12 January 2016

St John's Road, Hove

Judy Middleton (2002 revised 2014)

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken on 31 July 2014 and shows a corner of St John’s Church and next to it the place once occupied by Edward P. Prestwich’s garage and showroom.
This small, interesting street was originally known as Palmeira Mews Road. It was a logical name because the area was meant to cater for the coaches and horses belonging to the grand folk occupying Palmeira Square and Palmeira Mansions. The 1861 census recorded numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5 as being unoccupied while there were coachmen and their families living at numbers 1 and 6; there were seven servants living in other properties.

It is interesting to note the road forms the westernmost boundary of what was once the Wick Estate, which later became the Goldsmid Estate. All property transactions of the Goldsmid Estate involved the tenant for life – that is the Goldsmid heir and trustees. Even in 1907 most of the property in the road continued to be owned by the estate including numbers 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 20, 22, 25, 27 and 37. The next road to the west – First Avenue – was built on land once belonging to the Stanford Estate.

On 17 September 1891 Arthur William Mason purchased a piece of land in Palmeira Mews Road for £720 on which to erect stabling, including a coach-house and living quarters for the grooms. Country Life (29 October 1987) printed a photograph taken by Bedford Lemère in 1893 of the luxurious stables belonging to Mr Mason. The stalls appear to be constructed of cast-iron with a solid panel at floor level and a pierced screen higher up. A decorated pillar bounded each stall opening and featured a criss-cross design surmounted with a large, shining ball. The ceiling was also highly decorated with an alternate diamond and roundel motif. Later on Mr Mason had his stables converted into garages to hold his fleet of fine cars consisting of two Rolls-Royces and a Daimler. It hardly needs to be stated that A.W. Mason was wealthy, having made a fortune out of the family ink manufacturing business. He lived in considerable style at Palmeira Mansions in a house that is one of the hidden wonders of Hove to this day. It is filled with marble of different hues, stained glass windows, beautiful fireplaces of elaborate design (all different) with colourful tiles; there is even a golden embossed ceiling.

By the time of the Great War the conversion of stables into garages was well under way. The Daimler Motor Company was one of the first garages in the road and was established at number 22B by 1911. In the same year Parsons & Son installed a glass roof at the Daimler Garage.

 copyright © J.Middleton
One of the older buildings in St John’s Road is shown in this photograph. Note the ‘doorway’ in the upper storey. This meant it probably served as an entry point to a hayloft where bales of hay were swung up for the use of horses in the mews
Patrick Cronin founded his motor business in 1912; his grandson Simon Cronin and fellow director Christopher Yates-Smith were still in operation there in 1983.

In 1913 number 10 was converted from stables to garage and in 1914 number 12 followed suit. Also in 1914 number 1 was converted from a coach-house to a garage. 

It is interesting to note that several businesses had permission from Hove Council to store petroleum at their premises. The Daimler Motor Company was the first to apply and was allowed to store 200 gallons from 1913. The granting of petrol licences lapsed from 1916 owing to the wartime situation but by 1919 companies needed to re-apply. Edward Percival Prestwich at number 22B applied to store 22 gallons and David Edward Deer at number 22 opted for 72 gallons. Business must have been good for E.P. Prestwich, motor engineer, because by 1920 he wished to store 1, 250 gallons at his more spacious premises at number 26.

 copyright © Hove Library
It is possible this photograph dates back to the 1920s. Note the ornate gold lettering proclaiming Edward P. Prestwich, which harks back to the style of lettering favoured in Edwardian times. There are ornate iron gates at the side. The business dealt in makes of cars such as Humber, Austin, Morris, Armstrong, Citroen, Essex and Buick.The number plate of the car in front of the premises is PH 6772.
 copyright © Hove Library
This photograph dates from the 1930s with more up-to-date lettering visible. Note the petrol pumps. Further down the road is the Vauxhall Service Station.
copyright © Hove Library
This impressive showroom reveals fascinating details besides the cars. The ornate skylight and elaborate pendant lamp are worthy of note. Rearing horses decorate the lamp and there is a large horseshoe as well. It seems probable that such rich details originated in the stables or coach house belonging to the wealthy Arthur William Mason, which were built in the 1890s. The two older men prefer the comfort of a double-breasted suit while the young man opts for a snappier, single-breasted style.  Photo on the Right:- The pendant lamp appears in close-up in this view. There are also more details of the decoration adorning the part below the skylight including more horses and a classical theme.

