12 January 2016

Hove Lagoon

Judy Middleton (2002 revised 2022)

copyright © J.Middleton
This view looks north over Hove Lagoon and was taken on 28 April 2009.

Hove Commissioners acquired the land that became the Western Lawns, including the site of the Lagoon, on 25 March 1895. It sounds a simple enough transaction but it was not because the conveyance was subject to the rights of the Lord of Lancing Manor, who at this juncture owned the foreshore west of Wish Post in Aldrington. The root of this anomaly went back to the 18th century when the River Adur entered the sea at the place called The Wish in Aldrington and the rights of the Lord of the manor extended along the riverbank. Although the Shoreham Commissioners made a new cut to the sea in 1760 and the east part of the riverbed gradually silted up, the old rights remained. In 1895 it was assumed the rights only applied to the foreshore and had nothing to do with the lagoon area. This assumption was not tested for many years because the Lagoon was allowed to stay in its natural state.

 copyright © J.Middleton
Boating on the small Lagoon on the 15 July 2018

Legal Wrangle

Paget Baxter, whose business address was 6A Tudor Street, Temple, London, was responsible for building the expensive houses on Aldrington Beach, known in those days as Hove Seaside Villas but today are numbered in Western Esplanade; they are known popularly as Millionaire’s Row. On 23 October 1914 Paget Baxter agreed to transfer to Hove Council all rights and interest in the foreshore of the Lagoon subject only to retaining the right to place boats or canoes on the Lagoon for his own use.

copyright © J.Middleton
Paget Baxter was responsible for the building of these houses. He also had legal rights over the Lagoon.

Hove Council naturally assumed the way was clear and started to develop the area. But in 1923 Mr Baxter acquired the rights of Lord of the Manor and suddenly asserted he had rights over the Lagoon too. After taking the opinion of Counsel, all work was halted while Hove Council’s solicitors entered into long and tedious negotiations with Mr Baxter to acquire the rights. The matter was not finally settled until 1927 when on 27 February of that year the battle was won at last and Hove Council acquired the rights over the Lagoon.

A Slow Development

On 31 May 1900 Mr A. Nye wrote a letter suggesting that the Lagoon should be adapted for the purpose of model yacht racing. Later in the same year Councillor Nye again asked if the Works and Improvements Committee might introduce a scheme for the enhancement of the area. But the Council’s attitude was they had enough work in hand and did not consider the Lagoon a matter of sufficient importance.

According to resident ‘Patch’ Patching, local children called the Lagoon area Salt Daisy Field. ‘Patch’ and his friends spent many a summer’s day there, setting out well stocked with provisions including a bottle of water, some lemonade powder and slabs of bread into which black treacle had been left to soak during the night. They wandered around mud flats and looked for eels in small pools, stopping now and then to stir green slime with sticks.

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection. 
This view dating from around 1907 shows the tidal pond area east of the canal with sailing ships moored in Aldrington Basin

Although the Lagoon at this time was still a tidal pond, it seems that by 1900 there was little water left in it. In 1908 there was some correspondence with the Shoreham Harbour Commissioners and it was agreed that if Hove Council were allowed to carry out some improvements to the Lagoon, the Works Committee would recommend the Council undertake the maintenance of the east slip road from the coast road to the Adur Hotel. The improvements envisaged were to clean out the pond and amend the shape of it, to make it a uniform depth (around three feet) and to improve the surroundings with shrubs and paths. 
But it seems nothing was done and it remained a tidal pond. Hove Council was still talking about doing some work in February 1921. They continued to envisage a miniature boating lake of some six acres. The depth of the water would be from 2 feet 6 inches to 3 feet. It was proposed the bottom of the Lagoon should be constructed of cement concrete with a thickness of nine inches. At that time the tidal pond had a ‘puddled’ bottom, which had the disadvantage of the water always being more or less muddy and gave encouragement to weed growth. There would be paths and shrubberies.

