14 March 2024

Portslade Archeology

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2024)

copyright © D. Sharp
Foredown Road is evidence of an ancient sunken road (or hollow-way) with steep banks on either side of the road. This road was described by I. Margery in his Roman Roads in Britain (1973) as a section of the Roman Ports Road (see below)

Prehistoric Remains

In volume 70 of the Sussex Archaeological Collections it was stated that the bones of a woolly rhinoceros were found at Portslade in association with Aucheulean implements. Other animal remains were found in a gravel pit, the bones belonging to animals of the Pleistocene to the Lower Era. There was also a pear-shaped implement of the early St Aucheal type, that is belonging to the Lower Palaeolithic Era.

copyright © D. Sharp
Photographs left and centre, show a rhinoceros teeth and bone, found near Portslade Station, Rhinoceros inhabited the Portslade area about 200,000 years ago. On the right are the carpal bones of a bear found in 1908 in the brick-fields which later became Portslade’s Victoria Recreation Ground. The bear’s foot bones were donated by Dr Eliot Curwen in 1911.

In the Cockroost Hill area late prehistoric flints have been found.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums,
Brighton & Hove
This is a Bronze Age triangular barbed and tanged flint arrowhead.
One of the barbs of the arrowhead is missing.
The arrowhead was found in the Cockroost Hill area

Whitelot Bottom also provided evidence of early occupation and the objects were given to Brighton Museum. The finds included the following:

A looped palstave (a Bronze Age axe)

A looped and pocketed celt (a prehistoric axe-like instrument)

A piece of a large socketed spearhead

Two rings

Pins of the ‘swan neck’ variety


According to Woodman writing in 1901 there used to be a great number of tumuli on the slopes of the valley leading from Devil’s Dyke, but these have been lost since the Downs were ploughed up.

In an article written by L.V. Grinsell in 1934 he gave the position of the Portslade Barrow as 52 SE 0.2-in from the left-hand inner margin, and 3.15-in from the bottom inner margin. However, in his notes he had to admit that he could not find the Portslade Barrow, and if it was still there, it must have been inconspicuous.

The Portslade Barrow was again referred to in volume 15 of Sussex Notes & Queries where it was said to be south-west of Devil’s Dyke. It was probably a bowl barrow but there was some doubt about it. Also included were different map measurements to those given by Grinsell. According to the 6-in Ordnance Survey Map the site was 52 SE 2.35-in from the left-hand margin, and 5.62-in from the bottom margin. The height was only 1½-ft, and the diameter in paces was twelve.

It seems the site in question is known today as Scabes Castle. It is an impressive title for a relatively small plot, which to the casual eye, is nothing more than an ordinary-looking piece of Downland. However, this was an important site in times long past. Indeed, you would need to imagine yourself back in the years 2400-1500 B.C. because it is a Bowl Barrow constructed sometime during the era of the late Neolithic period to the late Bronze Age. It was a burial site, most probably of an important personage because of its lovely situation on the Downs. It also pays to remember that the unique and priceless Amber Cup came from a Bronze Age barrow in Hove, not that far distant. Those ancient people must have been aware of something special in this landscape.

In the Sussex Archaeological Collection (volume 72) it was recorded that a palstave (a Bronze Age axe) and part of a dirk had been found at Scabes Castle and given to Brighton Museum.

In 1963 a field-walk was undertaken in the area, and the conclusion was that the area of Scabes Castle had been occupied from the Iron Age until the late Roman period, with particular reference to Fulking Corner.

In 1967 the barrow at Scabes Castle was deemed important enough to lead it to being classified as a scheduled monument. The official verdict was that it had ‘survived comparatively well’. This is something of a surprise because although it was once round, it is now more oval shaped, and unfortunately a modern plough has disturbed the east side.

The site has only been partly excavated, although Bob Saville and the Brighton & Hove Archaeological Society conducted a field walk in 1983 finding a range of objects that indicate a human presence such as worked flints, Romano-British potsherds, fragments of metal and even teeth, and these items seemed to be concentrated on the north-west side of the field, next to Fulking Corner.

