The expansion of Hove: a house – and garage – for everyone
6 November 2018
By Lindsey Tydeman
A devastating war may have come and gone but through it the register of planning applications in the Borough of Hove Surveyor’s Office was maintained faultlessly, the only evidence of the national trauma being a 50 per cent decrease in planning applications between 1914-1918. After the war, although local industries and shops continued to grow and modernise, there was a very slow start to house-building despite the temporary subsidies available under the Housing (Additional Powers) Act 1919.
It was to take ten years before confidence in the building industry returned. 1928 seems to be the key year in Hove’s expansion northwards into Hangleton, Blatchington and the surrounding downland farms. The roads between the railway line and the Old Shoreham Road were filled with large-scale developments (ie ‘45 houses, Amherst Crescent and Aldrington Avenue’) and the success of this was the cue for huge projects of new roads, sewers and housing north of the Old Shoreham Road which was only interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939. Braybons the builders cornered the market in Hangleton as they had done in Brighton; they began building 103 houses in Elm Drive, May Tree Walk and Rowan Avenue in spring 1933, and started again building 80 houses and 38 garages on Hangleton ‘Estate Road No 4’ in early 1936. A garage was now considered essential; everyone who had bought a house without one or builders who had started constructing houses without them remedied their errors in the 1930s. The value-for-money option was the pre-fabricated garage from Booths Portable Buildings Ltd.
There was obviously rapid profit to be made in large estates of smaller semi-detached houses, and, later, of semi-detached and detached bungalows. The impression from the register is of developers, individually or in groups, being determined to start building as soon as land became available, often putting plans before the Borough Surveyor and Improvements Committee even before a specific plot had been identified on a new road and necessitating a measurement from the nearest landmark or building in order to plot it on the office map. A handful of local architects and builders maintained a firm grip on the developing housing market and, by 1937, some of them had been there since the 1890s, handing on the business through the family. Several names – Marchant, Nye, Parsons and Sons, Braybons, Cook, Callaways, Denman and Draycott – are still associated with the building industry and working in Brighton and Hove today.
After the First World War, the rich no longer came en masse to spend their summers in Hove. Some families sold their grand houses in Hove’s premier roads leading from Church Road and Western Road to the seafront, but others kept them, converting them into flats for rental income. Initially, each floor of a large house would become one flat, the architect’s plans rarely exceeding four in one building. However, in 1938 owners began to see the potential in ‘tenements’ (as the planning register called them), or ‘flatlets’ (in the words of the architect). Perhaps those at 9, 11 and 13 Holland Road were Hove’s first studios. The party walls separating the large terraced houses were demolished, making them ‘all intercommunicating’. The rooms were divided by a partition wall to create a living space with a ‘kitchenette’ in the corner. A shared bathroom was at the end of the landing or on the next floor. In August 1940, plans were submitted to make 16 flatlets and caretaker’s quarters out of the single house at 44 Brunswick Place.
Hove still remained the town of choice for wealthy individuals and retirees. The latter could move into one of the luxury, modern purpose-built flats occupying prominent positions on the Kingsway. In August 1936, Viceroy Lodge at the bottom of Hove Street was designed with its own servants’ quarters and every flat in St Aubyn’s Mansions had its own maid’s bedroom. In 1932, Hove’s first private swimming pool had been designed by the architect Mr S Clough. Designed for satisfying length swimming, it filled the entire back garden of number 8 Third Avenue and came with 2 diving boards, a terrace and, for privacy, a thick conifer screen at the back.
In 1939, Hove’s main industries were still those of 50 years previously and they were in the same place, banked up against the Brighton to Shoreham railway line. Dubarry’s had bought out the Standard Tablet Company in 1924 and was installed in the factories and warehouses south of Hove Park Villas. Brighton and Hove Omnibuses were still in Conway Street and the laundries in Arthur Street were expanding and updating; in 1922, dry cleaning was offered at Channel Laundry. The newly-created industrial estate to the west of Newtown Road was dominated by the head office of Clarks Bakery, whose delivery men on bicycles, and later vans, supplied the local shops. Improvements in 1933 placed woodblock-floored offices, a telephone booth and boardroom around the strongroom, with a three-bedroomed flat upstairs. Green’s, makers of dessert and cake mixes, had been on its site between Portland Road and the railway for over 20 years and had its own spur line to the factory. The machine tool factory CVA Jigs, Moulds and Tools lay on the north side of Portland Road opposite Glebe Villas and had expanded from its ‘temporary building’ in 1917 to a full iron foundry works in 1930. Smelting work was carried out there until the early 1970s.
