Rottingdean Through Time – Chapter 6

The Green and Beyond

St Martha’s Convent

The previous page shows The Dene of 1832 and a society wedding group in its grounds. Both the main house and annexe were converted to a sheltered housing scheme in 1975. The wedding, on 12 September 1892, was between Lucy Ridsdale (whose family owned The Dene) and Stanley Baldwin, a cousin of Rudyard Kipling, who would serve three terms as prime minister.

The Convent of St Martha dates from 1924. The procession marked the centenary of the order’s arrival in Rottingdean in 1903.

Three Houses

These famous properties were the inspiration for Angela Thirkell’s autobiographical Three Houses (1931). North End House (left) was originally Prospect House, purchased by Sir Edward Burne- Jones in 1880. He then acquired Aubrey Cottage next door and combined the two properties. On the right stands Gothic House, added to the already enlarged North End House in the 1920s by the authoress Enid Bagnold and her husband Sir Roderick Jones, the couple having moved to Rottingdean in 1923.

The houses are now once again three separate residences.

Down House and Court House

Just past the Hog Plat, with its track and allotments, stand the Georgian Court House and the seventeenth-century Down House, both with façades of knapped and squared flint. Court House was formerly the farmhouse of Court Farm, while its neighbour was, for 300 years, the home of the Beard family, owners of large areas of land locally.

Today, the view of the property from the bend is completely obscured by tree growth.

The Elms

Facing the village pond is The Elms, an eighteenth-century house whose claim to fame is having been the residence, from 1897 to 1902, of Rudyard Kipling. Its large garden was, in April 1986, saved from development by Rottingdean Preservation Society and later opened to the public as the Kipling Gardens.

The churchyard of St Margaret’s lies behind the flint wall on the right.

Challoners

In the early 1920s, pupils from the village’s Public Elementary School performed The Pied Piper of Hamelin in the grounds of Challoners. Curiously, journalist and author Michael Thornton recalls being in a school Pied Piper production in the early 1950s at the same place.

Challoners, acquired by Thomas Challoner in 1456, is oldest house in Rottingdean. Altered in the late sixteenth century, it was – like Down House – the property of the Beard family for nearly 300 years.

Northgate House

A few hundred yards away from Challoners stood Northgate House, first occupied, from the late 1880s, by one James Adamson, a St Kitts sugar magnate. In 1900, it was purchased as a country retreat by prominent lawyer and politician Sir Edward Carson QC MP (1854-1935), although, by 1914, he had given up the property. It was used in later years by the St Dunstan charity and leased to a school – Kenton Court – until demolition in the late 1970s.

Today, Northgate Close occupies its site.

Rottingdean (Preparatory) School

This handsome school on the Falmer Road was demolished in 1964, having been partially destroyed by a fire in late 1962. It began life as an offshoot of St Aubyns in 1894. Two years later, pupils numbered sixty-four and staff eight. Notable former pupils include author and broadcaster Robert Kee and the Carey Evans brothers, grandsons of Lloyd George.

Much of the site was developed in the mid-1960s as The Rotyngs. This author wrote a detailed article on the school for the Weekend Argus in July 2001.

Tudor Cottages

The much-photographed ‘Tudor Cottages’ are not Tudor at all but skilful conversions of the tithe barn of Court Farm and some adjacent cottages carried out in about 1930 by Charles Neville, the developer of Peacehaven and Saltdean.

The farthest cottage, combined with an open barn, had – unusually for coastal villages – a thatched roof. The barn was at the time of the early picture used as a stable by Jack Godden, carter to farmer William Brown.

Tudor Close

Across the road an even more extensive ‘Tudor’ development took place – Tudor Close. Here too, farm buildings were transformed: two former barns and a cowshed of Court Farm. The seven original houses, completed by Saltdean Estate Company in the 1920s, did not sell well and were converted into the fashionable Tudor Close Hotel, which, in the 1930s, played host to many celebrities of the day.

