08 January 2022

Loxdale, Locks Hill, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2022)

Copyright © D. Sharp
Loxdale, Locks Hill, Portslade


The name of the house was chosen specifically to honour the old name of the ground upon which it was built. It was once called Locksdale Field and was so named in the Apportionment Map of 1840. Back in those days, Locksdale Field was the property of the Hall family who lived in Portslade House on the opposite hill.

However, it was Walter Mews who was responsible for the building of Loxdale. He and his brother Herbert Mews were business partners who came from a wealthy family resident in the Hyde Park area of London, and in 1884 the duo purchased Portslade Brewery. They were still in their twenties at the time with Walter being 27 and Herbert aged 25. At first the brothers lived in modest houses in the village but it was not long before they felt confident enough in their business enterprise to be able to spread their wings, and build themselves something rather more substantial. Henry was first off the mark, and his new residence was called Whychcote.

Meanwhile, Walter Mews took his time. He employed a local well-known architect, Samuel Denman of 27 Queen’s Road, Brighton, to draw up the plans for a house on Locks Hill, which in May 1899 received planning permission from Portslade Council. The mansion was doubly imposing, both because of its elevated site, and the fact that its tower was almost as visible as the Brewery building. There was also a massive chimney stack, gables and a porch.

The British Nursing Journal 25 July 1914
Mrs Florence Mews was the Hon. Secretary of the Brighton, Hove,
Preston & District Queen's Nurses,
Revd Vicars Boyle was the Vicar of St Nicolas Church,
Chairman of the Brighton & Hove Charity Organization Society and
also the Chairman of the Brighton & Hove Women's Franchise Society.
Revd Boyle was the cousin of Dr Helen Boyle, the founder of the
Lady Chichester Hospital in Hove

Copyright © G. Osborne
Loxdale towering above the army camp in the Windesham School Grounds in 1916

In common with many Victorian properties, there was an extensive basement to contain the essential beer cellar, wine cellar, the ordinary cellar, and a boiler room. The ground floor contained a morning room, drawing room, dining room and library. West of the library there were the servant’s hall, scullery, larder, pantry, and kitchen. Outside, to the north of the house, there was a building to house the coal store, the wood store, the boot room and a knife room. However, a modern touch was to be found in the lobby where there was provision for a lift to be installed. Upstairs, there were five bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a dressing room. In the attic there were four bedrooms, a bathroom, and a box room.

Raising Funds for St Nicolas Church

Copyright © G. Osborne

Mr and Mrs Mews were much involved in village life, and on 26 May 1920 they generously threw open the grounds of Loxdale to hold a carnival in aid of St Nicolas Church funds.
Copyright © G. Osborne

Mrs Walter Mews and Mrs Herbert Mews acted as hosts alongside Mrs Campbell, the vicar’s wife. They were also assisted by a whole army of helpers to run the various stalls and activities. There was something to please everyone, and you could buy anything from an ice-cream to live chickens.

The sports laid on especially for the children included running, a skipping race, three-legged race, egg-and-spoon race, and even a bun-eating race. There were sports for the adults too, which involved a sack race, a three-legged race, a slow bicycle race, a veteran’s race, cigarette lighting race, and a thread-the-needle race.

Mrs Sayers, headmistress of St Nicolas Girls School, supervised her pupils who performed old country dances. Tea was served on the lawn with the band of the Industrial School providing the music.

The event extended into the evening with dancing on the lawn until dusk with St John’s Brass and Reed Band providing the music. Supper was served at around 8. 30 p.m.

In addition to all these activities, there were also two concert parties providing entertainment as well; one was presented by Charles Yeo, while Hove Variety Entertainments provided the other.

Copyright © J. Middleton

The Gardens

The Sussex Daily News (27 May 1920) commented:

One recalls visits to Loxdale gardens in mid-summer, when everything seems ablaze with colour for Mr Mews is a great lover of beautiful flowers, and although there were not many blooms to be seen yesterday … yet the gardens looked wonderfully bright; the hundred and one different shades of green and the rich-looking soil made a picture.’

Walter Mews must have employed more that one gardener to keep everything in such pristine order, but at least we know the name of one full-time gardener kept busy at Loxdale. In 1915 this was Mr N. Higgs. In September 1915 Mr Higgs was one of the three judges who were obliged to comment on the 111 exhibits put on show by the Portslade & District Allotment Holders and Amateur Gardeners Association at St Nicolas Church Hall in Abinger Road.

