02 July 2016

Whychcote, South Street, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2016)

 copyright © J.Middleton
Whychcote is a fine looking building especially when viewed from the Village Green.

Herbert Mews (1858-1929)

Herbert Mews and his elder brother Walter were already in the brewery business before they purchased Portslade Brewery in the 1880s and they moved to Portslade in 1884. Their previous address was 107 Westbourne Terrace, Hyde Park, London, but when they moved to Portslade, they lived in separate houses; Herbert’s was called Raglan Villa. (Is this an echo of the Crimean War, like Alma Cottage? At the Battle of Alma in 1854 the British were under the command of the gallant Field Marshal Lord Raglan who had lost his sword arm at the battle of Waterloo in 1815).

copyright © J.Middleton
Portslade Brewery as the Mews brothers knew it.

Presumably, money was not an issue because the brothers had already forked out £17,000 in the purchase of the Portslade portfolio. But once their new enterprise was on a firm financial footing the brothers were able to set their sights on building substantial new residences. Herbert Mews was first off the mark and by 1895 he had taken up residence in Whychcote.

A New Residence

 copyright © John Melville
This unusual view of Whychcote was taken in 1938 from the gardens on the north side.

The exterior of the house is a delight to the eye with no less than five steeply pitched and gabled roofs, intriguing little attic windows, decorative half-timbering and a suitably impressive chimney-stack. An interesting detail is the flint panel on the east side of the house. It contains some square blocks and an oblong stone embellished with a carving of hops set on a roundel. There is no way of knowing if this was especially commissioned or rescued from another house or brewery building.  

Inside the building, the entrance hall measured no less than 25 feet by 10 feet 6 inches and upstairs there were nine bedrooms. Floors, panelling and beams were made of oak but one bedroom had a floor of maple wood. There were spacious cellars and because the house was built into a slope, you entered the cellars on the west side at ground level, while the east side was underground.

There was a large iron cage in the cellars, which has led to some speculation over its use with some people imagining the cage was perhaps used as the village lock-up. The real reason is more pedestrian – it was a place of safety in which the master of the house kept his wines and spirits safely locked away. After all, it was not unknown for a servant to have the odd tipple at his master’s expense. For example, there was a classic case in Brunswick Square, Hove, when the butler was found in a merry state while two empty bottles of his master’s finest were discovered in the butler’s pantry.

But it must not be thought that the Mews brothers were parsimonious. In 1887 when the country was celebrating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, every adult in Portslade Old Village received two pints each of the beer produced at Portslade Brewery.

Extending the Gardens

Although the house was spacious Herbert Mews was less than satisfied with the size of his gardens. He remedied the situation between 1894 and 1907 by purchasing adjacent parcels of land. One acquisition was Hangleton Court, a group of old flint cottages at the eastern end of High Street. The dwellings were demolished but he kept the back wall on the side adjoining the church twitten, plus the wall on the north side abutting High Street. Thus he gained some very high and consequently very private garden walls. Eventually, tennis courts were laid out on the site of Hangleton Court.  

The Mews Family

Herbert and his wife Florence had two sons, both born in Portslade; Sydney in 1887 and Erroll in 1888. During the Great War Erroll joined the Royal Field Artillery and by 1918 he was a Lieutenant. In March 1918 he married Ruby Evelyn Ionides at St Andrew’s Old Church, Hove. Her late father, Constantine Ionides, was a wealthy man of Greek extraction and he lived at 23 Third Avenue, Hove, where he had commissioned his own private art gallery to be built. He was an avid art collector and over the years he amassed paintings by such artists as Botticelli, Rembrandt and Tintoretto, sculptures by Rodin and Dalou, classical engraved gems, drawings, prints and oriental porcelain. When he died in 1900 he bequeathed all his pictures, prints and drawings to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Meanwhile, Herbert continued to be a pillar of society as well as keeping a keen eye on his business interests. He sat on Hove County Bench; he was an East Sussex County Councillor and in 1919 he became a member of the Steyning Board of Guardians. He and his brother Walter were staunch Freemasons and exemplary employers, building model dwellings for some of their brewery workers in what is now North Road.

