1925 — Brighton Corporation Buys Farms—Selbach’s land healthiest in Britain
Much to Selbach’s annoyance, on the 6th July 1925, after protracted and heated negotiations, Brighton Corporation bought 792.5 acres of Selbach’s Newmarket, Norton, and Balsdean Farms, for £14,297-10s-0d (£18/acre). Their reason was twofold; to protect the amenity value of the downs, and to protect the Balsdean watershed for the purpose of providing clean drinking water for Brighton. Norton, Balsdean, and Newmarket Farmlands were leased straight back to Selbach. For somewhat confusing reasons the Newmarket Cottage and Barns were not leased back till 21st November 1925. Apparently the legal agreement was between Oscar Selbach and Brighton Corporation. It did not include property owned by Balsdean Manor Pig Farms Ltd, of which it turned out that Selbach was a majority shareholder. Selbach was given two years to build on his own land something suitable to store the “fencing, railway track, huts and other fixtures and effects
planted in the soil or not, erected or placed on any part of Newmarket Farm, only by the Balsdean Manor Pig Farms Ltd.” A large hut was built near the Falmer Road on Selbach’s land at the foot of Newmarket Hill, possibly for this purpose. At one time Selbach kept his horse drawn carriages in there; beautiful carriages made of mahogany and leather – Selbach enjoyed nothing but the best.
However, Selbach still had the rights to be able to use the two wells, pumping engines, 3 miles of water pipe, and 2 reservoirs he claimed he had installed at a cost of nearly £3,000, which he considered essential to his development plans. The Selbachs still owned 248 acres of land outside of the Balsdean valley watershed. The details of his development plans were far from straightforward though. Peggy and I (and Peter Mercer before us) have read through huge folders of many years of correspondence, between himself and his representatives, and Brighton Corporation and their representatives, which continued as late as 1947, with Chailey District Council.
Over the years his development plans were; an 80 acre development named Falmer Gardens (also known as the more appropriately named Newmarket Gardens, on the south western slopes of Newmarket Hill – land in the Parish of Kingston near Lewes); Norton Top Estate (on the western part of Bullock Hill); Rottingdean Gardens Estate (which generally included Norton Top Estate; and lands to its south), and Brighton Heights (between Falmer Road, Balsdean Road and the aforementioned Falmer and Norton Top estates). There are records of the Selbachs also having held land either side of the Falmer Road, though we are uncertain how long they kept hold of them.
Brighton Heights was the intended location for a sanitorium, that today would be called a health centre. Back in 1761 the first book on Brighton, Relhan’s “A Short History of Brighthelmston” (which followed on from the work of the more famous Dr Russell), was essentially an advertisement for the town as the healthiest place in Britain. This book is largely forgotten today, but was republished several times, including 1929. The health giving properties of the waters (both salt and fresh), the air, and the soil, were all celebrated in separate chapters. It was such claims that brought the Prince Regent to Brighton, and, as Selbach wrote in the 1934 letter, it was also what brought him and Emma Daisy Selbach toWoodingdean. He wrote: “Another reason why exception should be made by allowing development to take place on the higher land, is that the air currents prevailing here have unusual curative properties for Respiratory and Pulmonary complaints, also Malarial and Nervous complaints. This has been proven beyond doubt by people who have taken up their residence in this district.
“Take my own case, I had been an invalid for 25 years before taking up my residence here. I had all the illnesses usually contracted during childhood, followed by a severe attack of Typhoid Fever. A few years later, I suffered from Malaria, which gradually became chronic and undermined my health and strength. Doctors declared I should never get this out of my system. This led to Respiratory and Pulmonary troubles, which also brought on heart trouble and Insomnia. In 1919 I had a severe attack of Influenza which developed into Double Pneumonia. Since I took up my residence here I have astounded my Doctors by the remarkable recovery I have made, and today, at 70 years of age, I am now enjoying perfect health and prepared to submit to a Medical examination to prove this.
