Seaford People - Famous and Infamous


Extracts of a Talk to Seaford Museum and Heritage Society
by Kevin Gordon in the Barn Theatre, 20th September 2000
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Seaford is a relatively small town so maybe we have more than our fair share of notable people who are associated with the town. There are three main reasons for this: Politics, the Military and Education.

POLITICS
As a Cinque Port the town of Seaford was able to return two Members of Parliament despite a relatively small population. This led it to become a “Rotten Borough” where, with the backing of one of the local landowners such as the Dukes of Newcastle or Pelham, you could be elected without any knowledge or interest about local affairs. No less than three Prime Ministers were MPs for Seaford:

  Seaford MP Prime Minister
Henry Pelham 1717-1722 1743-1746
William Pitt (the elder) 1747-1754 1766-1768
George Canning 1827 1827


Other notable MPs include Sir Peter Parker who was Commander of North American Waters during the Wars of Independence then Commander in Chief of Jamaica eventually, in 1799 becoming Admiral of the Fleet.  He was elected MP for Seaford in 1784 and it is amazing to note that this was done without his knowledge!   Sir James Peachy was our MP between 1755 and 1768. he was Groom to the King’s Bedchamber and master of the King’s Robes.  William Lowndes was our representative for 19 years and was the First Secretary to the Treasury. He is responsible for first using the term “Ways and Means” to describe the method by which the Government collect revenue.

MILITARY
Edward Cooke from Whitney was one of the Oxfordshire Militia billeted at the Blatchington Barracks (close to the site of the Salts Recreation Ground)  Life was not easy for him and his fellow soldiers, their camp was knee deep in mud and the food was overpriced and bad.  On 16th April 1795 he was one of many raided a butchers shop in the High Street. The soldiers paraded through Seaford with joints of meat stuck on their bayonet’s. The following day more shops were looted and a boat laden with flour was high jacked at Tide Mills. It was sailed across to Newhaven where the food was distributed at “realistic” prices to a grateful crowd of local people.

The military took a dim view of such antics and William Cooke was arrested and executed in Hove witnessed by regiments drawn from all over the county.

The Duke of Wellington was the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and as such it is believed that he once stayed in Seaford whilst inspecting defences. He possibly stayed at the New Inn which afterwards changed its name to the “Wellington” It is a still a popular pub and the good duke is shown on the pub sign sitting in one of his boots.

As a young man George Gordon spent many of his summer holidays staying with his aunt who lived in Crouch House, Seaford. He was later to become one of the most famous British Generals known as “Chinese Gordon” and later “Gordon of Khartoum”.

The close proximity of the important port of Newhaven meant that during both wars, Seaford was full of troops waiting to cross the channel. There were several camps in the town and many schools and public buildings were requisitioned by the military. In 1915 General Kitchener reviewed the troops in the town. He mounted his horse at the gates of St Peter's School but the boys of the school (who had been given leave to see the great general) gave such a loud, shrill and patriotic cheer that his horse reared and he was nearly unsaddled!

Many local men paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Great War and are commemorated on the War Memorial.  One of them, Cuthbert Bromley received the Victoria Cross for bravery at Gallipoli.
  
During the Second World War, the people of Seaford not only served their country but were subject to many bombing raids. The civilians killed are also noted on the War Memorial.  Claud Raymond of Belgrave Road and David Jamieson of Ladycross School both received the Victoria Cross for their gallantry in action.

One forgotten victim of the War was Ruth Kahlenberg, a Jewish pupil at Mickelfield School. She died whilst hiding from the enemy in Nazi occupied Holland.

After the War, Winston Churchill paid many visits to Seaford (his wife, Clementine, once lived in the town) where he often hired a boat for a trip round the bay.

During the Falklands conflict in 1981, former St Peter’s scholar, Colonel Herbert Jones (known as “H”)  led 450 men to victory at Goose Green against an Argentine stronghold of over 1,500 troops.  He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Although he is buried at San Carlos War Cemetery, his name was added to the school memorial board which is now on display at the museum.

EDUCATION
Seaford, half way between the elegant resort of Eastbourne and the exciting and rather risqué resort of Brighton, found it difficult to compete for the holiday trade. The town therefore gave itself up to private schools.  The proximity to the downs and the healthy sea air made it an ideal location for young children and many schools were established in the town.

