Extract from Southern Weekly News - By the Rambling Reporter 1936

From Jim and Sue Harvey.

Newhaven has always been a town of changing fortunes, ever since the disastrous storm of 1570 which caused the Ouse to leave its original channel into Seaford and form a new course into Newhaven.  From that day onwards Newhaven has known prosperity and depression.

My visit was on a day when a 60 mile an hour gale swept the coast.  The wind whistled round the street corners.  I walked along the harbour to the promenade leading to the breakwater.  It was difficult to stand. Frail-looking summer houses on the promenade seemed as though they would blow away, unable to resist the onslaught. Sea spray was almost blinding.  The wind was whipping the foam on the waves into a dance.  Waves were lashing against the 1,000ft long breakwater and crashing over the top on to the promenade.  People were crouching under the archway of the breakwater which stretches along to the lighthouse.  Just for the thrill I followed the narrow archway until I arrived at the door which leads to the lighthouse.  Passing on into what appeared to be a subterranean tunnel, I came to the machinery where Mr Frederick Tubb, the lighthouse keeper, was at work.

After obtaining permission, I began a precarious ascent of the winding stairway, for which the only safeguard against stumbling is a thick rope, to the actual lamp.  There is a steel door under the glass, which was opened, and I crawled on to the balcony.  What a view – and what a wind!  Clasping the rails to maintain my balance, I looked down on an angry sea.  Waves were mountainous.  I watched S.S. Brighton leave the harbour en route for Dieppe.  Several times the waves washed over the decks.  Passengers must have been in a very unhappy frame of mind!

Mr Tubb’s Work

Back in the lighthouse Mr Tubb told me about his work.  The worst storm he has ever encountered was a few years ago when the Rye lifeboat was wrecked and all the hands were lost.  Mr Tubb is Hon. Secretary of the Newhaven and district Angling Club, which, strange to relate, has one or two local members and dozens of members from London.  “The breakwater is a find place to fish” he said, “Often between 200 and 300 people stand there.  Yesterday we had a competition and the National Federation of Angling Clubs recognised it by presenting a medal.  Will Fyfe, the famous comedian, was in the party”.

From the lighthouse I battled with the wind until I was in the cosy rooms of the Hope Inn.  This is the refuge of all the old salts.  Inside, packed neatly into a glass case, is a huge lobster, said to have been caught in the harbour.  From this inn a little army of men work on the beach, finding amongst the pebbles a blue stone.  Newhaven is one of the few spots where this stone can be found, and it is used for the production of face powder.  An amateur would have to search diligently for the stones, but as much as four tons a day have been sent from the town to the perfumery factories.

A Ditch!

In 1810 it was suggested that a breakwater should be built, at a cost of £200,000, but the scheme was not carried out.  In 1823 the harbour was described as a ditch, and a few years later, under the lead of a master mariner, a native of Newhaven, work was begun.  This included the erection of a groyne to protect the harbour from south westerly winds.  That groyne was the forerunner of the present breakwater, and was the salvation of Newhaven harbour.  When the London Brighton, and South Coast Railway came into being, trade flowed into the harbour.  The company built a wharf, a quay and a first class hotel, and the passenger service to Dieppe was inaugurated.

About the middle of the last century, plans were prepared for the breakwater.  Few realised what a tremendous task it would mean.  After trying several methods, the workmen had to fill a barge with wet concrete and sink it in order to make a foundation.  For a considerable time man and the sea carried on a relentless battle.  What was done during the summer was washed away during the winter.  Fifty years ago the breakwater was completed, a memorial of man’s defiance of the sea. 

Newhaven once had a windmill which stood on the Church Hill above the Poor Law Institution (The Downs).  The old mill was burnt down around 1884 and was replaced by one which was later transferred to Chailey, and is today considered to mark the centre of Sussex. The mill was placed on steel rollers and towed into Chailey. 

The best view of the harbour can be obtained from HillCrest Road, and it is there that Pilot J R  Robinson has built a house to resist the gales and to live with his wife in happy retirement.  The view from the house overlooks the harbour on to the downs, over Seaford Head and out to sea. Pilot Robinson was working is his garden, one of the finest in Newhaven, as I approached.  “If you want something to write about” he declared angrily “show the government up by saying how they are selling land on Fort Hill.  Here are we in Sussex trying to preserve the Downs and the government are selling the land for quarries".  

Pilot Robinson has lived  in Newhaven all of his life, and for twenty years he was a member of the Urban Council.  “Yes, I have seen changes” he said, “first sailing boats, then steam boats and now oil boats.  When people talk about the good old days of sailing ships they are talking about the days of slavery.   Things are much better today.  Newhaven has seen better times.  All the trade seems to be going to Shoreham, it is so much easier there, not half so many rules and regulations.  But Newhaven did great things during the War.....” 

From the harbour I walked on to the bridge and was just in time to see an unusual spectacle – Harry Avis was running in front of a railway engine ringing a bell and waving a red flag.  The railway goes from a goods yard across the bridge, into the station.  To a newcomer this method of warning traffic is indeed novel; Newhaven people take no notice of it.  Harry has  been ringing the bell and waving the flag for 20 years.  As a schoolboy, he had watched men doing it.   Henry explained “I know it looks daft but it is traditional”. 

Along the road I called to see Newhaven’s photographer Mr J J Hill.  He answered two questions in quick succession – “When does the bridge open?” I queried.  “When you are in a hurry” he replied. 

“What do you think of Newhaven?” was my second question.  “It’s all right now, but in the winter it’s like Aberdeen on a flag day – empty”.

Excerpt from an article in the Southern Weekly News 1936 by their ‘Rambling Reporter’.

By kind permission of Jim and Sue Harvey.


Photo:The view from Pilot Robinson's house

The view from Pilot Robinson's house

Photo:Pilot Robinson

Pilot Robinson

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