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04 December 2019

Ventnor Villas, Hove.

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2019) 

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph of the west side of Ventnor Villas looking north was taken on 1 June 2019

Background

Ventnor Villas formed part of what was later known as the Upper Cliftonville development – the Cliftonville Estate being a major enterprise in Victorian Hove – see also separate page under The Cliftonville Estate for more details.

The street was named after Ventnor in the Isle of Wight because the island had caught the public imagination ever since Queen Victoria and Prince Albert built Osborne House there as a rural retreat. Hence also other Isle of Wight place names in Cliftonville – Osborne Villas and Medina Villas.

During the 1850s building work proceeded in much of Cliftonville but Ventnor Villas was a comparatively late starter. It was also the case that Ventnor plots of land were not as valuable as other Cliftonville plots south of Church Road – and they were smaller too. For example, plots in Ventnor Villas were worth around £350, while plots in Medina Villas – the most prestigious street in the development – were worth around £1,000.

Development

copyright © J.Middleton
Most of the houses in Ventnor Villas are stuccoed – Newport Lodge on the right is the exception.

The original few houses on the east side were called Ventnor Terrace and it was not until October 1879 that Hove Commissioners decided to abolish that name and re-name the whole street Ventnor Villas. The surveyor was directed to renumber the east side in order to include these houses.

The 1861 census revealed that numbers 1 to 5 were unoccupied. There were only four households in the street, and they were headed by the deputy superintendent of the Gas Works, a wine merchant, a gentlewoman, and a retired grocer.
copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums
An advert from the 1925 Brighton Season
There were two popular dancing schools
in Ventnor Villas the other one was at 
number 32

By the late 1860s building work in the street had been completed.

In 1868 William Burmester, Philip Patton Blyth, and William Champion Jones, all of Lombard Street, London, owned ten plots in Albany Villas, and four plots in Ventnor Villas. On 20 August 1868 they leased 1 Ventnor Terrace to the Honourable Ann Holland of Barnard’s Green, Great Malvern, for a period of 21 years at an annual rent of £100. On 3 September 1870 the Hon Ann disposed of the lease to Miss Jane Ellen Welham.

In October 1879 the cost of re-paving Ventnor Villas was stated to be £900-3-7d for a granite kerb, plus Purbeck stone and concrete channelling.

Petitions against the Buses

In August 1892 there were protests against the running of omnibuses through Ventnor Villas. One petition was signed by 34 residents who were ‘at a loss to understand why Ventnor Villas should be subject to such an annoyance’. Another petition was signed by twenty people and stated ‘it is scarcely necessary to point out to you that the value of property in Ventnor Villas will greatly depreciate unless this annoyance is stopped’.

The Commissioners listened to the objections and decided to ask the bus company to re-route some buses through George Street. But it seems that the bus company declined to co-operate, and buses continued to trundle down Ventnor Villas to the disgust of the inhabitants.

copyright © J.Middleton
George Gallard was worried about some young 
trees not having guards – the trees have 
flourished and are tall and straight 
 – they had a good pruning recently
In 1905 another petition was organised against buses using the road, only this time it was motor buses rather than the horse-drawn variety that provoked strong feelings from the residents. There must have been complaints about the vibration the motor buses caused. The bus company replied that vibration was not the fault of their motor buses and laid the blame on the bad condition of the road surface, which they understood would shortly be replaced by wood blocks. Meanwhile, the bus company received permission to run the eastern route through Norton Road, while the horse bus was relegated to Tisbury Road.

House Notes

Number 3 – George Gallard (1809-1889) lived in this house, having previously lived in Albany Villas in 1861. Gallard was born in Brighton, son of a builder and speculator. He certainly followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming the prime mover behind the development of Cliftonville. While still living in Ventnor Villas, he purchased the site on which Medina Terrace was built, plus the Medina sea wall, and in 1873 he purchased over14 acres from the Stanford Estate. He also built the Exchange pub, the brewery at the top of Osborne Villas, and the local waterworks that supplied Cliftonville. In July 1873 Gallard complained to the Hove Commissioners that a great many trees in Ventnor Villas had not been provided with supports, and he offered to pay the costs of supporting those trees opposite his house. 

   copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
1875 advert from the Brighton Herald

Number 6 - Jenny Julia Eleanor Marx the daughter of Karl Marx was a tenant in this house in 1873 while working as a teacher at Misses Hall's school in Sussex Square, Brighton.

copyright © J.Middleton
 The author J. A. T. Lloyd once lived at mumber 17

Number 17 – Author and journalist J. A. T. Lloyd once occupied this house. He wrote fiction and critical biography, including a melodramatic study of Edgar Allen Poe in 1931, and a book on Turgenev published in 1943. He died aged 85 in September 1956.

copyright © J.Middleton
Numbers 18 & 19 were occupied by members of 
the Spong and Scott families for many years 
Numbers 18 &19 – In 1875 Revd Ambrose Spong, the minister of the Cliftonville Congregational Church, and his bride set up home in number 19. The house was the gift of the bride’s father, James Ireland, who, with his brother Sam, owned five houses in Ventnor Villas (numbers 16 to 20). 

