11 January 2016

Old Bridge, Portslade

Judy Middleton (2003 revised 2015)

 copyright © J.Middleton
The old bridge was photographed with accompanying Autumn foliage but it seems the services of a road-sweeper were not in use.

The delicate-looking and graceful bridge spanning the west end of High Street became the most famous sight in Portslade with the advent of the picture postcard. Many different photograph were taken of it from various angles, some with children in the foreground, others without, some coloured and others sepia-tinted and there was one featuring a young lady in a long, pale dress in the centre of the bridge.

The earliest photograph of the bridge was taken in around 1870 and showed Miss Maud Gosset wearing an elegant dress with the bridge in the background. She was aged eighteen at the time of the photo and she was the eldest daughter of Richard Mealy Gosset, a retired officer of the Bengal Army, and his wife Mary. Maud had a brother and four younger sisters. The Gossets lived in Portslade House. Maud never married and by 1913 she was still living in Portslade but was growing increasingly deaf.

 copyright © J.Middleton
Portslade House, which Mr Gosset rented, was in the possession of the Hall family who built the bridge.

The bridge in the picture postcards was a different bridge from the one that Maud Gosset stood near in the 1870s. In 1885 the original bridge burnt down; the fire was caused by sparks emanating from the funnel of a steam-roller lumbering slowly up the hill. Possibly, the driver did not appreciate the gradient; there have been at least three other accidents involving steam-rollers on the hill. On 8 April 1914 there was a famous occasion when a steam-roller overturned completely. Naturally, such an event brought the local youngsters running to see what had happened. The hill, once called West Hill to correspond with East Hill on the opposite side of the valley, is deceptively steep although this is never apparent in photographs.

  copyright © J.Middleton
This ten-ton steam-roller overturned on 8 April 1914. The firm of Aveling & Porter manufactured it and they were the largest British makers of this type of vehicle. The funnel was wider at the top than at the base but in this accident it appears to have snapped off.

Arthur George Holl, corresponding secretary of the Association of Free Lancers (a sort of rambling club) wrote an early description of the bridge and its surroundings. In view of his unusual surname it seems probable he was the son of Judge Holl of Brunswick Terrace. Anyway, in 1896 young Holl took a ramble to Portslade and when he reached Southern Cross ‘thence taking a northerly direction, in a few minutes one finds oneself in a charming portion of the Downs where old Portslade is, as it was probably many, many years gone by, save the exception of Messrs’ Mews flourishing Portslade Brewery, on reaching which take the road to the left uphill where in the balmy days of summer is to be met one of the prettiest spots within a short walk of Brighton, a road shadowed by a perfect archway of foliage – a finishing touch supplied by the rustic footbridge which spans and connects the private grounds on either side.’ (Like other Victorian writers, Holl seems to have an aversion to the full-stop).

  copyright © J.Middleton
This view was posted on 29 September 1905 and has a Portslade date-stamp. The house in the distance was demolished in the 1960s as well as Swiss Cottages opposite because they made that part of the road a blind bend.

It was the Halls, owner of Portslade House Estate, who built the bridge to connect two separate portions of their land without the inconvenience of having to descend to the public highway. After the fire of 1885 a new bridge was constructed. It seems the Halls were not very diligent in keeping the bridge in a good state of repair, most probably due to the fact that they did not live in the house but rented it out. In Portslade Council Minutes for May 1898 it was recorded that the clerk would write to Mr Hall ‘calling his attention to the dangerous condition of the private bridge extending from the north to the south side of West Hill.’ Incidentally, this is the only recorded written use of the name ‘West Hill’ and it does not appear on maps or in Directories.

  copyright © J.Middleton
This view was posted on 28 July 1909 with a Brighton post-mark. More interest is added to the view by the figures standing under the bridge.

In August 1920 St Nicolas Infants Sunday School had their annual treat in the grounds of Portslade House and for many children the highlight of the occasion was being allowed to stand on the bridge and watch vehicles passing by underneath.

 copyright © D. Ransom
Well-known photographers, such as Wiles, liked to include children or adults in their views, both for added interest and to give a sense of scale. The view was posted on 25 March 1910.

 copyright © J.Middleton
In the distance the Brackenbury Chapel built onto St Nicolas Church can be clearly seen. The view was posted in August 1913.

The responsibility for the upkeep of the bridge remained a private concern until 1935 when Portslade House Estate was broken up. Then it became a case of nobody wanting to accept such a liability. The developers would have been happy for Portslade Council to accept ownership but the surveyor advised against it. This was because access south of the bridge would not be available from any existing or proposed public highway and therefore would be of no benefit to the public at large. The bridge was then offered to East Sussex County Council who also declined.

  copyright © J.Middleton
This view is interesting because you can see a breach in the old flint wall on the north side leading to High Close where new houses were built in 1935/1936.

A letter dated 1 December 1937 was sent from the developers to Portslade Council asking permission for High Street to be closed to traffic for at least one full day in order that the bridge could be demolished in safety. The council agreed but they wanted to be informed of the exact date beforehand. A picture of the bridge was published in Sussex Daily News (27 August 1938) with a caption claiming it had been demolished recently.

However, it seems that this was not the case. Older residents are quite clear in stating the bridge remained throughout the Second World War and was not demolished until 1946.


Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Middleton, J. Hove in Old Picture Postcards (1983)
Sussex Daily News 27 August 1938)
The Keep

DO/A35/31 Portslade Urban District Council 1934-1935
DO/A35/33 Portslade Urban District Council 1935-1936
DO/A35/36 Portslade Urban District Council 1936-1937

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
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