Mill Road modern houses

Mill Road History > Modern houses

Development since the 1920s: Numbers 2 to 32 Mill Road

Before numbers 2 to 32 Mill Road were built, the land on which they stand formed a section of the Gore Field, part of Lower Stoneham Farm, owned in the earlier part of the 19th Century by Captain Henry Hume Spence RN of Malling House (now the Police HQ). The farm was auctioned upon his death in 1842. At that time the tenant was Stephen Grantham, who paid £13 a year in rent. He was described as “a most respectable tenant, well known as the eminent breeder of south down sheep.”[39]

The Gore Field was purchased by Thomas and Robert Hillman, two of the four sons of John Hillman of Cliffe (1780-1864), a successful Lewes merchant with several different business interests. He sold corn, coal and lime and he farmed too, as well as owning ships and barges. Four of his five sons followed him into the business. When he retired in around 1840 Thomas (1810-1856) and Robert (1816-1884) continued in the coal and lime trade and operated the chalk pits at the top of Malling Hill, on land leased and farmed by their brothers, John Jnr and Alfred, who also took the corn business and went into brewing.[40]

From 1904 the trustees of Robert Hillman’s estate leased the Gore Field to the East Sussex Laundry company for an annual rent of £19. The 1914 Valuation Office survey describes it as ‘arable land, good for building but without a sewer and with a questionable water supply’. Its market value was assessed at £550.[41] The trustees eventually sold some of the land to the County Council in the early 1920s and to individual builders in the early 1930s.

Building began on the left hand side of Mill Road in the 1920s. The first Labour Government’s Housing Act in 1924 raised the level of government subsidies to be paid to local authorities by 50% to build municipal housing for rent for low paid workers. Around half a million houses were built under the terms of this act, the first council houses to be equipped compulsorily with bathrooms. In September 1926 East Sussex County Council duly submitted plans to Lewes Borough for two pairs of cottages in Gore Field on Malling Hill. In the plans the houses are described as being ‘for the housing of county roadmen’. They were approved on 6 October.[42]

These houses (the present 2 to 8 Mill Road) appear on the 1930 OS map, along with the first 3 pairs of houses round the corner in what is now known as Malling Hill, which were built by ESCC at the same time. The numbering originally went down the hill. They had begun to be numbered 2 to 8 Mill Road by the time of the 1951-52 edition of Pike’s Directory.

Plans for numbers 10 to 26 Mill Road were submitted by private individuals and received Council approval in 1931 and 1932.[43] Number 28 was added in the late 1970s and numbers 30 and 32 in the 1990s. Almost all were constructed for occupation by those who had had them designed and built. Among the exceptions were the two pairs of semi-detached houses (now 12 & 14 and 16 & 18 Mill Road), which were constructed by local builders, respectively Harry Milham and Percy Wicks and then occupied by tenants. In both cases, however, the tenants included members of the builders’ families.

The development of Mill Road was typical of the boom in housebuilding in the 1930s when interest rates were close to zero and construction costs were low. Land, too, was relatively cheap: each of the building plots in Mill Road were purchased for around £50. Nationally, the number of houses built by the private sector each year more than doubled between 1931 and 1935 (133,000 to 293,000). By 1937 about 18% of non-agricultural working-class households were buying or owned their own homes. Mortgage companies required as little as 5% deposits and repayment terms were extended to 25 or 30 years. Land for building was plentiful, underpinned by an almost complete absence of land-use planning restrictions. The provisions of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act lay in the future. All this meant that houses became relatively cheap: 85% of new dwellings sold for less than £750 (about £45,000 in today’s terms) when average annual earnings were about £165.

The houses built in the 1930s were all originally referred to by their house names, as follows:

  • Sunny Brae (10 Mill Road) Detached house for Mr C. Painter, motor repair works foreman. Building plan approved May 1931.
  • South Winds and Dorarth (12 and 14 Mill Road) Pair of semi-detached villas for Mssrs H. Milham & Sons, builders. Building plan approved October 1931.
  • Wyndgates and Cresswell (16 and 18 Mill Road) Pair of villas at Malling Hill for Mr P.R. Wicks, builder.  Building plan approved February 1932.
  • Thiseldo (20 Mill Road) Bungalow for Mr A.E. Rawles, occupation unknown. Building plan approved November 1931.
  • Wendy (22 Mill Road) Bungalow for Mr H. Hindon, foreman printer. Building plan approved February 1932.
  • Erzanmyne (24 Mill Road) Detached house for Mr A.S. Ellis, plumber. Building plan approved February 1931
  • Spithurst (26 Mill Road) Bungalow for Mr B. Parris, dairy farmer Building plan approved September 1931.

The September 1939 Register lists the occupations of the residents at numbers 2 to 26 Mill Road, those built before the Second World War. There were three general labourers and a range of tradesmen including a blacksmith, a butcher and a plumber. A foreman motor mechanic and a foreman printer lived there, alongside a newsagent, a builder, a retired dairy farmer and the chief clerk at a building society. No female resident is listed as being in paid employment and every property housed at least one married or single woman whose occupation was rendered as ‘unpaid domestic duties’.

At four of the houses (numbers 10, 12, 16 and 22) the list of residents in September 1939 includes children with different surnames from the adults living there. It is possible that these children were among the very first evacuees to Lewes from the London area. At each of these addresses the number of residents and family members listed in the Lewes Borough Register of Accommodation for Possible Evacuees is the same as that listed in the 1939 register minus the children who by that time were living there.[44]

Jim Dodd (12 Mill Road) confirms that their family hosted an evacuee, presumably the Mary Regan named in the 1939 Register. Similarly, Barbara Ryan, who has lived at 20 Mill Road since 1982, remembers her elderly neighbour at number 22, Gladys Hindon, who had lived there since the 1930s, mentioning that her family had evacuees staying with them during the war. These would include Marie L. Donovan (Hayward). The original entry in the 1939 Register is Donovan, later altered to Hayward, apparently in 1949 and for an unknown reason.[45] Harry and Gladys Hindon hosted 3 evacuees. One (Eileen) remained in Lewes and married locally.

Harry (Henry) Hindon grew up in Hastings and moved to Mill Road from Waterloo Place in Lewes in 1932. He had served in the army in the First World War and survived unscathed. He later served in the Home Guard between 1940 and 1944. Harry was a printer by trade. He worked as a letterpress machine minder at Lewes Press in Friars Walk (the present NHS building) and became the foreman printer there. Harry and Gladys had no children. They kept a large garden and grew vegetables. Gladys was nicknamed Wendy after the house name, not the other way round. She died in 1997, aged 96, in a residential home, where she had moved after Harry’s death in the 1960s.[46]

At least two of the 1930s houses have remained in the same family until the present day. Jim Dodd (number 12) and Geoff Wicks (number 16) have both spent most or (in Jim’s case) all of their lives in houses built by their grandfathers. Geoff’s grandfather, Percy Wicks, ran a very successful building firm in the pre- and post-war periods.[47] He numbered Leonard and Virginia Woolf among his clients: in 1934 they contracted him to move their famous summer house and re-erect it on a different part of the site at Monk’s House in Rodmell.

[39] East Sussex Record Office: AMS 1666

[40] John Kay, Lewes History Group Bulletin 51.

[41] Valuation Office survey field book, December 1914

[42] East Sussex Record Office: DL/A/27/1

[43] East Sussex Record Office: DL/A/2/25

[44] East Sussex Record Office: DL/D/148/1

[45] Conversations with residents

[46] Conversation with June Eade, the Hindons’ niece

[47] East Sussex Record Office: DL/A/47/1934/203