The opening up of Sleepers Hole

Peter Bailey 2012
Peter Bailey 2012

SO much history in one snap could well be the title of the first picture. It may have appeared before but deserves to be repeated as it portrays our harbour at one of its most important stages, with the causeway which isolated Sleepers Hole from the remainder of the River Ouse.

In the foreground are out-buildings from the fort, the larger one being the hospital, the building remaining until the 1970s but was not of course in use for many years. To the left, just out of the picture, would have been the large drill hall, much favoured for dances and events. Pre-war most of the guests would have walked there as cars were not all that common in those days. Men could always take a drink of courage as they passed the Sheffield Hotel.

Remember that the first local bowls green was at the rear of this hotel before one appeared in the recreation ground. But it was his Lordship’s involvement with Newhaven which prompted him to pursue our own recreation ground, particularly for the game of cricket.

The first such game was Us versus Sheffield Park XI. Keeping within the view, the next item, bottom left, is the Ark House, a semi detached pair of cottages construction on the body of a large barge, which somehow got here from Rye and must have chosen an extremely high tide so as to have positioned itself so close to the road.

Two families lived there. They offered teas, fish bait, ice cream and a whole variety of choice on the way to the seafront. One went down into the hold to sleep, with windows facing Seaford only. For space, everything seemed in miniature – doorways, cupboards. The presence of customs officers and smugglers would easily conclude the scene.

A small booklet containing a family account is in the museum. Sadly, the building had to be demolished just before the end of the last war owing to dangerous damage caused by the explosion on the West Beach.

Despite the presence of the cliffs, the explosion broke shop windows in Lewes. Water appears to surround the Ark. Here the diversion has been made for the rial track which until now had gone south to the sea from the old and visible low lifeboat house, but now had to be diverted because further use was made of Sleepers Hole.

On the far side of the rail track is a large gathering of sleepers. These were used for quayside and pier construction. They had this name before the coming of the railways. Thus derived the name Sleepers Hole. until the arrival of Cresta Marine. At the entrance to the Hole can be seen a large dredger deepening the water, where once had been a shallow bridge for the track leading straight down to the sea.

The near area was left as mudflats but near to the Watch House on the far side of the dredger’s bow was constructed a lay-by berth, where up to two channel steamers could moor, allowing more space at the active quayside. Lord Moyne of Guiness fame bought two of our Channel steamers from there for conversion to yachts.

Could it be, from those visits, that he noticed the lovely countryside in the Heighton area for holidays for his staff families? Super yachts they were. The first was lost off the Irish coast. The second had hosted the Prince of Wales and Mrs Wallis Simpson in the Med before the vessel was lost on war duties.

Picture 2: Long before the Fenchurch, a little loco serviced hthe harbour on the track where now the Villa Adriano is, with a ghost of the East Quay in the background.