The name Scabes Castle originally applied to a larger area than has just been described. Indeed, F. E. Sayers’ map of 1792 shows part of it within the old Brighton Parish boundary, lying against the north boundary and west of Brighton Racecourse. According to Timothy Carder, Scabes Castle was an area of fields between Bear Road and Hartington Road, where the cemeteries were later created. The 1967 official listing puts the Scabes Castle Round Barrow as being in Poynings. The situation is a south-facing slope with the Fulking boundary on the west, one mile south-west of Devil’s Dyke.

copyright © D. Sharp
New Barn Farm is in the valley, Scabes Castle is located on the white chalk line in the far distance.

However, Portslade must be taken into consideration too because the area was once occupied by the farmer at New Barn Farm, which is in Portslade. The Ordnance Map of 1875 locates New Barn Farm being situated north-west of Benfield Farm between Foredown Hill and Benfield Hill with a large dew-pond nearby. There were two New Barn Cottages, occupied in 1891 as follows:

Charles Turner, cowman,

His wife Emma, aged 24

Ellen, aged three

Charles, aged one

Elizabeth Standen, 45-year old widow

Henry, 14-year old farm labourer

George 11

Edwin, 9

James, 7

One lodger, also a farm labourer

In the 20th century these cottages were listed under Foredown Road.

It is amusing to note the magic remedy used by the carter who worked at New Barn Farm in the 1920s, and was famous for having healthy horses with beautiful glossy coats. Apparently, he mixed human urine in with their feed, although he always maintained that ‘maid’s water is best’.

In 1983 the farmer at New Barn Farm was Mr E. Leppard.

Bronze Age Metal Working

Before work could start on the A27 Brighton by-pass, the Field Archaeology Group with Miles Russell as the project director made a thorough survey of the land soon to be covered with tarmac. It was indeed a bonus as regards history although many people deplored the spoiling of the countryside by the new road. However, the full cost of the archaeological work carried out on the site of the bypass cost English Heritage some £200,000.

The archaeologists discovered there had been a Bronze Age metal-working site at Mile Oak. The evidence for this activity lay in finding of charcoal, ash, fire-cracked flints, fired clay lead droplets, scrap copper alloy, grinding stones and whetstones.

It is estimated that metal-working took place at Mile Oak between 1000 and 800BC.

The Henge

copyright © D.Sharp
Site of Portslade Henge in the valley, looking east, now covered by the raised A27 and its embankments

The most important discovery at Mile Oak by archaeologists working on the proposed by-pass site was the henge. Just to emphasize its status – the Portslade Henge was the first positively identified henge monument in the south-east, and it was discovered in August 1990. Previously, henges had been unearthed in a strip running from the south-west to Norfolk, and also in Scotland and Wales.
copyright © D.Sharp
Mile Oak's Sarsen Stone in Brighton Museum.
This stone was a part of  the henge, it probably
 acted as a focusing device just outside the 
circle, it may have helped pinpoint movements
 of the sun or moon throughout the year.

The Portslade Henge was excavated entirely by hand, and it was believed to date from around 2000 B.C. It was a ditched enclosure some 35m in diameter, and it is thought there was once an external bank. Its north-west entrance was aligned to the opposing hill on which there was likely to have been a large Neolithic structure. There was a small sandstone block, flattened on one side, which may have been used as a focusing device. Both the hill and the henge were close to a recently identified Neolithic causewayed enclosure. The henge was situated in a dry valley running south from Cockroost Hill, east of Mile Oak Pumping Station and south east of Mile Oak Farm.

Today the site is covered by the A27 bypass, but if you venture through the tunnel under the bypass near the allotments, you will find on the other side a clump of trees and an old barn – the henge was situated nearby.

