When man interferes - a beach appears!

Sussex Express 08-June-2001

by Peter Bailey
THE main picture in last week's article featured the massive crater on the west shingle beach resulting from the explosion there in 1944. Two figures at the rim gave a good indication of the extent of this great hole, not just in the shingle but in the chalk below. No surprise that 180 tons of high explosive would make such an impression. Another aspect of the whole affair which wouldn't be appreciated perhaps by our post-war population, is the fact to the best of my knowledge no other photos of the whole incident have ever appeared. You would not have been allowed to the foreshore, to the harbour and some of the streets close by Security was most severe - if you wanted to be arrested just be seen with a camera. Some official war pictures were taken, of course, and most of those are quite well known. Picture No. 1 shows our west beach in, I should think, the 1880s. The landward end of the breakwater has been there long enough to collect some shingle. Note how the concrete reaches up to the foot of the cliff, so much of the Fricker Rocks were exposed at this time. Two falls have taken place from the upper strata, but before man interfered and caused this beach to gather, the sea would have reached at high water and washed the deposits away. Of the timber ramp-like structure, I can only surmise that it was used in conjunction with horse-drawn tip trucks. They would have conveyed the cliff spoil from this area to be spread around the space between the sand beach wall and the Fort, so that the concrete of the promenade could be laid over it and the remainder left to become the still sparse grass area where now stands the cafe etc.

Lifeboat heroes who did their duty to the end

Sussex Express 07-September2001

by Peter Bailey
SEPTEMBER is upon us and any time now severe gales can be expected around our coasts, a demanding time for the rescue services. But perhaps it can be said that things are better these days because of the great advances in communications and the early warnings by radio of adverse weather conditions, giving potential victims the chance to seek shelter. Not so long ago things were very different! Our first picture (right) illustrates well the effect such storms can have on an immovable object like the Newhaven Breakwater when such disturbances occur. This remarkable photograph was taken early in December 1929. Assuming the top of the lighthouse is 50 feet from its base at sea level, then that is a pretty big wave! The upper part can just be seen at the left of one of the rounded metal housings for the searchlight. There was another on the west side. At the extreme left is a little hut which I presume was a shelter for the First World War crews who manned these lights, not that any such shelter could be of much benefit in the conditions portrayed here. Of interest, too, is the rail track which came all the way from above the level crossing gates at the town station. This was purely for maintenance on the west side of the harbour. About where the wave touches the 'deck', here were points for a second length of rail to the end. With this particular gale the service with Dieppe was cancelled for the while, a most uncommon happening. As I recollect there were three 'shouts' for the Lifeboat during the period of this storm, the most dramatic involving the four-masted Danish schooner Mogens Koch which was driven ashore at Cuckmere Haven on December?. The vessel also carried a deck cargo of timber most of which had been washed away by this time. The Newhaven Lifeboat, the Sir Fitzroy Clayton, was of the open type with engine and sail. Her journey to rescue the distressed crew was bad enough, but her return caused much damage and injuries to crew and those rescued. I remember her coming to Railway Quay where now the fast ferry berths. Dock workers and clerks cheered as she approached, a crane lowered a platform and the injured were placed on this and then lifted up to be taken away by ambulance. Coxswain Dick Payne, regarded as one of 'the Greats' in lifeboat work, was one of the unfortunates and though he lived long enough to receive a silver goblet of thanks from the King of Denmark, as did all of the crew, his demise was not long afterwards. Signalman Ben Clark's goblet is on display at the museum. Another victim of this time was the Italian Njmbo which foundered under the cliffs at Portobello after inflicting damage to the Brighton sewer outlet. With miles of coast to choose from she had to pick this spot. As I recollect, repairs or improvements had just been completed to the outfall. Must have a connection with a certain somebody's law, I feel. Luckily, the Coast-guards were able to bring the stranded crew ashore by the use of Breeches Buoy from the cliff top. Our Lifeboat made the tortuous journey to 'be there'. The Morgens Koch was eventually refloated and brought into Newhaven and the Nimbo was towed away. A few more instances of interest about this period of sea drama - Lifeboat Coxswain Dick Payne and his crew had gone out in the evening of December 6,1929 to the small steam freighter Merwede of Rotterdam which had been driven ashore near Tidemills. Her cargo was of house bricks for Newhaven to be transported in time to Pence-haven for the building of the new 'city by the sea'! Nurses from the Beach Hospital assisted the Coastguard in hauling in the rescued by Breeches Buoy. The men were dried, thawed, given fresh clothes and fed by the kindness of their hosts. I remember seeing the mast light of the Merwede swaying to and fro as she wallowed near the shore. Her cargo was later unloaded on to the beach and when the sea was calm and the tide right, a tug with what seemed a mile-long tow rope, hauled her off into deep water. So, on the next morning came the drama of the Morgens Koch at Cuckmere. No respite there. Not only did Cox Payne get a silver goblet, but also an inscribed gold hunter watch, the RNLI Silver Medal -and a Treasury note! Ben Clark was to lose his hfe on duty during the last war in the blackout. The next Lifeboat, the Cecil & Lillian Philpott which had gone out to the assistance of a Naval trawler in distress off Seaford, was rammed by the craft it had gone to help. Incredible damage was done, but she remained afloat and got home. Sadly, Ben Clark had been knocked overboard and drowned. Finally to the Nimbo. The damage she caused to the Portobeilo outfall cost 12,760 to repair, a lot in those days. Her visit was on either the 11th or 13th of November, 1929. The Captain presented Cox Payne with a kitten born aboard the 3,870 ton steamer some time before the disaster. Fludes Carpets on Denton Island is on the site of Sefton Terrace where a black kitten called Nimbe grew up - if you get any vibes, seek help!