Away from Hove’s many pubs or ‘hotels’ as the planning register termed them, entertainment came in the form of football, greyhound racing and cinema. The Goldstone football ground had a new North Stand in 1930, to be followed by a clubhouse, improved lavatories and two ‘temporary’ bars, owned by Tamplins, in 1937. The nearby greyhound stadium, new in 1929, went from strength to strength; improved and extended during the early 1930s, it received a ‘totalisator’ building for betting in April 1936, additions to the grandstand in late 1938 and extensions to the east stand in January 1939. Hove Ice Rink, which lay alongside the railway at the top of Denmark Villas, was a huge temple-like building with a high-ceilinged entrance hall, orchestra pit, restaurant, board room and tea lounge. However, it lost popularity soon after opening in 1929 and was reopened as the Hove Lido cinema in 1932.
Dr Hart of 47 Cromwell Road was the first civilian to apply for permission to build an air raid shelter in his garden in January 1939. This threw the Planning Committee into a dilemma; as it was ‘a structure not provided for in their Building Bylaws, the Borough Surveyor suggests that the Council accept no responsibility in respect of the proposals’. They didn’t have long to wait before instructions from the War Office took the responsibility away from them. Only two organisations, the Brighton and Hove Omnibus Company and Boots Chemists, were proactive when it came to protecting their employees in the months before war became official, the former building two air raid shelters in Conway Street, one with a gas-proof door, and the latter providing shelters at all three of its shops in Boundary Road, George Street and Church Road.
Regarding the book itself, 1939’s planning register, purchased in June 1937 from Combridge’s Stationers at 56 Church Road, is a duplicate of Hove Borough’s first planning register of 1885. Its layout and listing style were unchanged, reflecting, one suspects, the procedural continuity of the council committee meetings at which the Borough Surveyor approved new buildings. Ink pens were still used although the writing was no longer standard nineteenth-century copperplate and formalities were important. The word ‘Messrs’ always preceded a company’s name and two or more unmarried sisters living together were termed, ‘The Misses…’. It was business as usual in the Surveyor’s Office right up to 24 December and again after 26 December. It would be 35 years before 1 January became a public holiday.
Life in Postwar Hove – insights from the Borough Minute Books
15 October 2018
By Lindsey Tydeman
In 1914, Hove was a grand town. It had been a regular retreat of Edward VII, the front page of the local paper carrying the latest on ‘The King’, and where the King had walked, the wealthy London elite still followed. The Brunswick Estate, Hove Lawns and the wide roads surrounding Grand Avenue made a most elegant seaside environment, with the ‘working classes’ tucked firmly away in mews cottages or in terraced housing to the west. Today, we know that the 1914-18 War changed British society irrevocably but in 1918-19 the Mayor, Alderman and Burgesses of the Borough of Hove saw no such portents. The minutes of Hove Borough’s myriad Committees show how they coped with the challenges of the peace while attempting to maintain the status quo.
As with councils today, finance – the need to conserve money and curtail unnecessary spending – was a predominant issue on every committee, from Small-Holdings and Allotments to Town Hall and Entertainments. Wounded soldiers returning home and unable to recommence their work in Borough departments were a worry. Lance Corporal Emsley MM and Bar, discharged from the army as unfit for service and declared not fit to return to work ‘for a considerable time’, was receiving a war pension but also half-pay from his job as a cemetery worker. The Parks, Baths and Cemetery Committee reviewed his case every month, only granting him half-pay on regular evidence from a doctor. With no regular wage reviews, it was up to municipal employees to request wage rises or increased War Bonuses, and it was only after a certain amount of pressure, for example the mass meeting of the Municipal Employees Association in February 1919, that committees would agree to ‘confer’ over the issue. Wounded soldiers and their charities were given consideration but there were increasing limitations to compassion where finances were at stake. In 1919, shell-shocked soldiers were allowed individual free use of the swimming baths, but the previous year Sir Arthur Pearson only had exclusive use of the Swimming Bath on Sunday mornings from 10.30 to 12.30 ‘on the understanding that (he) pays to the man left in charge the sum of 5/- per Sunday’. In 1919, the Parks, Baths and Cemetery Committee was very concerned about how long it could continue waiving burial fees for soldiers and sailors. Hove War Memorial Fund, set up in June 1921 to assist families of former soldiers in extreme need with money or clothing for children, declined to help the family of W. Butcher as he ‘was not a Hove man within the definition given in the Trust Deeds, therefore ineligible for assistance’.