In the 1950s, however, the extensive property reverted to residential use in the shape of twenty-nine flats.

St Margaret’s Church

St Margaret’s Church stands on the site of an earlier Saxon church.

In 1377, invading French forces set fire to the building, with a number of villagers trapped inside the tower. Seven stained- glass windows in the chancel and tower were made by William Morris from designs by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, whose three-light east window, representing the archangels, was installed in 1893 to commemorate the marriage of his daughter, Margaret, in the church.

The Eurydice Tragedy

This mouldering headstone, in memory of four seamen, dates from 1878. It is interesting because their frigate, HMS Eurydice, a training ship, went down off the Isle of Wight on 24 March that year and their bodies drifted from the wreck as far as Rottingdean. Two remain unidentified. The other two are David Bennett AB and Alfred Barnes OS. The death toll was high, ultimately rising to 364 officers and men, most of whom were buried in the cemetery at Haslar Hospital in Portsmouth. A plaque in the town honours the memory of 317 of them: sixteen officers, 268 men, twenty-six marines and seven military passengers.

Although the Eurydice was raised and brought into Portsmouth on 1 September 1878, she would never again be in commission and was broken up shortly afterwards.

The Lych Gate

Rottingdean funeral director Christopher Stringer stands by St Margaret’s lych gate, erected in 1897 in memory of the Rev. Arthur Thomas, vicar for forty-seven years. The remarkable tree growth to left and right now completely obscures North End House and The Elms.

In the older picture, a low hedge surrounds the Ridsdale family plot close to the gate, while at far right in the foreground is the grave of the Scottish novelist William Black, who died in 1898.

The Grange

This listed Georgian building dates from around 1740 and served as a vicarage until 1908. Its present name was given to it by the artist William Nicholson, who lived in the house from 1912 to 1914. In the 1920s, Lutyens restored the property for solicitor Sir George Lewis. Developer Charles Neville occupied it for some time.

In 1953, the Corporation purchased The Grange and it now houses Rottingdean Library, a Rottingdean history room, a Kipling museum and an art gallery.

The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Queen of Peace

It is February 1956 and the garden of the property Eastfield (currently the presbytery) has been cleared as the site of the new Roman Catholic church. Some construction has begun, under the supervision of local builders Robert and Leslie Moppett. The splendid edifice opened its doors on 13 June 1957. The lower photograph is an unusual early view of the church.

This author’s volume, The Church in a Garden (2001), provides a detailed history of both the church and the convent.

The Forge/Forge House, Vicarage Lane

This fine photograph of Ernie Stenning’s smithy in Vicarage Lane, Rottingdean, was taken in around 1908. Ernie stands fourth from left. Second from left is Charlie Crossingham, who sold him the business (young Crossingham is at far right). Other members of village families (Moppett, Avis, Bowles, Sladescane, Hilder and Hilton) are in the line-up.

In 1972, despite fierce opposition, Forge House, six flats for ex-servicemen, was put up by the Elizabeth Dacre Housing Association on the site, by then ‘a disreputable yard’ (Betty Dacre).

The Plough

Opposite Forge House stands the Plough Inn, dating from the 1840s but rebuilt at the turn of the last century and refaced in 1937.

The early view is thought to date from before 1900. In the main doorway stands the landlord, Edward Blaber, best remembered for his arguments with Kipling, especially on the subject of the South African war – arguments so violent as to endanger the publican’s health! See also the view on Page 66.

Whipping Post House

Tucked behind The Plough is Whipping Post Lane. Its most famous residence is Whipping Post House, a listed building dating from the sixteenth century. It was once the home of Captain Dunk, village butcher by day and smuggler by night. Part of the property continued to serve as a butcher’s shop in later years under William Hilder.

The flourishing chestnut tree stands on the spot once occupied by the whipping post for the punishment of miscreants.


Copyright © Douglas d’Enno, 2009

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