“My wife’s recovery here from one of the world’s most dreaded scourges, is just as remarkable, it was really owing to her illness that we took up our residence here, as leading London T.B. specialists had given her up, and gave her only 3 weeks to live, and I trust you will pay us a visit and judge for yourself what this section of the Downs, with the prevailing air currents, has accomplished. Previous to taking up our residence here, my wife had been in a Sanatorium in the New Forest, I later took her to a noted Sanatorium at Montana, Switzerland. She went back very rapidly there, so I decided to bring her here to live, and she has made a most remarkable recovery. Other cases of remarkable recovery in the immediate district have proven that my wife’s recovery is not accidental, but solely due to the wonderful air currents prevailing here. It is important that your Medical officers be invited to examine these claims as they ought to be of great interest to Medical men.”
1925, Nov. 25th — Woodman — Balsdean, Norton, Newmarket Farms
Selbach gave up his tenancy of the Balsdean and Newmarket Farms. As he stated in the letter of 1934, his motivation for acquiring these lands was never for farming, it was to obtain a water supply for his proposed housing developments, and this he had secured. However, for reasons that were hotly debated between himself, his legal representatives, Brighton Corporation, and Chailey District Council, for more than twenty years, he failed to find a developer willing or able to implement his plans. He was no stranger to failure though; newspaper searches revealed that three of his business ventures in the early part of the century, before the Great War, had also failed. Sadly, his aggressive attitude won him few friends in either Woodingdean, Brighton, or Chailey. Nevertheless, his legacy was significant and deserves to be remembered. Oscar Carl (Charles) Selbach died in Wick Farm, Woodingdean, in 1956, aged 92, one year more than James Hodson, almost 100 years before.
In November 1925, the main tenancy (lease) was signed over to Guy Henry Woodman, of Osborne House, Polegate. He came from a huge family of 3 brothers, 2 sisters, 2 step-brothers, and 8 step-sisters. He was born in 1889, at Ham Manor, Hungerford, Wiltshire, his family being associated with Wiltshire over several generations. They moved to Sussex in 1901 when Guy Woodman was 12 years old. He saw active service during the Great War, and married Norah Milfred Dreweatt in Berkshire in 1916, had their first child, Barbara, in 1918 before being demobbed in 1919. He was with the Brighton Police Force, riding against the angry mobs, with the Yeomanry, during the General Strike of 1926. However, his son, Gerald, told Peter Mercer that his heart was really with farming, for his family had been farmers for many generations. He had farmed in Polegate before moving to Balsdean in the autumn of 1925, for he much preferred the wild open spaces of the downs. Unlike Selbach before him, he had no interest in the growing suburbs of Brighton.
The Balsdean Manor house, where Gerald Woodman grew up from the age of 3, was very cold, and extremely draughty, with no indoor plumbing. The outdoor toilet was a ’luxurious’ three-holer, with the central hole being child-sized. Apparently it was not unusual for all three seats to be occupied at the same time. Since there was very little wood over the downs, heating was by coal delivered by lorry from Falmer Station. Water was from dewponds for the stock, or from wells. Filtered rainwater, collected from the roof, was also used. Cooking was done on a paraffin stove. Gerald rode to and from primary school, in Rottingdean, by pony. The children whose fathers worked for Mr Woodman, and who lived in the labourers’ cottages, though, would have walked. The milk was delivered by cart everyday to Rottingdean.
Though Brighton Corporation seem to have charged a reasonable rent, farming was still very hard. The collection and sale of flints, mostly for road surfacing by the Brighton Corporation was a significant source of income. Gerald, as a teenager during his school holidays, made a reasonable income from trapping rabbits; in a good year he caught as many as a thousand, for which he could get as much as 9d a rabbit from the local butcher. Both their skins and meat was valuable.
1931 — Gliding, cars, motorbikes & hunting
As before, life was not all hardship and drudgery. The secretary of the Southern Soarers gliding club was a friend of Mr Woodman. He offered them use of Newmarket Farm for the storage of their gliders, and the use of his land for their flight. Woodman became their vice-president. A record for the longest flight by a British designed and built glider (at that time) was set from there, though the record did not count, for the pilot was a German. Over on the adjacent Downs Estate Peggy’s husband, Dick, remembers helping the glider pilots to take off when he was a child. Young Gerald from the age of 9 was able to have fun driving his father’s old cars and motorbike with sidecar over the downland tracks. And, of course they would have participated in the local hunt.
