17 February 2021

Hove Sea Defences

 Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2021)

copyright © Hove Library
This wonderful photograph dating back to 1884 shows work in progress on Hove’s new sea-wall, and it gives us some understanding of the massive undertaking. On the left is a portable engine with an elegant funnel – possibly a Foster model. In the background the wooden piles can clearly be seen. At its base the sea-wall was 9-ft thick


According to Hove Gazette’s Special Number published in 1908, Hove’s first sea wall was constructed in 1738 and served its purpose for many years by preventing the adjacent land from being submerged. It was not specified where exactly the sea wall was built but it was most likely to have been in the Sussex Road area because the population at that time was around Hove Street.

By the 1870s a new sea wall was deemed necessary. On 30 October 1872 the Surveyor reported that the sea wall at Medina Terrace, the work being undertaken and paid for by Mr Gallard, was not being built upon chalk, as specified in the plans. Hove Commissioners were not happy about this, and the clerk was instructed to obtain a guarantee from Mr Gallard that the Hove Commissioners would not be liable for any claim of compensation that might arise from the residents.

Further along there was another privately-built structure known as Tooth’s Wall. On 21 August 1879 an agreement was drawn up to erect and maintain a groyne at the end of Medina Lawn and signed as follows:

Hove Commissioners (first part)

John Tooth (second part)

Emma Darby

Revd George A. M. Hout

H. M. Draper

Thomas Bainbridge (these four people being the third part)

copyright © J.Middleton
Medina Lawn can be seen to the right. In 1879 Hove Commissioners agreed to erect a groyne opposite Medina Lawn
The groyne was to be carried out 187-ft from the high water mark, and the timber was purchased from the Mulford Brothers at a cost of £20-11-5
d. Hove Commissioners obviously did not have much cash in hand, and therefore were obliged to borrow £460 from the London Assurance Company to be repaid within twenty years in order to finance the project. Some residents thought the Commissioners should have borne the entire cost, and the residents of Courtenay Terrace considered they were morally bound, if not legally liable, to reimburse them for their expenses. The Hove Commissioners begged to differ.

In July 1880 the Surveyor had an interview with Mr Nunn, acting on behalf of the Darby Trustees and Messrs Tooth, because they wanted the Medina groyne to be increased in height by 2-ft along its entire length. The Commissioners stated they would only increase the height by 2-ft for a distance of 80-ft, but they agreed to lengthen the groyne by 13-ft.

More Groynes

In October 1880 tenders for the construction of concrete groynes opposite the esplanade lawns were invited, and the result was as follows:

W. J. Crowe £10,500

J. G. B. Marshall £6,300

F. Harrison £4,736

Ambrose Olliver £4,600

Messrs Cheesman £4,000

Not surprisingly, it was Messrs Cheesman who won the day. Once again Hove Commissioners had recourse to the London Assurance Company for funds, and secured a mortgage of £5,350 to be advanced in instalments and repaid within twenty years, the rate of interest being 4½ per cent.

It was unfortunate that the Admiralty chose that time to erect a groyne opposite their Coastguard Station because when they wrote to Hove Commissioners in April 1880 for reimbursement, they were turned down.

In October 1881 Hove Commissioners were advised to build two groynes on the east foreshore. Apparently, the ‘abrasion of the seashore’ was proceeding so rapidly that immediate action was necessary. Although the Surveyor would not normally recommend timber groynes in such circumstances, it would take at least six months to construct concrete ones. It was agreed that timber groynes should be erected at a cost not exceeding £1,250.

Sir John Coode (1816-1892)

copyright © J.Middleton
The sea-wall was built to prevent the erosion of the beach and to protect properties between Adelaide Crescent and Waterloo Street
The Great Gale of 29 April 1882 caused considerable damage on the east seashore, particularly the portion between Adelaide Crescent and number 6 groyne. On 22 May 1882 the famous engineer Sir John Coode visited Hove to investigate the matter, and by 15 June 1882 he had his report ready to lay before the Commissioners. In it he paid tribute to the Town Surveyor, Mr E. B. Ellice Clark, for his clear and business-like manner. Sir John recommended that a sea-wall should be built between Adelaide Crescent and Waterloo Street, some 2,030-ft, with a return at either end. This would then cover a distance of 2,130-ft plus six groynes and would cost £15,000. Sir John emphasized that such a sea-wall was the only way to protect properties.

Mr Ellice Clark stated that there was a great scarcity of shingle along Hove foreshore. However, the Works & Improvements Committee could not see their way to recommend such a vast expenditure as £15,000. As a stop-gap the Surveyor suggested lengthening one groyne set at an angle of 45 degrees for an additional 100-ft, and constructing three additional groynes between the eastern boundary and the Lansdowne groyne. In August 1882 it was agreed that this scheme should go forward, which would only cost £2,800.

