28 February 2018

Wellington Road, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2018)

copyright © G. Osborne
Wellington Road in the early 1900s

Canal Cottages

In the early 19th century people living in old cottages on what was later called Wellington Road were identified as living in Copperas Gap. One set was called Canal Cottages, which was an apt name seeing as they were situated on the north bank of the canal. They overlooked the timber ponds where imported timber was left floating in water to season the wood.

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
Copperas Gap by W.H. Stothard Scott (1783-1850)

W. Scott made a drawing of this area in around 1816 and the cottages are clearly to be seen. The drawing also indicates the road running past the cottages with a backdrop of the cliff behind, on top of which stood the signal beacon. This had been placed in a prominent position to give warning to the inhabitants of a possible raid from the French. That use of the site dated back to the Elizabethan times when a string of warning beacons would have been lit at the approach of the Spanish Armada.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
An early 1800s painting of the windmills at Copperas Gap, the road passing the windmills would later be known as Wellington Road. The painting attributed to Frederick Ford

In 1851 Seaford-born James and George Green lived in Canal Cottages. They earned a living by collecting special blue boulders from the seashore that were sold to be used in the process of glass-making.

In 1891 the occupants of Canal Cottages was as follows:

Number 2 – Thomas Street, 26, brick-maker, born at Portslade
Number 3 – William Herbridge, fisherman
Number 4 – Alfred Funnell, brick-maker, born at Portslade

copyright © G. Osborne
Canal Cottages are the light grey buildings next to the six windowed The Crown Public House

In February 1900 Agnes Ford (later Mrs May) was born in one of the Canal Cottages, which was later numbered as 34 Wellington Road. She stated that the four cottages were of the two-up, two-down variety and there was a row of four outdoor privies at one side. The Ford family consisted of five girls and three boys but fortunately they were not all crammed into one cottage at the same time because some had grown up and left home.

copyright © G. Allen
Agnes pictured with her cat in 1942. She was known through her life by the nickname ‘Pip’ because when she was born her father said ‘She is a real little pipsqueak.’ She celebrated her centenary on 21 February 2000.
Agnes was photographed with her husband 'Char' wearing his Home Guard uniform in 1942.

The Ford family left the cottage in 1903 and went to live first in East Street, then in George Street, both in Portslade. Their old cottage became vacant in the 1920s and so Agnes’s sister moved back in with her family.

Agnes Ford wanted to leave school at the age of thirteen but first she had to prove her age. She was dismayed to find her mother had burned all their birth certificates, thinking they were of no further use and Agnes was obliged to apply for a new one.

Canal Cottages lasted until the 1930s and by that time were numbered as 28, 30, 32 and 34 Wellington Road. In January 1935 a demolition order was initiated for them under the Slum Clearance Act.

The Yacht Sunbeam

copyright © G. Osborne
The Sunbeam (sailing ship on the left) moored near the Schooner Public House in Southwick, the Sunbeam was also moored at the Portslade end of the harbour at various other times of the year.

James Ford, the father of this numerous family, once worked as a fireman aboard the famous yacht Sunbeam. But it was not during the time of her epic voyage. In the Great War James Ford was called back into service with the Royal Navy.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum,
Brighton & Hove
Lady Anna Brassey
Tom Brassey (later Lord Brassey) owned the Sunbeam. He was the Liberal MP for Hastings and the eldest son of a wealthy railway contractor. Mr St Clare Byrne of Liverpool designed the vessel, which was technically a screw composite three-masted top-sail-yard schooner and Messrs Laird supplied the engines. This description meant that the vessel had two means of propulsion – sail or steam – and apparently there was a removable funnel.

Tom Brassey was the first British yachtsman to be granted a Board of Trade master’s certificate. He, his wife Anna, their four children, lady’s maid, nanny, three cooks, four stewards, a doctor, two engineers, two firemen, a carpenter and nine seamen sailed around the world on a voyage that began on 6 July 1876 and ended at Cowes on 26 May 1877. The total number of people aboard the ship came to forty-three.

In 1878 Lady Brassey published her book A Voyage in the Sunbeam to great success while her husband was made Earl Brassey at the coronation of George V. In 1916 Earl Brassey gave the Sunbeam to the Indian Government for use a hospital ship.