Herbert died on 5 March 1929 – his brother Walter having already died on 11 March 1922. Herbert was given a splendid funeral at St Nicolas Church, Portslade and Revd Donald F. Campbell, vicar of Preston (but former vicar of St Nicolas) conducted the service, assisted by Revd H.T. Mogridge, rector of Aldrington, and Revd Noel Harmsworth, vicar of St Nicolas. The mourners included Mrs Florence Mews (widow) Roy Mews, Mrs Walter Mews, Ewan Mews and Bryan Mews (nephews) the Archdeacon of Lewes, the Mayor of Hove (Captain A.B. Wales) and a detachment of Portslade Queen’s Nurses. Many employees, past and present, were there too and worthy of special mention were Harry Jupp and Phillip Packham who between them had given 70 years of service to the brewery.

copyright © J.Middleton
St Nicolas Church, Portslade, where the funeral for Herbert Mews was held.

Herbert was buried on the north side of St Helen’s churchyard, Hangleton, in an adjoining plot to that occupied by his brother Walter. But their tombstones are completely different. Walter’s is a upright granite cross while Herbert’s is an oblong slab adorned with an incused cross.

 copyright © J.Middleton
St Helen’s Church, Hangleton. Both the Mews brothers were buried in the churchyard.

After Herbert’s death, his widow moved out of Whychcote and sold the property. She was born on 21 June 1862 and died on 25 November 1934.

Andrew Melville, Impresario

The next owner of Whychcote was Andrew Melville. He came from a theatrical family whose connection with the stage dated back to 1760. Andrew had two brothers called Walter and Frederick and they were popularly known as the three Musketeers of Melodrama. The brothers were also theatre managers, thus following in their father’s footsteps because he managed two theatres in Birmingham in the 1880s and 1890s.

  copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove   (from the Brighton & Hove & South Sussex Graphic 1915)  
Grand Theatre, North Road, Brighton.

Andrew Melville owned the Grand Theatre, North Road, Brighton, from 1922 to 1931 and continued to produce pantomimes there after that date. He also produced many of the melodramas written by his brothers; for example A Girl’s Crossroads written by Walter and produced by Andrew in 1928. Andrew wrote plays as well under the name of Andrews Emm and produced them too. One such product was Robespierre or the Reign of Terror. There was a replica of a working guillotine on stage, plenty of fake blood, six or seven severed heads rolling about and a tableau of Marat being stabbed in his bath. Not surprisingly, there was no admittance for children under fourteen years of age unless accompanied by an adult.

copyright © John Melville
An exciting scene from the melodrama Robespierre performed at the Grand Theatre, Brighton.

Other popular melodramas were Dracula (1927) and Jack the Ripper (1930) although there was something of a tussle with the Lord Chamberlain over whether or not such gory subject matter was suitable for the public stage. The most notable of these melodramas was Sweeney Todd with Andrew playing the leading role. He was such a hit with the fairer sex that he received a flood of fan letters. The catch phrase in the play was ‘I’ll polish him off’ as the next victim was tipped out of the barber’s chair into the basement. All the boys in the cheap seats up in the ‘god’s’ used to enjoy shouting out this phrase at the appropriate moment.

Another role Andrew played to great effect was that of Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist while his wife played the part of tragic Nancy. When Sykes killed Nancy, the event took place off stage with powerful sound effects produced by the couple. Andrew thwacked a leather cushion with a heavy club while Nancy let out a series of blood-curdling screams.

Melville believed that the show must go on at all costs. On one occasion his musicians went out on strike, no doubt thinking the show would have to be cancelled. But out Andrew marched and enrolled as many street musicians as he could find.

In fact, Andrew was a man of many talents. The Sussex Daily News (5 March 1938) had this to say:

‘He could do everything in connection with the stage, write the play, rehearse the company, compose the music, paint the scenery, play an instrument, conduct the orchestra, and act at a moment’s notice. It was this which helped so considerably towards his popularity when he was manager-proprietor of Brighton Grand Theatre.

