Malling Hill Villas

Mill Road History > Malling Hill Villas


Malling Hill Villas is the name originally given to the early-20th Century terrace built on the right-hand side of Mill Road going up the hill. The name also referred to the pair of houses built opposite the windmill, now numbers 13 and 15 Mill Road. The villas were built on land that had for centuries been attached to Malling Mill. In 1901 Frank Stone, the last Malling miller, sold the windmill and its land to Mr Castle Leaver, managing director of the newly-established Lewes Sanitary Steam Laundry Company.

Leaver decided to sell the land adjacent to the laundry. The plan[36] shows the freehold building lots put up for auction at the White Hart Hotel in June 1901. Mill Road is referred to as Old Ringmer Road.

Malling Hill plots 1901
Plan reproduced with permission of East Sussex Record Office, copyright reserved. ACC 5500/1/171 (Click to enlarge)

Alfred Grieves of Southdown House, Silverdale Road, Eastbourne, a builder with premises at 132 High Street, Lewes, bought Lots 1 to 15 for £225 in October 1901. They became what is now the terrace comprising 17 to 45 Mill Road. The houses now numbered 13 and 15 Mill Road were built on Lots 16 and 17 on the opposite side of the access lane, nearest to the mill. These two building lots were bought and developed by W. H. Hobden of Hull.[37]  Grieves agreed to erect a reservoir of at least 1000 gallons capacity, enclosed in brick and with an iron bottom. This was to prove inadequate to the task of extinguishing the fire at the mill in 1908. These were to be strictly residential properties: another condition of the sale was that no trades or commercial activities should be conducted in the houses constructed on the site, except those of ‘a professional man’.[38]

In January 1905 Grieves sold lots 10 to 15 (now 35 to 45 Mill Road) for £125 to William Weller of 55 Malling Street, who subsequently had the houses built. Weller’s building firm was active in the Lewes area from the 1880s through to the 1920s.

A building plan for the dwelling behind the villas, known as Willesboro, was approved by Lewes Borough Council in May 1935. The proposed bungalow was for Mrs Ethel Mabel Ford of 44 Morris Road, Lewes and the builder was G.E.J. Hayward of Chapel Hill. Further development of the area covered by the plan remained unfulfilled until The Lynchets development in the 1950s.

The first houses were constructed quickly. A company prospectus issued by the Lewes Sanitary Steam Laundry in 1903 refers to ‘building plots in the immediate vicinity on which suitable houses have been erected (which) places the company in a good position for obtaining the necessary labour for the laundry’.

The houses were originally served by cess pits. In March 1910 Lewes Borough Council applied to the Local Government Board for a loan of £290, approved in 1913, to extend the sewerage system up Malling Hill and Mill Road. The Laundry Company had requested the extension and agreed to pay £5 a year to use the sewer.

The houses were known as 1-17 Malling Hill Villas until they were re-numbered as houses in Mill Road. House deeds indicate that this had taken place by October 1927, although building plans for houses on the other side of the road in the early 1930s and Pike’s Directory of 1936-38 still refer to the terrace as Malling Hill Villas and to the road as Malling Hill.

20th Century Owners and occupiers

The original developers appear to have retained ownership of most of the houses for quite some time. Alfred Grieves sold numbers 8 and 9 Malling Hill Villas (31 and 33 Mill Road) to Mrs Caroline Halliday of London in 1904 for £250 each. She leased the houses to tenants until 1920, when both houses were sold at auction. Grieves sold two further houses (17 and 21 Mill Road) in 1918, both to their tenants. William Weller and W.H. Hobden were still the owners of numbers 10 to 15 (35 to 45 Mill Road) and 16 and 17 (13 and 15 Mill Road) respectively when the First World War began. Further sales may have taken place in the post-first world war period, to be confirmed by house deeds.