It was not proposed to do everything at once because the costs were high. The cost was estimated at £4,200 to excavate the bed of the existing pond and over £9,000 to lay the cement lining. Fortunately, when the scheme did eventually get going, it provided much needed work for unemployed men and for two seasons they worked there until the Unemployed Grants Committee refused to make any more money available; besides which, the legal challenge already mentioned caused all work to be halted in any case.
copyright © J.Middleton
This is an unusual view because it is taken from a western viewpoint rather than the more popular south side
Funding the creation of Hove Lagoon

After the legal tangle had been sorted out in 1927, the next hurdle was to borrow sufficient money for the project. In September it was stated the Ministry of Health would hold a Public Inquiry into Hove Council’s application to borrow £12,500 to improve the Lagoon. In March 1928 the Board of Trade approved the laying of an intake pipe on the foreshore below high water mark on condition that a beacon would be erected on the seaward end of the pipe. (In 1962 it was stated that the intake pipe was situated at the groyne near the Hove Deep Sea Anglers’ Clubhouse).

In November 1928 Walter Jones’s tender of £11,700 to construct an ornamental lake on number eight Western Lawns was accepted. In November 1929 Hove Council approved the general lay-out of the grounds with costs estimated as follows:

Paths, grass terraces, rockeries, shrubberies and water services            £4,977-16s
Two paved ornamental terraces on each side (each 18 feet in length)
and including paving                                                                             £2,095
Building at east end containing a Café and two WCs                             £4,338-12-6d
Two shelters & storage accommodation at west end                             £1,260
Dwarf boundary wall and piers in multi-coloured brickwork
surmounted by reconstructed stone coping                                            £,2993-15s

The grand total came to £15,665-3-6d.

The 1930s and the War Years

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken in the 1930s on an overcast day but there were still people about who were willing to hire a rowing boat.

Hove Lagoon as we know it today was constructed in 1930 and by the mid-1930s was in full swing with model yachts skimming across the surface. There were shrubs and flower-beds and a small putting green but sea spray spoiled the flowers and grass. This resulted in the putting green being moved to a more sheltered site to the east while there was no further attempt to cultivate flowers.

copyright © J.Middleton
In this photograph you can see the small Lagoon quite clearly. People and especially children enjoyed walking on
the narrow pathway between the two lagoons. The view was posted on 28 July 1937.

This Indian summer was brief because during the Second World War the Lagoon became part of the restricted area like the rest of the sea-front. At the south end of roads bordering Kingsway there were sandbag emplacements guarded by armed soldiers. Sisters Molly Williams and Hilda Bailey lived in a house on the Kingsway overlooking the Lagoon and naturally they had a grandstand view of whatever went on there, although they were strictly warned not on any account to take photographs. They watched with fascination as camouflaged Canadian troops, who were stationed at Stanmer Park, arrived at the Lagoon to train with DUKWs, an amphibious military vehicle also used as a landing craft. On other occasions there were military exercises on the beach beyond the Lagoon where troops scrambled about under simulated crossfire.

In the harsh winter of 1947 the Lagoon froze and people with access to a pair of skates were able to skate on the surface. By 1949 the smaller lake was used for children’s boating while the larger lake was used for model yachting on Sundays and Tuesday evenings and boating for the remainder of the week.

copyright © J.Middleton
A hand coloured postcard from the 1950s

 Into Recent Times

On 19 July 1988 celebrations were organised to mark the 400th anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The event began at 7. 30 p.m. with a sailing display in the Lagoon followed by music from TS King Alfred marching band. Then historical entertainers Steel Bonnets put on a warlike display using cannons and mortars. More than 1,000 people assembled at the sea-front to see Jim Buttimer, Mayor of Hove, light the beacon at 10.19 p.m. to coincide with the lighting of 450 other beacons throughout the country. The Mayoress was dressed as Queen Elizabeth I. 

 copyright © J.Middleton
Boating on the small Lagoon on the 15 July 2018

In June 1989 work began on a massive floating stage as the centrepiece for the Hove Lagoon Show sponsored by Heineken and the Brighton & Hove Leader. The stage measured 100 feet in length by 30 feet in width. It was strong enough to support an orchestra consisting of 50 drummers and 35 string and bass players plus the Brighton Festival Chorus and a 30-strong dance group. A giant sculpture was created out of 15,000 cans. When the show took place on 15 July, it was estimated that there was an audience of 25,000 people.

In November 2001 it was revealed that consultants working on behalf of the Shoreham & Southwick Urban Transport Plan suggested it would be a good idea to create a large junction where Wharf Road meets the Kingsway, which would mean building on part of the Lagoon area. Local residents and councillors were horrified but Brighton & Hove City Council said the final report had not yet been received and no decision taken.