Home Life
copyright © John Melville
Andrew Melville and his son John  c1932

In the 1920s Andrew’s wife became gravely ill and Andrew hired a trained nurse to look after her. Her name was Dorothy and she had gone to France at the age of sixteen during the Great War to nurse wounded soldiers. Mrs Melville died in 1927 and the following year Andrew married Dorothy; he was aged 44 and she was 29. Also in 1928 Andrew purchased Whychcote and that is where their son John was born on 2 November 1930.
Andrew also had three children from his first marriage – Rosamund, Andrew and Robin. They sometimes came to Portslade to visit their father but because they were so much older than John, he felt like an only child. John Melville has a vivid memory of watching with envy from his secluded perch inside the garden walls, the village boys playing snowballs. But he remembered the gardens with affection. There were some mature trees including a chestnut, fir and beech while a fine lime tree provided a focal point at the end of the lawns. The kitchen garden produced plenty of fruit and there was a full-time gardener. There were two tennis courts and a greenhouse. The household included Mrs Gregory, Mrs Melville’s mother, who liked everything to be just so and was the type to run her fingers over the mantelpiece to check for dust.  

 copyright © John Melville
Dorothy Melville and son John on the lawns at Whychcote in the 1930s. You can see one of the old cottages in High Street in the background.
   
Domestic Help

Soon after leaving school at the age of fourteen, Olive Walter applied successfully for the post of upstairs maid at Whychcote in 1932. At that time the staff consisted of a cook, a maid and a handyman /gardener. If extra help were needed at spring-cleaning time, Mrs Knapp would oblige and she also visited regularly to polish the family silver.

In the morning Olive wore a pale blue dress with a bib-front apron on top. But in the afternoon she changed into a black dress with a frilly white apron. Her duties included waiting at table and there were often theatrical folk present. She especially remembered the time when Tessie O’Shea once came to dinner at Whychcote.

Tessie O’Shea (1913-1995) had a long career in show business because she was only six years old when she first trod the boards. She was a popular singer and often played a banjolele at the close of her performance, She was a larger-than-life lady and in the 1930s she used her considerable girth to dramatic effect by adopting as her signature tune Two ton Tessie from Tennessee although she was actually born in Cardiff.

At Christmas-time Andrew treated his staff to a performance of his pantomime at the Grand Theatre, Brighton.

Bert Patching used to sweep the chimneys at Whychcote. His family lived round the corner in an old flint cottage at 44 High Street. In 1944 Olive Walter married his son, also called Bert Patching.

Storage

It is said that Andrew found a convenient storage place for stage scenery and various theatrical props, including s small cannon, in a disused sausage factory in Mile Oak. Meanwhile, the pony used for pulling Cinderella’s coach on stage at Christmas time, munched grass contentedly in a field opposite Whychcote. This field became the subject of a long wrangle between Andrew and Portslade Council and eventually became the Village Green.

Politics and Pageants

While running his Grand Theatre at Brighton, Andrew Melville also became interested in local politics. He decided try and become a councillor but unfortunately his attempts to represent St Nicolas’s Ward, Brighton, in 1926, 1927 and 1929 were unsuccessful. He had better fortune when he moved to Whychcote and in April 1932 he was elected a Portslade councillor. In 1932 he was chairman of Portslade Council while at the same time being chairman of Portslade Fire Brigade.

In 1935 Andrew became vice-chairman of Portslade Council and he was kept busy organising pageants in various parts of Sussex to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary.

Decline and Death

In 1935 Andrew first began to suffer from ill health but he was not the sort of character to allow it to slow up his active life. He never drank wine or spirits but he loved huge cups of tea and strong tobacco. Andrew was greatly upset when his brother Walter died in 1937 and Andrew died at Whychcote from heart failure on 4 March 1938. He was only aged 54 and his son John was seven years old while Dorothy became a widow at 39. She never re-married.