Just inside the north-west entrance of the henge a human skeleton was discovered, crouched in a foetal position near a faced sandstone block. It seems likely that the burial had a religious significance, perhaps even a sacrifice. In the Evening Argus (18 October 1990) it was stated as regards the skeleton that ‘experts will now examine it for clues as to whether its owner was a human sacrifice.’ The article was accompanied by a photograph of dig director Miles Russell holding up the skull, which had a full set of teeth.

copyright © D. Sharp

It is fascinating to note that in the Daily Mail (10 June 2000) there was an article of relevant interest about some skeletons found at Stonehenge. It seemed that four complete skeletons had been unearthed, but astonishingly two had since been lost. However, one had recently been re-discovered although it was previously thought to have been lost during the London blitz in the Second World War. The skeleton came from the foot of the circle of great stones, and it was excavated in 1923 with clear indications that the victim had been beheaded.

In 1978 the other skeleton also came to light. He must have been a fine specimen inn his prime, and he was still wearing his bowstring wrist-guard indicating his status as an archer. The young man had been shot through the back and the flint arrowhead had had gone through his heart and embedded itself in the back of his breastbone; there were also other flint arrowheads in his ribcage.

The Roman writer Strabo recorded that the Druids shot arrows into the back of their victims, and they were able to predict the future by close observation of the victim’s death throes.

At Stonehenge, another burial pit revealed the remains of a small child whose head had been split by a stone axe.

At Sarn-y-bryn-caled a timber circle also yielded four flint arrowheads, two of them with the tips broken off due to impact.

Romano-British Remains

I. D. Margery stated that there were two routes leading from Devil’s Dyke to Portslade, which could claim to have been used by the Romans. One is better known as Port’s Road, and Margery described it as a fine and striking example of a Romano-British double lynchet road being plainly visible where it crossed the golf links on Round Hill. Port’s Road passed through Portslade village (where Drove Road is today). The route went up the hill and then veered south-west (where Mile Oak Road leads to Southwick) to where a Roman villa was situated; no doubt an offshoot joined the Brighton to Chichester route.

copyright © D. Sharp
The west end of the old Drove Road, now a footpath, which connected to the Mile Oak Road and west towards Southwick.

In 1925 when the Southwick sewerage extension was being excavated, workmen discovered at a depth of 4-ft the core of the old road opposite Roman Crescent. Another track went to the Hangleton settlement.

A. H. Allcroft considered there was a Roman road that followed the spine of Benfield Hill, whereas Margary thought it was only a ridgeway. But whatever it was, it did join up with Port’s Road in the Dyke Valley.

It is evident that the Downs were well traversed from the earliest times. In fact, the Downs provided a more suitable environment for early inhabitants than the impenetrable forests of the weald. This isolation is also claimed to be why Sussex was the last part of England to receive the Christian message.

Romano-British Cremation Burials

copyright © G. Osborne

In 1875 some workmen were digging for brick earth in the brick fields when they came across twenty or more Romano-British cremation burials. The site was south of the Old Shoreham Road on the north-west side of what later became Victoria Recreation Ground, and half mile west of Portslade Railway Station. The graves were 3-ft in length and 18-in wide, and were formed by layers of of flint on which cinerary urns and two or three vessels were placed. The local landowner John Dudney gave the pottery to Brighton Museum.

copyright © D. Sharp
These examples of Romano-British pottery dating from nearly 2000 years ago were found in south Portslade in Victorian times.

E. H. Willett wrote an account of the finds, and recorded that there seventeen complete vessels with some cremated bones and fibulae. However, in 1988 when Oliver Gilkes enquired into the matter he found there were only twelve items in the museum. In his article published in the Sussex Archaeological Collections (vol 126) he came up with the theory that perhaps the missing five items were catalogued as being found at Aldrington at a similar date. Some of the finds at Portslade were described as follows:
copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum,
Brighton & Hove
These Samian ware fragment profiles
found in
Portslade in the 1930s

A short globular beaker from the lower Rhineland, coloured blue/black, decorated with a motif of a dog chasing a stag.

A buff-coloured jar with high shoulders and two lines incised around the top.

A jar made from grey material containing the cremated remains of a skull, teeth and bone fragments. Inside were four iron nails. Gilkes thought this was no accident, and had been deliberately included as a part of a funeral custom. Perhaps this belief in the efficacy of iron survived in Sussex folklore, which held that iron provided protection from evil spirits. There have been other cremation finds associated with nails at South Malling and Seaford.

