The Dyke: a 1949 retrospect

Devil's Dyke in its day
In its C19/C20 heyday (see above), the Dyke was a magnet for summer day visitors. They even overflowed into the tearooms that both Poynings and Fulking then had to offer. But, by 1949, the hotel was a ruin, the area desolate, and there were no tourists or day-trippers. In February of that year, an unidentified writer looked back at the history of the site in the Evening Argus. The article was then reprinted by St.Andrews Quarterly in July of the same year.

The Dyke in 1949

The ruins of the Dyke Park Hotel in 1949

The ruins of the Dyke Park Hotel in 1949

[The article that follows was originally published in the Evening Argus on 4th February 1949 under the title ‘The Devil’s Dyke’. It was then reprinted, with permission, by St.Andrews Quarterly in the July issue (1.3) of that year. The author is not identified.]

Only five miles north-west of Brighton is one of the county’s loveliest beauty spots, the Devil’s Dyke, famed for the picturesque view it commands and celebrated for the amusing legend which attributes its origin to the unfinished efforts of the Devil to dig a canal to the sea in an attempt to flood the Sussex Weald. From its highest point, over 850 feet above sea level. the greater part of Sussex is spread out like a huge map. Parts of Hampshire, Surrey and Kent and 60 churches can be seen on a clear day.

But in recent years the public to whose use in 1928 the estate was “dedicated for ever”• has, for some reason, neglected the spot. People no longer flock to the dyke in their hundreds during the summer. Guide books give it a passing reference and one has to search many second-hand book­ shops before its history can be traced or geological details obtained.

Devil's Dyke Legend
Even Brighton’s well-equipped reference library boasts only of a pre-war three penny Legend and History of the ‘Devil’s Dyke’, two pages from a magazine which deals with the railways which once carried visitors to the spot and a publication issued by a former owner of the estate to attract visitors.

There was a time, however, when the Dyke enjoyed great popularity and was a •’must’• for any visitors to Brighton. At the beginning of the 19th century a Brighton confectioner, a Mr. Sharp, found that there was considerable business to be done by opening a stall there in fine weather and in the 1820s the need was such that an enterprising person built an inn, known as ‘Dyke House’. on the highest point of the northern ridge.

On lst September, 1887, a single-track railway, linking up with the Brighton-Portsmouth line, was opened by the Brighton and Dyke Railway Company to meet the demand for transport. It had a gradient of one in 40 for three miles, one of the steepest rail climbs in the country.

Cocoanut Shies
The Dyke reached the height of its popularity when the estate was purchased by Mr. J.H.Hubbard. He renamed it Dyke Park, made the inn ‘Dyke Park Hotel’ and proceeded to turn the spot into a pleasure resort by providing cocoanut shies, swings, side-shows and, in fact, all the fun of the fair.

On Whit-Monday of 1892 he excelled. Over 30,000 people flocked to the Park. The highlight of the day was a hot-air balloon ascent from the ‘Devil’s Punch-Bowl’ but to the disappointment of the crowds, it was a flop. Just when ‘gallant aviator’ Mr. Arthur Charles Spencer, was about to give the signal for release, a gust of wind caught the balloon and split it in two.

Mr. Hubbard claimed that a million people visited the Dyke that year and he became even more ambitious. He had an over­head cable railway built across the ravine at a cost of £2000. It had a clear span of 650 feet and the three-inch cable, weighing 6¾ tons, supported by two steel pylons, measured 1,200 feet between its anchorages. An oil-engine pulled the eight-passenger cagework car across the ravine in just over two minutes. Return fare cost 6d.

Steep Grade Railway

Another of his projects was a steep-grade double track railway. 840 feet long running down the side of the ridge to the lowland. A single fare of 2d was charged and it was estimated that 275,000 passengers were carried yearly. It cost £9000.

Mr. Hubbard’s schemes were not a financial success and the two main projects appear to have come to an end about 1908.

In 1925 the estate was up for sale and when Brighton Corporation hesitated Sir Herbert Carden stepped in to prevent the possibility of it being closed to the public by a private purchaser. Three years later he transferred it to the Corporation for a nominal sum.

At the end of 1925 the Southern Railway, which had absorbed the Brighton and Dyke Company in 1923, closed down the Dyke Railway. “Lack of support”, they said. [This paragraph is in error: the railway remained open until 1938].