According to the Valuation Office survey conducted in December 1914, rents were between 7 and 8 shillings (40 pence) a week; the average weekly wage at that time was about 30 shillings. When the freeholds to numbers 8 and 9 (31 and 33 Mill Road) were put up for auction in 1920 the rent was 7 shillings a week, and about to rise to 9 shillings and 10 pence (49 pence), a considerable increase, suggesting that the amount had remained the same for some while and in line with the steep rise in prices and incomes that had taken place during the First World War.

According to the 1911 census, sixteen of the 17 villas on what is now Mill Road were occupied and provided homes to a total of 74 people (21 men, 24 women and 29 children under 18), an average of 4.6 per dwelling. The largest household comprised nine people and the smallest two. Five of the houses gave accommodation to one or more lodgers. Among the heads of household were 3 van drivers, 2 carpenters, 2 clerks, a plasterer, a bakery worker, a laundress, a laundry engineer, a domestic groom and a widow of private means. Despite proximity to the laundry, relatively few Mill Road residents are specifically identified as working there in either the 1911 census or the 1939 Government Register: eight and two respectively. It is, of course, possible that more laundry workers lived there at other times and their occupations not recorded.

Among the residents of the villas in 1911 was Emma Jane Gale at number 7 (29 Mill Road), aged 51 years. She had been married to her painter and decorator husband, Frank, for 34 years, during which time she had borne 12 children, 11 of them still living. Two of them, Rose aged 19 and Florence aged 9, were living with their parents in Mill Road in 1911. Three years later, in September 1914, the Sussex Express reported the tragic death of another child, Frederick, aged 15. He had been cycling in South Street on his way to work in Glynde when a dog ran into the road, causing him to tumble into the path of a road engine owned by Harvey’s brewery. He was dragged along the ground, crushing one of his legs. ‘Soldiers and civilians’ gave assistance and he was taken to the Victoria Hospital, where his leg was amputated and he died that night. The widowed Emma was still at 7 Malling Hill Villas, aged 80, in 1939, by then joined by her son, Frank, described in the Government Register as a Royal Navy pensioner.

Perhaps the most interesting menage in 1911 was at Number 3 (21 Mill Road), comprising an actress in a portable (travelling) theatre company, her son, daughter and niece, and a husband and wife, both actors. The scattered birthplaces of the children (Aberdeen, Birmingham and Maidenhead) indicate the itinerant nature of the adults’ profession. Portable companies tended to avoid larger centres with permanent theatres. Their venues were sometimes tents, sometimes collapsible wooden booths, and sometimes a combination of wooden walls with a canvas top. All these could be dismantled easily and carried from place to place on carts or railway wagons.

The comprehensive register of residents taken at the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 lists a total of 58 people in the 16 occupied properties. The changed nature of employment by the 1930s is reflected in the occupations listed, which by then included three retired railwaymen, a fitter and a labourer at the cement works, two lorry drivers, two salesmen, a baker’s roundsman, a plumber, a secretary and a telephonist.

There seems to have been quite a lot of movement of tenants between the villas in the first half of the 20th Century. For example, Albert Moon lived at numbers 35 and 43 between 1911 and the early 1950s; and May Whitfield lived at number 37 as a child and at was at number 23 in 1939, aged 43. But the record belongs to Frederick Goody, a gas company clerk who, in the space of 11 years, managed to occupy number 31 (in 1906), number 35 (in 1907), number 45 (in 1911), number 43 (in 1913-14) and number 23 (in 1916-17).

Several families have lived in Malling Hill Villas for many years and through more than one generation. For example, the Cheeseman family at number 21 from the mid-1930s to the 2000s; the Testers at number 33 from around 1911 to the early 1950s; and the Whitfields at number 37 from before 1911 to the 1980s.

Malling Hill Villas, 2019
Malling Hill Villas, 2019

[36] East Sussex Record Office: ACC 5500/1/171

[37] Valuation Office Survey Field Book, December 1914

[38] House deeds