The minute books provide much information on women’s roles during the War and beyond. With men serving in the military, women were used as a labour source throughout the town’s municipal departments. They were particularly useful as labourers in Hove Cemetery, where they cut the grass and cleaned the walks. Always termed ‘temporary’, their pay went up from 4d to 5d per hour in March 1918 (they received no War Bonus) and in May an extra six were taken on. In the Rates Department, Miss Springer and Miss Winter had been doing the work of Messrs Cheverton and Bolton, but when these gentlemen returned from military service, the Town Clerk was instructed to ‘give one month’s notice to Miss Springer and Miss Winter to terminate their engagements’. In April 1919, following a Home Office circular which recommended that ‘women auxiliaries may be of great assistance to the Police when dealing with cases in which women and children are concerned’, the Watch Committee decided ‘to expend the sum of £15s’ on the appointment of two Policewomen, ‘and in addition the cost of necessary uniform, including boots’.
In February 1920 Miss Basden, Honorary Secretary of the Joint Housing Committee of the Brighton and Hove Branch of the National Council for Women, asked for two women to be co-opted on the Housing Committee. The Committee’s reply was abrupt: there were already two ladies on the Committee. In May, Miss Basden wrote again, this time using the term ‘working women’ and referring to the recent Circular of the Ministry of Health, which recommended that ‘where women are co-opted upon a Housing Committee, the claims of working women who have had experience of bringing up a family and doing all the work of their home should be specially considered’. She gave the names of Mrs Aldridge of 21 Shakespeare Street and Mrs Standing of 22 Molesworth Street, as recommended for co-option and the Committee resolved that the Council be recommended to co-opt them ‘to hold office until 9 Nov next’.
The provision of affordable rented housing for working people was a huge issue and Councillors felt the pressure of expectation from both central Government and individuals in the Borough. A new estate fronting Portland Road had been earmarked for development and Housing Committee minutes chart its slow progress, with discussion of various house types and arguments over sizes of kitchens and sculleries – the women had a voice here. Costs were regularly restructured, with expenditure shaved from kerbs (replaced by boundary stones), roads (gravel instead of macadam in some areas) and economies on roadside planting. The cottages were estimated to cost £1000 each, with an ‘economic’ rent working out at about 35/- per week. The Housing Committee had been set up in 1919 and one of its first tasks was to read a circular from the Local Government Board asking for a survey of the town’s empty houses ‘which might be converted into flats or tenements for the working classes’. There was such a list, submitted by the Assistant Borough Surveyor, which he had obtained from the Rate Collector. ‘It appeared that most of the empty premises were the larger residential houses, situated in Palmeira Square, or localities of that character. The Committee are of the opinion that in view of the position of the empty houses… it would not be advantageous to the Borough for such premises to be converted into flats or tenements.’ They duly replied to the Local Government Board ‘that there are no houses in the Borough at the present time which would be suitable for conversion’.
The dry bureaucracy of Hove’s collection of Committee Minutes provides an unexpected insight into the local human cost of the War. In March 1918, the Parks, Baths and Cemetery Committee heard from the Town Clerk that ‘questions had arisen’ regarding the portion of Hove Cemetery which had been reserved for the burial of those ‘whose deaths had occurred in connection with the war’. Now it appeared that relatives wished to be buried in the same grave as those they had lost … ‘the Committee agreed that permission be granted’. In September 1919, a Mrs Oliver wrote to the Committee asking if she could pay to have the path from the Cemetery Chapel to her son’s grave asphalted at her own expense, as it was in a bad state of repair. The Committee replied that this work was in hand along with other paths in the Cemetery. Two months later, Mrs Oliver wrote again; she wanted to leave £1,000 in her will to the Borough ‘for the perpetual upkeep of her son’s grave’. The Committee replied that it would be much better if the money be paid over now and a Trust created during her lifetime.