The Lagoon Café

During the Second World War the Café became the Lagoon Canteen for military forces; it opened in 1940 and closed in August 1945. The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders were stationed at Hove and it was their Commanding Officer who came up with the idea. The War Office sponsored the scheme and a band of sixty local volunteers organised the canteen, which was open from 9. 30. a.m. to 10. p.m. As well as providing food and refreshment, there was also entertainment. The Revd H.T. Mogridge chaired the Committee, A.J. Sibson was the Honorary Secretary and J.T. Pankhurst was the Honorary Treasurer.

After the war the Café was unable to open for civilian use at once because it had been damaged during its years of military occupation. Repairs had to be carried before the building could be leased.

The first people to serve tea at the Café were the Divals but whether this was before or after the war is not clear.

During the 1950s three members of the Coidan family ran the Lagoon Café. They were Elizabeth, Basil and Dennis. In 1955 Dennis and his family moved from Portslade to South Africa for a short while, but Elizabeth and Basil continued to run their enterprise for at least twenty years.

Elizabeth’s grandson Andrew has many happy memories of visits to the Lagoon as a young boy. In particular, he remembers the colourful miniature railway where young passengers moved sedately around a circular track.

By the late 1960s Andrew was a teenager and still at school, but one summer he helped out at the café, staying with his grandmother at her house in King George VI Avenue. He served cups of tea and coffee, and egg and chips to customers, besides dishing out ice-creams. The café was rather old fashioned and probably in need of a thorough makeover.

There was a kiosk at the front of the building selling wooden sailing boats, plastic windmills and beach balls as well as sweets and cigarettes.

Elizabeth Coidan died in December 1991.

In 1971 Hove Council entertained the thought of creating a new Café at the Lagoon, having decided the old one was too expensive to maintain. Indeed the plan had already been approved in principle and the cost was put at £50,000. But as so often happens in these cases, nothing was done and three years later the estimated cost had rocketed to £120,000. Not surprisingly Hove Council got cold feet and by 1976 felt that perhaps the old one was worth repairing after all.

By 1988 Gillian Martin was running the Café but the building suffered from vandalism so frequently that by 1991 she was no longer able to obtain insurance for the windows. In June 1991 she said she had to replace more than twenty panes of glass, covering the expense from her own pocket. In November 2001 vandals struck again. An exasperated Gillian Martin said she had been running the café for thirteen years and this was the 25thattack. Fifteen windows were broken and the men’s toilet smashed; the damage was estimated at £10,000. At least security bars prevented them from entering the building but even so they pulled things through the window, including papers from a filing cabinet and set fire to them. Local councillors called for better illumination of the area at night.

copyright © J.Middleton
The Café at Hove Lagoon was photographed on 25 April 2009 before Heather Mills opened it as VBites. 

By 2000 Oliver Steer was running the Café but by 2004 Nick Short was in charge, changing its name to the Big Fish Café. Later on Heather Mills and her daughter Bea were frequent visitors and they liked to have a veggie breakfast plus soya milk tea. Heather Mills lived in Hove and she was once the wife of Beatle Sir Paul McCartney; their divorce settlement left her a woman of wealth. In 2008 she expressed an interest in purchasing the Café. Unfortunately for Nick Short the price eventually paid for it was a great deal less than the original asking price.

Heather Mills said she wanted to open a Café here because of family associations; her grandmother lived at Hove for thirty-eight years and Heather had lived in Hove for ten years. She also felt there was plenty going on at Brighton and not enough in Hove. She called her establishment VBites and only vegan food and drink were served. VBites opened on 4 July 2009 to huge crowds anxious to see what the food was like although they had to wait a long time for a table. Within a month it was claimed every day saw between 700 and 1,000 vegan products being sold. But praise was not universal and some people wanted a more varied menu; it all seemed to be ‘pretend’ meat and ‘pretend’ cheese on offer.

On 4 July 2010 Heather Mills invited all her neighbours to help celebrate the first anniversary of her Café’s opening. The next month Jan Moir of the Daily Mail visited the Café to see what all the fuss was about and came away unimpressed; her article was published on 28 July 2010. She mentioned that in Hello Heather Mills claimed there were some seventy-five people wanting to franchise her VBites concept.