Steps and Cottages

copyright © G. Osborne
The wooden steps can be see here leading down to the walkway of the ferry, in Wellington Road a painted sign on the side of the Jolly Sailors Pub can be seen

Near Canal Cottages a flight of steps led up to Wellington Road and down these steps went men who caught the ferry over the canal to the Portslade Gas Works.

copyright © G. Osborne
A ferryman crossing the canal in the early 1900s

The old Crown Inn was just west of Canal Cottages and was numbered as 38 Wellington Road. Britannia Flour Mills used to dump their cinders near the Crown and local children would collect them and take them home for kindling. On the other side of the inn there was a single dwelling called Cliff Cottage.

copyright © D. Sharp
The former 'Sea-view Terrace' in 2012 at the junction of Station Road.

On the south side of Wellington Road near the foot of Station Road, there is an old terrace of seven houses, which in 1899 rejoiced in the name of Sea-view Terrace. It is remarkable that these houses have managed to escape the fate of Canal Cottages and survive to the present day.

A Salubrious Spot

Although today we are used to the idea of Wellington Road being in a semi-industrial area, back in the 1860s and before the arrival of the Gas Works it was considered a healthy spot and some families of note lived in long-gone houses.

For example, the 1861 census records that Charles Russell Stewart lived there. He was a journalist and newspaper editor. Another resident was 29-year old William Richardson who was a boat builder and employer of four men and two boys.

But the most famous resident was Edward Kenealy (1819-1880) who lived at number 8/9 with his wife Elizabeth and numerous family.

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
'Aldrington Basin' by Aaron Penley c.1850. This scene of Portslade's coast captivated Edward Kenealy. 

Edward Kenealy chose Portslade to live because of his love of the sea, of which he wrote,
'Oh, how I am delighted with this sea-scenery and with my little marine hut ! The musical waves, the ethereal atmosphere, all make me feel as in the olden golden days when I was a boy and dreamed of Heaven'.  

Kenealy was a barrister and became well known throughout the kingdom as QC in the celebrated Tichbourne Claimant case. He served as Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent from 1875 until he lost his seat in the General Election of March 1880.
Kenealy never became wealthy but such was the esteem in which he was held by the general public that he was given a magnificent tomb that is still to be seen in the churchyard of St Helen’s, Hangleton.

Edward Kenealy was well known in Australia because of the Tichborne Claimant case which had centred around a former Australian resident as the ‘Claimant’. In June 1880 The South Australian Chronicle reported, 'The funeral of Dr Kenealy took place on Friday at Hangleton, about a mile and a half from Brighton. There were about two hundred persons present, consisting chiefly of those attracted by curiosity from Portslade and Brighton, but including a few members of the 'Magna Charta Association' and some personal acquaintances of the deceased.' (The 'Magna Charta Association' was a political movement founded by Edward Kenealy)

copyright © D. Sharp
Edward Kenealy's magnificent tomb in St Helen's churchyard Hangleton 
The Kenealy daughters were all home-schooled and became well versed in science, mathematics, Greek and Latin – not the usual accomplishments for young ladies at the time. The family moved to Lancing in the 1870s, most probably propelled to leave Portslade by the building of the Gasworks.

Three of the Kenealy daughters – Arabella, Annesley and Henrietta – pursued careers in the medical profession – while Katherine was an artist, and brother Alexander became editor of Daily Mirror from 1907 to 1915; there was another brother called Edward.

(Mary) Annesley Kenealy (1861-1926) was born in Wellington Road. Her name appears in a list of Pioneering Nurses and her training was as follows:

1879-80 – Borough Hospital, Birmingham
1880-83 – Leicester Infirmary
1883-90 – County Hospital, York
1890 – She became a registered nurse on 29 March

In 1892 Annesley went to Hamburg to help during an epidemic of cholera. She wrote about her work in an article for the Daily Graphic. She later went on to study various hospital systems in Europe and the USA, becoming an expert on hygiene, and a freelance writer contributing articles to many periodicals, including the British Medical Journal. She delivered many lectures to various councils up and down the country. Later, she turned her hand to writing fiction, and published several novels.