James Ireland was once Mayor of Brighton, and when he died in 1877, his widow came to live next door to her daughter and son-in-law at number 18. Communication doors between the two properties were made on each floor. There was a billiard room in the basement of number 18, and the minister had his study in the front room of the ground floor. Domestic staff occupied the top floors but they had their own sitting room in the basement of number 19.

The domestic staff consisted of a cook, a nurse, and two maids. Ann Laker was the cook – she was born in 1856 and had not moved far from her birthplace, which was Beach Cottages, built on Hove beach, south of the coast road. Amy Cowdray was the nurse, and she had previously been employed in the house of the Stent family near Warminster. Lottie was the parlour maid.

The daughter of the house, Winifred Spong, married Hugh Scott, son of Hove’s Borough Surveyor, Hugh Hamilton Scott, who had an impressive 42 years of service to Hove, having started off with the Hove Commissioners in the1880s.

Revd and Mrs Spong in around 1890
(From Memoir of the Rev Ambrose D. Spong)

 The Scott family attended Cliftonville Congregational Church, and Hugh Scott was captain of the Boys’ Brigade. Hugh Scott and his brother Robert attended Hove High School in Clarendon Villas. Unhappily, both brothers were killed in the First World War, with Winifred being widowed in 1917. But she continued to live in Ventnor Villas until 1960. Revd Ambrose Spong died in 1912, and his widow died in 1915, Eventually, the two properties were separated.

copyright © J.Middleton
Gladys Toye held dancing classes here, 
attended by the young Ida Lupino

Number 32 – In the 1920s Gladys Toye ran a Dance School in this house. 
copyright © J.Middleton
Ida Lupino

A famous pupil was Ida Lupino (1914-1995) who lived in Hove for around five years while her father, Stanley Lupino, was in the States, and she attended a school called Clarence House at 4 Norman Road, Hove. 

Ida Lupino made several films in Britain before leaving for Hollywood where she became a major star. But she is also remembered today because she became a noted film director at a time when this was a very unusual career move – indeed there had been only one female director before Ida Lupino came on the scene.

Number 39 – Keen sportsman Billy Keen lived in this house for around twenty years. Billy’s grandfather was W. Keen who played cricket for Sussex. It is claimed that from 1885 until 1927 Billy Keen rarely missed a match at the Sussex County Cricket Ground. Billy was also a fine golfer, and was honorary secretary of the Southdown Hunt.

copyright © J.Middleton
Billy Keen loved sport and lived at number 39

He was a popular figure in the local community. He died at the age of 77 on 2 October 1928 and his funeral service at St Barnabas Church was well attended. There were several eminent people in the congregation including the Marquess of Abergavenny, Lady Eva de Paravicini, Alderman C. Thomas-Stanford, Major Robert Woodhouse, plus three members of the Sassoon family – David Sassoon, Mrs Hyeem, and Lady Boyle. Billy was buried in Hove Cemetery.

Number 45 – in September 1888 it was reported to the authorities that there was no proper water supply to the privy at this house.
In 1905 planning permission was given to convert the house into flats.

copyright © J.Middleton
These two houses started off as being separate 
accommodation, but in 1907 planning permissions
 was granted to create flats in both of them

Number 46 – From 1885 to 1888 Mrs Atkins ran Windsor College, a school for ladies, in this house.
In November 1907 A. H. Lainson on behalf of B. Marks received planning permission to convert numbers 45 and 46 into flats.

Clinftonville Congregational Church

copyright © J.Middleton
Cliftonville Congregational Church is now the United Reformed Church

In 1823 some people connected with the Union Street Chapel in Brighton, attempted to form a Sunday School at Hove. They met in an outhouse provided by John Vallance who was a deacon at the Union Street Chapel. Prayer meetings were also held there. But in 1833 the group ran into difficulties when John Vallance died. Eventually twelve people pooled their resources and purchased a piece of land for £380 in the ‘new town of Cliftonville’.