1934 — Phipps in Newmarket Farm—Country life
In 1934 the Phipps family moved to Newmarket Farm. The were from an old Sussex farming family; Edward and his wife Edith arrived with Lucy (7), Bob (5), and Sylvia (3). Two years later, in 1936, they gained a new baby girl, Pat. Edward Phipps was employed
by Mr Woodman. The Phipps children, now in their eighties, remember with great fondness their time in Newmarket Farm, for it was the happiest time of their lives.
The painting on the front cover of this book was recently made by Bob Phipps from his memories of over seventy years ago. In a recent conversation, he told us that the animals he remembers were semi-feral horses at the front (to the north) of the farm, and in a field at the back were sheep. Bob told us he was sorry there were no cows, for he would have liked to have had fresh milk. It is hard to imagine today how life used to be like in Newmarket Cottage. There was neither electricity nor plumbing. Water was drawn from a well, located right outside the living room window at the back of the house, using a bucket on the end of a rope. The toilet was another bucket kept in an outhouse by the side of the house.
The cause may well have been the replacement of the open fire by a more fuel efficient paraffin stove. The Downs were famously free of trees, and gorse was unsuitable for use for it burnt both too ferociously and quickly. Therefore, wood, and after the opening of the railway to Lewes and Falmer, coal, would have had to have been delivered at great expense. Thus it was that the kitchen became the parlour and the wash-house became the new kitchen.
On the farm, apart from Mr Woodman’s big American car, all work was done with the aid of horses. In 1871 there was a farm sale record for Kingston which recorded 12 pairs of oxen and just three teams of horses. On the steep slopes of the Downs oxen used to be the preferred draught animal. However, by the beginning of the 20th century, the use of oxen in Sussex had all but died out. Horses were stronger, manoeuvrable, and easier to work with. There may have been some mechanised machinery such as threshing machines, but we do not have any records of such things. Mr Woodman did have a big old American car, a Graham-Paige. He modified it to be able to take a fork-lift attachment to help lift bales of hay or straw at harvest time. It was driven by Mr Woodman’s son, Gerald, who lifted the bales up to Edward Phipps on top of the stack.
Because of the location of the Newmarket Farm, the Phippses had many ramblers passing by the front of their house, especially German and French students. In the summer their mother, Edith, would serve them teas, to earn a few pennies. It is a shame that so far no photographs have been located of Newmarket Farm, for all of its tenants would have been too poor to afford a camera. However, anonymous passers by, such as the German students who stopped for tea, would almost certainly have taken holiday photos, for the best view from the Juggs Road would have been to the south-east, and would have taken in both the Newmarket Cottage, and through the gap in the hills towards Balsdean, they would have seen the sea in the distance and the white cliffs of Seaford Head. How wonderful it would be to trace such a photograph.
Newmarket Cottage, and the surrounding Downs, also held ghosts. On the evenings of the first and second Sundays in August ghostly footsteps would be heard climbing the stairs, then a rattling of the latch, as if someone was trying to enter the bedrooms. And yet there was never anybody there. The Grey Lady was seen, however, one day, whilst the family was walking down to Balsdean Farm where Mr Phipps worked. She was a little old lady with a grey coat, and grey clothing, coming the other way. She was looking out over the valley, and when she saw them coming she stepped aside and waved them on to let them past. Their mother recognised her, and told her husband to just keep walking. Mr Phipps acknowledged her by doffing his cap, and they passed her by. And yet when perhaps just a few seconds later they looked back, she was gone, but on looking up, there
she was, on top of the hill, an impossible distance to have climbed in so short a time.
