03 November 2017

Portslade House 1795-1936

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2022)

copyright © J.Middleton
The Georgian Portslade House was a beautiful mansion on the west side of Portslade Old Village.

The house was situated on the hill at the west side of Portslade Old Village looking over the valley towards the wooded slopes of East Hill. There were also sweeping views down towards the sea.

It has generally been supposed that the house was built in 1795 or thereabouts when Nathaniel Hall purchased the estate. But it is clear from an entry in the Portslade Manor Court Books for the year 1783 that there was already a ‘Mansion House’ on this site at the the west end of the High Street at the intersection of the roads to Southwick and Mile Oak.

By the 1870s the building was being described as a ‘noble Marine Mansion’ standing in its own grounds of twenty acres. There was a double bow-front with the main entrance being entered between two massive Doric columns. On the ground floor there was a spacious entrance hall, large dining room and drawing room, library, servant’s hall, butler’s pantry, kitchen and scullery. On the first floor there were six principal bedrooms plus a dressing room and bathroom. On the second floor there were a further five large bedrooms.

In the grounds there were two 3-stall stables, a harness room, a double coach house and a chaise house. The property included farm buildings such as piggeries and cow sheds, cart shed, granary and laundry; there was a one-acre kitchen garden well stocked with fruit trees, and fourteen acres of meadow land. The pleasure grounds occupied four acres and were tastefully laid out.

The Hall Family

Nathaniel Hall was born in 1755 and he became a partner in the Union Bank, Brighton, which later developed into Barclays Bank. Nathaniel Hall’s son was also called Nathaniel and indeed the name was a traditional family favourite, appearing in six generations. The fact that three generations of Nathaniels were married to wives called Elizabeth adds to family history confusion.

The young Sir Alexander Woodford and his mother stayed with the Hall family at Portslade House for Christmas 1794, while his father was commanding the Gordon Fencibles (Highland Regiment) at Shoreham. Sir Alexander went on to served in the army eventually rising to the rank of Field Marshall. He fought in the Peninsular War and commanded the 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards at the Battle of Waterloo.

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Henry Earp, senior, painted this delightful picture of Portslade in 1840. Note St Nicolas Church to the right and the impressive mansion called Portslade House on the left, on the site occupied by King’s School today.

The elder Nathaniel’s sister Ann married John Hamblin Borrer, who was a partner in the Union Bank as well, and his sister Elizabeth married William Borrer (1781-1863) the noted botanist. The Borrers were the owners of Portslade Manor and a great deal of land in Portslade; thus the fortunes of the families living in the large houses became interwoven,

The elder Nathaniel’s second son was John Hall who followed the profession of surgeon and he and his wife had thirteen children. The 1840 Tithe Map records that he was a considerable landowner in Portslade. John's third son George who became a surgeon married the Dowager Viscountess Hood in 1849; unfortunately the marriage was short lived as George died in 1854.

The elder Nathaniel’s third son was Eardley Nicholas Hall who in 1835 married his second cousin Ann Borrer at Henfield (more confusion in the family tree). The 1851 census recorded that the couple lived in Portslade House. He was a banker and a wine merchant (like his father) Their children were Annette, 14, Jessie, 11, John, 9, Emmeline, 6, Edith, 4, and one-month old Clayton. There were five servants in the house on census night including a monthly nurse. When Ann’s father died in 1863, he left her his house in Henfield called Barrow Hill and thereafter they divided their time between Portslade and Henfield.

 copyright ©  Robert Jeeves
It was no secret that re-building St Andrew’s School was an expensive business and the word ‘Donations’ on the notice board was in large letters. The man in the straw boater is probably Revd R.M. Rosseter, vicar of St Andrew’s Church, Portslade. It is possible that one of the other gentlemen is John Eardley Hall, a major donor for the school's rebuilding fund. This photograph dates to around 1913.