The minute books give a sense of daily life in Hove in 1919, and also of the changing face of the town at the end of the War. Large sections of Hove Park, Hove Recreation Ground and Aldrington Recreation Ground (Wish Park) had been turned into allotments and notice was given in January 1920 to the allotment holders that their tenancy would be terminated the following December. Flag days, collections and fairs in the parks had been almost weekly events during the War, all on behalf of the military; even after the Armistice the Committee was loath to give other charities permission to make collections without permission from the Government. There were still military camps at Shoreham and Portslade, so buses from Brighton to Portslade were continually overcrowded. This caused general ill-feeling and, particularly, anxiety during the influenza outbreak in 1918; however, after an equal vote the Watch Committee decided against asking the bus company to keep to its licensed number. Similarly, they decided they did not have the powers to ask cinemas to stop admitting children under 14, despite the fears that back-to-back performances and lack of ventilation increased children’s susceptibility to infection. Local Government Board regulations would soon limit entertainments to a maximum of three hours with a requirement for ventilation.
The Minute Books from the Borough of Hove’s scores of Committees and Sub-Committees are a resource in waiting, not only for the local historian and researcher but also for those interested in the broader context, how a community and its individuals fitted into the national framework of post-war Britain in 1919.
Pioneering women: Margaret Bondfield, 1873-1953
6 August 2018
By Kate Elms
Did you know that the UK’s first female cabinet minister started her working life in Sussex? Margaret Bondfield, elected Minster for Labour in 1929, was born in Somerset in 1873 but, at the age of 14, she moved to Hove where she was offered work at Mrs White’s ladies’ and juvenile outfitters in Church Road.
This seems initially to have been a positive experience. In a biography written by Mary Agnes Hamilton, a pioneering woman in her own right, Margaret is quoted as saying,’I was apprenticed to one of those old-fashioned businesses where the relations between customer and server were of the most courteous and friendly, and the assistants, of whom I was the youngest, were treated like members of the family.’
During this time, she was befriended by Louisa Martindale, a customer of Mrs White’s and a well-known local suffragist. Louisa had moved to Brighton to ensure her own daughters, Louisa, born in 1872, and Hilda, born 1875, received a good education and the opportunity to pursue fulfilling careers, and she opened up her home in Stanford Road to young working women on Saturday afternoons. Margaret had grown up in a family that valued social justice, and this chance to mix with like-minded people helped to develop her political ideas.
When Mrs White retired, Margaret moved to Hetherington’s, a much larger establishment in Western Road. There she had a different experience of working life, with long hours and cramped living conditions. In the 1891 census, she is listed as the youngest resident (aged 18) in a household of eight female draper’s assistants, none from the local area, in a small house owned by William Hetherington in Stone Street, Brighton. It has been said that the Victorians invented late-night shopping – premises were often open until 10pm at night and young staff worked up to 74 hours per week, while the ‘living-in’ system gave them no privacy or freedom.
Moving to London in 1894, Margaret seems to have drawn on her own experience, becoming active in the Shop Assistants’ Union, campaigning for equal pay and better conditions for workers. She joined the London District Council of the Union and began to contribute articles to Shop Assistant, a publication launched in 1896. In the same year, she was asked by the Women’s Industrial Council to investigate the pay and conditions of shop workers. Her subsequent report and elevation to Assistant Secretary of her Union meant that by the age of 25, her political potential was being noticed in wider circles. She was recognised as the leading authority on shop workers, giving evidence to parliamentary select committees and was often the only female delegate to speak at conferences.
In 1908, she turned her attention to the Independent Labour Party and some of the broader issues it faced, including healthcare and pensions. She was involved with numerous organisations, including the Women’s Co-operative Guild, the National Federation of Women Workers and the Women’s Peace Council; supported equal suffrage for men and women, which put her at odds with the Women’s Social and Political Union; and continued to campaign for equal pay.