The first building to be erected was for the Sunday School, and this opened in 1861. It was also used as temporary accommodation for worship. The Cliftonville Congregational Church was officially formed on 13 August 1863.

 copyright © Robert Jeeves of Step Back in Time
This marvellous photograph was taken on 14 June 1911 and shows the members of Brighton & Hove Women’s Liberal Association all ready for their outing. Note the small ladder the ladies had to clamber up in order get in the wagon. The church hall in the background has been in use since 1861 and remains to this day.

The next building to be erected was the church, which opened in 1870. It cost £2,667, and was the only non-conformist church in the area for a number of years.
 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
An article from the Brighton Herald of 21 November 1907,
the Church's Ventnor Hall was used by a local debating
society and events such as the above were staged.
Dr Spong was an advocate for 'Votes for Women' but
disapproved of the militant methods the
Suffragettes used to achieve their aims

The large grey stones of the fabric was in complete contrast to the red-brick Gothic Holy Trinity, almost opposite, constructed three years earlier.

Architect

The architect of the Cliftonville Congregational Church is usually credited to H. N. Goulty. However, it is interesting to note that when Thomas Lainson, the well-known local architect, wrote his application to join RIBA dated 12 February 1875, he claimed to have constructed Cliftonville Congregational Church.

Whoever was responsible for the building, it seems the workmanship was not of the highest standard. As Revd A. D. Spong once remarked they had inherited a church of ‘very imperfect construction’. Indeed, just seven years after the church was opened, some £100 had to be expended on repairs and improvements.

The church re-opened on 6 November 1878. Even after that work was completed, not all the deficiencies had been met. Revd Spong also stated that every year between £30 or £40 needed to be spent on maintenance, but he hoped that the situation would improve.

Furnishings

The Old Pulpit.
 (From Memoir of Rev Ambrose D. Spong)

The church was embellished with a rather grand and large pulpit, and there was a sounding board above to assist the congregation in hearing all the words of the sermon.
 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
The sad announcement in the Brighton Herald 26 May 1917
of the deaths in action of two of Mr H.H. Scott's sons

In addition the pulpit was decked out in red velvet and brass ornaments. The next pulpit was designed by Robert Scott, son of Hugh Hamilton Scott, Hove’s Borough Surveyor. Tragically, Robert Scott was killed in action in 1917 during the First World War.

In the early days musical accompaniment was provided by a harmonium placed next to the communion table. Then in 1874 a gallery was installed to hold an organ.

There is a stained-glass window behind the pulpit to commemorate the first minister at the church, Revd James Hill (1863-1866).

Congregation

The congregation numbers continued to flourish. In 1878 the Sunday School catered for 315 children and there were nineteen teachers; there were 150 members of the Band of Hope, a temperance organisation; Bible classes could boast of 40 young women and 36 men – naturally the sessions were held separately.

For older members there was a mothers’ meeting, and a literature circulation society. Sunday services were well attended.

Youth Organisations

In 1899 the 10th Brighton (Hove) Company of the Boys’ Brigade was formed. In 1999 it celebrated its 100th anniversary with an exhibition of photographs and memorabilia in Ventnor Hall.

In February 1907 the 1st Hove Company Girls’ Brigade was formed at the Rutland Hall. In February 1987 the Girls’ Brigade celebrated its 80th birthday, and Lady Coggan came to give a talk in the church. She was the national president of the Girls’ Brigade and the wife of the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

Extensions

More improvements were carried out in 1881 when some classrooms and the frontage to the Lecture Hall were erected at a cost of £900.

 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
An advert from the Brighton Herald 21 November 1911

In 1928 new heating and lighting were installed and there were extensive alterations. The small hall was given a separate entrance from Ventnor Villas, and a badminton court was marked out.

In 1935 it was stated that the church could seat 500 people, the large hall could accommodate 300, while the small hall could host 80 people.

In 1953 more repairs were carried out. New floors were laid in both halls, while the organ was given a complete overhaul.

Revd Ambrose Spong (1843-1912)
copyright © Kent & Lacey
Revd Ambrose Spong (1843-1912)

A separate mention must be made of the above gentleman who was a towering figure in his time. He was also the minister of Cliftonville Congregational Church from 1872 to 1908. He was born into the church, so to speak, because his father was also a minister.

Revd Ambrose Spong was tireless in public work as well as in his ministry. When the Hove School Board was formed in 1876 he became a member, and later on became chairman of the Higher Education Committee. He always took a great interest in education, and his father-in-law, Alderman Ireland, was one of the founders of Brighton Grammar School. When Ireland died, the Spongs provided an annual scholarship to this establishment, which was known as ‘the Ireland’ in his memory.

