroundings in 1888. By this time he and his wife had no less than nine children. They all moved to the Clifton Arms on the corner of Clifton Road and Tarring Road, Worthing. It must have been something of a wrench for Mrs Brazier because her father had been a former landlord of the Stag’s Head. The management of pubs thus ran in the family tree and David and Kate’s son called Dave but baptised Anthony David, went on to run the Clifton Arms in 1895. Unfortunately, Dave came to an untimely end. He, his brother George and father David were out rabbit hunting on the Downs at Mile Oak on 3 October 1900. Dave was lying on the ground near a promising rabbit hole when for some inexplicable reason he suddenly stood up at the same time as his father fired his gun. The inquest was held at the Battle of Trafalgar probably because there was more space than at the Stag’s Head. No blame was attached to the father. Around 2,000 people attended the funeral.

There was another Brazier in the village too. This was William Brazier who in 1877 purchased for £250 one of Lisbon Cottages in the village. Lisbon Cottages was a terrace of three cottages that are still in existence and numbered 3, 4 and 5 South Street.

On 8 April 1884 there was a large transfer of property in Portslade when the Dudney family sold the Stag’s Head, Victoria Hotel, Portslade, Cricketers’ Inn. Broadwater and 148 Church Road, Hove, to Walter and Henry Mews. In a separate transaction, the Dudneys sold Portslade Brewery also to the Mews brothers. The document noted that there was a right of way to the Stag’s Head from South Street, just south of where the old footbridge linked the brewery on the east side with the stores on the west side.

John Rich took over the running of the Stag’s Head in 1887. Apparently, John Rich supplied his ale to customers in a tankard stamped J. Rich Stag’s Head and one remains in the possession of his descendants. It was certainly a way of ensuring he hung on to his ‘empties’.  

 copyright © J.Middleton
This wonderful view of Portslade Village apparently teeming with well-dressed children was posted in 1909. 
Note the inn sign with Dudney’s on it although they sold out in 1884 but perhaps the ale still went by that name. 
G. Davey’s name appears above the doorway.

One of the characters frequenting the pub in the 1890s was old Burt West, a shepherd. He used to come down from the hills weekly to stock up on supplies in the village and then treat himself to a drink in the Stag. If he ran short of funds, not an uncommon occurrence, he would be only too pleased to perform his party trick for a free pint of beer. This involved him groping around inside his shirt and pulling out a live rat. He would then bite off its head to loud applause. He usually kept two live rats inside his shirt, just in case. 

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting 
permission for the reproduction of the above 
photograph  from his private collection. 
Smither's Stag's Head, note the stag antlers on the wall
By 1895 Thomas Smith ran the pub and like his colleague up the road in the George, he had more than one string to his bow because he was also a carpenter and joiner.

In 1899 James Stannard was in charge followed in around 1905 by George Davey. On 6 December 1919 George Davey and Hector Read (of the Village Stores) gave a supper and entertainment for all the Portslade men who had returned from serving their country in the Great War. The guests numbered around 50 and there was a sumptuous spread followed by a musical entertainment. It is interesting to note the lady who played the piano for the event was Mrs McConnochie, wife of Gabriel McConnochie, headmaster of what later became St Nicolas School.

The Daveys were associated with the Stag’s Head for many years because George Davey was there until the 1920s, then G.E. Davey took over (probably his son) and by 1935 Mrs Charlotte Davey was landlady and she stayed until after the Second World War.  

Mrs Charlotte Davey’s son, Ernie Davey, took over the day-to-day running of the pub when his mother grew older, although Mrs Davey still held the licence. The living quarters in the pub must have been very crowded in those days because Ernie’s sister also lived there plus Ernie’s partner Betty, and her children Jack, Peter, Dick and Joyce. Certainly, Jack Rawlinson, born 1933, remembered living in the pub for most of the 1940s.

During the time the Daveys were running the pub, there was a change in ownership. In 1919 Smithers purchased Portslade Brewery and remained owners until 1929 when Tamplin’s took over.

Second World War

The war years certainly provided a change in customers when Canadian soldiers stationed at Portslade in the early part of the war used to drop in for a pint. They livened the place up but some villagers were apprehensive at ‘chucking out’ time when many of them were rowdy to say the least.