Public Service

Walter Mews also found time for public service, being associated with the following:

Steyning Board of Guardians for sixteen years

Portslade Councillor, vice-chairman at one time

Portslade & Southwick Outfall Sewerage Board

President of the  Portslade & District Allotment Holders and Amateur Gardeners Association

Vice President of the Portslade Rifle Club at Mile Oak

New Shoreham Port Sanitary Authority

He was also a Freemason, and a Freeman and Liveryman of the City of London. He was actively associated with the scheme to provide a recreation ground at Portslade.

Death and Disposal

On 11 March 1922 Walter Mews died at the age of 65, and he was buried in the churchyard of St Helen’s, Hangleton – at that time the vicar of Portslade was also rector of Hangleton. Later on, his brother Herbert would be buried next to him.

On 20 June 1923 the remaining portion of household effects belonging to the late Walter Mews were sold at auction by Graves & Son. The items included the following:

A fine Sheraton mahogany roll-top writing bureau

An antique inlaid Welsh dresser

An inlaid mahogany book table

Three Sheraton bow-fronted sideboards

A mahogany long-case striking clock with a calendar face by James Newman of Lewes, dated 1785

A bracket clock by Thwaites & Reed, Clerkenwell

An English chiming bracket clock

An antique Queen Anne chair

Two suites of mahogany dining chairs

Mahogany dressing tables

A mahogany break-front bookcase

An inlaid mahogany Pembroke table

Small quantity of silver

Silk curtains

Dresden, Rockingham, Sevres, and oriental china

Oil paintings and watercolours

Rare, valuable engravings including one of Martha Gunn by W. Nutter, after J. Russell

In 1925 the beautiful grounds of Loxdale were under threat from a plan to drive a road through to link Locks Hill with Mill Lane. The news must have shocked the former vicar of Portslade, the Revd Vicars Armstrong Boyle, who while living in the south of France at Menton, wrote a letter home commenting ‘Poor Loxdale, what will become of it?’ In the same letter the vicar enclosed ten guineas to go towards the refurbishment of St Nicolas School.

Perhaps Mrs Mews felt unable to fight the plans by herself, or perhaps she wished to downsize; at any rate she sold Loxdale in 1925. But the new road never materialised.

Copyright © J. Middleton
A mistake on this postcard, 'Portslade-on-Sea' is incorrect, The area near the Old Village, such as Loxdale's location is 'Portslade' while the coastal area is called 'Portslade by Sea'.

Children’s Home

The new owners of Loxdale in 1925 was the Reformatory & Refuge Union, and the house was used as an orphanage, which was known by the name of the Home for Little Boys. Miss Bezer was the matron. In 1928 nine boys became pupils at St Andrew’s School, Portslade – perhaps there was no space for them at nearby St Nicolas School. That number soon increased, and on 29 April 1930 it was noted that seventeen boys were absent from school because of an outbreak of measles at the Home.

It seems that some official must have visited the premises and come to the conclusion that in the event of a fire, there was insufficient means of escape for the number of boys living there, and consequently in 1933 additional means of fire escape were installed.

In February 1935 two boys from the Home suffering from scarlet fever were removed to the Isolation Hospital at Foredown. Although this was a logical step, Miss Bezer had taken the action on her own authority, and without consulting a council official. Her action did not go down well, and a letter outlining the rules was soon on its way to Miss Bezer. Did the letter upset the unfortunate matron? Perhaps she felt that she had been there long enough. At any rate, by 1938 there was a new matron on the premises, Miss Stillwell.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Loxdale in 1937

There had also been a change of ownership at Loxdale. In 1937 it was transferred to the care of the Children’s Aid Society, and was then known as the Brighton Home for Little Boys. The war years brought more changes. The boys from Loxdale were evacuated to Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire where some children from St Nicolas School were also sent. But although the latter returned home, it seems the Loxdale boys never did come back to Portslade.

In fact Loxdale became an officer’s mess – how one would love to have more details! What we do know was that in 1943 an incendiary bomb hit the Loxdale roof and set it alight. The flames were extinguished successfully, although apparently even in 2002 some blackened timbers were still there in the attic.

It seems that by 1946 the ownership of Loxdale had changed hands yet again, and it was in use as a junior school by London County Council, which was run in conjunction with Portslade Industrial School (later known as Mile Oak Approved School).

In 1960 the new owners of Loxdale was Lewisham County Council, which continued to own the property until the 1970s. The house was put to a number of uses, including being a children’s home, to providing a holiday home for elderly, impoverished people.