The funeral was held at St Nicolas Church, Portslade. There were three mourning coaches bearing 70 wreaths and a line of twenty cars. A contemporary newspaper report described the scene:

‘The mourning party was preceded along the churchyard walk by the vicar (Revd E.W.P. Holmes) the curate (Revd S.R. Goodman) the crucifer (Mr Cyril Peters) and two choir boys. The sun was shining through a golden haze and so calm was the day that the naked candles borne by the choir boys kept alight from the time they left the church till they returned.’

No doubt the showman in Andrew would have been pleased at such a detail.

Upon the coffin there was a full-length cross of crimson roses and violets

There were some theatrical folk amongst the mourners including Tubby Edlin and his wife, Jimmy Hunter of the Brighton Follies, and Ernest Gates, last lessee and managing director of the Grand Theatre, Brighton. G.H. Asquin also attended; he had been on the staff at the Grand Theatre, Birmingham, during the time of Andrew Melville, senior. A friend from Seaford was there too and he had known Andrew since the age of ten. Miss Knapp and Miss Soffe, part of the domestic staff at Whychcote, were in the congregation as well.

The last surviving brother Frederick Melville died on 5 March 1938 at his residence in Beach Road, Worthing. This meant the three brothers and a sister all died within two years and three months of each other.

Despite his success, Andrew had never managed to accumulate wealth. He was known for his generous nature and would often buy an object at an inflated price to help someone out. At Christmas he gave out treats to old folk and children. He felt sorry for an eccentric old performer who once used to dazzle the crowds with his expertise whirling ropes and whips; Andrew allowed him to live for free in an old caravan near the disused sausage factory. The downside of all this generosity was that Andrew’s widow was left unable to afford continuing to live at Whychcote. Her erstwhile upstairs maid Olive Walter helped her to pack up and moved with her to a house in Shoreham.

Whychcote was sold for £10,000 and young John was evacuated to the Bahamas during the Second World War aboard the Orduna. In Nassau he remembered a Christmas party for the evacuees where the Duchess of Windsor gave him a cuddle.

 copyright © John Melville
This photograph of the lounge at Whychcote was included in the special brochure produced to promote the sale of the property.






















 

Frederick William Adcock Cushman (1871-1955)

 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
(Brighton Season Magazine 1920)
Councillor F.W.A. Cushman J.P.
Mayor of Hove 1919-1922
Mr Cushman became the next owner of Whychcote. By this time the property also contained a garage (measuring 21 feet by 18 feet 9 inches) a cottage, two stables, a loose box, a forage room and a harness room. Mr Cushman lost no time in submitting plans in 1938 to turn the stables, coach house and harness room into a gardener’s living quarters.

It is interesting to note that Andrew Melville was a Portslade councillor and Cushman was a Hove councillor. F.W.A. Cushman was born in Gravesend and became a resident of Hove in 1889. He was first elected to represent Portland Ward in 1906 and by 1946 he achieved a remarkable record of 40 years of unbroken service with Hove Council. In the 1920s the Cushmans lived at 58 Worcester Villas, Hove.

F.W.A. Cushman served as Mayor of Hove from 1919 to 1922 and in recognition of his three years’ mayoralty he was presented with gifts purchased with the aid of a public subscription. They consisted of an illuminated album containing the names of all the subscribers, a fitted suitcase and a gold cigarette case for the Mayor while the Mayoress was presented with a diamond and aquamarine pendant and earrings and their daughter Eileen received a pendant of pearls.

 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove  (Brighton & Hove Graphic 1915)
Councillor F.W.A. Cushman (standing fourth from the left) was a keen cricketer and captained Hove Councillors in their August 1915 match against Brighton Councillors, Cushman was a very useful bowler he took 8 wickets to win the game for Hove. A month later in the return match, Cushman again was man of the match with his 7 for 16 in another Hove victory.