Their son John Eardley Hall (1842-1915) lived at Barrow Hill but continued to be a Portslade landowner. He sold some land to Portslade Council that became Victoria Recreation Ground, and donated the site on the west side of Locks Hill for a new Infants’ School. Portslade Fire Station was built on another piece of land he sold. He was also a benefactor of St Nicolas School and donated £500 towards the cost of re-building St Andrew’s School, Portslade.

 copyright © G. Osborne  
St Nicolas Infants School and Portslade Fire Station were built on land donated by John Eardley Hall

Unlike his prolific forebears, John Eardley Hall never married and had children. When he died what was left of the family land holdings at Portslade passed to his nephew Frederick Eardley John Blackburne who promptly hyphened his name to become Blackburne-Hall. This was not a whim but a legal requirement for descendants who inherited the property.

copyright © D.Sharp
Many generations of the Hall Family are buried inside and outside St Michael & All Angels, Southwick, West Sussex.
John Hall (1760-1840) of Portslade House, his wife Sarah and 12 of their children are buried in the family vault on the north side of the Church. The upright marble cross is the grave of Eardley N. Hall (1803-1887), the last surviving child of John and Sarah.
The Gosset Family

After the 1860s the Halls no longer lived at Portslade House but rented it out. The 1871 census recorded the Gosset family living there. They were 45-year old Frederick Richard Mealy Gosset, retired officer of the Bengal Army, his wife Mary, also aged 45, and their children Maud, 18, Allan, 12, Marion, 10, Evelyn, 9, Ethel, 7, and five-year old Zoe; there were eight servants.

Frederick’s father was the Revd Isaac Gosset (1782–1855), Vicar of Windsor and Rector of Datchet. He was appointed as Chaplain to the Royal Household at Windsor Castle in 1818 by Queen Charlotte. Revd Gosset served four sovereigns:- George III, George IV, William IV and Victoria.

Mrs Gosset was a keen supporter of the parochial school. She gave the children an annual treat at Christmas, to which she later added a magic lantern show. Children were also invited to take tea with her on Saturday afternoons. In 1866 she presented the younger boys with a rocking horse. It was obviously a marvellous and expensive object they would not normally encounter. But Mr McConnochie, headmaster, had to forbid the older boys from touching it because they were just too rough.

copyright © J.Middleton
  St Nicolas Church School (now an annex of Brackenbury Primary School)

In 1875, Frederick Gosset wrote a letter to the Brighton Gazette accusing Revd Richard Enraght who was the Curate-in-Charge of St Andrew's Church Portslade of Puseyism (used here as a term of abuse) and of trying to turn the St Nicolas School into a Puseyite school. Mr Gossett, a Protestant anti-ritualist, stated, "The Revd Mr. Enraght, whose doctrines, if they were not doctrines of the Church of Rome, he (Mr. Gossett) was ignorant to what Church they belonged."

In reply to this personal attack, Revd Enraght sent the following statement to the Brighton Gazette,

" My attention has only just be drawn to an attack made upon me, in my absence, by Mr. Gossett, of Portslade. I only noticed Mr. Gossett’s slander for the sake of the people to whom I lately ministered. I beg to inform all who care to know that ‘my doctrines’ are those of the ‘one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’, in which Mr. Gossett has professed to, but does not, I suppose ‘believe’; whereas I do.” In Fr Enraght’s letter he goes on to list all the doctrines of the Church of England held in common with the Roman Catholic Church, and ends his letter saying “It is shameful that ‘Protestants’ should persist in deceiving the people with this palpable fallacy.”

Later on the Gossets moved to another house nearby called Northerlea in Drove Road close to Portslade Brewery

 copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph  from his private collection.   
The Northerlea home of the Gossets, is to the right of the complex of industrial buildings associated with
Portslade Brewery, it was a substantial building, but not in a such grand location as Portslade House.

Return of the Hall Family

In 1904 some members of the Hall family moved back into Portslade House, in the guise of Mary Blanche Watson and four of her eleven children.

  copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.  
A view of Portslade Old Village at the time that Mary Blanche Watson and her four daughters lived  just up the hill at Portslade House

Mary Blanche Watson was born Mary Blanche Hall in 1851, the daughter of Dr George Hall (the son of John Hall) and the Dowager Viscountess Hood of Whitley (Mary Isabella Tibbits) who were married in 1849. Sadly Mary’s father George died 3 years after her birth in 1854 and was buried in the Hall family vault at St Michael & All Angels Southwick, West Sussex.