Whatever the success or otherwise, it is a fact that the Café closed for the winter from 11 September 2010 to the 9 April 2011. Heather Mills was not there for much of the time in the summer because she was in Austria, training hard for a chance of qualifying to represent Great Britain in the 2014 Paralympics.

 copyright © J.Middleton
Boating on the small Lagoon on the 15 July 2018 with the  Café in the background

In May 2013 came the surprise news that Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) was taking over the establishment, which he renamed the Big Beach Café. He said he would serve a more varied menu to include meat as well as vegetarian food. He was pictured busily scrubbing chairs and tables in preparation for opening in the summer, the event happening quietly and without fanfare. Meanwhile, Heather Mills opened a new venture in East Street, Brighton with her sister Fiona Mills as manager.   

Local author Peter James was photographed with Norman Cook at the Big Beach Café in September 2013, both smiling broadly. Peter James writes detective novels featuring Roy Grace and they are set in Brighton and Hove.

Model Boats

copyright © J.Middleton
This is a hand-coloured photograph of Hove Lagoon in the 1930s with the café prominent on the east side.
Note too the number of small sailing boats. There are also a few flowers but they did not last long.

Model boat enthusiasts were amongst the first users of Hove Lagoon. On 28 July 1935 the annual competition was held between Hove, Brighton and Eastbourne Model Yacht Clubs while on 9 May 1938 the Southern Regatta was held there. In the latter event, twenty craft competed in two fleets.

On 29 July 1951 the Hove & Brighton Model Yacht Club and the Thames Shiplovers and Ship Model Society of London organised a rally. The size of the models ranged from twenty inches to five feet.

For many years the model boat people enjoyed an open season at the Lagoon but in 1986 when plans to develop a Water-sports Centre were aired, they were seriously worried. Stephen Moore, secretary of the Hove Model Sailing Ship Society, said the club would be destroyed and there was nowhere else suitable within thirty miles. He claimed that when the Lagoon was created, there was a clause allowing continuity of access to model boats; the Council replied they had no knowledge of such a condition.

John Churcher, secretary of the Hove & Brighton Model Yacht Club, also had a shock at the news because the club had been using the Lagoon for fifty years. But John McKeown of the windsurfing school said model boats would not be ousted although there would have to be a variation in the use of the Lagoon.

In 1995 the annual model boat rally was due to take place on 2 July until Norman Allen of Hove Ship Modellers cancelled the event. He said he was worried people protesting about the export of live animals through Shoreham Harbour might disrupt proceedings. The boat rally had been running since 1958 and attracted enthusiasts from all over the country. It was the first time the event had been cancelled except for bad weather.

Mr M.J. Cummings of Brighton wrote a letter to the Argus (4 April 2000) asking why model boat people were only allowed to use the Lagoon on one day of the year. He claimed the council had given the Water-sports Centre exclusive use of the waters but the Lagoon had always been used for sailing model boats. Harvey Dawkins, manager, replied that one day in July was reserved for model boats and every other Sunday in the year except during August.

In March 2013 the model boat enthusiasts were relieved when the Seafront Estate team provided them with written confirmation they would continue to have access to Hove Lagoon.

In September 2013 it was stated that Hove Lagoon Model Yacht Club was celebrating its 85th birthday and Treasurer Ray Baxter claimed it was one of the oldest clubs in the country. Member Peter Constable won the Hove Corporation Trophy in the model yacht race.

Paddling Pool

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph of the paddling pool was taken on 20 March 2009. The only water in the pool is rainwater
and the pool was not filled properly until the summer.

The small pool at the Lagoon is of a much shallower depth and was intended for the use of children, either in small boats or as a paddling pool. In August 1983 a young boy had an unfortunate experience when he became stuck in a pipe of the filter system and his mother jumped in to pull him out. Hove Council was concerned and said they would be in touch with the man who had the concession. For some years now this pool has remained empty with a cracked lining. Various ideas have been suggested such as using it for skating or skateboarding. Although there is a skateboarding park at the Lagoon now, it is not situated in the small pool but on the south east side where the old adventure playground once stood. But it is pleasant to report that today radio-controlled model boats can sometimes be seen zipping around the waters of the small lagoon.

