The History of a House

6 Clermont Terrace, Preston Park, Brighton, E. Sussex

By Mary Lilley

            The house was built in 1869 and stood on its own for some time. The garden stretched to the bank of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, with an extra piece of ground adjoining the back of Chester’s Garage. The first owner, a Mr. Thomas, tried to carry on a small business from the basement, but this was frowned upon. Other houses were constructed on either side, five more on the right and twenty-six or seven on the left, the whole then becoming CLERMONT TERRACE with the Congregational Church at the far end. It is noticeable that No. 6 has a lower roofline than the others and a deeper basement. Other large residential houses were built opposite in the street and this became LORNE VILLAS, separately numbered.

            My mother and father already knew Brighton quite well. Mother became one of the first post women during the First World War, operating from the main Post Office in Ship Street. I think she lodged with her sister Ada and family who lived in one of the first houses in the Avenue, Moulscombe, while my father worked as a dental mechanic in Hove at the surgery of Mr. Walter Wood, the then president of the British Dental Association. They first lived in a maisonette in Millas Road having met each other at Redhill.

            It may be the reason why Grandpa Rose chose my mother to go to the auction at the Old Ship Hotel with him when he bought 6 Clermont Terrace for £835 in 1924. He planned to retire to Brighton from Hampstead, and immediately set about improvements to the house. Grandpa and Grandma Rose lived on the top floor and my mother and father on the ground floor. At that time there was no bathroom and only one toilet. No outside steps to the cellar – this was reached by basement stairs from the kitchen on the ground floor.

            Outside steps were excavated to the cellar and a sturdy glass door installed. At the same time an outside toilet was built and plumbed in. Upstairs Grandpa and Grandma’s bedroom in the front was partitioned so that a bathroom could be built over the hall. There were existing gas lights in the house but Grandpa had electricity installed. A second coal cellar was built in the corner of the cellar, while Grandpa used the coal cellar under the front steps. Later some of the front garden was cut away to allow more light into the basement front room when Grandpa’s sister Avis retired from John Groom’s, Cripplegate, in London and also came to live at No. 6 in the basement.

            In the basement passage here was a row of servants’ bells, and sometimes, for no apparent reason, one of them would ring. Very eerie! There were marks in each main room where the bell pulls had been, but these had long since been papered over.

            At the same time the garden was laid out. It had been a wilderness of  nettles and brambles with one or two old apple trees, but completely overgrown. It was a recreation for them all. Also a veranda was built over the scullery roof and a ladder led down to the garden from the small room upstairs. One of Grandma’s favourite spots was the doorway out to the veranda where she would sit on her chair with the curved oak back and drink her coffee or eggnog in the sun.

            The hall complete with Victorian coat hooks, led through the first floor to the small room at the back where the scullery range stood – also the built in dresser and two built in cupboards.

            The scullery, with brick floor, also housed the copper and the back door to the garden. The copper, of stone and cement, had a round wooden lid. In an aperture underneath a fire was lit and water boiled for the family laundry. The washing was removed at length to the sink – a deep enamelled affair with teak draining board – and the clothes well rubbed and scrubbed on the washing board, then rinsed and put through the mangle. I was forbidden to touch this as my mother once badly pinched two fingers between the rollers and thought it dangerous for inexperienced hands! It lived outside the back door. Ironing was done with flat irons which were heated on the kitchen range – another danger!

            The kitchen range was a dominant edifice in this room and had to be polished with black lead twice a week. It had two ovens, a plate for warming flat irons, and kettles and pans could be boiled on top. My mother later had a gas cooker installed in the scullery. I can well remember bathing in an iron tub in front of the kitchen range when I was quite small. The tub could get quite hot and one had to sit on a towel and have another towel draped down the side of the range, as one could get seriously burnt! The kitchen was the warmest room in the house.