Mary Isabella Tibbits, an heiress in her own right, was first married to Samuel Hood, 3rd Viscount Hood of Whitley in 1837. Their marriage produced six children of whom their eldest son, Francis, assumed the title of 4th Viscount Hood of Whitley at his father Samuel’s death in 1846.

In 1858 Mary Blanche’s mother Lady Mary Isabella Hood-Tibbits’s third marriage was to Capt John Borlase Maunsell, the Lord of the Manor of Rothwell. Mary Blanche Hall spent her childhood at Barton Seagrave Hall which was the country estate of her mother's family.

Both the Viscount Samuel Hood-Tibbits and Capt John Borlase Maunsell-Tibbits took the Tibbits surname by Royal Licence, probably Dr. George Hall did not live long enough to go through this legal process to assume the Tibbits surname himself.

In 1871 Mary Blanche Hall married Edward Spencer Watson of Rockingham Castle, son of the Hon. Richard Watson M.P., (the son of Baron Sondes) and Lavinia Jane Quin (the daughter of Lord George Quin). Richard and Lavinia Watson were close friends of Charles Dickens. His visits to Rockingham Castle were his inspiration for Chesney Wold in his novel Bleak House.

Mary Blanche Hall and Edward Spencer Watson’s marriage produced eleven children:- Henry George Watson b.1873, Christabel Sarah Lavinia Watson b.1874, Grace Mary Watson b. c 1875, Margaret Isabella Watson b. 1877, Meriel Georgiana Watson b.1880, Frederica Katherine b.1881, Annie Caroline b.1883, Evelyn Horatia Watson b.1884, Selena Charlotte Watson b.1885, Cicely Eleanor Watson b.1887 and Gwendolen Olivia Watson b.1888. Sadly a year after her last child was born her husband Edward Spencer Watson died at the age of 46.

Mary Blanche Watson did not remarry and brought her eleven children up by herself albeit with the help of her nine servants and governess at her country estate of Cransley Hall in Northamptonshire.

In the early 1900s Mary spent four years living at Yarmouth before she moved to Portslade House in 1904 with four of her daughters, which would have been facilitated by her cousin John Eardley Hall with whom she had been in contact throughout her life.

In Portslade the four daughters, Selina, Meriel, Evelyn and Margaret were keen workers on behalf of St Nicolas Church, teaching children at Sunday School and hosting a church fete in the grounds of Portslade House in the summer. The Watsons also provided a Christmas tree to delight the children of St Nicolas School with a gift for each child and a present for some parents too.

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
Brighton Argus 21 October 1910

Mary Blanche Hall-Watson died in 1910 aged 60. Her body was taken to Watson Family Mausoleum at St Leonard’s Church next to Rockingham Castle. Mary has an ornate marble wall memorial close to her husband’s memorial.

A copy of the inscription to Mary Blanche
 in St Leonards Church, next to Rockingham Castle 
in Northamptonshire.

The four Watson sisters from Portslade House, Margaret, Meriel, Evelyn and Selina, now joined by two more of their sisters, Frederica and Gwendolen, are recorded in the 1911 census as living in a large house in Hove with six servants to look after them.

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
 The above is from Brighton Herald for 28 August 1911, the sale by auction of the late 
Mrs Watson's Portslade House. The description of the house shows it was a substantial property,
its grounds extended to Locks Hill to the east, the Old Shoreham Road to the south and to
the Portslade's boundary with West Sussex beyond today's Melrose Avenue to the west.

Although the Watson sisters had left Portslade House by 1911, they still maintained their Portslade connections, Margaret and Frederica Watson served as vice-presidents of the Portslade and District Allotment Holders and Amateur Gardener’s Association along with the Revd V.A. Boyle and Mr Walter Mews.

The High Street's Old Bridge

copyright © J.Middleton
The bridge in this picture postcard is not the original bridge the Halls built 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.