The Phippses led a life of desperate poverty. Their father earned less money as an agricultural worker than he would have done if he were on the dole. Yet their isolation meant a certain amount of freedom. They agreed with Oscar Selbach’s view of the healthiness of life up on this part of the Downs, free from the poisonous smogs of Brighton. There were opportunities to supplement their income with a rabbit or two, or by selling teas to passing ramblers. And, as children, they were free to wander over the fragrant springy downland turf, mown short by sheep and rabbits, full of flowers and butterflies. Free to make camps in amongst the gorse bushes, to hide from those who might take them away from their parents, to the workhouse, the Warren Farm School, should their father lose his job. Their time at Newmarket Farm was the happiest of their lives.
1937 — Government farm policies
By the mid-1930s the British Government realised that their reliance on cheap food imports was not sustainable from the point of view of the country’s national security. If America stopped supplying the UK with grain, our population would have quickly starved. Britain’s farmlands were in a seriously poor state. From 1937 a mixture of Government targets and subsidies were intended to increase fertility and the acreage under production. Whilst Mr Woodman often found the government’s dictates impractical and inappropriate, they did bring more income into the farm.
1938 — Latham family in Newmarket Farm—Work for Dalgety
In 1938 the Latham family moved into Newmarket Farm, replacing the Phipps. Reginald Latham was born on 30th August 1916 in West Ham, London (then Essex). His family, which included 8 brothers and sisters, moved to Woodingdean in 1928. Sometime after that he found work with Harold West of Upper Bevendean Farm. In 1935 he married Annie Marian Holland, from the nearby Wick Estate, in Rottingdean Church. The description of his employment on his marriage certificate was that of tractor driver, though family members remember him as a cattle man. They moved to the farm labourer’s cottage known as Cambridgeshire Farm (formerly called Hill Cottage) on Harold West’s Upper Bevendean Farm, the birthplace of their first child, Ann Edith Marion Latham.
Their cottage was very small, and after the birth of Reginald (Sonny) in 1937, around the time of the birth of Helen in 1938, they moved into Newmarket Farm. Whilst Mr Phipps had worked for Mr Woodman, it is believed that the Lathams worked for Mr Dalgety.
Over the course of years, parts of Woodman’s lease had been assigned to Arthur William Henry Dalgety, of Wellingham Vane, Ringmer. There is no record of his ever living in Balsdean, though, as a keen huntsman, he hunted in the area. The nature of their legal agreement is unknown to us; they may have split the farm up, or Dalgety may have been a financial investor – a sleeping partner, or, more likely, something between the two.
Gerald Woodman was 16 when, after just 2 terms at the Plumpton Farm Institute, he was asked by his father to help out since there were only two farm labourers able to help with their increased workload. During this year they managed to obtain 2 Fordson tractors. As a tractor driver, Reg Latham may have been employed to drive them. Nevertheless, their increased acreage of cereals required yet more new equipment they could not afford. The old machinery and methods were very labour intensive, and farmers did not have the labour that they would have had in the past. Only after their income increased could the Woodmans afford a new thresher and bailer.
1939 — WWII—Reginald Latham signs up
Sometime after the start of the Second World War, Reginald Latham signed up with the RAF, possibly at the same time as his brother Ronnie.
1940 — Woodman and Dalgety in Home Guard
In 1940 the Home Guard was formed, and most men in the locality who were not eligible for conscription volunteered. Mr Dalgety joined the Lewes Home Guard, led by Col Sykes. It consisted of 52 horse-riders who patrolled the surrounding Downs, and was known as the “Lewes Cossacks”. Guy Woodman, having seen action during the First World War at the age of 25, was now 51 years old, and signed up with the Woodingdean Home Guard, as an acting colonel. His son Gerald, just 18 years old, also joined the Woodingdean Home Guard, but as a private. The main threat to the area was considered as being from enemy paratroopers, dropped at night, into the remote valleys between Lewes and Brighton. It was the job of the Home Guard to patrol the Downs, especially at night. At about this time one or more of the Home Guard may have been billeted with the Lathams in Newmarket cottage.