            In 1935 my father dismantled the kitchen range and installed an open fireplace, doing the tiling himself and fixing a polished copper canopy over the fireplace. Mother and I were staying at Redhill with Auntie Con at the time and it was a great surprise to see the new fireplace when we came home. Later during the war years my father knocked a window through the kitchen wall overlooking the basement next door, and fitted an opaque glass, and I helped him. The wall was about nine inches thick and full of flints. We sought permission from Miss Homewood to go round and clear up the mess in her basement yard. But as a result the kitchen became much lighter and some sun shone through.

            I was born in 1929 and brought up at No. 6, my grandparents living in the top floor flat and my parents and I on the ground floor.

Notes of interest:-

During my childhood I loved watching the street vendors:

1)      The lamplighter who used to cycle by with his hooked stick at dusk, to light the street lamps (gas).

2)      The muffin man who came at teatime with a great tray of crumpets, muffins and buns on his head! He would visit each house in turn.

3)      The Wall’s ice cream vendor would cycle round with a galvanised cool cabinet on the front of his bike containing pink or white ice cream, water ices etc and wafer biscuits or cones at the back.

4)      Perry’s Bakery van from Millers Road, twice a week, drawn by a horse.

5)      The knife grinder, also on a bike with sharpening wheel attached. Mother used to get her dressmaking scissors sharpened by him.

6)      Not forgetting the postman, an old friend of Mothers.

7)      Rag and bone man, with cart, monthly, calling “Rag o’ bone”.

The War Years    1939 – 1945

            Our proximity to Preston Park Station made us vulnerable. The house became a real fortress. We were especially lucky at No. 6 as we had the cellar, and we advised the authorities (whoever they were) that we should have a Morrison shelter erected down there.

            Other parts of Clermont Terrace had no cellars and we were obliged to have an Anderson shelter built in the gardens (six feet deep with corrugated roofs). Both were named after Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lab.), Home Secretary, and Sir John Anderson – joint government under Mr. Churchill.

            Our Morrison shelter was constructed of four steel corner uprights with a thick steel roof and was about the height of a large dining table. It had wire mesh panels at the side. We had mattresses and blankets in there and often slept in there at night during air raids. I got used to taking my books in there to do my homework. Low electric lighting could be used so that no light shone out onto the street, but sometimes we had to use torches and candles. We were considered lucky as there were three exits from the cellar:- 1) out of the outer door and up the back steps, 2) up the inside stairs to the kitchen, and 3) along the passage to the basement door.

            All window glass had to be taped, vertically and diagonally, as a preventative measure against smashing in the event of a bomb blast. A pile of sand was kept front and back and sandbags ready for incendiary bombs. One night one of these fell on the roof and down the front steps, cracking one, and it flared and blazed. My father was somewhere down the road at his fireman duties, so mother and I tackled it in our dressing gowns by heaping sand on it and extinguishing it.

            The second incendiary fell in the garden; the same night a bomb fell down the station chimney into the waiting room.

            We had to make blackout curtains for all the windows. Mother’s sewing machine came in very handy and woe betide you if a beam of light shone anywhere onto the street. This was patrolled by our local air raid warden (Mr. Wickham) who would beat on the front door with dire warnings to any household who showed a light.

            Each evening the station gates were locked and opened again early next morning. All during the war there were men guarding the platforms and any travellers had to show their identity cards, coming into or leaving Brighton.

            By 1943 we all realised “something was up”. We became a garrison town and, as all along the South Coast, troops and equipment were amassed for what became D-Day in June 1944.

            Any houses that which were unoccupied in Clermont Terrace, Lorne Villas and Preston Road were commandeered for the troops, in our case Canadian soldiers. I well remember some of them skiing along Clermont Terrace in the bitter snowy winter of 1943, and army tanks were parked along the road under the chestnut trees.