In 1997 a petition was produced, signed by 314 people, calling for a paddling pool to be installed at Hove Lagoon. It was estimated it would cost around £50,000 to construct and £10,000 a year to maintain. By April 1998 the council had agreed to provide one within the existing children’s playground but money to pay for it would have to be raised locally. By January 1999 the Splash and Paddle Appeal, led by Councillor Heather James, had raised £5,000 and some £25,000 was expected from the compensation money paid by South Coast Power because of the disruption caused by the laying of the new gas pipeline.

All sorts of fund-raising events were organised to swell the coffers. For instance, there was a sponsored paddle in July 1999 when the Fire Brigade volunteered to fill up any paddling pools the children brought along. On 19 August 2000 Oliver Steer, who ran the Lagoon Café, had his waist-length hair shorn off at the Mill House Pub in Portslade in a sponsored event and raised £1,000 to purchase safety equipment for the pool. Engineering firm Hemsley Orrell Partnership, designed the pool without charging a fee, and civil engineering students at Brighton University were involved in all stages of construction as part of their course. Brighton artist Steve Riske together with local youngsters created a 400-foot mural.

Hove-based actor Nick Berry was the largest single contributor to the Splash and Paddle Appeal. According to Councillor Heather James, he visited the Lagoon, enquired how much money had been raised (£43,000) and offered to make up the difference by donating £7,000.

copyright © J.Middleton
Prominent in this view of the children’s playground at Hove Lagoon is a circular area obscured by bushes
and surrounded with a fence. It actually concealed part of the sewage works. The postcard was sent in June 1955.

On 1 May 1999 at 1.20 p.m. Francis Tonks, Mayor of Brighton & Hove officially opened the paddling pool as part of a Family Fun Day. Hundreds of balloons were released, the Patcham Silver Band was in attendance and there was face-painting and a bouncy castle. Unhappily, the pool was closed within hours because the bottom was too slippery and children were slipping over and banging their heads. It was stated that when lime-scale settled, the surface would not be so slippery and the pool re-opened at the end of the month.  

During a spell of hot weather in early August 2004 mothers and toddlers were distraught to find the pool empty of water but decorated with some red and white cones. The reason this time was that blistering had occurred in one or two places and so the whole pool had to be emptied before repairs could take place.


In 1997 Hove Council and Southern Water struck a deal that meant a special pitch for boules could be established at the Lagoon. At first there was some local opposition because people felt there was a greater need for a paddling pool. But the two projects went on side by side and the Lagoon Petanque terrain opened on 1 May 1999. Ray Ager, president of Hove Pétanque Club, said it was now much more like a real Provençal terrain after members had swept off excess gravel.

Pétanque was still being played at the Lagoon in July 2009 but by 2010 the site for the game had moved to a new terrain on Brighton seafront as part of the programme of regeneration for that area.


By 1980 some land on the east side of the Lagoon area had been leased to John Cogger so that he could create an adventure playground and in 1981 a request was submitted for an extension to the playground of approximately 780 square metres, including the grass bank with an area of around 306 square metres. By 1982 the slope had been turned into a skateboard area.

In November 1985 a fire in the playground caused hundreds of pounds worth of damage and a gale-force wind fanned the flames through the east and central portions of the mock castle. John Cogger commented that it was his second fire that year.

In April 1987 it was stated that a new double-snake tube slide would be installed to replace the current slide that was in poor condition. But by 1990 there were complaints that the adventure playground was in a derelict state for the second summer running. Indeed the council was obliged to intervene and in the same year leased the area to a different company of which Chris Randall was the managing director. It was unfortunate that vandalism was such a constant threat – it was not a case of the odd scratch but a systematic campaign involving spanners and bolt cutters.  In June 1991 Mr Randall said that within twenty-four hours of new slides being installed, they had been vandalised. He was obliged to remove some of his equipment and shut the playground. He called for a more secure site.

There was also a council-owned playground north east of the Café; this had been in place for many years, starting off with a sand-pit and a few swings. Old postcards show a peculiar fenced-off circular spot covered in bushes in the middle of the playground. This in fact disguised sewage workings – a rather unfortunate state of affairs.