1941 — Pigs, cattle, & soldiers
One of the few contemporary written records of farming operations we have seen was by Mr Dalgety, in correspondence with Brighton Corporation. Mr Dalgety wrote that he promised to move the pigs from Balsdean to Newmarket Farm as the latter had a concrete floor. The farmer wrote of the “reservoir to be re-used as leakages in the pipes repaired… We have a large stock of cattle on the farm at present, together with all the soldiers to pump for…”
1942 — Birth & military requisitions
In April, Peggy was born. In the following month Dalgety was given just 2 weeks to remove his cattle from Balsdean. They were moved over the Downs via Lewes railway station, to Yorkshire. Mr Woodman had to leave Balsdean Manor at very short notice. He managed to find a small farm at Exebridge, in Devon. His family had to leave most of their furniture behind, including their grand piano. According to Longstaff-Tyrrell, Canadian troops were billeted in Balsdean Manor, in preparation for the 19th August 1942, ill fated, Dieppe Raid. This raid was conceived of back in 1941, but only given the go ahead in May 1942. This increases our uncertainty about the date of the requisitioning of Newmarket Cottage, for it was believed to have been as late as October 1942.
1944 — Allied artillery destroys Newmarket Farm
An RAF, 541 Squadron, aerial photograph shows the farm had been completely flattened, though the building outlines were clearly visible. This was due to allied artillery, for much of the Downs were used for training practices. Interestingly, in an aerial photograph dated 1950 the footprint of Newmarket Farm still shows up very clearly.
1959 — BBC TV aerial on Newmarket Hill
In 1959 the BBC got permission to build the TV aerial on top of Newmarket Hill, that has now become a major landmark.
1966 — Castle Hill National Nature Reserve—Conserving the past
The steep hillsides surrounding the valleys to the north and west of Balsdean have been recognised as one of the top two remnants of the chalk grassland habitat that formed on the eastern half of the South Downs. This very special grassland was the result of a unique combination of salt spray, thin chalk soil, sun, wind, sheep, and rabbits. Castle Hill was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest on the 26th May 1966, and was also designated as a National Nature Reserve. The top north-west corner includes the bulldozed remains of Newmarket Farm. Sadly the site has been deteriorating. Scrub, brambles, and nettles have taken over this part of the reserve making the site almost totally inaccessible. This is largely down to changes in farming practices and in the fertilising effects of air pollution, mostly nitrates which originated from car exhausts.
For hundreds, if not thousands of years, sheep used to be driven every day by the shepherd at the break of day from the arable fields surrounding the village up onto the Downs to feed on the downland grasses and herbs during daylight hours. To help keep them together and safe they had bells round their necks, so they could be heard by the shepherd and his dog if they strayed, or had got into trouble. Before the close of day they would then be led down off of the hills back to the fields below, where they would be penned up, or folded, for the night. During the night they would digest the food they had eaten up on the Downs, and deposit their droppings to fertilise the fallow fields, preparing them for a good crop of corn the following year. The sheep were called a moving dunghill. This practice deprived the Downland pastures of the sheep’s fertile dung, causing the Downland soil to be robbed of its fertility. So it was that the nutrient loving grasses and rank vegetation were prevented from accumulating and out-competing the more sensitive and fragrant herbs and flowers. The Downs, if left to itself, quickly scrubs over, and becomes primeval woodland. This has more recently been accelerated by the fertilising effects of airborne pollution. It is only due to the actions of people over hundreds or thousands of years that we may enjoy the sun loving chalkland blue butterflies, the song of the skylark, the beauties of the rare orchids, and the sweet scented thymes.
Those, like the Cuthbertsons and the Lathams who have grown up on or next to the Downs over the past few decades have witnessed a steady increase in barbed wire, and a corresponding decrease in the variety of flowers and the numbers of butterflies. The Phipps family may have witnessed the last of the Downland shepherds tending their flocks. None of the Newmarket Farm occupants were shepherds; the building of Newmarket Farm marked the beginning of the end of the Downland turf. Perhaps this is a merely sad but inevitable consequence of economic and social history. If so, the story we have started to unravel, is a story that needs to be told. What you have just been reading needs further work; extending to include a history of Newmarket Hill itself, and the influences that came together to make it one of the most special places for the people who had the privilege to live there. Lucy, Bob, and Sylvia Phipps wish they were never forced to leave. Their mother’s ashes were scattered there, the happiest place of their entire lives.
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