12 March 2022

North House Farm, Portslade

Judy Middleton (2002 revised 2022)

copyright © G. Osborne
North House Farm in 1909

The farm was located where the north-east end of Southdown Road is today, and according to the 1840 Tithe Map John Borrer owned the property while John Hodson farmed it. The 1841 census recorded 50-year old John Hodson living in the farmhouse with his sisters Sarah and Jane and both females were described as being of independent means. There was more detail about the farm in the 1851 census when it was stated John Hodson farmed 840 acres, employing sixteen men and eight boys. Westmeston-born Hodson still lived with his sisters and there were three servants in the household.

By 1861 George Hodson, aged 43, was running the farm and he had been born at West Blatchington. The farm contained 857 acres, mainly sheep-walk, and Hodson employed eighteen men and eight boys. His wife Elizabeth was aged 37 and there were two servants.

In 1871 Thomas Dudney was in charge. He was aged 48 and he lived with his wife Rebecca and son Thomas aged 15. The acreage appears to have diminished and was now 750 acres. Dudney employed fourteen labourers and four boys. By 1881 the acreage was even less and was recorded at 481 acres. There was no need for a host of labourers and Dudney managed the farm with the assistance of his 22-year old son James. There were still two servants in the household. It appears that Thomas Dudney must have died shortly after the census because Mrs Rebecca Dudney was recorded as living in the farmhouse in the 1881 Directory and the 1891 census identified her as a widow but her son Thomas was still at home together with three servants. By 1901 Rebecca was still there and so was her widowed sister-in-law Ann Mighell.

copyright © J. Middleton
North House Farmhouse is set amongst trees while the Stonery is the building facing south amidst its market gardens, today North House Farm is covered by housing in Southdown Road and The Stonery by housing in North Lane. On the hill above these buildings is Foredown Hospital.

Sidney West's (1876-1944) background was not steeped in the practicalities of farming. His early career began as an articled pupil to surveyors and valuers Humbert & Flint at Watford. In 1900 he became a qualified member of the Surveyors’ Institute and he followed that up by becoming a partner in Famcombe & West in 1901 and practised at Steyning. But his career was cut brutally short because he had trouble with his voice and in his profession a commanding voice was a necessity.

Instead he turned to the countryside and in 1908 purchased farmland at Portslade. It was not quite as alien to him as it might have seemed because he loved horses and hunting and was an enthusiastic member of the Southdown Hunt. He was a sportsman and keen on swimming too. John Broomfield was his farm manager (and later partner).

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
North House Farm in 1909

Sid West lived at the farmhouse together with Francis Sclater, Mill Mower (farm carpenter) Mr Standing (carter) who worked one of the horse teams, and little Joey who looked after Sid’s cob Topsy. Other farmhands were Big Joe (father of little Joey) Jack Benfield (nicknamed Nebby) Jack Tester, old Arthur and young Puggle. Francis Sclater, who worked for him in the 1920s, lived in the farmhouse during the week too. He was obliged to follow West’s habit of taking a cold bath every morning although he could not see the virtue of it on a frosty morning.

In 1901 John Broomfield began working at North House Farm. But he did not live in the farmhouse at that time and only moved in when Sid West retired in 1925. Meanwhile, the Broomfield family lived in Portslade-by-Sea before moving to the Stonery in around 1905.

Francis Sclater went to work at the farm straight from school and was there from 1922 to 1925. At that stage Sclater said the farm was run as a partnership between John Broomfield and Sidney West. Broomfield was responsible for the milking herd up at Easthill, the cattle, sheep and arable land while West’s speciality was the market gardens in the valley.

copyright © Uridge
An evocative photograph of North House Farm in 1924 with a meeting of the Southdown Foxhounds. Joe Mackarness, huntsman, is seen on the left.

Sidney West retired in 1925 and moved to Burgess Hill where he lived at Garfield House.