It is interesting to note that one Canadian soldier, who became a regular when not on duty, also happened to be a professional snooker player. Therefore he must have been delighted when he found a full-size snooker table in the back room of the pub. He also enjoyed instructing two keen youngsters in the art of snooker-playing. They were brothers Jack and Peter Rawlinson who lived in the pub with their mother Betty Davey, their sister Joyce, and younger brother Dick, plus step-father Ernie Davey, and licensee Charlotte Davey. The Canadian must have been a good teacher, because Jack and Peter later went to hold the title between them of Sussex champion snooker player for at least six years.

At this time there was still a communicating tunnel between the pub and the brewery. It has been called an underground railway, but perhaps that is rather a grand term. It was no more than two rails down which a barrel loaded on a trolley would be despatched by means of rope and tackle into the cellars of the pub. This tunnel has long been blocked off, but just think what a novelty it would be today. (Information kindly supplied by Paul Rawlinson).

In 1940 the 5th (Territorial Army) Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders were stationed in the brewery buildings and the battalion band played The Last Post outside the Stag every evening.

Later Landlords

No doubt Mr Dawes provided some drinks on the house when his daughter Fran was born at the Stag on 6th July 1949.

  copyright © S. Boniface
Bert and Winnie in the early 1960s, with Sammy, the bartender, on the left.

By 1951 Albert E. Stringer, known to everyone as Bert, was the landlord. He had once been wine waiter at White Hart Hotel, Lewes, while his wife Winnie was daughter of the landlord of Roebuck Inn, Laughton. The Stringers had three daughters – Jeanne was the eldest, Janet was the middle one and Judith was the youngest who also ran a hairdressing salon in Valley Road. Mrs Stringer had a pet parrot that was often to be seen perched on her shoulder. The poor parrot came to an untimely end when it flew in front of a bus. The Stringers also owned a Pekinese dog. After Bert Stringer died, his widow continued to manage the pub and altogether the Stringers were in residence for some fifteen years.
copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting 
permission for the reproduction of the above 
photograph  from his private collection. 
Stag's Head, pub sign in the 1940s-1950s

In around 1959 the pub was enlarged by the acquisition of the cottage next door on the west side and this became the saloon bar.

In 1965 Tamplin’s relinquished control of the pub. In around 1968 Ted Routledge and his wife Dorothy took over the running of the Stag. Ted originated from Carlisle and both he and his brother-in-law Chris, who helped behind the bar, were educated at Hove High School. Before he came to the Stag, Ted was landlord of Clarendon Hotel, North Street, Portslade. There was a son called Peter and a daughter called Maureen who also helped behind the bar on occasions while at the same time running a small grocery store in Abinger Road. Grand-daughter Karen also lived on the premises.

When Ted Routledge arrived at the Stag he found a small old-fashioned pub with a curved bar and a shove-ha’penny board by the window; there was a separate entrance for the jug and bottle trade. It was he who unearthed the ancient deed and had it framed and placed on a wall for all to see. Part of the north wall dividing the kitchen and saloon bar was knocked down to enlarge the bar area. A huge fireplace was discovered complete with cast-iron range and traditional oven on one side and a place for boiling water on the other side. Iron climbing bars were attached to one side of the chimney for the use of a chimney sweep when flues needed a good sweeping. Unhappily, none of this was preserved for future generations to enjoy – what a feature and a talking point it would make today!
  copyright © J.Middleton
The pub photographed on 28 December 2014

The space was blocked up and a utilitarian gas fire installed. Many years later Eileen the landlady decided the fireplace needed revamping. When the gas fire was removed it was found to be in a dangerous state because of trouble with the flue. The fireplace was rebuilt using red brick and a mantelpiece installed using a weathered old sleeper to give it an air of antiquity. During the work a curious piece of iron was discovered measuring over 18 inches in length with a flattened piece at one end with two holes for screws. The other end had snapped off but it seems likely it was once part of a trivet or other device for holding a cooking pot over the fire.

During Routledge’s time one of his regular customers was Henry Raward who lived next door in rooms above Lathbury, the butcher. Raward was never seen without his trusty trilby hat, which was always clamped firmly to his head. Raward was something of a character and liked to help out around the pub, enjoying the atmosphere and meeting old friends. Since he was a bachelor, and seemingly without family, the Routledges used to invite him to share their Christmas dinner. In the 1970s an art student was inspired to sculpt Raward’s head and he made such a fine job of it, that it was instantly recognisable. It used to hold pride of place on the bar until one day it disappeared, perhaps due to a prank. In 1976 cleaner Paul Chapman discovered the bronze head in a cubicle of a public convenience in Miller’s Road, Brighton. The head was restored to the Stag in fine shape apart from the trilby that was a little battered on one side. As for Raward, his end was rather sad. When the butcher wanted to sell up, Raward was obliged to leave his rooms above the shop. He moved into a flat in Hove but it was never the same, he missed his old haunts and he soon died. Ted Routledge retired from the Stag in 1984 and died on 24 September 1991 at the house of his grand-daughter in Retford, Nottinghamshire.