A light grey jar with a broken rim.

A large light grey beaker containing the cremated remains of a skull, teeth and bone fragments. There was also an oval flint flake and the skull of a hornless sheep. The beaker was covered by a Samian Ware dish.

A mottled grey and off-white flagon.

A grey bottle made of sandy material decorated with three lines around the shoulder.

A light grey beaker of a bulbous shape with a wide mouth.

A small grey beaker of the poppy-head type. Another example has been found at Chichester dated to the 2nd century.

A circular platter of a buff-brown colour.

A grey / brown circular platter.

There were also some sherds and two other cremations.

More Finds

Edward Blaker of East Hill House purchased some Downland in the middle of the 19th century, and it was around three-quarters of a mile from Devil’s Dyke. When his men were engaged in ploughing near Fulking Corner, they unearthed a great many shards, and on another occasion four complete vessels were discovered. Blaker gave them to Brighton Museum. It is thought the four vessels might have formed a single cremation group dating back to the late 3rd or early 4th centuries A.D. They were as follows:

A large light grey jar that had once contained a cremation.

A Samian dish.

A small, globular beaker of a dark purple / black colour, which was decorated with some incised lines.

A small reddish brown beaker.

A Brooch

In February 1932 J. G. Ward found a Romano-British bronze brooch on the open Downs above Portslade. The brooch was later identified as a La Tene III dating to the 1st century A. D.

The brooch was described as having a slightly arched bow tapering to the foot and resting on a catch-plate. There was a bilateral spring that was secured to the head with a loop, and covered by two winged flanges.


In 1900 some Roman coins of the 3rd brass of Constantine (323-350 A.D.) were found in the bank of the track leading from the Smithy in Foredown Road to Cowhayes Farm.

A Roman coin of the 3rd brass of Magentius (350-353 A. D.) was unearthed in Franklin Road.

In around 1900 H. C. Sturt found a base denarius (258-267A.D.) on Tenantry Hill.

In 1904 a 1st brass of Hadrian was found on Mount Zion.

Miscellaneous Artefacts

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Palaeolithic hand axe found at Portslade

In December 1900 when a road was being constructed from Mile Oak Road to Portslade Industrial School (later known as Mile Oak Approved School) some pieces of Romano-British pottery came to light, as well as some ancient bones, flints and pot-boilers.

In 1932 C. Richard Ward wrote an article about a place on the open Downs above Portslade (unfortunately, he did not identify the spot) where he had found many ancient fragments including shards of grey, red and buff Romano-British pottery, pieces of Samian ware, and a flanged Roman roof tile.

In March 1986 and from November 1986 to March 1987 a field-walk took place from Southwick Hill to Coldean, covering the proposed A27 Bypass. From north of Mile Oak there were finds of pottery of east Sussex Ware, Late Thunders Barrow Ware storage pots, and the foot of a Samian bowl.

A Roman Villa

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Frederick Nash painted this view of East Hill windmill in 1841,
the site of a Romano-British Villa,
this whole area is now covered by a small housing estate

It is probable that there was a Romano-British Villa at Easthill, on the site later covered by the Easthill Windmill. Evidence for this theory lies in the number of finds in this area, the bend in the track at this point, and the fact such as villa would have been equidistant between the known villa sites at Southwick and West Blatchington.

copyright © National Library of Australia
The Queenslander 3 November 1932
Although the Southwick Roman Villa was extensively excavated
and reputed to be one of the biggest Roman sites in Sussex,
inexplicably, this Roman Villa was never preserved for future generations
to view, as the whole site was subsequently covered by the Manor Hall Road
housing estate and the Southwick Methodist Church.
There are no visible traces on show today of the ruins of the Roman Villas
at West Blatchington, Portslade, Kingston Buci and Preston (Brighton).

The finds, which were reported in 1888, included a good specimen of imitation Samian pottery, Romans tiles, bricks and tesserae, and some bone awls.