Cushman was made an Alderman in 1923, became a Justice of the Peace in 1924, and he was chairman of Hove Borough Magistrates; he was Chief Special Constable of Brighton from 1933 to 1938 and became an Honorary Freeman of Hove in 1949. In 1952 he was awarded the OBE.

The Cushman Family

F.W.A. Cushman’s brother Leon Cushman won the Brighton Time Trials in 1923 in a Bugatti and broke the International Record for the mile, recording a speed of 102.28 mph at Brooklands in a supercharged Austin 7 in 1931. Leon enjoyed a glittering career in Grand Prix, speed trials, hill climbs and sprints between the Wars in the 'Golden Age of Motor Sport', he died on 7 January 1946. In his obituary in the Motor Sport Magazine it read, ‘a very charming man and distinctly versatile driver is lost to us’.

F.W.A. Cushman practised as a solicitor for over 50 years and was the senior partner in the firm of F.W.A. Cushman & Son. His two sons and one daughter all became solicitors after being articled to their father. Mary Adcock Cushman was the only female solicitor at Hove and one of the youngest in the country, having passed her finals before the age of twenty-one. On 18 July 1936 she married Gordon Henry Harrington, son of Mr and Mrs T.R. Harrington of Tongdean Road, Hove, at St Leonard’s Church, Aldrington. The Sussex Daily News published a long list of their wedding presents including three separate gifts of Lalique glass, quantities of silver and a walnut bureau.

  copyright © J.Middleton
St Leonard’s Church, Aldrington, where Mary Cushman was married and later on her mother Nellie Cushman was buried in the churchyard.

Stanley William Adcock Cushman was the eldest son and he was born in 1904. He was educated at Hove College where he enjoyed cricket and football and he later played cricket for Brunswick Club, Hove and Southwick Cricket Club. In the 1930s he lived at Rosney House, New Church Road, Hove. Later on he lived in Southwick and while resident there he and famous author S.P.B. Mais became involved in the famous Battle of the Green. This came about when Southwick Council banned the playing of cricket on the Village Green. The cricketers responded by staging a match on the Green and their stance aroused national interest. At first legal proceedings were launched against the ‘illegal players’ but in the end the rule against cricket on the Green was overturned. In 1943 Stanley Cushman moved to Henfield where he took up bowls with enthusiasm.    

Nellie Cushman

Nellie Louise married F.W.A. Cushman in 1899. She was not content to be just a stay-at-home wife and in 1922 she was elected to Hove Council and remained a member until 1959. She made municipal history in 1944 when she was elevated to the Aldermanic bench, her husband having been an Alderman since 1923.

Nellie Cushman sponsored the stone tablet that was unveiled at Lansworth House, Brunswick Road, Hove, to commemorate the fact that Sir Winston Churchill spent some years there at the Misses Thomson’s School. In fact the dates of residence were wrongly inscribed as 1883, 1884 and 1885 whereas they should have been 1884 to 1888. Unfortunately, the present blue plaque perpetuates this mistake too.

copyright © J.Middleton
The Churchill stone tablet and blue plaque with  incorrect residence dates 

Golden Wedding

 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove 
 (Brighton Season Magazine 1920)
Nellie Cushman

In October 1949 Mr and Mrs Cushman celebrated their Golden Wedding. The happy couple were photographed for the local Press ‘in the sitting room of their charming old-world house, Whychcote’. Mr Cushman was very proud of his two-acre garden and particularly of his President Hoover rose bush that was in bloom in May and he hoped would continue to produce flowers until Christmas.

End of an Era

F.W.A. Cushman died in 1955 and Nellie decided she did not want to live at Whychcote by herself and moved out. She died aged 86 on 6 January 1961. Her funeral was held at St Leonard’s Church, Aldrington, and she was buried near the lych-gate.

By 1960 Whychcote had been divided into five flats and during the 1960s much of the gardens were built over to provide new housing in South Street and High Street.

A Hostel?

In July 1989 there was a huge row when it transpired that Adur District Council wanted to take over the house and use it as a hostel for the homeless. Angry Portslade councillors were seething at the proposal, which would mean twelve adults and twelve children living in the house. Planning officials recommended acceptance but the planning committee turned it down.