In 1923, she was elected as MP for Northampton and became the first female chair of the TUC. And in 1929, she became Minister of Labour in Ramsey Macdonald’s government, the first woman to hold a cabinet post. It was a difficult time, defined by the depression following the Wall Street Crash, and Margaret became a controversial figure who was seen by some to have betrayed the principles of her own party. She retired in 1938 and died in 1953.
Delving into Hove’s planning registers – a work in progress…
27 February 2018
By Lindsey Tydeman
During the past few months staff at The Keep have been working though old volumes from the Surveyor’s Office at Hove Council, adding details of building control plans to the public database. This will assist anyone who wants to find the original plans for their house, or to start researching their house history. Nearly 50,000 applications were made to Hove Council’s Works and Improvement Committee between 1875 and 1984, and the listing so far has reached the early years of the 20th century…
Flawless copperplate writing, free of mistakes or deletions, was the required form for the records and minutes of Hove Council and its plan registers are no exception. From the formation of the Works and Improvement Committee in 1875, every plan submitted to it, whether for greenhouses, bicycle stores, new roads, houses, or alterations or additions to existing buildings, came under its scrutiny and was afterwards deposited at the Town Hall in Church Road. An individual plan was usually submitted by the architect on behalf of their client; this could be a building company, an individual or a business. A brief description of the proposed work is given, then the address, date submitted and whether the plan accorded with the by-laws and permission given. If permission was refused the plan was taken away for redrafting and possible resubmission later.
In 1875, much of central Hove already existed. The squares and terraces of Brunswick Town had stood for nearly 50 years; already built, too, were the villas and mansions of First, Second, Third, Fourth and Grand Avenue. However, no plans exist for these buildings as there was no requirement for plans to be deposited with Hove Commissioners (the body which predated Hove Council), although alteration plans from 1860 onwards can sometimes be located.
The post-1875 planning registers demonstrate how Hove rapidly expanded north and west from its wide southern avenues to provide an environment for a growing middle class and the people who worked for them. The 1880s was a decade of intense building; houses were built in twos, fours, sixes and more. The architect A Udney applied to build 17 houses in Newtown Road in February 1882; 24 houses had been constructed by the Davey brothers on Montgomery Street the previous October. Walking away from central Hove one would have encountered rudimentary roads on all sides and building plots in all of them. This frenzied activity ended abruptly, however, at the top of Hove Park Villas. Beyond the newly-laid out Hove Recreation Ground, one would have seen large fields of downland farming, a chalk and lime pit, and, directly to the west, allotments. On the north-west horizon was the Italianate water tower of Goldstone Pumping Station (now Hove Engineerium) and St Peter’s church and windmill at West Blatchington.
The cost of making up a new road, installing kerbs, tarmac and paving, was often the subject of negotiation between the original landowner and Hove Council, with a percentage of the final cost being passed on, if possible, to the builders or developers. Houses were frequently renumbered as the road lengthened so the position of new builds is often described in the registers as ‘on the south side’ or ‘on the south-east corner’. Road names could reflect topical events, landowners’ interests, local developers or prominent councillors. Portland Road was built on land owned by the Duke of Portland, Ellen Street and Ethel Street were named after daughters of the landowning Stanford family, Tisbury and Norton Roads reflected Stanford landholdings in Wiltshire. Mafeking Road and Redvers Roads in Brighton commemorated events and individuals associated with the British imperialist wars of the late nineteenth century.
Several ‘firsts’ appeared in Hove in the 15 years between 1890 and 1905. Hove Council gave permission for the first official advertisement hoarding to be erected at the site of the gas cottage on Church Road in 1896; the same year saw the town’s first block of residential flats in Hove Street. The first bungalow, built for a Mr J Curley, was sited along the Old Shoreham Road ‘near the waterworks’ in 1904; after that bungalows were regularly built although in very small numbers compared to detached, semi-detached and terrace houses The conversion of houses into flats saw its beginnings in Hove in 1904 with the conversion of a terrace row in Montgomery Street converted into ‘double tenements’. Flats were not always the results of house conversions but could be designed as purpose-built self-contained flats within an apparent new-build semi-detached or terraced house.