            We were encouraged to “dig for victory” and most of our lawn was planted with vegetables of all kinds. The old greenhouse at the top of the garden came into its own for tomatoes, cucumbers etc., and of course housed the grape vine (Black Hamburg). We already grew apples, pears and raspberries, so we benefitted a lot and my mother and I preserved all surplus crops, salting beans and peas, bottling tomatoes and fruit and making jam (when we had saved a little sugar!). Eggs were preserved in a large crockery bowl full of isinglass.

            It may be worth mentioning here some of the restrictions suffered by the citizens of Preston Park and Brighton during the war:-

A)    There was no more access to the beach. Concrete tank traps were erected all along the shingle and barbed wire fencing all along the promenade of Brighton and Hove.

B)     All the residential houses which benefitted from wrought iron railings and gates had to be prepared for them to be dismantled and requisitioned – ostensibly for the manufacture of Spitfires etc. I remember when ours were taken – hence we grew a hedge and put up a stout wooden gate. All the high fencing was taken from Preston Park Manor House and grounds, and that surrounding Preston Park – it was then open to the public in future. No more park keepers locking the gates every evening!

C)     The spare ground behind the Varndean Girls’ School, between it and Ditchling Road, was used for construction of trenches (air raid shelters). These had concrete floors, the walls were strengthened and benches installed, and there we sat during air raids, trying to do lessons and having “iron rations” of soup and biscuits if we couldn’t go home. Books and papers might be left behind, but NEVER ones gas mask (slung in a cardboard box on one’s back ).

D)    We had strict instructions on how to behave if the air raid siren went during our journey home: - proceed as quickly as possible after the siren, but if the “pips” sounded (bleeps from adjacent telegraph poles) we must lie down immediately as close to a wall as possible, for this meant enemy aircraft were overhead.

            It was during one of these enemy raids that the railway viaduct from Brighton station to Lewes was bombed near London Road, so that there was no access to the town that way for a while. Preston Village and shops were badly bombed one night – three shops and Brittain’s Garage were flattened and the baker killed. A gas main flared up in the main road and St. John’s Church was hit. It was later shored up for safety and we used it for years in that state.

            After the war things gradually got back to normal. My Grandparents, who had lived in Letchworth, Herts, with my aunt Daphne during the war returned home, and the garden was restored to its former glory. Grandma and grandpa lived happily for a few more years – Grandma dying in 1946 at the age of 81 and Grandpa in 1948 aged 87. His sister Avis died in 1956 on her 98th birthday.

            When I got married in 1954 my parents took over the first floor flat and my husband and I began some improvements to the house and interior decoration. We installed central heating and a double door thus making the hall draught-proof at long last, and with fitted carpets the old house finally became comfortable.

            The house was sold in 2003 which brought to an end a chapter in our family history which had lasted for four generations.

This page was added on 06/06/2010.
Comments about this page

My Grandmother lived around the corner in Cumberland Road at this time. Her father was the choir master at Clermont Church. She remembers putting her key in the front door just as a bomb dropped. They later found the key in the road.

By Steve Hussey
On 23/01/2013

I was delighted to read this history of 6 Clermont Terrace, as I took over as its caretaker/owner in 2003. I have often wondered about the previous owners as their traces survived the builders who 'fixed up' no 6 before I moved in. No where is this more evident than in the garden. There is an ancient pear tree; I suspect it and the other surviving fruit trees may have contributed to the war effort! The greenhouse is still standing, with mysterious iron hooks and pits in the concrete floor. Now I know about the grape vine I am tempted to have a go myself. Thank you for sharing this history of you family and their home. I hope I can add my own history one day.

By Samantha Coates
On 23/08/2013

I found this item very interesting as my family the Mowbrays used to live in 10 Cleremont Terrace. My mother sold the house in the 70s, my aunt Cis lived next door at no. 9.

By L wyatt
On 30/08/2013

I too found Mary Lilley's contribution to this website most interesting because I lived in Preston Drove during the war years. And spent many happy days in Preston Park ;my Dad even had an allotment there for a while ! Incidentally,it is comforting to see very recent comments added here. John Starley ( )

By John Starley
On 06/09/2013