By August 1989 Whychcote was advertised for sale at £280,000. There was a self-contained annexe that was let at £120 a month and the rear garden was still in excess of 90 feet. There were no buyers and by August 1992 the price had dropped to £275,000. There were still no takers and by October 1992 the price was reduced to £249,950. When that failed to entice buyers, the property was taken off the market until later on the 1990s when once again a ‘For Sale’ sign seemed to be a permanent fixture.

A Family Home Again

In 2000 a married couple with two young daughters purchased Whychcote and the property was converted back into a family residence.

After years of neglect the roofs had deteriorated to such an extent that the whole needed to be re-roofed. The roofs while charming in appearance are complex structures with accompanying ridge tiles and lead flashing. A London specialist firm was employed to do the work. It was unfortunate that it just happened to be the wettest winter on record. The owners had to dart about with plastic buckets to catch the various drips while the outside was draped in scaffolding and polythene sheeting. The work lasted for six months because there were restrictions on petrol at the time and workmen were often away from the house for days or weeks.

Once the roof was secure the couple could turn to the restoration of the interior. This was not straightforward either because they wished to preserve as many original features as possible. But by August 2001 a great deal had been achieved.

Whychcote in 2001

The front door is a massive twelve-panelled structure and although the outside has been painted, the inside is still in its original state. The front door leads to a lobby, which is separated from the inner hall by doors with panelling and bevelled glass insets. Immediately to the right of these doors there is a large fireplace lined with red tiles with a grey-veined marble surround and an oak mantelpiece. In fact a quantity of oak was used throughout the house. The staircase has carved newel posts, a fine balustrade and ascends to two storeys.

To the left of the hall is the main reception room with an odd asymmetrical opening into the next room, both of them facing south.

At the far end Christian’s of Handcross created a modern kitchen at considerable cost. There are granite work surfaces, a double-butler sink, a double-oven Aga, and hand-crafted units. 

There is a hatch through to the dining room, which has a fireplace lined with red tiles. This room overlooks the garden on the north side.

The utility room has some original glazed tiles with a protruding border and a beautiful black and white tiled floor.

There is a similar floor of black and white tiles in the bathroom, which boasts an enormous bath measuring 6 feet 3 inches in length. Specialist firm Chadder & Co of Forest Row re-enamelled the bath in situ. When John Melville was invited to have a look at his childhood home, he had clear memories of being washed in the vast bath. He also pointed out the room where he was born, which was just off the main bedroom.

There are six rooms on the first floor. Although most have been restored, one still awaits attention, particularly with regard to the ceiling where the lathes can be seen.

There are a further three rooms on the top floor, which once served as servants bedrooms. The servants would no doubt be astonished to find one room has become a modern office with a computer. But the servants tucked away at the top of the house had the finest views; to the south there are glimpses of the sea above the treetops of the Village Green; to the north the slopes of the Downs are clearly visible.

On the east side and fixed to the wall of the landing is the original communications box that once alerted the servants to the fact they were required. The box had eight little windows to indicate which room the servant should go to and the box would have contained a bell too.

There is a marvellous attic, which is a great hit with children and their friends. You do not need to climb a rickety ladder to gain access but just unlock a door at the end of the passage out of which the servants’ rooms opened. The attic stretches the length of the house from north to south and on either side small windows look out over roof gullies. The attic contains a brick archway, which is of course the chimney arch.

In August 2001 the house was up for sale again. The asking price was £495,000 but it was a difficult property to shift because of the down-turn in the property market for higher priced houses. However, Whychcote was sold in June 2002.

In recent times Whychcote has been on sale again but it is unclear whether or not the property was sold or merely withdrawn from the market.

Sources

Argus
Brighton & Hove City Libraries
Brighton & Hove Graphic
Brighton Season Magazine
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Motor Sport Magazine
Sussex Daily News
Personal interviews

Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
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