Annesley was concerned about the welfare of British soldiers, and taking advantage of publicity gained through her association with the Morning Post, she established a string of convalescent homes for soldiers throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland; in addition, she founded several homes to cater for the needs of disabled soldiers.

Annesley enjoyed unusual pastimes, being a keen enthusiast for ballooning – she also loved the joys of the road, and thought that motoring an eminently suitable occupation for women. She became assistant editor of Motoring Illustrated, after submitting articles to technical journals in the USA and England.

Annesley had a volatile personality, and was much given to litigation. When she lost her cases, she took to making a dramatic gesture by pretending to drink poison. The first occasion was in 1910 in the offices of the Daily Mail. On the second attempt in 1915, after losing her case for slander against W.H. Smith, her stunt backfired when she was summonsed for attempting to commit suicide – an illegal act at the time. It was also a fact that she must have had a spectacular falling-out with family members because in her will she specifically excluded her brother Edward, his wife and descendants, plus her sister Katherine, from gaining any benefit. She explained the reason for this action was ‘owing to their unkindness to my dear mother and me.’

When Annesley wrote her will, her London address was 5 Inverness Place but while her mother was still alive, she continued to live with her in Lancing from time to time. Annesley left £1,500 as an endowment for a single-bed ward in the Royal Free Hospital dedicated to her mother ‘in memory of Elizabeth Kenealy the mother of many writers.’ However, there were restrictions on who was to occupy the bed because Annesley specified it was for the exclusive use of women writers. It seems likely that Annesley also donated a charming portrait of herself, painted when she was a child, which remains in the collection of the Royal Free Hospital to this day. The identity of the artist remains unknown but it seems most likely her sister Katherine painted the portrait. If so, it is an ironic bequest, seeing as she later excluded this sister from her will.

However, Annesley remained close to her sister Henrietta who shared her background in the nursing profession. Henrietta trained at St Batholomew’s Hospital from 1887-91 and gained her nurse registration on 22 June 1892 – this being the same year in which she accompanied Annesley to Hamburg during the cholera epidemic. In her will, Annesley described her as ‘my very dear sister Henrietta’ and she was the major beneficiary. Besides receiving £1,000 in cash, Henrietta was left all Annesley’s clothes, watches, trinkets and jewellery – unfortunately there was not much of the latter because ‘all of such jewellery having been stolen from me by burglars at London many years ago’. Henrietta could also chose whatever she liked from the family relics, furniture, pictures, glass, silver and china stored in Hannington’s Depository, Hove, (now transformed into the Montefiore Hospital).

copyright © G. Osborne
How the coast of Portslade would have looked in the days of the  Kenealy Family

Dr Arabella Kenealy (1859-1938) was also born at Wellington Road. She studied at the London School of Medicine for Women and after gaining her qualifications, set up her own practice In London and Watford. Unfortunately, after six years, she became ill with diphtheria, and had to relinquish that career. But it did not stifle her intellectual capacities because she studied human evolution and also the then fashionable theme of eugenics, which has become somewhat discredited since then. Like her sister Annesley, she also wrote fiction, her output of novels resulting in twenty-nine works, and there were books on sociology too. One of her novels was entitled The Things we have prayed for and proved to be such a success that a third printing was almost immediately commissioned. The review in the Daily Mail described it as ‘A racy, vivacious story, telling of the ambitions, heart-burnings, and disappointments of a social climber … Miss Kenealy ensures a never-flagging interest.’

Like her sister Annesley, Arabella lived in London, but made frequent visits to the family home in Lancing. Arabella died in 1938 and was buried at St Helen’s churchyard, Hangleton, near her brother’s grave, and where her father was also buried.

Ice Wells

copyright © G. Osborne
The Half Way House (now demolished) at the junction of Wellington Road and Station Road

It is interesting to note that in the old days there were ice wells on the south side of Wellington Road, opposite the Half Way House pub. Nearby Baltic Wharf was well named because that is where sailing ships once unloaded their blocks of ice from Scandinavia. Agnes Ford remembered that when carts were unloading blocks of ice local children would flock around and ask for any chips of ice that fell off so that they could suck them like ice lollies.