It was the Halls, owners of Portslade House Estate, who built the High Street 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 a rare recorded written use of the name ‘West Hill’ the only other known recorded use of this term is in the 1891 Census where the address of Dr James Evitt Nash from Cork and his wife Margaret is given as Portslade House, West Hill. The bridge was demolished in 1946.


copyright © J.Middleton
  Windlesham School and Chapel with a side view of Portslade House to the right of this photograph, 
Portslade House was demolished in 1936.

In 1913 Mrs Charles Scott Malden purchased the Portslade House Estate and thus began the site’s association with education that has lasted until the present day. Windlesham House School remained at Portslade until 1935 when it moved to Highden, near Washington, West Sussex.

Then followed some agonising months when a scheme was aired to make the beautiful grounds into a public park. Naturally, developers could not wait to get their hands on such prime building land and in the end it all hinged on money, or rather the lack of it. In order to afford the purchase of the land Portslade Council would have needed to sell Victoria Recreation Ground. But there were restrictive covenants that meant it could not be used for house building and residents in south Portslade were up in arms at the prospect of losing their park. Eventually the whole scheme fell through, although Portslade Council did end up with some land on the south that became an allotment site.

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph gives a good idea of the extent of the school grounds, Portslade House can be seen on the right of the school buildings.

Regarding the house and school buildings, the managers of St Nicolas School had the first option to purchase but by 1936 the property was in the hands of East Sussex County Council. They were delighted with their bargain that cost them only £4,000 whereas a new school would have cost them some £18,000 to build from scratch. The Council spent some £4,000 on adapting the school to their needs. Regrettably, this also included demolition of historic Portslade House, whose foundations remain underneath the playground.

The buildings at the west end of the High Street then became home to Portslade Senior Boys School until 1971 when single sex education became a feature of the past. In 1971 the school had its first intake of girls paving the way for Portslade Community College with senior pupils going to the previous girls’ school in Chalky Road, Mile Oak. Later on the roles were reversed and the site housed PACA’s Sixth Form.

copyright © D.Sharp
A modern day view of the former Windlesham School minus the Chapel and Portslade House,
 the school is now the temporary home of the  King's School, Hove.

From September 2013 until July 2019 the site was occupied by King’s School, a free school for children aged 11-19. In 2018 the school received a glowing report from Ofsted stating, ‘pupils from a range of backgrounds thrive in this highly successful and inclusive school.’

It was always intended that the school’s location in Portslade would be of short duration. The school started off with a relatively small intake but it was obvious that with expanding numbers and the need for specialist facilities for older students, a new site would be necessary. At Portslade there was also the problem of a lack of outdoor space, which meant pupils having to trek along Mile Oak Gardens in order to reach the playing field off the boundary path. Like all new building projects, the school plans took longer to implement than was expected. A site was found at Hangleton Way, Hove, and a three-storey structure erected. The site also enjoys the advantage of plenty of outdoor space including a full-size grass sports pitch, and a multi-purpose hard court games area. Indoors, there are no less than eight science laboratories while those with an artistic bent are catered for with two art classrooms and a drama suite. There is also a canteen and a large dining room. Although King’s is not a Church of England school, it does have a Christian ethos and there is a large cross outside the new building. King’s re-opened on its new site in September 2019.

Meanwhile, back at Portslade, there arose the question of what would happen at the site? Although housing is desperately needed in the city, the Portslade House site was considered too difficult to utilise for this purpose. First off, the nine nearest schools were asked if they would have a use for the playing field. But none of them were interested and stated they had ‘no desire’ to use it.

Then it was suggested that the premises could serve as a base for 150 city social workers although approval from the Government would have to be sought. A public consultation was held at Portslade Town Hall – perhaps it was not well advertised because only four people turned up. It cannot be that there was no interest in the matter because the council received fourteen communications in support of the plans while ten were against the proposal. (Argus 6/3/20)


Census Returns
J. Middleton Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Kelly's Directory of Sussex
Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes
Tithe Map
Additional research by D.Sharp

Thanks are due to Mr G. Osborne for allowing me to reproduce four of his wonderful photographs and also to Mr Robert Jeeves for permission to reproduce his St Andrew's School photograph.  

Copyright © J.Middleton 2017
page layout by D.Sharp