Roedean: A potted history

Roedean Gap is a slight dip in the cliffs between Black Rock and Ovingdean Gap, and has been known as such since at least 1724. It was the site of a tollgate on the Newhaven turnpike, and Roedean Farm stood on the cliff top until the construction of the Marine Drive in the early 1930s. There was also a windmill at Roedean from around 1750 to about 1790, and the old mill-house was amongst the buildings cleared for the road construction.

Roedean Bottom
Roedean Bottom extends northwards from the gap and has been the site of a number of Roman finds. In about 1900 an isolated row of coastguard cottages now known as Roedean Terrace was erected to the west of the valley. The Roedean estate, which was developed around the terrace from the 1930s, is now one of Brighton’s most exclusive residential districts with a population of around 600. The open spaces along the cliff top were acquired by the corporation in 1928-35. The miniature golf-course opened in April 1957, but was reduced to 16 holes in 1988 for the new layout of Marine Drive to cater for Marina traffic; the adjacent area to the north of Roedean Road has also been used as a pitch-and-putt course during busy periods.

Roedean Road
Roedean Road itself opened between Arundel Road and the coast road at Roedean Farm in 1897 as an alternative to the cliff-top road which had become unusable to the east of Black Rock owing to cliff erosion; seventy-five feet of land had disappeared in fifty years. The new road to Rottingdean, Marine Drive, was opened on 22 July 1932 by P.J.Pybus, Minister of Transport, with the cliffs protected by the Undercliff Walk sea-wall.

John Howard House
John Howard House at the western end of Roedean Road was opened in 1914 at the expense of Sir John Howard as a convalescent home for gentlewomen, but it was almost immediately requisitioned for use as an officers’ hospital in the First World War. Since 1974 it has been a home of the Royal Hospital and Home for Incurables, which is based in Putney and run on a voluntary basis. Opposite is a large electricity substation built by the corporation in 1924, and the Bell Tower Industrial Estate, developed in 1983 on the site of St Mark’s School; the school’s bell-tower is preserved as the estate’s distinctive feature.

The East Brighton Golf Club in Roedean Road is a private club, founded in 1893 as the Kemp Town Golf Club. Initially it had just a few holes alongside Roedean Road, but it was soon extended to nine holes across the Downs, and in 1897 changed its name to East Brighton with the addition of another nine holes. The small clubhouse was near the present fourth tee, but the present clubhouse was erected in 1897 and extended several times until 1912. The course itself is 6,291 yards long and was remodelled in 1903 along Wick Bottom; the land is leased from the corporation which acquired it in September 1913 as part of the East Brighton estate. Past presidents of the club include the Duke of Norfolk, Marquess of Abergavenny, Earl of Chichester and Earl Haig.

Comments about this page

  • I lived at Roedean most of WW2 and in appreciation of Mr Carder’s research I submit the following for consideration: 1. My great grandfather Lawrence Holford worked on ‘Roedean Farm on the cliff top’ which my family and other Roedean residents knew as Black Rock Farm. 2. I understood that the ‘Miniature Golf Course’, which I presume to be the pitch & putt, to be pre-WW2 development and built on what was Black Rock Farm. It was a Royal Canadian anti aircraft artillery position during WW2 and re-opened soon after end of war; just 9 holes on west side first, the second 9 some time later. 3. I lived in Roedean Terrace 1940 to 1945. The cliff erosion referred to also disposed of Black Rock Farmhouse and cottages, home to the Holfords. 5. Roedean Bottom was again a source of finds during the war as it was used to dump detritus resulting from German bombs on East Brighton area : china, pieces of furniture, taps and tin baths. I was forbidden to visit but couldn’t resist. Thanks to Mr Carder for his interesting history.

    By John Sullivan (22/10/2003)
  • Before the fire station was built, there was a ‘green’ area backing onto Hillside Cottages (I lived there 1944-68) and, in the lane next to the gasworks, a splendid blacksmith, who shoed horses. Also, a super baker, ‘Stevens’ in Rifle Butt Road.