In the 1920s some investigations were carried out to try and determine where the villa might have stood. It was stated that from the smithy to the south end of buildings belonging to Windmill House, there was a small plateau on a north to south ridge with following measurements:

Roughly 230-yards, north to south-east

90-yards wide at the south end

59-yards wide at the north end

From the plateau the land fell away on three sides while there was a rise to the north. The conclusion was that the villa had once occupied the site later covered by the windmill.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Sussex Daily News 19 June 1935
The excavations at Southwick's Roman Villa in 1935, the
trees on the horizon are in Portslade, sadly the whole of the
Roman Villa site is now covered by the Manor Hall Road housing estate

Anglo-Saxon Burials

In the Hove Gazette (30 July 1898) under the headline The Discovery of Relics at Portslade there was a report of some finds made a week or two previously. At first it was thought they were Roman remains but the opinion of ‘certain archaeological experts tend to show that the nine skeletons recently exhumed in St Andrew’s Road are in all likelihood some of a number contained in what was in the distant past an Anglo-Saxon burial ground.’

The skeletons were in a shallow grave parallel with each other, about 2-ft apart, and aligned west to east. Close at hand were some portions of an iron shield boss, two socketed spears, and a knife or dagger.

It was judged unnecessary to hold a coroner’s inquest, and the skeletons were re-interred in the local cemetery, while the weapon fragments were carefully preserved.

copyright © G. Osborne
The west end of St Andrew's Road, Portslade

Further evidence of an ancient cemetery was discovered in around 1926 when workmen were digging a trench in the road outside three lock-up garages at the west end of St Andrew’s Road. They found part of a human skeleton, and the remains of an Anglo-Saxon cinerary urn. The latter appears to be a wide, shallow vessel with a slightly flattened base. The vessel was hand-made, and was mud-coloured outside, and black outside.

The inspection cover in the forecourt was over the site where the pottery was found. The human bones were found a few feet to the south, and under the gutter of the roadway. The bones consisted of skull fragments, but it was impossible to conclude if they came from one or two skulls; there was a left femur and both tibia.

It is rumoured that when the car showroom, now a dental surgery, was built in 1993 on the west corner of St Andrew’s Road, further bones were unearthed.

A Saxon Warrior

In March 1931 workmen were engaged in the construction of the new West Hove Golf Course, and were busy creating a bunker at the 14th hole when they uncovered a grave. It has also been asserted that the discovery was made at the 14th tee, but William Grinyer, who was there at the time, stated that it was the 14th hole.

The precise spot was on a low ridge, 280-yards north-north-west of Benfield Farm, and 62-yards west of the corner of the hedge that leads towards St Helen’s Church, Hangleton. The skeleton was buried only about 18-in below the surface, and consequently, as an official report recorded, the skeleton’s bones ‘were as usual completely smashed up by the labourer’s picks’.

The skeleton was lying extended on his back with the head towards the east-north-east. William Grinyer said that a bronze spear head was still embedded in the chest cavity, and that the Saxon warrior possessed a magnificent set of teeth.

The finds were placed in a hut, but the curator of Hove Museum soon came along and removed them. When the manager of the West Hove Golf Course heard about what had happened, he was upset because he thought that since it was his land, the finds were his property. However, the artefacts continued to reside in Hove Museum until recent times. They consisted of a spear head, a knife, a shield boss, and a large iron shield boss with parts of two others.

Mediaeval Remains

In May 1915 when there was a military camp at Shoreham. A party of Royal Engineers discovered some mediaeval remains on a hill north of Portslade.


Census Returns

Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Evening Argus (18 October 1990)

Field Archaeology Unit News N0. 1 (Winter 1990/1991)

Hove Gazette (30 July 1898)

Margery, I. Roman Roads in Britain (1955 revised 1973)

National Library of Australia

Mr G. Osborne

Ordnance Survey Map 1875

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Street Directories

Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol 70 / Vol 72 /Vol 126

Sussex Notes & Queries – Vol 15 (1958-1962)

Copyright © J.Middleton 2024

Page design & additional research by D. Sharp