In 1898, Lloyds Bank was on the corner of Church Road and Sackville Road, Boots and Sainsburys were in Church Road, Forfar the bakers was at 123 Church Road and the Co-Operative Stores was at Lansdowne Street. In 1887, Co-Op customers could enjoy a newly-installed sliding glass roof over the open space in front of the shop. For Hove residents with plenty of leisure, there were bowls and tennis clubs, the public library, built in 1906, and a gymnasium in Holland Road. George Street was the hub; packed with shops and flats, it also had laundries, a school, the fire station, a music hall in 1891 and an Electric Theatre (cinema) in 1911.
Before the First World War only a very few wealthy enthusiasts owned a car. The first application to construct permanent housing for them was in 1903, at Brougham Mansions on Shoreham Road (now the Kingsway). This was called a ‘motor shelter’; six months later a similar application described a ‘motor store’. In April 1904, the Brighton architects Clayton and Black applied on behalf of the Brighton and Hove Omnibus Company to build a ‘motor shed’ at the omnibus stables in Conway Street, while Mr Whillier wanted to build a ‘motor garage’ in Wish Road in October 1905. This was the first appearance of the term ‘garage’, a word that came into its own during the early 1920s. Stabling continued to be built alongside garages at this time as it was by no means assumed that mechanised transport would eventually replace the horse.
Listing Hove Council’s planning applications is a work in progress and we hope to share further discoveries as they are made.
Diary reveals military executions at Hove
29th November 2017
By Lindsey Tydeman
A diary recently acquired by East Sussex Record Office gives an eyewitness account of the execution of two soldiers at Goldstone Bottom in Hove, an area of land which later became Hove Park. In 1795 privates Edward Cooke and Henry Parish were ringleaders of a mutiny which began at Blatchington Barracks near Seaford. Poor food supplies drove 500 hungry soldiers into Seaford where they took supplies from local butchers and traders, as well as stealing 300 sacks of flour from the Tide Mills at Bishopstone.
The writer of the diary, Thomas Harison, a quartermaster attached to the army, drew a plan of the event. He described how, on Saturday 13 June, hundreds of soldiers from 13 regiments were lined up and forced to watch the execution. Cavalry was stationed on the slight rises around the area to surround the ground and curb any thoughts of mutiny.
First, the six other soldiers who had helped to lead the rising were flogged in the centre of the ground and taken away, after which Cooke and Parish were made to kneel on their coffins. Twelve soldiers from their own regiment, the Oxfordshire Militia, then stepped out from a waiting position behind the ranks to carry out the execution. The rest of the regiment was placed close to the coffins and, ‘divided, that they might more conveniently see the execution’. Afterwards, every regiment was made to file past the bodies.
Thomas Harison was greatly affected by witnessing the executions. Underneath his key to the plan he wrote: ‘The last time I was at Seaford I went to Friston but was struck with such a melancholy that I could not enjoy a thing for a fortnight or more after it.’
The diary was discovered in a box of documents bought at Gorringes Auctions in September by the East Sussex Record Office. County archivist Christopher Whittick commented: ‘This is a wonderful discovery, albeit a poignant one, and demonstrates that important documents for the history of the area are still to be found. The unprepossessing appearance of the notebook in which Thomas Harison wrote his account did nothing to prepare us for the unique story which it contains.’
The key to Thomas Harison’s plan:
A. Royal Cheshire Militia
B. Dorset Militia
C. West Essex Militia
D.D. Oxford Militia divid’d that they might more conveniently see the execution
E. Hereford militia
F.F. Two Battalions of Wiltshire Militia
G.G.G. Squadrons of the Prince’s Own Regiment of Light Dragoons
H.H. Squadrons of Colonel Villars’s First Fencibles
I.I. Squadrons of Cinque Port Fencibles
K.K. Squadrons of Lancashire Fencibles
L.L. Two Brigades of Artillery Consisting of Four long six pounders on the right of the Cheshire and Four demi twelve pounders on the right of the Oxford Covered
l.l. Horses waggons with Ammunition etc in the rear of their respective Brigades
M.M. Flying or Horse Artillery
m.m. Horses etc in the rear of their respective guns
N. Battalion Guns to the Different Regiments the Oxford execpt’d
n. Horses etc to ditto in the rear
O. The men at the time they were flogged NB. they were reconducted to the guard room immediately after the punishment was inflict’d in an ammunition wagon
P. The main with the advance and rear guards which came with the Condemn’d men from Prison
Q. Men of the Oxford who were to shoot the Condemn’d as placed before the Prisoners Arrived
R. The above as stationed at the time of execution, the prisoners being in front kneeling on their coffins, two corporals in the rear as a reserve and the adjutant on the right who gave the signals by waving his cane
S. An ammunition wagon which brought the two coffins from Seaford
Thomas Harison’s diary, AMS 7241/1/7 is available to view at The Keep.
