05 November 2016

Police Seaside Home, Hove.

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2016)

copyright © J.Middleton
This postcard dates from 1906 and already the sea view is lost to residents of the Home.

The official name was rather a mouthful – the Convalescent Police Seaside Home. But it has its name in history because it was the first such establishment in the entire kingdom.

Three Ladies and Clarendon Villas

  copyright ©  Royal Pavilion 
& Museums, Brighton & Hove
Countess of Chichester
Patron of the 
Police Seaside Home
Catherine Gurney was interested in police welfare and the idea of a Home was her brainchild. The need for such an institution was brought to her attention when she heard of a policeman admitted to an ordinary convalescent home who found a criminal he had once arrested in the next bed. The policeman’s peace of mind was shattered and he promptly discharged himself.

Two other women helped the idea come to fruition: May Griffin found the original house to rent and Miss Bell provided £500 to pay the rent for three years.

The first home was at 51 Clarendon Villas and the Countess of Chichester opened it in 1890. Also living at the Home were three orphans of police constables who attended Holy Trinity church every Sunday and were said to be making satisfactory progress at school.

After two years it was realised the house was too small for the Home’s needs. There were sixteen police officers sleeping in the Home with a further sixteen boarded out.

A New Home

It was decided that a purpose-built Home was the answer but it was a real leap of faith to undertake such a project and trust the money would roll in. Catherine Gurney, May Griffin and Miss Bell were all staunch Christians and believed that if the need for such a Home were genuine then the money would follow. For instance, they had no hesitation in dismissing a scheme put forward by a local dignitary to cash in on the fact that H.R.H. Princess Christian had agreed to lay a memorial stone at the Home. The dignitary wanted an important banquet to take place at Hove Town Hall afterwards but the three ladies deemed it unsuitable.

Miss Bell provided £2,025 for the building fund and there were many small donations including one shilling from a policeman’s daughter, sent because ‘father got well at the Home’.

Just when the situation seemed desperate, out of the blue a scented pink envelope arrived. It was from Henry Whiting of Lavender Hill and he enclosed a cheque for £3,000.  
The architect was J.G. Gibbens and councillors approved his plans in 1892. The structure was a huge red brick building with gables and tall chimneys and an imposing entrance. The well-known and philanthropic builder William Willett put it up at cost price, thus foregoing any profit, because it was for a good cause. The landowner also had the decency to knock £70 off the original asking price.

 copyright © D. Sharp
Princess Christian (Helena) was the fifth child of Queen Victoria & Prince Albert

Princess Christian laid the foundation stone on 29 October 1892 and the Countess of Chichester opened the Home on 21 July 1893. The Countess was a patron of the Home and there was a steady flow of goods from Stanmer Park. The fruit included grapes, peaches and strawberries while other produce included eggs, hares, rabbits and even a duck or two.

 copyright © J.Middleton
The Duke & Duchess of York, later to become
King George & Queen Mary, visited the 
Police Seaside Home on 10 April 1896 
as part of their two day official tour of 
Brighton & Hove
The general public were also generous and every Annual Report featured a detailed list of money donations as well as a whole range of gifts. The latter included such items as a patchwork quilt, a hand-painted improving text for the hall, one whatnot, four rose bushes, two brass door-plates (engraved) and a quantity of books and periodicals. In 1903 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle donated a book. At Christmas time local traders sent gifts of provisions.

The final cost of establishing the Home came to £9,210-7s-9d and the total included the making-up and lighting of the adjacent length of road. It seems astonishing that in the Annual Report 1894-1895 the Building Fund debt only came to £300. But even that amount was a cause for concern and there was an earnest appeal for it to be wiped out speedily because it was costing the management 4½% interest. Then the Home could be declared free of debt ‘to the glory of God and the good of the Police Forces’. Collecting boxes were distributed throughout the country. There was a scheme for policeman willing to pay one shilling a year called the Visitor’s Voluntary Fund.

At the time the Home was built it was claimed to be in a charming position ‘at present open to the sea’. The fresh air and sea breezes were thought to do wonders for the convalescents. When you consider the majority of patients came from the Metropolitan Police who had to endure the notorious London fogs, it was probably true. Not surprisingly there were many cases of bronchitis and a severe influenza epidemic in 1895 led to between 50 and 60 men being at the Home at one time.

  copyright © J.Middleton
It seems probable that most of the decorative items in the visitors’ sitting room would have been donations. 
Note the gramophone with its horn like a giant bindweed convolvulus flower.

Some reasons for arriving at the Home were more dramatic. For instance, over the years several officers came to recover from injuries received by trying to stop runaway horses. In 1892 one young constable arrived after he had contracted a severe chill brought on by rescuing two children from drowning, for which he received a Humane Society Medal.

copyright © J.Middleton
The dining room at the Home might well be thought a boring postcard but this would have been elegant dining for some constables from deprived backgrounds. The view was posted on 27 August 1908 with the briefest of messages ‘Arrived safe and well, Dad’ but no doubt his daughter living in Lambeth Walk was happy to receive it.