But there were further heavy gales in February 1883, and the eastern shore was again subjected to damage. The Works & Improvement Committee were fast coming to the conclusion that only Coode’s scheme would have an effect. When Sir John re-visited the site, he found the ‘impoverished condition of the beach at the close of last winter’ meant that his sea-wall would now require the foundations to be laid 12-in deeper than previously intended. To put it in another way, the pecuniary reticence on the part of the Works & Improvement Committee lead to the work costing considerably more than the original sum. The estimated costs were as follows:

Sea-wall with inclines, safety platforms and steps, tar paving of esplanade £18,970

Curbing, channelling and formation of approach roads £8,861

Two groynes, mostly of oak £1,672

Iron railings, lamps, and (if required) a bandstand £3,406

It comes as no surprise that Hove Commissioners certainly did not want a bandstand – they required the minimum of essential work. In December 1883 the Hill Brothers of Gosport won the contract to erect the sea-wall, inclines, steps and timber groynes for £23,946.

The Brighton Gazette (20 March 1884) reported that the first concrete block of the Hove sea-wall had been laid by Sir John Coode, consulting engineer.

In May 1884, William Reeves, labourer, of 100 Clarendon Road, employed by the Hill Brothers, fell into the foundations, and a block weighing 2-cwt dropped on his head, killing him.

On 28 May 1884 Sir John wrote a letter stressing the importance of the foundations being carried down to the chalk. On 26 June 1884 there was a meeting between Sir John and Hove Commissioners, followed by a site meeting on 28 June 1884, and a long conference. The great man was obviously becoming fed up with the vacillations of the Commissioners, which led him to state emphatically that unless the works were carried out forthwith he could not ‘be answerable for the safety of the wall, nor would he take responsibility as consulting engineer.’

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
An aerial view of Adelaide Crescent, 11 September 1972
plainly shows Coode’s sea-wall, groynes, esplanade, lawns and Adelaide Crescent
Additional Work on the Sea-wall

There were new proposals for the foundation of the sea-wall for a distance of 480-ft east of Adelaide Crescent. The aim was to sheet-pile in front of the wall with 8-in by 8-in oak sheeting, having 10-in by 10-in oak gauge pipes placed 8-ft 10-in apart; these would be driven into the chalk, and the piling was to be 3-ft in advance of the vertical face of the wall – the void to be filled with concrete but with a flint face. The cost, including the lowering of the foundations, was put at £7,882.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
A painting of Hove Sea Wall by the Brighton artist Clement Lambert (1855-1925)

Eastern Groynes

In September 1884 it was stated that a new groyne was necessary between Lansdowne groyne and the proposed new groyne, together with the lengthening of the intermediate one. The estimated cost was £968, and the Commissioners recommended that the groyne be lengthened with ‘Memel timber’, which would allow the work to proceed more quickly. The engineers ‘entertained strong hopes’ that this would be the last application for additional groynes.

In August 1888 it was proposed that the groynes opposite the west side of Adelaide Crescent and the east boundary should be lengthened. Apparently, the groynes were only 140-ft in length, and consequently were so short that they allowed ‘the passage of shingle’. The new length would be 240-ft, which was the same length as the groynes opposite Brunswick Square. Parsons & Sons undertook the work of the Adelaide groyne for £210.

The Admiralty

copyright © J.Middleton
Hove Coastguard Station and Hove Battery shared a site. In 1888 the Admiralty erected a timber breastwork in front of Hove Battery
In September 1888 Hove Commissioners received a letter from Commander Walters stating that the Admiralty proposed to construct a timber breast-work in front of the RNR Battery. The Admiralty wanted to know if the Commissioners felt disposed to continue such breast-work to the groyne on the west side of Hove Street. The answer was ‘Yes’ and the Surveyor estimated the work would cost £50.

Western Groynes

In 1890 it was stated that the groynes opposite Vallance Lawn – from Hove Street to the western boundary – were as follows:

There was one groyne opposite the east end, partly timber, and partly concrete, and two other timber groynes to the west at a distance of 265-ft and 292-ft apart.

Also at the west end there was a timber breast-work 230-ft in length, running parallel to, and 55-ft south of the Vallance Lawn.

Parsons & Sons repaired these three groynes for £315.

Sea Encroachment

A comparison of the high-water mark between April 1888 and June 1892 revealed that the sea had encroached considerably opposite Sussex Road. It was therefore necessary to construct a new groyne midway between Sussex Road groyne and Medina concrete groyne. It was reported that the two east groynes of three timber groynes near Tooth’s Wall, which was opposite Medina Mews, had deteriorated considerably since 1888. The central one required some whalings, three new land-ties, plus some new planking at a cost of £260. But the east one was entirely worn out and would need to be replaced at a cost of £800.