For more information about the event go to http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng995.htm
Belgian Refugees welcomed in Brighton and Hove in WW1
19 October 2017
By Kate Elms
Brighton’s role as a place of healing and convalescence for wounded soldiers during WW1 is well-known. Prominent buildings, including the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Grammar School, were requisitioned as military hospitals, and our archives include some wonderful material that brings this period to life. Less widely reported is the sanctuary offered locally to Belgian refugees displaced by war. 250,000 Belgian refugees came to the UK after the German invasion of 1914, prompting a huge relief operation. Although the plight of the Belgians was used to build support for the war, refugee relief was also seen as a moral duty at that time; more than 2,000 official relief committees were established around the country, one of which was in Brighton and Hove.
The Catholic community was first to respond to the crisis, with local priest Father Kerwin offering temporary shelter (and the support of the Catholic Women’s League) at the newly built St Mary’s School in Portslade. Before long, however, a committee was set up to raise funds and care for the new arrivals. Accommodation was offered in private houses and residential or convalescent homes that had been made available, and an impressive range of services was established, including free medical treatment, a clothing depot and a school for Belgian children (plus English classes for the adults).
Our collection of rare material includes a scrapbook documenting the work of the local committee. Through news cuttings, photographs, handwritten letters and ephemera, it illustrates the huge effort made by local people to welcome and provide for the Belgians living among them. Newspaper articles describing atrocities witnessed by surviving refugees sit alongside detailed annual reports of the committee’s work and accounts of concerts, lectures and other forms of entertainment. Fundraising events, including a Flag Day held on 2 October 1915, are also covered, while photographs of families, individuals and groups of people, all sadly unnamed, give a moving impression of community, however hastily formed.
A collection of letters has been pasted into the pages at the back of the scrapbook, some written in English, some in French. Most are addressed to Mrs Richardson, honorary treasurer of the local committee, thanking her profusely for Christmas gifts and other acts of kindness and generosity. I became intrigued by Mrs Richardson and tried to find out more about her. Using the family history resources available at The Keep, I discovered that her name was Bertha, that she was born in 1861, (one of 11 children) and had married widower Frederick Richardson in 1912. Bertha, a spinster, was 50 at the time of her marriage, Frederick was 68, and it was Frederick’s home, 4 Adelaide Crescent in Hove, which was transformed two years later into the clothing depot for the Belgian refugees that Bertha did so much to help.
Sadly, their marriage was short-lived; Frederick died of heart disease in February 1917 and, according to an obituary published in the Brighton Herald, one of the many floral tributes at his funeral came from the Belgian refugees in Brighton and Hove, ‘in whose welfare the deceased had always taken the most sympathetic interest’. Another great supporter of the Committee’s work, Reverend Paul-Marie Renkin from Brussels, died in the same year, knocked off his bike and run over by a motor bus while on his way to visit a refugee family in Preston. Bertha, meanwhile, was awarded the Medaille de la Reine Elisabeth, a Belgian decoration created in October 1916 to recognise exceptional service to Belgium and its victims of war. She died in Eastbourne in 1933.
And what of the refugees? By February 1918, the committee’s annual report describes ‘a diminishing output in almost every direction’, with the closure of the clothing depot and one of the residential homes, and a falling-off of local subscriptions. This is interpreted in a positive light, however, ’a sign that the need for much of what had to be done at first has come to an end, and that the Refugees are now much more capable of managing for themselves.’ And although they had been welcomed with open arms at the beginning of the war, refugees were encouraged by both the British and Belgian governments to return home as soon as it ended.