For some years Revd Spong conducted Scripture examinations in the local schools together with Church of England clergymen. Revd Spong was chairman of the Hove Free Church Council, and was the recognised representative of the Free Churches at all local functions.

He was a great advocate of the temperance movement, and appeared regularly at the Licensing Bench to oppose the granting of new licences.

Revd Spong was one of the originators of the Hove Club, and was largely instrumental in establishing the annual Hove Flower Show and Industrial Exhibition, which started off in the church hall but became so popular that Hove Town Hall had to be hired for the occasion.

The manner of Revd Spong’s death was entirely in keeping with his lifestyle. Although retired, he preached at the Wesleyan Church in Portland Road on Christmas Day 1912, taking as his text the very same one he had used when he preached his first sermon at the age of sixteen at Shoreditch Workhouse – it was ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son’. After the service he hurried to Hove Hospital where he shared dinner with the patients. Then duty done, he returned home to Christmas dinner with his family around him. Not long afterwards, he suffered a heart attack and died the same evening.

 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
A photograph from the Brighton Herald of 27 February 1915
The Communion Table, Table Rails and Oak Chairs were given
in memory of the Revd Ambrose Spong and Mrs Caroline Spong

His funeral took place on 30 December 1912, and there was a massive attendance. As the Brighton Herald put it ‘Rarely have the people of Hove been moved to such a touching expression of their grief as they were on this occasion – the interment of one who had lived and worked among them for 40 years, carrying the spirit of goodwill and loving service wherever he went.’

He was buried in Hove Cemetery, north of the chapels, and so was his wife Caroline (1846-1915). The memorial takes the shape of a Celtic cross.

Recent Times

During the Second World War Ventnor Hall was utilised as a Services’ Canteen.

In the 1970s the Congregational and Presbyterian churches merged, and the United Reformed Church was founded on 5 October 1972.

At Hove there were further talks of a merger when it was decided that St Cuthbert’s Church (Presbyterian) and Cliftonville Congregational Church ought to use one building for worship rather than maintain the expense of two buildings. Thus a ballot was held to decide the matter. Cliftonville was chosen by 91 votes to 51, and St Cuthbert’s was demolished. One of the reasons for retaining Cliftonville was because of its central position, as well as its strong involvement in youth work.

The money derived from the sale of the St Cuthbert’s site was intended to be sufficient to pay for all the necessary improvements to Cliftonville. Perhaps this was just a forlorn hope because in actual fact the final bill came to something like three times as much.

Since Cliftonville had a lofty ceiling, and absolutely no spare land, it was decided to install an extra floor. The first floor became the church, while the ground floor was converted into a hall, committee rooms, conveniences etc. In the church part, the windows were at floor level, and so a preventive guard was placed inside in order to prevent the possibility of an accident. There were comfortable, moveable chairs, a microphone for the pastor, a loop system for the deaf, and a carpeted sanctuary area with enough space for an electronic organ and choir. A novel innovation was the installation of a hydraulic lift that meant elderly people who could not manage steps could ascend with ease, and it was also the case that coffins could be raised to church level with dignity. The old pews were sold off. These alterations took place in 1986. Cliftonville still retained the original hall next door because of the youth organisations and Sunday School, and there were around 200 children in organisations connected to the church.

Revd Brian Stone grew up in Portslade and was pastor at the United Reformed Church for fourteen years. When he left in 1994 there was an interregnum lasting three years.

Pastors

1883-1866 - Revd J. Hill
1866-1871 - Revd S. England
1872-1908 - Revd A. D. Spong
1908-1911 - Revd W. E. Cooke
1912-1920 - Revd H. Ross Williamson
1920-1921 - Revd. A Cowe
1922-1927 - Revd H. F. Lovell Cocks
1928-1945 - Revd Stanley I. Blomfield
1946-1951 - Revd Wilson Bridge
1953-1967 - Revd T. H. Mather
1968-1979 - Revd Richard Harold Jolly
1980-1994 - Revd Brian Sadler Stone
1997 - Revd Peter J. D. Elliott
2012 ? - Revd Alex Mabbs
2015 - Revd Sue Chapman

Sources

Argus
Brighton Herald
Census Returns
Central United Reformed Church Magazines (March 1981 / April 1981)
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Hove Council Minute Books
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Scott, Tony A Century at 19 Ventnor Villas (1975) extract from a church magazine
Sussex Herald
Williamson, H. Ross Memoir of the Rev Ambrose D. Spong (1913)

Copyright © J.Middleton 2019
page layout by D.Sharp