Other motor engineers who stored petrol on their premises during the 1920s were

Henry Alexander Dye of numbers 8 and 10
Rogers & Wallis of number 4
Mark Phillip Stoneham of 22a
Fletcher & Co of number 6
Baxley’s Garage of number 27
Patrick John Cronin, taxi proprietor, of number 1.

By 1925 Hove Council was becoming stricter in the way petrol was stored. For example, Mr Stoneham was obliged to keep his petrol in three cylindrical steel tanks, each with a capacity of 300 gallons, to be placed two feet underground in the private forecourt. 

Businesses Associated with Cars in 1931 in St John’s Road

The following details are extracted from the Directory for 1931/1932 – the even numbers relate to the west side and the uneven numbers to the east side.

1. P. Cronin, taxi proprietor
11. St John’s Garage, J.T. Smith, proprietor
13. The Naval Garage, Walter Kibble
17. Stonehams (Hove) Ltd, auto engineers, G. Steele
25. P. Cronin, taxi proprietor
27. D.M. Basley, garage
      Stonehams (Hove) Ltd, auto engineers, E. Bishop

6.  W.A. Fletcher & Co, taxi cab proprietor
8-10. St John’s Garage, taxi proprietors
18. C. & D. Smith, taxi cab proprietors
22a. Stonehams (Hove) Ltd, auto engineers, M.P. Stoneham
22b. Edward P. Prestwich & Co, repair works, Robert Kiddle
26-28 Edward P.Prestwich

Prestwich maintained a presence in the road for many years although not in such extensive circumstances in later years. By 1974 they occupied number 28 and were described as motor car agents.

copyright © Hove Library
Photo Left:- It seems incongruous that a man wearing a drab, brown overall to wash a car should be wearing a pair of highly polished shoes. The car’s number plate DUL 436 is reflected in the pool of water. Notices carry instructions as to procedures when using the petrol pumps. The engine must be switched off and there must be no smoking. A product advertised was Avery Hardoll / Cleveland Discol British Motor Alcohol Spirit.
Photo Right:- The central car in this photograph has the number plate DCD 824. The next car with the number plate AYK 197 looks as though it is positioned over a brick-built inspection pit. A young man with neatly parted hair leans over this car. In the background there is a barn-type door that conjures up its old use as a stables. 
copyright © Hove Library
The central car is a Humber ‘Snipe’ Imperial priced at £495 while to the left is a Humber ‘Snipe’ Saloon priced at £345. The Humber ‘Snipe’ four-door saloon car was introduced in 1930. At the back there is a notice advertising the new Hillman 14. The Hillman 14 was first produced in 1925 and it continued in production until 1930. 

Second World War 
St John’s Road received the attention of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. On 7thNovember 1940 two incendiary bombs were dropped on the road and Cromwell Road but apparently there was no damage. On 14 June 1941 four high-explosive bombs fell on St John’s Road, Western Road, First Avenue and Kingsway. One person was killed and there was severe damage to property, gas mains, sewers and cables.

The 1960s and 1970s

  copyright © Hove Library
This Polaroid snapshot dates back to around 1970 and shows
 Mansfield’s Garage at number 22a on the right. 
It has since been demolished and replaced by housing.
In the 1960s the garage business located at number 22a was called Mansfield’s and they were the main Vauxhall / Bedford Agents; they closed down in around 1971.

The next business to occupy the premises was called Alpha Servicing. David Hart was the sleeping partner in this enterprise and he had another iron in the fire because he was also involved with Alpha Coaches that operated from Patcham.

Michael Bravery and his brother Keith Bravery ran Alpha Servicing from 1971 to 2008. What happened next was that the landlord informed them he had sold the whole site and there was no option but to leave. The premises were re-developed into housing and business units.

The 1980s

In August 1982, film-maker John Norris of St John’s Road received a grant of £4,000 from South East Arts to help production costs of an experimental film entitles Our Trip to the Zoo.

In 1983 it was claimed St John’s Road was still the place to visit for anything to do with cars or motoring. Cronin’s were Renault specialists and they had a new Dancia Denem franchise.