Blocks of ice could be kept intact for some time underground in properly insulated ice wells. In well-to-do households a primitive fridge was in use; it was a zinc-lined box into which a block of ice was inserted at the top. But such a convenience meant a regular call from the iceman.

According to the 1898 Directory it was Larkin & Company who ran the ice wells in Wellington Road. By 1903 it was the Consumers Ice and Cold Storage Company who were in charge and they applied to Portslade Council for planning permission regarding drainage and an extension. The ice wells were still in existence in October 1920 when planning permission was given for more alterations to be undertaken.

By this time there was competition from commercially produced ice. For example, by 1890 the Kent & Sussex Ice Works were already in operation on a site in the Portland Road area near the Aldrington boundary. On 3 December 1908 Hove Council gave permission for an ice factory to be built in Holland Road. W.H. Duffield submitted the plans on behalf of the Linde British Refrigeration Company.


copyright © G. Osborne
Brighton Corporation Power Station and Portslade Gas Works in the early 1900s

During the 1920s and 1930s there were an increasing number of complaints from people living in the Wellington Road area about the clouds of coal dust emanating from the Portslade Gas Works and the Power Station. Smuts coated everything in sight and hanging out the washing was a problem. If you dared to try putting a few things on the line on a sunny day, it was essential to wipe the washing line well first of all. Windowsills were regularly covered with a thick coating of smuts.

Adults and children suffered too because they were often plagued by painful pieces of grit in their eyes that were difficult to extract. Goodness knows what the fumes did to people’s lungs. Teachers at St Andrew’s School complained that they were employed to teach and not to remove grit from the eyes of their pupils.

The position was much the same in the 1960s. On a still, dank day the stench of gas was so strong that people would phone the local Gas Board to report a gas leak. In fact it was just fumes from the Gas Works. Women in early pregnancy had only to open the front door to be hit with a wave of nausea caused by the smell of gas.


A serious fire broke out on 19 April 1938 at the premises occupied by Frank Perry Ltd in Wellington Road. The entire stock of paints and wallpapers valued at several hundred pounds was destroyed.

Portslade Fire Brigade, under 2nd Officer Green, managed to prevent the fire from spreading to timber warehouses at the back. Meanwhile, Inspector Hunt of Portslade Police was busy directing the traffic.

On 17 / 18 October 2000 a pine furniture unit was ablaze and most of the 120-foot building collapsed. Sub-officer Mark O’Brien from Hove Fire Brigade said ‘flames were leaping through the roof when we arrived.’ More than 50 firemen from East and West Sussex Fire Brigades were on the scene and prevented the fire from spreading to adjoining storerooms and workshops, The cost of the damage and loss was expected to run unto thousands of pounds.

John Eede Butt – The firm was active at Baltic Wharf, where they imported timber and also operated sawing mills and slate yards. Portslade Council gave them permission for various improvements in the following years:

copyright © G. Osborne
John Eede Butt's timber wharf and Portslade Gas Works in the background across the canal

1922 – timber shed
1924 – petrol store
1927 – timber storage sheds
1928 – timber sheds
1929 – timber sheds
1930 – boat shelter
1935 – extension to timber shed
1935 – wood refuse destructor
1936 – timber storage shed
1946 – extension to timber storage shed and sawmill

copyright © G. Osborne
The layout of Baltic Wharf in the 1930s

Their operations were not limited to Portslade either because they had related businesses at Brighton and Littlehampton. Their premises at Baltic Wharf were later taken over by Travis Perkins.

Flexer Sacks – James Flexer founded the firm and he was born in Lithuania. He served in the Boer War and settled in Brighton in 1913. After the Great War he began to collect discarded potato sacks and flour sacks. He would wash them, turn them inside out and re-sell them. After the Second World War he was involved in making over surplus Army great coats for civilian wear. There was also a nice little sideline in brass buttons. The firm started off in Clarence Street, Portslade, and in the early days was known as Flexer’s Sacks and Bag Works, then Flexer Paper Works and finally Flexer Sacks.

copyright © G. Osborne
Flexer's factory buildings to the left of the former Alexandra Inn (now demolished)

James Flexer lived in Portland Avenue after building up a substantial business. His three sons later joined the firm too. The eldest, George, pioneered the use of paper sacks in trade and industry.