In the 1870s, one notable teacher was Herman Ebbinghaus, a young German who came to England to improve his English. He taught at Mr Bull’s Gentleman’s Academy situated in West House.  After returning to Germany he opened a psychological laboratory at the University of Berlin, here he researched memory and devised methods of remembering based on nonsense words. He also studied vision and human perceptions of colour and did important work in testing the mental ability of children. His two important books on memory are still used as works of reference today.

Another teacher who lived in Seaford was Mark Anthony Lower, the historian and founder of the Sussex Archaeological Society.

Remarkably two famous Dames of the Theatre were both schoolgirls in Seaford at roughly the same time; whilst Dame Peggy Ashcroft was attending Gateways Kindergarten School on the seafront, Dame Margaret Rutherford was playing lacrosse at Ravenscroft School on the Eastbourne Road.

The McWhirter Twins, Ross and Norris spent their early school years at Chesterton School they achieved fame as sportsmen and journalists and also edited the Guinness Book Records.  Anthony Blunt the art historian and infamous spy attended St Peter's School in the Alfriston Road as did Colonel “H” Jones one of the last people to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Actress Penelope Keith went to Anncey which is still a popular School in the town.  Even Sir Richard Branson braved the Seaford winds for a year at Cliff View House, a Crammer school.

******* Other superlatives of Seaford  ********


HIGHEST
Sir Richard was famous for attempting balloon records which wasn’t a problem for Henry Coxwell. He built a balloon in his workshops in Richmond Road (opposite Safeways) and in 1862 used it to attain a world record altitude record of nearly 7 miles.

FASTEST
Another record breaker with a Seaford connection was Donald Campbell who during the sixties was the fastest man on both land and water. He attended St Peter's School on the Alfriston Road. He died in 1967 when his boat “Bluebird” flipped over at 300mph on Lake Coniston.

TALLEST
Michael Olowokandi arrived in Seaford from Nigeria aged 10years when his father, took up a diplomatic post in London. He attended Newlands School where his love of sports was established. At 16 he was 6’7” tall so it seemed natural for him to play basketball. When aged 20 he telephoned an American College and asked for a scholarship. He was snapped up and was soon playing in the USA.  In 1998 he was selected at “First Pick” in the NBA Draft. This means he was the most promising player in the National Basketball Association. He is now over 7 feet tall and plays for the “LA Clippers”.

SHORTEST
Michael Olowokandi would have towered over William HAY who was MP for Seaford in the 1700s.  He was born a hunchback in Glynde and as an adult was just 5 feet tall.  Hay was our parliamentary representative for over 22 years and became the Commander for Victualling the Navy and later the Keeper of Records at the Tower of London.

THE ARTS
Alfred, Lord Tennyson was a favourite of Queen Victoria. The poet lived in Seaford House with his family in 1851 but later moved to the Isle of Wight (where perhaps it was less windy!)

George Meredith the author was a frequent visitor to Seaford where he stayed at Marine Terrace. He witnessed the great floods of 1875 and wrote of his experiences in his book “The House by the Sea”.

Other authors with a Seaford connection include travel writer Nina Epton and children’s authors Malcolm Saville and Anthony Buckeridge who wrote the “Jennings” books.

Photographer Grace Robertson and the opera singer Felicity Lott still live in the town as did Don Partridge who had a number one hit in 1967 with his song “Rosie”. Know as the “King of the Buskers” he could regularly be heard busking in the town.

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It is difficult to list in just a few lines all the notable people with Seaford connections.  From Saints (St Lewenna was believed to have lived in Seaford) to Sinners (John “Scotch Jack” Buggy – believed to have been the banker for much of the proceeds of the Great Train Robbery was found dead in Seaford Bay) there are just too many to mention.

Isn’t it amazing that such a small town should have so many notable people? Three Prime Ministers, four of Britain’s greatest soldiers (Wellington, Gordon, Kitchener, Churchill) many actors and sportsmen, even foreign royalty all knew the ancient Cinque Port of Seaford.

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One last person who is worthy of a mention is Seaford GP, Dr.William Pringle-Morgan. He practiced in town for over 40 years and during that time identified a symptom which he called “congenital word blindness” in a local lad known only as “Percy F”. Despite being bright and quick witted, Percy was unable to learn to read.  Pringle-Morgan was the first person to realise that this problem was due to visual difficulties rather than any mental problem. Pringle-Morgan died in 1934 but in 1996 it was acknowledged by the “Scientific American” that he was the first person to identify dyslexia.

© 2003 Kevin Gordon / Seaford Museum.