Fencing that provoked a town protest

ESTIMATING the date of a picture is not usually a problem, but in the first today I must admit to a feeling of uncertainty.

Steam cranes were introduced in 1862 and remained in use with the regular channel steamers until the arrival of the electrics in 1928.

Occupying the seaward end of East Quay were several hydraulic cranes, four can be seen in the photo with part of the channel steamer the Dieppe (of 1905).

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Towing a barge is the steam hopper Trident. It was she which was built to lay the foundations of the breakwater from 1879. The mud barge involved is from the wooden dredger Hercules which was towed away for scrap in about 1924.

That which is of the greater interest is the white painted section of fencing and gates crossing the double rail track.

The far line had originally come straight from the swing bridge, behind the Ark Inn, past the lifeboat house and down to the end of the breakwater '“ all this to enable the western side of the harbour to be maintained.

There were no lorries, bulldozers or the likes in those times. It was down to men, spades, pickaxes and the ability to lay concrete where required. A little locomotive like the Fenchurch (now on the Bluebell Railway, having spent much of its life here as the harbour locomotive) was needed to provide the motive power to transport men and material.

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In about 1900 it was decided to open up Sleepers Hole and dredge out a deep pool so that up to two channel steamers and the large and small dredgers of the time could be moored there out of the way.

Although the new cut (creating Denton Island and the North Quay) had been made at about the time of the first swing bridge, the new cut had been used to accommodate paddle ferries at landing stages for lay-by or overhaul.

With the intent to commercialise the North Quay, another place had to be found and that meant opening up Sleepers Hole. That in turn meant diverting the rail line around Sleepers Hole and here in the picture you see the re-join beneath the white gates!

Let us now remember that in the 1914-18 war, Newhaven was a sealed military-naval port and the white fending and gates resulting from this go right down to low water, the old fence (left) being more of an ownership boundary marker.

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Similar gate protection had been used at the north end of Sleepers Hole and it seemed the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway were rather slow in returning the port to its pre-war public freedom.

In true bold Newhaven manner, the town fathers, armed with all types of attacking weapons, smashed the padlocks and flung open the gates so that the townsfolk could once more walk around Sleepers Hole on their way to the sea.

The press report stated that they now awaited an arrest!

In the circumstances, one would guess probably a year had been wasted by the port authority, which caused the annoyance and that the date of the picture is probably about 1919 which fits in with the times of the other known dates, but which in this particular case aren't of much use.

The London and North Western Railway wagon suggests the re-grouping of about 1924 and that's a long way from home.


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Peter Bailey is curator of the Newhaven Local and Maritime Museum based in its own fascinating premises in the grounds of Paradise Park in Avis Road, Newhaven.

Summer opening hours are daily, 2-4pm or by arrangement. Admission 1 (accompanied children free). Contact the curator on 01273 514760. Log on to the website at www.newhaven


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