Medina Quarter Deck

copyright © J.Middleton
An evocative postcard showing Medina Quarter Deck

In April 1893 it was stated that Messrs W. Hill & Co, who had constructed the Adelaide / Brunswick sea-wall, had been awarded the contract to build a sea-wall, groyne, and esplanade, and other works near Medina Quarter Deck. The full list of tenders were as follows:

J. Longley & Co £11,832

J. T. Chappell £11,783

J. Band £10,750

G. Lawson £10,199

J. Cochrane & Sons £10,008

Wilkinson Brothers £9,924

G. Bell £9,253

J. Parsons & Son £8,549

W. Hill & Co £8,187

T. P. Hall £8,074

Morgan, Isted & Morgan £7,946

Herbert Weldon £7,664

The clerk of the works would earn £3-10s a week

Legal Matters

In July 1893 in order for the Medina Extension Scheme to go ahead, there had to be a signing of legal documents. The Release from Deeds of Covenants was signed by the following people:

John Tooth

Howard Henry Tooth

Edward Ward

Mrs Elizabeth Crunden

Thomas Brown Crunden

Frederick Crunden

Peter Howell Llewellyn

William Henry Smith

John Henry Seagar

Hove Commissioners

Then there was a Deed of Conveyance between John Tooth and the Hove Commissioners.

Tooth’s Wall

In February 1894 it was stated that it had been intended to incorporate Tooth’s Wall (running from Sussex Road to the west side of St Aubyns Road) into the current scheme with new coping to raise it to the right level. However, upon examination, it was found that the sea had damaged the wall, the cement rendering had broken away in several places, and there were some holes. The wall would have to be refaced. The Surveyor advised flint-faced concrete blocks, which would be the same as those used in the new sea-wall at Medina Quarter Deck. The old wall had a batter of one in seven, but the Surveyor suggested the new one ought to have a batter of one in four, the same as the new wall. The facing should be 2-ft 6-in in depth at the top of the wall, and 5-ft at the bottom. The estimated cost was £2,900.

The Medina sea-wall and groynes proved so successful in managing the beach that there was an accumulation of shingle. But success brought its own problems because by October 1898 the shingle had begun to cover the culvert outlets for storm water from the Medina outfall. Therefore it was decided to lengthen the groyne by 80-ft so that the culvert outlets would be 40-ft and 52-ft beyond the south end of the beach.

Adelaide Groyne

On 8 October 1896 the sea created a breach in the timber groyne opposite the centre of Adelaide Crescent of around 16-ft in length. The Surveyor reported that repairs were in hand.

This same groyne came under scrutiny again in 1899, and the Surveyor reported that the north part of the groyne was decayed for a length of 90-ft, and would have to be reconstructed. The portion was part of the original angled groyne, and was retained when the south portion of the groyne was altered and lengthened in 1885. The Surveyor recommended the new part should be in line with the existing south part, and not retained at the present angle. Parsons & Sons undertook the work for £400.

A Prize at St Louis, USA

In 1904 a model of the Hove Sea-wall was sent to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition held at St Louis, and was awarded a silver medal.

More About Groynes

copyright © J.Middleton
This view of a rough sea at Hove is a reminder of the ever present threat from the sea. It was posted in 1905, and apparently it was such a popular postcard that it was later reproduced in colour

In March 1910 the Borough Surveyor suggested that the groynes between Hove Street and the east boundary that were less than 220 feet from the coping of the sea-wall should be increased to that length. These groynes were itemised as follows:

Groyne opposite Brunswick Square was 11-ft

Groyne west of Brunswick Square was 15-ft

Groyne opposite Lansdowne Place was 30-ft

Groyne opposite the west side of Adelaide Crescent was 16-ft

Groyne opposite Fourth Avenue was 24-ft

In October 1910 the cost of three groynes was put at £2,493-12-6d.

No Help from the Government

In 1923 the Board of Trade sent a letter to Hove Council quoting the views of the Royal Commission on Coastal Erosion in 1911, which came to the conclusion that there was no justification for the assumption that the nation as a whole should take on financial responsibility for sea defences. Since there was necessity for drastic economy, the situation was unlikely to change.