The sheep were large Oxford Down cross animals and full-time shepherd Charley took care of them with Fred the under-shepherd. When Charley sent the rams into the flock, he called it knitting time. The sheep were dipped in a yard at Mile Oak. The wooden dipping bath had a flat surface at one end onto which a sheep was lifted on its back before being immersed. The other sheep dipping time took place over the Downs at Fulking where the road was blocked off to allow the natural spring gushing out from the foot of the Downs to form a pool. But the spring water was ice-cold and the shepherds’ legs soon grew numb. When the task was completed the shepherds had certainly earned a pint or two at the adjacent Shepherd and Dog pub and there was a welcome chance to thaw before driving the sheep back home over the hill.

On one occasion Broomfield discovered there were cockroaches in the scullery. He asked Sclater to bring him back a couple of hedgehogs when he went home to Newick for the weekend. Sclater carried them in a sack on horseback all the way back to Portslade and the hedgehogs did the trick.

copyright © Broomfield
This photograph of some of Broomfield’s sheep folded within hurdles woven from hazel was taken in 1924.

There were several horses on the farm – enough for four or five teams to work the land and some fine specimens to pull the delivery van to Brighton market. Topsy pulled Sid West’s dog-cart but she was also used for the delicate task of hoeing in the market gardens. Other horses were named Old Bob, Jane, Laddie, ‘Erbert and Commie.

Jolly was the big shire horse who came to an untimely end. The horse was being led from the stables in full harness by young Puggle to have a foot inspection. Over the grass they went when there was a loud rumble and poor Jolly disappeared backwards down a large hole some 50 or 60 feet deep. It was the site of an old well and according to West’s plan of the farm, it was supposed to have been filled in. But in reality only old railway sleepers had been laid over the hole. The water authority had to be informed because Mile Oak was a source of pure water for the area. It was a terrible job to winch the carcass to the surface. Jolly was such a weight that several farmhands had to jump onto the base of the winch to stop it rising up.

copyright © Hyde
Bert Hyde on the Massey Ferguson tractor at
North House Farm in the 1950s.
Steam power was also in use at the farm. Two large steam engines provided the power but they remained stationary at either side of the field while the plough or cultivator was pulled back and forth between them. Three old chaps had the care of the engines and they lived in a little hut on wheels that travelled with them from field to field.    

 Bert Hyde went to work at North House Farm in 1933. His working day began at 6 a.m. when he milked three cows by hand, perched on the traditional three-legged stool. He also tended the market gardens that produced potatoes, carrots, sprouts and turnips; there were tomatoes in the greenhouses and a good spread of gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes. Wheat, barley and oats were grown in the fields. One year there was a fine crop of cauliflowers on 40 acres at Benfield Valley. Unhappily, there was a glut of them on the market and they could not be sold.

Horses were still being used in the 1940s but by the 1950s Bert Hyde had mastered the art of driving a Massey Ferguson tractor. But he still possessed such old-time skills as being able to thatch a haystack.

During the Second World War there were plenty of workers to help out at the farm because as well as the Land Girls, there were German prisoners of war who came over daily from Shoreham. It fell to Hyde to explain what needed to be done. For example when it came to weeding a field of beetroots, he took care to explain that they must leave the red tops of the plants alone while pulling out all the other green bits and pieces.

Bert Hyde worked at North House for forty years and for three generations of the Broomfield family. He was happy in his work but his wife Gladys never felt 32/- a week was a sufficient wage and she went out to work to augment their income.  They lived at 31 High Street, a tied cottage between the Stag's Head and the George pubs. The rent was 4/- a week but there was no electricity, bathroom or inside toilet. By the 1950s the Hydes were so fed up with not having electricity while other people enjoyed watching television that he handed in his notice. When Broomfield found out the reason, electricity was installed at once.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
North House Farm in 1969, shortly before demolition

North House Farm was still marked on the 1955 Ordnance Survey Map and Mrs A. Broomfield still lived there in 1960. Some of the old farm buildings in Southdown Road were only demolished in 1970.

copyright © D. Sharp
This North House Farm's flint wall is now a garden wall of a bungalow in Southdown Road.


Census returns
J.Middleton Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Mr G. Osborne
Information from Ken Broomfield and the late John Broomfield.

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