In 1988 around 70 people lost their jobs when paper sack production was moved to another company in Aintree while the Portslade factory concentrated on making plastic sacks. In 1993 British Polythene Industries purchased Flexer Sacks. On 24 October 2000 Gunter Eickholt, managing director, made the shock announcement that the Portslade factory would close within one month. He stated that it would reduce costs by concentrating on two sites, rather than three. However, 54 Portslade workers would lose their jobs unless they agreed to re-locate to Stockton-on-Tees, or Ardeer, near Glasgow.

copyright © D. Sharp
The former Flexer Sacks factory. The building site in the foreground is where the former Alexandra Inn/Harbour View Pub once stood.

The Flexer Sacks site was allowed to rot away quietly for an astonishing number of years while various planning applications came and went. At length the building was demolished, although the iron foundation structure remained and it was not until 2017 that new brick walls started to be built. By 2018 the new building was home to The Circle, offering fitness classes ranging from Bodypump and Boxercise to Spin, Yoga and Zuma.

Star Model Laundry – This establishment is famous in the annals of Portslade history for being the childhood home of eminent early plane pioneers Frederick G. Miles (1903-1976) and his brother George Miles (1911-1999). Their father was the proprietor of the Star Model Laundry. He made enough of a success with the business to make additions in 1922 and build a mess-room and garages in 1924. Frederick showed his mechanical bent at an early age; legend has it that at the age of three he was able to mend a gas engine after the foreman was unable to discover what was wrong. Fred’s passion for airplanes was activated by a joyride at Shoreham Airport and he knew instantly that aviation was to be his career.

In the yard of the Star Model Laundry Fred built his first plane with his friend Charles Gates. Evidently, Mr Miles, senior, made enough profit from his laundry to be able to send his sons to private school Hove College just along the coast. This is where Fred and Charles Gates became friends and where Gates’s eldest brother was a teacher. Local children heard rumours about the plane-building enterprise in their midst and would perch on the wall to watch proceedings. Fred went on to set up an aircraft business at Shoreham Airport with pioneer pilot Cecil Pashley. While the latter has been remembered in the naming of a road at Shoreham, where are the plaques or memorials to the remarkable Miles brother?

copyright © G. Osborne
The junction of Wellington Road and Church Road, to the right is the former Crown Pub, now demolished, which made way for a larger road entrance to the present day Travis Perkins building merchants at the former John Eede Butt's Baltic Wharf.

Travis Perkins – The firm was founded at Northampton in the 1920s and became one of the largest timber importers in the country. In the 1950s they began to stock other items suitable for builders’ merchants. At Portslade Travis Perkins occupied a six-acre site at Baltic Wharf. By 1988 there were 100 branches and the firm was known as Travis & Arnold. The Travis family were still involved with the firm and Tony Travis was the chairman, being the grandson of the founder. In 1988 the firm merged with Sandell Perkins, builders’ merchants, and the new company was called Travis Perkins. In the same year it was stated that six complete cargoes of timber arrived at Baltic Wharf from Poland every year, and there were other cargoes from Finland, Sweden, Canada and Russia unloaded at other ports. At any one time, the firm carried between 3,500 and 4,000 cubic metres of timber.

On Tuesday 24 January 1995 a fire broke out at 4 a.m. and destroyed a stock of timber worth £80,000; at the same time the fire cause damage to the building estimated at £80, 000. The fire was being treated as an arson attack and a spokesman said he believed the firm had been a mistaken target in the row about live animal exports from Shoreham Harbour. In September 1995 Travis Perkins celebrated the opening of its re-built premises with a party for customers and staff. In January 2001 planning permission was given for an extension to the firm’s timber treatment building.


Argus and other local newspapers
Census Returns
Middleton J.Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Interview with Mrs May
Wojtczak, Helena Notable Sussex Women (2008)

Thanks are due to Mr G. Osborne for allowing me to reproduce twelve of his wonderful photographs.


Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History
King’s College, London, Pioneering Nurses
Miscellaneous wills
Understanding British Portraits

Copyright © J.Middleton 2018
page layout by D.Sharp