Storm Damage

On 14 August 1927 a storm washed away a considerable portion of the western esplanade between the concrete groyne opposite Hove Lagoon and the timber groyne opposite Glendor Road. At one point the esplanade was reduced to a width of 11-ft. The Borough Surveyor reported that the two existing groynes were 622-ft apart, and he suggested that an intermediate groyne should be built. It would be as follows:

253-ft in length

Constructed of 10-in by 10-in pitch pine piles

8-in oak whalings

Oak land-ties

2½ -in beech planking

The estimated cost was £1,600, and the Ministry of Health sanctioned the work. John Shelbourne & Co of London undertook the construction, and unusually the final cost was below the estimate and was £1,313-16-9d.

A New Sea-Wall

copyright © J.Middleton
This new sea-wall had none of the iron railings so familiar in the eastern part of Hove sea-front

In September 1935 gales caused the sea to sweep away vast quantities of shingle from the beaches on the west with the result that there was a breach in the promenade in front of Western Lawns; it was 15-ft in depth and 60-yds in length. The high tide had washed away the earth bank in front of the asphalt. The new wall built at Hove Lagoon appeared to have aggravated the problem because the sea swept along the wall and attacked the bank with greater force. The remedy was either extensive groyning, or an extension of the sea-wall from the Coastguard Station to Hove Lagoon.

By December 1935 Ernest Latham, an expert surveyor, had drawn up plans for an extension of the sea-wall stretching for 1,320-ft at a cost of £22 per lineal foot. He recommended a reinforced concrete flint-faced wall supported on reinforced concrete sheet piles. He strongly advocated the stepped form of construction because the existence of steps tended to reduce scouring action at the toe of the wall. It was proposed to provide 6-ft gaps in the parapet walls at intervals of around 90-ft. A parapet wall was chosen because it would save the annual cost of painting iron railings. The wall was to be connected to the existing groyne west of Wish Road.

On 7 April 1936 the Ministry of Health held a Public Inquiry into the question of sea defences at Hove. This was because Hove Council had put in a request for a loan of £29,000 to pay for the work – the loan period being for twenty years. It was stated that at the time of the gale in September 1935 so much damage was done to the esplanade that the high-tension electricity cable was practically exposed. The Ministry of Health then gave their blessing to the scheme and it was up to the Borough Surveyor, T. R. Humble, to ensure the work was undertaken. Hove Council accepted the lowest tender that had been sent to them; it was for £28,213-4-11d from Wests Rotinoff Piling & Construction Co of Aldwych.

Second World War Damage

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
The damage caused not by nature but by wartime defences is clearly visible in this interesting photograph

It was only to be expected that the war had a detrimental effect on sea defences. This was because Hove was declared a Defence Area, and for four long years the sea-front was out of bounds to ordinary folk. You needed a special pass if you happened to live nearby, and of course after Dunkirk, an invasion was expected at any time, and there were armed guards at HMS
King Alfred, while the beach was mined, and there were gun emplacements on the esplanade.

Consequently, there had been no maintenance or repairs for the duration. Many of the old wooden groynes had become derelict, and much valuable shingle had been lost. Moreover there was a desperate shortage of suitable timber. But it seems experiments in constructing groynes of steel sheet-piling had proved successful. In April 1945 it was reported that the long steps leading down to the beach south of Hove Lagoon had been half-covered with shingle in 1940, but that had all gone, the beach level had dropped by 10-ft, and the sea was eating away at the foundations. There was a similar fall in the beach level between Berriedale Road and Saxon Road. In January1946 gales caused more damage to the sea-front, and a further steel groyne was necessary at a cost of around £2,000. Since the sea-front had been under military occupation, it was hardly the fault of Hove Council that conditions were so bad. Consequently, the Works Committee put in a claim for compensation to the government.

In 1948 it was stated that Hove’s £25,000 Beach Preservation Scheme was nearing completion. Apparently, the need was so urgent that work was going on under flood-lights in order to beat the tides, and to enable the work to be finished on time.

Recent Times

In the financial year March 1984 / March 1985 some £101,500 was spent on the partial rebuilding of six groynes plus a further £15,000 on minor repairs and maintenance of other sea defences.

In the Argus (6 November 1998) it was announced that Brighton & Hove City Council had agreed to spend £1.2 million over the next ten years on its seven miles of sea-front. But is that enough? Hove residents would say that not much of that money seems to have trickled west of the Peace Statue, and the under-investment in Hove’s sea-front is plain to see. Long gone are the halcyon days were the painting of the lovely iron railings was an annual event under Hove Council. It is also a fact that when storms litter the promenades with shingle, it is always Brighton that is dealt with first while the clearing of Hove sea-front seems to be something of an after-thought.

copyright © J.Middleton
Sweeping up the shingle in January 2014

In the Argus (21/1/21) there were photographs of Hove Esplanade covered with shingle after a storm, while on the beach a digger was employed in repairing a groyne.



Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Hove Council Minute Books

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Copyright © J.Middleton 2021
page layout by D.Sharp