Not much money had been expended upon the playground and indeed in 1990 the surface was still covered in unforgiving concrete, which resulted in children being hurt when they fell over. In 1990 some mothers protested about the surface and said it was really time something was done. David Fisher, Director of Leisure Services, said other children’s play areas in Hove had been refurbished and it would be the Lagoon’s turn in two years time. But it was deemed politic to bring forward the scheme and £40,000 was expended on new equipment while the surface was made safer with a covering of bark. The work was finished by the summer of 1991.

On 21 July 1992 a storm caused manhole covers to burst open because the pumping station was unable to cope with the volume of water. This had the unfortunate result of the playground becoming contaminated with sewage. It had to be closed for two weeks while the area was disinfected. A similar event had also happened on 18 July 1987 and it was fervently hoped that the building of the new storm-water tunnel would prevent such a recurrence in the future.

Hove Lagoon Water-sports

copyright © J.Middleton
On 25 April 2009 there was a great of activity on Hove Lagoon with water-boarders in the foreground and
windsurfing in the background

In June 1986 Hove Lagoon Windsurfing School put forward an ambitious £60,000 expansion scheme. The model boat fraternity feared being elbowed out of what had been their home for so many years. But Hove Council approved the plans in September 1986. At the time the plans were put forward, the school was based in a portable building and the council had leased them a derelict shelter.

On 28 August 1994 Hove Lagoon Water-sports Centre opened its new Clubhouse. The building contained changing rooms, showers, restaurant, bar and café as well as a place to store equipment. Uckfield-based architect Patrick Foley was responsible for the design and David Fisher, Director of Leisure Services, said it had been a long haul as the council had been working on the project for nine years. Harvey Dawking was the centre’s manager. The £350,000 project was funded from a variety of sources – the Foundation for Sport and Arts, the Sports Council, Hove Council and private enterprise.

In June 1995 John Birkens, 25, an instructor from the Water-sports Centre, was teaching a group of beginners when he noticed a para-glider in difficulties. Stewart Swanton, aged 50, was the para-glider and he had taken off from Devil’s Dyke with the intention of landing on the beach and taking a pint of beer at Hove Deep Sea Anglers. But the wind had blown him offshore and Birkens ran to the beach, jumped into the sea and pulled him out.

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph taken in 2009 gives you a better idea of the expanse of Hove Lagoon.

In November 1997 the council considered ambitious new plans for the Water-sports Centre, which had notched up 10,000 visits that year. It was claimed the Lagoon had a much higher use compared to a few years previously when there was only windsurfing on offer. For example, in 1997 there was tuition in sailing, canoeing, water skiing, raft building and power boating. Part of the new scheme was to build an indoor climbing wall plus classrooms, changing rooms, storerooms, bicycle storage, provide disabled access and improved car parking. It was envisaged the climbing wall would be ten metres high and would accommodate between twenty to thirty climbers at any one time.

Harvey Dawkins, manager, said the Lagoon was drained and cleaned thoroughly every two years. But in summer some people would insist on swimming in it although it was unsuitable. But if staff remonstrated with swimmers, they ran the risk of having a torrent of abuse hurled at them.

From 23 May to 25 May 1998 the British Windsurfing Association National Championships were held locally and at the same time an Ocean Carnival was held at the Lagoon. People were able to try out the various water-sports on offer.

By February 1999 scores of people had objected to plans for a new car park although planning permission had already been granted for that and an access road. It was stated that although some public open space was being lost, the benefit of the scheme in improved water-sports facilities outweighed the loss.

In April 2000 a model boat enthusiast queried in the columns of the Argus the small amount of time allotted to them and received the lofty reply that without Hove Water-sports there would be no water for anyone to use.

In August 2009 British Champion Nik Baker gave lessons in windsurfing to 36-year old Australian singer Peter Andre on the Lagoon.
In 2011 a new sport arrived at the Lagoon and this was wakeboarding, which involved standing on a wide board and being pulled across the water by means of a cable and pulley. Soon there were two such devices but when a third system was proposed in March 2013 there were complaints from local people who felt it was leading to a monopoly and was a threat to wildlife, particularly swans. But planning permission was given and the third cable was supposed to be up and running on Saturday 11 May 2013.
A useful amount of funding from the National Lottery enabled the Water-sports Centre to run women-only courses as well as classes for teenagers. Rachel Tallon of British Water Ski and Wakeboard thought the location was fantastic for raising the profile of the sports

copyright © D.Sharp
Wakeboard aerial runway in October 2013

In June 2013 a 25-year old wakeboarder was enjoying a practice session when he crashed into one of the plastic obstacles used for performing manoeuvres. He suffered a head injury and was pulled from the water semi-conscious and taken to hospital. An event due to be held the following Sunday was cancelled.

 copyright © J.Middleton
Hove Lagoon was photographed on 20 April 2015 and shows the plastic obstacles used to perform wakeboarding manoeuvres.