On the 27th May, 1945, the hotel, which had been rebuilt on modern lines six years previously at a cost of £8000 was destroyed by fire.

Its ruin now stands out clearly on the skyline, and to some they may appear as a monument to the Dyke of the past.

Devil's Dyke map

Some other material relevant to the C19 and C20 history of the Dyke:

An Anglo-Saxon execution burial

Saxon execution burial post-excavation
What archaeologists uncovered along the Rampion cable route: after describing the landscape, the talk will turn to the discoveries they made including the Anglo-Saxon execution burial site that was found on Beeding Hill.

A talk by Ed Blinkhorn and Garrett Sheehan to Beeding & Bramber Local History Society at 7:45pm on Wednesday 3rd April 2019 in the Village Hall, Upper Beeding. There is a hard-to-detect car park immediately opposite.

The Springs

The Springs, EdburtonThe Springs, situated in the centre of Edburton on the south side of the road, was originally two cottages. One was a blacksmith’s cottage with a forge attached to the east side, the other was a farm worker’s cottage. In 1930, a Captain Leslie Masters, whose family was reputed to have made its money in South African railways, purchased both cottages along with two other cottages that were later merged into September Cottage. The water supply for all four cottages was from the stream head situated half way up the Downs. Captain Masters had also purchased Truleigh Manor and its land in 1927 so, by 1930, he owned about half the property in Edburton

Captain Masters and his young wife Dorothy then set about converting the two cottages into a single dwelling. The interior was refurbished to a high standard and included oak panelling, a chandelier and wall lights (modified for electricity), all salvaged from the ruins of Cowdray Castle which had been largely destroyed by fire in 1793. Additional features were an aviary, which could be viewed from the staircase in the house and stables for his horses built at the back of the property. Tom Nolan, a groom who lived with his family in September Cottage looked after the Masters’ horses and they were shod at the forge adjacent to the house (on the site of what is now Springs Smoked Salmon). The blacksmith was a Mr Buckman, who by this time had moved to a cottage in Saddlescombe. In addition to a groom, the Masters also employed a housekeeper (Tom’s wife Edith, initially) and, later, a secretary.

Both Leslie and Dorothy Masters were motoring enthusiasts and owned three cars between them. Two of these belonged to Dorothy, one being a sports car with hand made bodywork. Following Dorothy’s death from cancer, Captain Masters married her sister Janet who shared his love of horses and they moved to Freshcombe Lodge on Truleigh Hill. His dogs are buried in a dogs’ cemetery just behind and above The Springs.

After Captain Masters left, The Springs was sold to Arthur and Nora Hands. Arthur was a hard drinking vet. He was reputed to be the only person who could drive the narrow windy road from the Shepherd & Dog to Edburton when he could barely stand up or see — villagers claimed his car knew its own way home and drove itself. He was later appointed as vet to a circus and the (possibly apocryphal) story goes that he came to an untimely end when an elephant sat on him.

Following Arthur Hand’s death, Henry Harris purchased the house at auction in Brighton for £6000 and it was then rented out to a series of tenants. One such tenant made it available to Henry’s son Geoffrey Harris for his wedding reception in November 1952. Later, Geoffrey with his wife and family rented it from his father. Following Henry’s death in 1964, Geoffrey purchased the house from his father’s trustees.

The Springs rearview

The Springs as it is today, viewed from the spring at the rear of the property

Tony Brooks

[Copyright © 2018, Anthony R. Brooks. Adapted from Anthony R. Brooks (2008) The Changing Times of Fulking & Edburton. Chichester: RPM Print & Design, primarily pages 205-206.]

Updated WWII history pamphlet now available

World War Two in Beeding and Bramber
Pat Nightingale and Ken Wilson-Wheeler have released an updated version of their pamphlet World War Two in Beeding and Bramber. New to this version is an interesting page devoted to Flying Officer Gerald Gordon Lonsdale whose memorial can be found above the organ in St. Andrew’s. Like the earlier WWI book, the pamphlet covers Beeding, Bramber, Edburton, Fulking and Small Dole. It includes brief biographies of those who died including Flight Sergeant James William Lucas (son of Percy Lucas) and Chief Officer John A. Ridge, both of Fulking.

The updated pamphlet (price £6.00) can ordered direct from Pat at Bowfell, Hyde Street, Upper Beeding, BN44 3TG (01903-812847) or via email.