J. Shepherd & Sons (Hove) had been operating from the road for twenty years. In 1983 John Shepherd and sons Alan and Brent ran the firm and they had been Honda specialists for twelve years. The company was building a new showroom to display twenty cars.

By 1983 Coulson Motors Ltd had been in St John’s Road for 25 years and Carston ‘Colly’ Coulson and his wife Margaret were joint directors. Their son Howard worked for the family business too.

Tyreservices GB Ltd also operated in the road in 1983. Alan Ramsay managed the business, which was open seven days a week. The owners were Goodyear Tyre & Rubber Company, and B & E Services, a car repair firm. Partners Barry Williams and Rick Martin set up the latter business in 1982.

In May 1988, Sleeping Beauty Antique Beds of Church Road, Hove leased number 22b for twelve years at £15,000 a year. The premises were to be used as workshops and covered an area of 4,445 square feet. 

Recent Times

By January 1990 it was clear the road was becoming more residential when seven luxury flats were put on sale at £15,000 each. Each unit consisted of two bedrooms, two bathrooms, dressing room, study, large west-facing lounge, small balcony, garage and studio at the rear.

In April 2001, owners of small businesses in St John’s Road were worried because their road was included in a new parking controlled zone. They wanted special permits in order to be able to park in bays reserved for residents’ use. But the council refused because they said the parking bays were already over-subscribed. Dave Northcliff, who ran Modern Welding in the road for the previous twenty years, said that if customers were unable to park, they would not bother to visit. He was convinced the council wanted all the little workshops to move away so that St John’s Road could be turned into pleasant little houses for people who go everywhere by bus. 

By 2002 there was a range of nine houses on the east side and seven on the west side; all with similar gables and a round window. At the top on the west side there remained a high garden wall topped with six terracotta urns; the garden belonged to 34 First Avenue.

In April 2002, Sympatico Design & Restoration unveiled an ambitious new plan. Its innovative design utilised 230 square feet of curved glass to span the unequal distance between two rows of houses. The interior was ultra-modern with kitchen worktops of black marble from Zimbabwe, recessed lights throughout and a purpose-built staircase of white oak, stainless steel risers and a glass balustrade. The house cost £450,000 and was sold to its first viewer. The men behind Sympatico were Guy Hughes (designer) Paul Evans (builder) and Steve Crooke (carpenter).

 copyright © J.Middleton
The view looking north to St John’s Church provides an evolving townscape. Note the new housing units changing 
the use of road from garages and workshops that were established in a former mews.

Donald Peers (Rhys Howard) 1908-1973
The famous singer Donald Peers lived at 9 St John’s Road from 1963 to 1969.

He was born on 10 July 1908 at Ammanford, Wales. His father was a colliery worker and a leading member of the Plymouth Brethren. His family expected Donald to pursue a career as a schoolteacher but he did not relish the idea. When he left home, he earned his living as a house painter.

While working at Aldershot he entered and won a Fred Karno talent contest and this set him on a career as a singer. In 1927 he felt confident enough to turn professional and in the same year he made his first BBC broadcast singing In a Shady Nook (by a babbling brook), which became one of his most famous songs.

His first London appearance took place in 1929 and in 1933 he was on the BBC’s Music Hall programme. This paved the way for his first recording with HMV.

It must have been a matter of some regret to Peers when he became famous because his father still refused to enter a theatre due to his strong religious beliefs, not even to hear his own son sing.

During the Second World War Peers served in the Royal Army Service Corps but in 1944 he was invalided out.

He went on to have his own radio show The Cavalier of Song while his one-man show was staged at the London Palladium and the Royal Albert Hall. He also had a TV series and made several films including Sing along with Me. His other famous songs are Powder your Face with Sunshine, Lavender Blue and Far Away Places.

In 1968 he enjoyed a comeback when his song Please Don’t Go was in the top ten while in 1971 Give Me One More Chance was a success.

Donald Peers died in 1973 and his funeral was held at the Downs Crematorium, Brighton on 15th August. Ronald Horne drove the hearse and he said Peers was so popular it took half-an-hour to unload all the floral tributes. Several celebrities attended the funeral including Vera Lynn.  

Census Returns
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Hove Council Minutes
Information about number 22a from Michael Bravery

Copyright © J.Middleton 2014
page layout by D.Sharp