In July 2013 a new craze from America arrived at the Lagoon known as paddleboard yoga. Classes held on Tuesdays were fully booked. Apparently, paddleboard yoga was brilliant for improving the core strength of the body because while engaged in the workout, you also had to keep your balance on a floating board.

In September 2013 Hove Lagoon Water-sports Centre hosted the East Sussex Onboard Festival aimed at children aged between eight and fourteen who had learnt to sail recently.

A Grand Clean-up

  copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
How the 'Grand Clean-up' was carried out on the 19 February 1938.

In 2017 an attempt was made at cleaning Hove Lagoon. However, it is not the sort of task that can be done by half-measures and the failed efforts were greeted by brickbats and heated criticism. In particular, Friends of Hove Lagoon, plus local Councillors Robert Nemeth and Garry Peltzer Dunn, urged Brighton & Hove City Council to allow a proper cleansing operation to be undertaken.

Thus, in early 2018 Hove Lagoon was closed for three months. The water in the two lagoons was allowed to drain out naturally over a period of three weeks and a watch was kept for any wildlife that might remain – this resulted in the rescue of crabs and flat fish that were placed in buckets. Then the heavy machinery, including diggers, hook-lift vehicles, and vacuum tankers, took over. A revolting 250 tonnes of solid waste and sludge were safely removed. Among the surprising items that came to light were some 200 shoes, and there were also toys, coins, sunglasses, a model boat and a drone.

It is surprising to note that when all was clean, it took a good two weeks for Hove Lagoon to fill up naturally using sea-water channelled through its intake pipe. It was claimed that this was the first major clean-up for at least twenty years. (Argus 28/4/18)

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken on a very hot Sunday 15 July 2018 – it was especially good to see the sparkling water of both lagoons after the massive clean out earlier in the year.

Pump Troubles

It was indeed unfortunate that just when the Lagoon was all cleaned up, the pump should have given up the ghost in the  summer of 2018. Without this essential piece of equipment it is impossible to access sea-water to fill the lagoons. Brighton & Hove City Council were obliged to hire temporary pumps from an engineering firm.  This was not an ideal solution because it meant part of the promenade was obstructed, and the situation dragged on far longer than it should have done  at a cost of £2,000 a week. Five months passed and nothing had been done to fix the pump – in fact the engineering firm stated there would be a further delay of four months while a pump part  was obtained from India.

When Councillor Robert Nemeth and Councillor Garry Peltzer Dunn were made aware of this impasse, they immediately set about solving the problem. Simon Maynard of local engineering firm Maydean came forward and stated he would be able to provide a new pump within weeks. This was done, and moreover the old pump was repaired and will be kept for use as a spare. Meanwhile, the councillors were urging the council to demand a refund of the hire cost from the original engineering firm. (West Hove Directory 2019)


copyright © J.Middleton
It was a bitterly cold day on 6 January 2009 when these two photographs of swans were taken.
In fact the Lagoon was frozen over and people were concerned for the welfare of the swans.

In September 1935 visitors to the Lagoon were delighted to observe a ‘wild bird, about the weight of a woodpigeon, but mounted on legs about six inches long and with a straight bill about four inches long (who) has adopted the lawns as his hunting ground. Utterly without fear, he has continued his quest for food while human beings have been standing about ten feet away.’ It was thought the bird was either a bar-tailed godwit or a greenshank.

copyright © J.Middleton
In the second photograph the swans enjoy some bright sunshine. 