It was while Loxdale was a children’s home that Evelyn Pentecost spent five years working there part time as a cook, having moved to Portslade in November 1966. Mrs Pentecost recorded that her job gave her much joy. She was already an accomplished cook, having held such a post at a big house in West Sussex. At Loxdale she took great pleasure in making special birthday cakes for the children as their birthdays came around. These were not any old cakes, but decorated carefully and all different. For example, the theme for a cake decoration ran from a swimming pool with tiny sugar people standing around and on the diving board, to the show-jumping cake complete with miniature jumps made out of sugar and marzipan. Then there was the grandfather clock cake complete with a sugar mouse running up it, and all around the cake were more sugar mice – one for each child. It was a sad day for her when the school was closed, and the children went back to London.

In 1978 Loxdale served as a home for girls with severe social problems.

Swedish Folk High School

In 1979 Loxdale entered a new era by becoming a Swedish Folk High School, with the first course on the premises starting on 4 September 1979. This particular school was founded in 1968, and was based in Palmeira Square, Hove, for eleven years. Folk High Schools have been a feature of Sweden, Norway and Denmark since the middle of the 19th century. The establishment has a parent school at Visingso, and close links with the University of Stockholm. The minimum age for a student is eighteen years but there is no maximum age. Indeed, in 1979 one student was an 85-year old former nurse. Kjell Ake Berglund became the principal in 1972, and was still at the helm in 2002.

On 28 September 1989 Erland Ringborg of the Swedish National Board of Education officially opened Loxhall in the grounds where later on computer classes for local people were held as evening classes. In June 1994 it was reported that the Swedish Folk High School planned an extension to the dining area, and a covered link to the sports hall.

In May 2000 an application to fell a sycamore tree in the grounds of Loxdale was refused. Then in December 2000 there came news that the school wanted to build a two-storey extension to house four extra classrooms. However, residents and local councillors were fighting the plans because they thought it was over-development of the site. Councillor Sue John (South Portslade) commented ‘Sadly, little remains of the attractive gardens due to redevelopment, which has taken place in recent years.’ In March 2001 Brighton & Hove City Council informed Sue John that steps would be taken to include Loxdale in the Portslade Village Conservation Area, and a request would be made to have Loxdale designated a listed building.

In January 2002 Ivor Caplin, MP, cut the tape to open the re-vamped and expanded Loxdale Centre, which is run by Swedish Company Sapienta International, and provides courses in management and marketing as well as English language and culture. The local education and life-long learning department have signed agreements to use the facilities for the next five years.

Copyright © D. Sharp

Site Visit 26 February 2002

It seems as though the approach to the house was designed to impress. You enter the grounds passing a pair of massive wooden gates, and proceed up a curved drive, well shaded by trees, and banked by the large stones of a rockery. At the northern curve , a pink cherry tree in blossom and a nearby palm tree bear testimony to the shelter provided by mature trees. The drive then sweeps around to the front entrance, the house having been built on rising ground.

From the outside the house is dominated by its dome and ornate weather-vane with the enormous red-brick shafts of the chimney abutting at the south end. The house has tile-hung and timbered gables, and was built of red brick with stone dressings. Through a gap in the hedge, the newly-built Loxhall was visible. It is built of red brick and has red tiles, and a curious feature are the decorative balconies, also painted red.

You go up three circular steps to the front door, and enter a porch, which is somewhat reminiscent of a small chapel, while another three stone steps lead you to the front door. The large wooden front door is around 2½-in thick, and leads to an impressive hall dominated by a grand staircase constructed in oak. Some idea of its size can be gauged from the fact that there are 96 carved balusters in the staircase without counting the newel posts. The staircase is lit by a large window filled with leaded, elongated lozenges of plain glass. In fact, it comes as a surprise that Mr Mews did not install some stained glass to complete the baronial effect. Underneath the main window there are four tiny casements with stone surrounds, visible both inside and outside the house.

South of the staircase there is an eye-catching fire-place with tiles that are more scarlet lake than red, and surrounded by grey white-veined marble. There is an oak mantelpiece with some Ionic columns of wood, but twisted rather than fluted pillars supporting a frieze. The mantelpiece also contains apertures that might have been intended to contain paintings – three round or oval, and one square. There is also extensive oak-panelling in the hall.

Loxdale English Centre

In 2022 Loxdale is still in action as a centre for teaching English language and culture. The on-line blurb describes it as being situated in a ‘beautiful Victorian Mansion’ and mention is made of the well-wooded grounds.

Copyright © D. Sharp


Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Mr G. Osborne

Pentecost, E. A Shepherd’s Daughter (1987)

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Copyright © J.Middleton 2022
page layout by D. Sharp