Trouble in the Cellar

Bill and June Hyatt managed the Stag in the 1980s and in February 1988 they worried that the cellars might flood. There are underground springs and after heavy rainfall the water table rises and that is when problems arise. They were obliged to keep the pump in the cellars in continuous action to prevent the water rising high enough to contaminate their beer store.

Of course flooded cellars were nothing new at the Stag. For example in the 1950s there was so much water in the cellars that the barrels floated about.

The cellars used to cover a more extensive space than they do today. There were once said to be railway lines enabling barrels from the nearby brewery to be rolled straight into the cellars of the Stag.

In recent years part of the cellars have been blocked off but this does not stop the water. During the exceptionally wet winter of 2002/2002 it was found necessary to have two pumps working away all the time. When one seized up there was almost an emergency and indeed on a couple of occasions the Fire Brigade did oblige by pumping out the water.

Narrow Staircase

It is amusing to note that it is impossible to do a moonlit flit from the Stag unless you wanted to leave your furniture behind. This is due to the geography of the pub and in particular to the narrow, winding staircase. It is quite impossible to move large pieces down the stairs. When removal day arrives, an upstairs window is completely removed from its frame and these items are lowered through the aperture.


Behind the pub there is a small garden, which is a green oasis with trees and honeysuckle archway. It is hard to imagine how this space looked in the old days when many people lived on the site. Fraser’s Court was a group of nine small, flint-built cottages set around a brick and cobbled yard. The west wing was opposite the George and the east wing was opposite the Stag. A row of outdoor toilets was located on the west side. The entrance to Fraser’s Court was by the narrow twitten between the east side of the George and the neighbouring cottage.

 copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
This unique drawing allows us to see what Fraser’s Court
 looked like with its cobbled yard and narrow twitten. 
To the left of the twitten is a small shop and the George
while the cottage to the right of the twitten is still in existence.

New Licensees

Landlady Eileen was a familiar figure in the 1990s as she tended to her window boxes and hanging baskets first thing in the morning. But difficult times were coming when many of the old regulars died and the Government introduced a smoking ban. In days past the ceiling of the saloon bar was deep ochre – you could not be certain if it was painted that colour or if it was the accretion of nicotine deposits. It did not help that the ceiling was quite low.

  copyright © J.Middleton
Eileen’s window boxes and hanging baskets were photographed in 2003.

Many pubs turned to offering food to try and lure customers back. This has been tried now and then at the Stag. It was successful in early 2014 but by October the Stag had closed down and the door to the saloon bar boarded up; it was a sorry sight.

copyright © J.Middleton
The pub is fortunate in having a good name to illustrate. There have been several versions of the stag in the inn sign over the years, some showing more of the stag’s body than others. The current one certainly concentrates on the head. On the left is the inn sign in June 2009. On the right is the inn sign in December 2014.

Then in December 2014 a new couple took over the running of the pub and the painters and decorators had been busy beforehand. The makeover included the removal of the pool table from the public bar and it was hoped the hostelry would become a meeting place for people seeking a quiet drink and good old-fashioned conversation. There would also be a pub quiz and the serving of food in the future was envisaged.

copyright © J.Middleton
You could say that the new pub sign of 2018 is modernistic, and quite 
different from the traditional style utilised in the former signs.

Middleton J, Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Huxford, J.E. Arms of the Sussex Families (1982)
Internet searches
Personal interviews
Additional information about Ernie Davey and his family from Gary and Paul Rawlinson
Original Deeds

(When I studied the following items, they were located at the East Sussex Record Office, Lewes. They are most probably now to be found now at The Keep, Falmer, Brighton).

HOW 11/8-9 Articles of Association Smithers & Sons (1906) West Street Brewery (1895)
HOW 105/6 Smithers & Sons, Portslade title deeds
HOW 113//3 Portslade Brewery and adjoining land 1801-1884
HOW 113/5-6 Property in Portslade belonging to Portslade Brewery
HOW 113/6-7 Conveyance of Stag’s Head and Victoria Hotel 1884

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
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