27 April 2017

Foredown Forge, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2017)

 copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph dates from around 1973 and shows the old forge still in almost semi-rural surroundings because you can see the Downs in the background; today new housing obscures that view.


It is interesting to speculate on the age of the forge or its predecessors at Foredown Hill and it is instructive to note that during the time of the English Civil War (1642-1649) a law was passed enabling anybody who provided the king with a certain number of horse shoes, nails and weapons to build a forge on common land. Who knows whether or not an enterprising blacksmith at Portslade took up the challenge because until 1861 Foredown Hill remained common land.

On the other hand, Sussex was not known for its royalist sympathies and indeed most Sussex folk were solidly on the Parliamentary side. For example, King Charles II fleeing through Sussex in 1651 after his forces were defeated at the Battle of Worcester, only narrowly avoided being caught before his escape to France. But there again, Foredown Hill was remote enough for the putative blacksmith to please himself as to his customers and by nature of his necessary strength a blacksmith was a brawny individual well able to take care of himself. 

William Borrer

By the early 19th century the Duke of Norfolk owned Foredown Forge and William Borrer, who died in 1832, purchased it from the Duke and Thomas Philip Lamb. William Borrer was a remarkable man who came from humble origins and worked his way up to become a person of note and property.

Somers Clarke (1802-1892) remembered old William Borrer, founder of the successful family. He wrote:

‘He was a quiet, respectable-looking old country farmer and very unpretending in his manner. He was formerly a retail butcher at Ditchling and … became a large contractor in supplies of meat and forage for the Army and with the then Government – in those days there was not the competition there is now.’

On 8 February 1788 Borrer purchased 24 acres in Ditchling for £860 from Robert Davis of Brighthelmstone, coal merchant, and his sister Joanna Davis.

By that time he was a man of substance and lived in Pakyns Manor, Hurstpierpoint, having been appointed High Sheriff of Sussex in 1801

In 1802 Borrer purchased some land at Portslade:
A messuage called Dumbrell’s. (Dumbrell’s is still a name familiar in Ditchling)
The Pryor’s
A small piece of wasteland adjoining Henry Chatfield’s Mansion House in Portslade (Portslade House close to the site where King’s School is today)
A parcel of land in Aldrington (but this might mean south Portslade, which was also known as West Aldrington in former times)

In 1803 the Deputy Lieutenant of Sussex reported to the Government that in the event of an invasion, William Borrer would be willing to provide one wagon and four horses for the use of the Government.

In 1806 Borrer purchased Portslade Manor

It appeared that William Borrer accumulated a large fortune of three or four hundred thousand pounds – an enormous sum – and spent none of it on himself apart from property acquisitions. Consequently, he was able to leave large fortunes to his three sons William Borrer of Barrow Hill, John Borrer of Portslade, and Nathaniel Borrer of Hurstpierpoint.

The Burgess Family

In 1841 55-year old Abel Cooms was the blacksmith and he lived in Forge Cottage.

The Burgess family had a remarkable record because they worked the forge from 1849 to 1956. The blacksmiths were:

John Burgess (1822-1914)
Hugh Burgess (1875-1956)

 copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
Blacksmith Hugh Burgess stands on the right in this photo 
taken in around 1900. It looks as though his assistant 
has been called away from the anvil to have his photograph
 taken because he is still holding blacksmithing tools 
and a horseshoe.
At first Foredown Forge was rented and John Burgess was described as wheelwright, farrier and blacksmith.

The 1861 census recorded the family living in Forge Cottage

Isfield-born John Burgess, aged 39
Wife Eliza, 40
Son Charles, 11
Son Ronald, 9
Daughter Eliza, 4

In July 1881 John Burgess purchased the forge and the cottage.

In 1882 when a Public Inquiry was held as to whether or not an isolation hospital should be built on Foredown Hill, Burgess stated that had he known about such a proposal he never would have purchased the property.

By 1882 his first wife had died and he married a much younger woman. The 1891 census showed that John Burgess was then aged 68 while his wife Emma was aged 41, and their son Hugh was sixteen years old.

John Burgess died aged 92 on 16 March 1914.

Incidentally, the 1881 census recorded a Walter Burgess, blacksmith, who lodged at Robin’s Row. By 1891 Lewes-born Walter Burgess, aged 39, lived at 6 Belgrave Square, Portslade with his wife Alice, 27, and their children Arthur, 3 and two-year old Emily.

Recent Times

 copyright © D.Sharp
The Old  Riding Stables in Drove Road were in operation from the 1960s through to the 1980s, the whole site was redeveloped in the late 1980s. Horses were regularly taken to the blacksmith at Foredown Forge. The flint building on the left was the original stables' barn, the other buildings date from 1989. The former Portslade Brewery is in the background.

In the early 1960s a local young lad intent on completing his newspaper round before having to go to school, used to pass by the old forge and can clearly remember seeing the farrier working away inside. His paper round included a trek up to Foredown Hospital and New Barn Farm.

In 1989 the forge and Forge Cottage were on sale through Parsons, Son & Basley for £69,000.

In March 1990 blacksmith Arthur White wanted to take over Foredown Forge and use it for its original purpose. He lived in Poplar Avenue, Hove but his workshop was in Chapel Mews, Hove. He had to leave there because it was being redeveloped and he wished to rent the old forge with a view to buying the property at a later date.

It is sad to note that apparently Brighton Council were well aware of his plans but went ahead and sold the property anyway. A spokesman justified the action by saying the Council was short of money and needed a capital receipt.

The forge and Forge Cottage went on sale through King & Chasemore in 1990 for £125,000 – a sum well beyond Mr White’s means.

 copyright © D.Sharp
The old forge and Forge Cottage in 1999

 copyright © D.Sharp
The old forge and Forge Cottage photographed in 2016


Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

The Keep
LLD/2/E2 – Deputy Lieutenant Of Sussex, Defence Report on wagons and animals 1803
QDD/6/E10 – Enclosure of Tenantry Hill and Foredown Hill 1861

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