    By Don Grant (27/07/2005)
  • With reference to Don Grant’s report of the ‘super baker’, Stevens in Rifle Butt Road: I was at St Mark’s Primary School with Mr Stevens’ daughter, Marion, for some 5 years before the school was bombed.

    By John Sullivan (10/10/2005)
  • As a child I lived in Cliff Road from 1949 till 1958 when we moved abroad. I remember the electricity substation in Roedean Road generated 240 volts DC power which was very unusual and we had to have special domestic appliances to cope with this. I still have some of my parents’ plugs which are marked with plus and minus symbols. It was converted to 240 AC some time after this. Does anyone know how and why Roedean had this unique electricity supply?

    By Julian Saul (12/10/2005)
  • Very interesting comments on the Roedean area of Brighton. Concerning the executive-style houses on Roedean Road – directly overlooking the pitch & putt area – can anyone tell me soemthing of their history eg dates built / famous owners?

    By Bucklt (22/04/2006)
  • I’m looking for some information for my dad – a veteran of Newhaven. His mother, Jenny Roberts, went to Roedean School for Girls around 1915-1920 – any information would be great. Her married name was Bradford and her husband was called Henry Bradford. My dad is Raymond Bradford and he married Peggy (Gower) who recently died. Unfortunately since living in London we have no information so anyone who can help would make Dad really happy – he is in his 80s now and the youngest in his family and the last of the Bradfords. They lived in Chapel Street (79) in Newhaven. Thanks for your help.

    By Kim Uysal (19/12/2006)
  • I was interested to read the comments by John Sullivan. John – I believe we are related. I would love to be in touch.

    By Josie Holford (10/01/2010)
  • When I look at the old maps I see that in Roedean and the Cliff at 1911 there were only 4 properties. The White Lodge, just by what is now the pitch and putt. And three pairs of semis designed shortly after the White Lodge. I have been told that these three pairs of semis were designed by the famous architect John William Simpson, who designed the White Lodge and Roedean school. Does anybody have any further information about this?

    By Christine Hearn (01/11/2010)
  • Very interesting comments have been made that I would like to add to. In WW1 my father was in the RAMC, stationed for a while, at the John Howard Convalescent Home.  He told me of some patients being war wounded Indian serviceman.  I comment on this in case readers of an an earlier comment believe that only British officers were treated there. The road from Arundel Road to Roedean Gap was always referred to locally as the Rottingdean Road.  It was also identified as such by employees on the little 4A bus that ran to Ovingdean.  It became more popularly known as Roedean Road when the coastal road was reopened. The grassland between McGee’s garage, at the junction of Rifle Butt Road and Roedean Road, and Cliff Road, was commonly known as the G(J)inny Ground.  I would be interested to know how it acquired that name.  I assume it must derive from a previous owner of the site.  Beneath the Fire Station, that now stands on the site, is/was a massive fleet of cars and lorries, albeit Dinky models. During Infant School holidays, at St Mark’s, I used to play there.  I buried all my toys in the hillside to save carrying them home, to the Whitehawk cottages, each day.              

    Harvey Holford, of whom you will have read elsewhere on this site, was a close friend.  I used to meet him at a farmhouse, situated then, in a small copse where the Pitch and Putt is now sited.  My friends, and I, always referred to it as Holford’s Farm. I also recall a tall chimney between the road and the cliff edge at Roedean.  I always thought it was an air vent for sewers or drains.

    In the 1920’s my father was a gardener at a couple of addresses in Cliff Road. I recall, one year, standing in one of the gardens watching the planes bank round on their return leg to the Isle of Wight, in the Annual Air Race.  The engine of the winning plane was later adopted for the Spitfire.  He, incidentally, also designed many of the gardens in the Roedean Crescent area.

    By Ted Brooke (05/01/2014)
  • Does anyone remember Mr and Mrs Miller running the Pitch and Putt cafe ? We met Mrs Miller in the early 1980s living in Saltdean but cannot remember either of their names. Does anyone know please?

    By Simon & Angela Tanner (30/06/2020)

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