The Mogens Kock aground at Cuckmere and (right) the Nimbo at Portobello.

For a brief historical account about the development of Newhaven Harbour go to Farrant, John H. 1976: The Harbours of Sussex 1700-1914.

Trouble at the mills? Weighing up the delicate implications of plans to extract rich gravel deposits from a coastal wildlife haven

Sussex Express, 30-01-1987

THE shifting shingle that transformed the hamlet of Meeching into the busy harbour town of Newhaven some 400 years ago, and that has lain hidden beneath the Tidemills marsh, could once again have a significant effect on the town's future.
In the Newhaven District Plan part of the Tidemills area is allocated for an extension of the Eastside Industrial Estate. But a survey for land owners has now revealed extensive deposits of gravel beneath most of the land between the harbour and the Buckle, in quantities likely to be of "regional significance." Sealink, the Baker Trust and a local farmer, who own the land between them, are considering submitting a planning application to extract the gravel. If granted the working of the pits would have a profound effect on the Seahaven area - both environmentally (in the short term) and economically. Cllr Cot Peter 1-tarwood, county, district and town councillor, and chairman of the Promotion of Newhaven Committee, said extraction would be either a bane or a blessing. "We want the blessing," he told the district policy committee last week.
"This will have far-reaching implications and could allow the possible realisation of an aquatic centre after the gravel is extracted. "But on the other hand Tidemills is a lung between Newhaven and Seaford. and a balance is needed." The district council's chief executive Cyril Mann has proposed a comprehensive plan to consider all the issues. The need to provide industrial development land, space for port expansion, transport of extracted gravel, protection of the railway' line, the environmental impact, after use of the site, coastal defence and the needs and location of plant used.
Policy committee members have authorised the drafting of the plan and it could be 18 months before isis adopted as a policy' document - after public consultation and a possible public inquiry. Environmental groups may oppose the workings on what has been talked about as a possible wildlife sanctuary. And archaeologists and historians may' be concerned about disturbance to the remains of historic Bishopstone Tide Mills. David Carpenter of Sealink said that his company bought all the land south of the line and part of that to the north from British Rail when parent company Sea Containers took over the harbour. The rest is owned by the Baker family trust and a local farmer.
"If the gravel is worked there is a great opportunity for good amenity areas afterwards," he said. "Spent pits could not be filled and an aquatic centre is certainly a possibility." At the present time, Mr Carpenter said, the "sensitive" Tide Mills village site is being excluded from the area likely to be worked. "We are now collating information on how much gravel is there. How quickly is is dug depends on market demand." He added that if the county and district councils gave the go-ahead the three owners would probably seek an operator so submit the application and work the pies' Before recorded history the whole of the area between Castle Hill and Seaford Head was a broad river estuary.
Over thousands of years Atlantic rollers threw sand and shingle into the estuary, so be joined by sand and gravel washed downstream in the river. About 1,000 years ago a wide shingle bar had extended across the estuary leaving just a narrow mouth beneath Seaford Head. Five hundred years on and this gap closed, too - although not in the legendary storm of 1579 which is said to have breached the shingle bar at Meeching. In fact historians now say the new channel so the sea as the "newe haven" was cut by man 40 years earlier. In 1761 on the hidden shingle the Duke of Newcastle, of Bishopstone Place, built huge corn mills operated by the ebbing and nowing of the tide. A village grew up around the mills and at one time more than 100 people lived there. But the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 spelt the end for Tide Mills. Cheap foreign grain flooded into the country and the mills were run down and eventually' demolished in 1901. In the twenties a racing stables took over the village and a decade later it became the seaside branch of the Chailey Heritage Craft School for Crippled Boys. The village was evacuated and razed to she ground by she Army in she Second World War. All that remains today are broken cobbled watts and she foundations ol mills, the granary and she homes of the mill workers.
To see the changes in the mouth of the Ouse on maps from 1587 to today go to the 'Estuary Section'.