There were many cases of assault during the performance of duty. Perhaps the saddest case was that of a detective officer, mentioned in the 1902 report, who was blinded in one eye by a woman’s hat-pin at an anarchist meeting. This man spent several weeks at Hove to the benefit of his general health but due to the beating-up he was subject to after the stabbing, his other eye was virtually useless too.

An additional cause of stress was mentioned in the 1913 report. ‘The enormous number of motors of every description in the streets, increase the heavy burden of responsibility upon the Police.’

copyright © J.Middleton
At first glance these two postcards look identical but they were not taken at the same time (note the slight difference in the open windows) and there are different people. The first one was posted in 1908 from Jack Flynn to his parents at Newport Dwellings, Shaftesbury Avenue ‘Just a line or two to let you know that I am getting along alright’.
The second postcard was sent by Ezra Hill to Willie King at Abbey Wood, Kent ‘I am pleased to tell I am doing first rate’.

In those days a policeman had to work for a stretch of fourteen days without a break, either on day duty or night duty. During the summer policemen were allowed to spend their annual leave at the Home, provided there was not a heavy demand for beds. But whether visitors or convalescents, the men still had to abide by the rules, number 5 of which stated: ‘It is earnestly hoped that no visitor enter a public house during his stay at the Home.’ This wording dates from 1891; later on the ‘earnestly hoped’ was dropped for the sterner ‘it is expected’. There was also a curfew but in the summer during annual leave visitors were granted an extra hour and did not have to return until 10 p.m.

copyright © J.Middleton
This was the Henry Whiting Ward at the Home with a rather stern-looking nurse. The postcard was sent on 3 June 1913 to Dolly Algar in Rochester, Kent from her Dad. He said ‘This is where I have to go to get my throat painted. You would like to see this place, it is lovely in fine weather like we are getting now.’

The Great War

 copyright © J.Middleton
This view of the Police Seaside Home was posted on 25 July 1914. The message ran as follows: ‘I was sorry to hear it was wet for the school treat, very disappointing for the children… Am pleased to say that I am going on all right.’

In 1925 the Home’s committee decided to place 25 beds at the disposal of the War Office for the sick, wounded or convalescent, with preference for police reservists or volunteers from police forces.

But by 1916 military authorities said it was becoming too difficult to sort out men returning from the front into different categories. The committee therefore decided to set twenty beds aside for any wounded men. They came from Canada, South Africa and Australia, as well as from all parts of the United Kingdom.

In 1919 the Auxiliary Military Hospital part of the Home closed down.

All together some 544 military and Naval patients had been admitted to the Home during the war, 40 of them free of charge. Out of theses, there were 67 cases of shellshock plus malaria, trench fever and various wounds.

copyright © J.Middleton
The postcard was captioned ‘A corner of the Surgery, Convalescent Police Home’ and looks forbidding enough to send anybody’s blood pressure soaring.

Post War

The 1921 report stated that since the Home’s inception, 23,914 men had been received.

The Metropolitan Police provided extra amusements for men at the Home, including a billiard table. In 1925 they donated a wireless set, together with nine headphones for use in the dayroom and more headphones for each bed in the sick-room.

A Move from Hove

 copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph dates from 2009 and shows what a remarkable builder William Willett was because the building looks as though it is in a robust health. Today it goes under the name of Middleton Grove.

The Home in Portland Road continued in active use by the police until the 1960s. Then it was decided to construct a new Home at 205 Kingsway, Hove. Of course by then the sea view from Portland Road had long been blocked by housing while the new home was right on the seafront. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother officially opened the new Police Seaside Home in 1966.
 copyright © D. Sharp
The former Police Seaside Home in Portland Road
is now the 'Middleton Grove' residential care home

Meanwhile, in December 1966 East Sussex County Council purchased the old one in Portland Road and social services used it for the care of the elderly.

The new Home at Kingsway had 44 beds and it was in operation for 22 years. By 1987 some 759 officers had been treated there with the average length of stay being twelve days.

The Kingsway Home closed on 18 June 1988 because a new Home had been opened at Goring-on-Thames, Berkshire. It cost £735,000 with £3 million spent on refurbishment. The Queen Mother officially opened it earlier on in June 1988.

Thus a link with Hove extending over a period of 98 years was broken. Peter Wood was superintendent of the Kingsway Home for the last eight years of its life but neither he nor any of the other 27 staff moved to Berkshire.

The Kingsway Home re-opened a year later as the Excelsior Hotel.


Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Middleton, Judy A History of Hove (1979) 

Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
page layout by D.Sharp