The scrapbook has been digitised and can be downloaded free of charge from the Royal Pavilion & Museums Digital Media Bank using this link. The original (reference BH600786) is held at The Keep and can be ordered by registered members to view in our Reading Room.
Letter from the Archive, from the papers of John Edward Leader Orpen
17 November 2015
‘We “Heiled” with the best as we thought it would please them and it didn’t hurt us’
In July 1934, John Edward Leader Orpen was a young solicitor sharing a house with friends at 18 Cromwell Road, Hove. He had studied at Repton School and Kings College, Cambridge and had recently found a job with Fitzhugh Gates solicitors at 3 Pavilion Parade, Brighton. In 1939 he served as the treasurer of the Sussex Society for Polish Relief and by November 1940 he was working for the Ministry of Aircraft Production at Millbank, Westminster.
Orpen married Marianne Vintilescu in 1949 and worked as a magistrate during the 1960s. He died in Brighton in 2003 at the age of 95. John Orpen kept a wartime diary and retained his personal correspondence, photographs and ration books, all of which were deposited at The Keep by a donor in 2014.
Orpen’s friend Joyce writes to him from the Hotel Britannia in Tirol, Austria, near the southern German border. In July 1934 the Austrian political situation was highly charged following the Government’s suppression of the German-backed Austrian Nazi party in June. The German Chancellor, Hitler, had reacted by closing the border and instigating economic sanctions aimed at disrupting Austrian tourism. As a British visitor, however, Joyce was entitled to travel freely throughout Europe. Two weeks after this letter was written, on 25 July, the Austrian Nazis attempted a putsch in Vienna, during which Chancellor Dollfuss was assassinated. This resulted in localised fighting throughout Austria, but failed after the Austrian military’s intervention on behalf of the Government.
Hotel Britannia, Seefeld i. Tirol, Austria
My dear John,
Thanks so much for your letter which I managed to read in spite of your foreboding without having to stand on my head or anything like that.
It was fun to hear the latest scandal (?) of Symene House and I fairly hooted with mirth at the idea of poor Miss Wells firmly ensconsed in her three-wheeler car which had gone completely berserk in the garage. Naturally it would pick out a new Buick on which to vent its spite, rather than any other car.
I really wanted to ask you if it’s not too much nuisance, for the address of that hotel you once promised me in Paris – not for myself alas! – I am still stuck quite firmly upon my mountain top for the next month or so – but for an American friend of mine who is returning home in about a week, and wants awfully to know some place in Paris where she and her small daughter can stay a few nights. Somewhere as central as possible for stations and things.
We’ve just been indulging in a marvellous thunderstorm all day here – really fierce with lightening flying round the room in all directions and feet of rain falling. I’m really rather bored shut up here with one elderly virgin – the sole other guest at the moment. She is so very virgin and thinks most of the time about her diet. An Irishwoman is arriving tomorrow so I hope to God she will be an improvement. She rejoices in the name of Smith so I rather doubt if she is authentic.
Herr Hitler has certainly done the dirty on these little Tirol places by closing the German border and allowing no Germans to enter the country. The place used to be teeming in summer and now it’s almost empty. Here in Tirol there are an enormous amount of Nazis (Austrians) who, egged on their friends across the frontier, lose no opportunity to make nuisances of themselves by playfully chucking bombs about and derailing trains etc. Their latest effort was to blow up a large newspaper office in Innsbruck which effectively cleared out a good many of the tourists who were there.
We motored over into Bavaria just at the time of the worst events in Germany but did not see anything of the fun except that there were a good many ‘Storm Troopers’ around who, giving the mystic salute, said ‘Heil Hitler’ to everyone. We ‘Heiled’ with the best as we thought it would please them and it didn’t hurt us.
My dear, the summer trippers of Germany are marvellous, they put the Brighton ones in the shade. We went to a Beer Garden and drank München beer surrounded by enormously fat Bavarians with shaven heads, cobalt blue linen coats and shorts. A sight not easily forgotten. I like the description of your Swede at Symene House – which bed does he occupy as I’m sure it will be one to avoid after that strain upon the springs. Have a lovely holiday my dear when you go. I’m so glad you’re keeping the MG for the present. Love from Joyce I don’t know when I will come back but I have an urgent invitation to Hungary in Sept for as long as I like!