Brian Beck: Landport Bottom, and Air Raid Shelters

Nevill Memoirs > Brian Beck

A Potted History of Landport Bottom

This account covers the time from 1900 to the present. I was born on the Nevill Estate in 1929 and have lived in Highdown Road for fifty-seven years and feel that the following history would be useful. Up to about 1936 I have used old maps photos and accounts from my parents. For the subsequent years I can speak from experience. In a photo taken just before 1900 the area looking south towards H.M. Prison shows that corn had just been harvested and sheep were grazing over the stubble. An Ordnance Survey map dated 1911 suggests that arable farming had ceased and the land had reverted to a typical Southdown scene with areas of woodland, scrub and gorse similar to the landscape that can be seen on the hills skirting the golf course towards Mount Caburn, at Blackcap and on the Southdown Way.

Through the 20s and 30s Landport Bottom continued as described. From 1936 until 1941 all ages were able to roam and play freely there and although the new part of the estate developed by the Ringmer Building Works encroached on our territory nothing changed. Up to 1941 there were no fences as there were no sheep and it was mainly grass with a scattering of gorse, brambles, blackthorn and the occasional tree, including oak. There was a wood about 150 yards long by 60 yards at its widest, this remained after the Nevill Estate was completed until about 1941. A genuine woodland with oak and other trees. There were worn-short grass paths to different parts of the Downs: to Offham and the route for the punters, who had come to Lewes by train for the race meetings. This was up to 20 yards wide and started where the allotments are. There was an old dew pond, unused except by boys as another play area. Bird life was plentiful and varied including pheasants, partridges and skylarks. Animals included rabbits and reptiles in abundance, foxes and stoats. Wild flowers were varied depending on location including buttercups, cowslips, violets, daises and cornflowers and many I can’t name.

This changed during WWII. In 1941 the Government ordered that all available land should be turned over to food production and Landport Bottom became two corn fields. Trees, scrub, gorse and all growth other than grasses and wild flowers were uprooted and the ploughing began. Before planting tons of flint was removed. The land was ploughed and corn crops were grown throughout the war and this continued to, from memory, the early seventies. The farmers still allowed paths to the main destinations and after harvesting they left enough bales of straw for the children to play with and till the next ploughing the land was ours. We also had changing vistas throughout the year. After that the land lay fallow and as nature took its course it started the gradual return to a typical Southdown landscape. Scrub started to grow and the old footpaths returned and varied animals and bird life were to be seen. Residents of Lewes and particularly the Nevill enjoyed the freedom to roam, ride, fly kites and enjoy themselves without hindrance.

Following a planning application submitted by developers for housing to be built on the land, thankfully rejected, Lewes District Council and Town Council, to their credit, bought it to be kept in perpetuity for the benefit of the town. Thank goodness we thought, now we have a guarantee of our freedom to enjoy the space of Landport Bottom and the passage it provides to the downs beyond.

Link to Nevill Residents Association/History

Link to an illustrated version of this history at the Friends of Landport Bottom website

 

Air Raid Shelters 

The only one I remember was in the Rec (Nevill Green), the construction was the same for all of them including the ones at all of the schools. A long trench about 6 to 7 feet deep and 6ft wide was excavated, this was lined  and roofed with precast concrete sections and had wooden benches along the length and the excavated earth covered the shelter as was the case of the family Anderson shelter.

Over the entrance was a rolled up blanket impregnated with some mysterious chemical which in the event of a gas attack would be let down to provide some protection, fortunately neither the shelter nor the blanket were ever “used in anger” throughout the war.

As we got older they became an ideal trysting place.

The only casualty was my friend and next door neighbour, at eleven he was a pipe smoker using a miniature “sherlock holmes” with which he would smoke any fag end he could get, one day these were in very short supply so he tried a piece of the blanket which had two outcomes he was as “sick as a pig” and the other he became, like me, a confirmed non smoker for life.