In the 1960s and 1970s pairs of swans often used to winter at the Lagoon. During the bitter winter of 1978-1979 a greylag goose spent some days at the Lagoon. 
In May 1982 Florence Pettit published an article in The Lady in which she described the birds she had observed at the Lagoon. She saw linnets, sparrows, pigeons, starlings, blackbirds, swans, chaffinches, greenfinches and the occasional dunnock. There were also sightings of some mergansers, a scaup duck, a coot and a female mallard.   

In January 2004 it was stated that up to eighteen swans had arrived at the Lagoon and seemed set to stay. It was the largest group seen for at least twenty years and included several cygnets. Nick Short of the Big Fish Café said he hoped they would remain as visitors loved to see them.

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A few weeks later the swans seem happier as they were water-borne again

In January 2005 the water in the Lagoon was drained so that it could be cleared of rubbish; some of it was dangerous and had caused injury to swans and put windsurfers at risk. Around thirty swans flew away of their own volition, when they saw what was going on but five of them decided to stay put. They were thought to be parents and cygnets. The East Sussex Wildlife Rescue Service arrived and successfully removed them to safer waters.

In January 2009 the weather was bitterly cold and the Lagoon froze over. Although a few people took advantage to enjoy a spot of ice skating, more people were concerned about the plight of the swans and worried whether they might be hungry or thirsty.

Grey Phalarope

Bird-watchers were excited in early January 2014 when a grey phalarope was spotted in the children's paddling pool at Hove Lagoon. Its usual habitat is Greenland, Siberia or Alaska but it is thought the bird was blown off course by recent storms. Word soon got around about this rare arrival and people were travelling from Kent and Oxford for a glimpse. The grey phalarope is a distinctive looking bird with a black stripe across its eyes making it resemble an old-time bandit. Russell Brown uploaded his video of it to YouTube.

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These specimens of grey phalarope are to be found at Booth’s Museum, Brighton.

John Ackerson Erredge writing in 1862 stated that small flocks of grey phalaropes occasionally visited the area. He tells a very sad story about one flock visiting Shoreham Harbour. Their usual habitat was in the north far away from mankind and consequently they had absolutely no fear of men. The birds were described as like miniature ducks and indeed they exhibited all the characteristics of the proverbial sitting duck. The little birds were swimming around in the still water when two gentlemen spotted them. They shot seventeen and the poor phalaropes made no attempt to escape. 

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Beach hut with Hove Lagoon and the wakeboard apparatus in the background, October 2013

Hove Lagoon 2020

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It is good to see activity on Hove Lagoon once more after lock-down 
copyright © J.Middleton
If you look carefully at this photograph you will see the instructor standing almost waist-deep in the water to supervise the youngsters

Recent Times

These days it is the practice to thoroughly empty Hove Lagoon every two years to give the basin a good clean. This takes place during the winter when there are no activities on the water. It is not a swift undertaking either because expensive water pumps have to be installed to empty the water, then the cleaning takes place, followed by the gradual filling up with seawater at high tide from the special inlet – the whole process taking around six weeks. In 2022 the cleaning was taking place in February but Storm Eunice on 18 February threw a spanner in the works by causing fresh water from a leaking pipe to start filling the Lagoon. Harvey Dawkins, owner of Lagoon Watersports, was unhappy at the situation because the cleaning operation costs £8,000 and it was now a waste of time and money. He called upon Southern Water for help because the new season was due to start in April. (Argus 25/2/22)

There was a further blow to the Lagoon area when the outdoor gym equipment at the south bank was deemed so unsafe that it would all have to be removed in April 2022. Local councillors Robert Nemeth and Garry Peltzer Dunn had been warm supporters of the initial idea of using wood from the area as well as iron fittings crafted locally. They hoped that it would be sustainable and easily repaired when necessary, and it was funded by developers. Unfortunately, there was no maintenance fund, and now it seemed a possibility that there would be no replacements until 2024 when the ‘Kingsway to the Sea’ regeneration project comes into force (Argus 4 April 2022). It should be noted that this regeneration is coming from the Government and not Brighton & Hove City Council, which ironically is celebrating in April 2022 the 25th anniversary of Brighton and Hove becoming one town. The majority of Hove people never wanted this union and their pessimism has been justified by chronic under-funding in Hove and Portslade while also being landed with Brighton’s huge debts.


Encyclopaedia of Hove & Portslade
Erredge, John Ackerson History of Brighthelmston (1862 reprinted 2005)
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove 

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
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