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|A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton
by Paul K Lyons
4 - From a club with prime ministerial links to a school with a slimy reputation
Originally formed in 1883 with land rented at £15/yr, Ovingdean Golf Club had nine holes. It changed its name to Kemp Town Golf Club and then to East Brighton Golf Club. A first club house was built in 1905, and, within a few years, more land was leased and a full course built. Brighton Council bought the land in 1912, and rented it out for £200/yr. Some eight decades later, in 1992, the rent was £4,000/yr. The council then decided to increase it by a factor of 20, to £80,000/yr, but the club refused to pay and took the issue to arbitration, and won. Although the rent was set at £9,000/yr, by the end of 1996, the land had been purchased by the club for £600,000. Today it is described by one golfing website as a 'Classic downland course with superb views'. Green fees vary from £15 for a 'twilight' ticket Monday-Friday to £45 after 11am at the weekends. The club boasts several famous connections. David Lloyd George was a member during the First World War; and, as Prime Minister, held War Cabinet Meetings here, together with Field Marshal Earl Haig and Sir William Robertson, both of whom served as club presidents at one time or another. Between the wars, professional tournaments were played on the course; and in 1933, two famous US golfers, Walter Hagen and Densmore Shute, played an exhibition match against two of the club's professionals. In the post-war, period James Carreras of Hammer Horror Films fame organised Variety Club competitions with his friends Christopher Lee, Stanley Baker, Eric Sykes and others.
I've only been standing here a minute or so before someone shouts: he is waiting to tee off and wants me to move. A few metres further on, at the crest of a ridge, I'm surprised and amazed by my first views of Brighton City. In an instant there is so much to see: seafront developments near the marina, a gasometer, a sports complex, a caravan park, a large school, Brighton racecourse grandstand. Walking on, I pass hollows, slightly sheltered from the wind, where gorse bushes are blooming, showing off their acid sharp yellow. After a few metres, I'm at the other edge of the golf course, with Blackrock and Sheepcote valleys below. The hillside going down is covered in tracks, but the Ordnance Survey map shows no public footpath which will take me in a westerly direction near the 450 northing; nor is this open access land. However, Friends of Sheepcote Valley provide a useful guide to the area, as well as a map showing a network of 'informal paths'. I scramble down the hill, following one of the paths through scrubby land. A tall aerial mast on the hill by the racecourse, more or less on the 450 northing, provides a useful guide. Below are the rectangular shapes of the buildings and sports fields of Stanley Deason Leisure Centre (built 1984) and what used to be called Stanley Deason School (built a decade earlier in 1976), both named after a former Brighton Mayor.
The leisure centre boasts a gym, a multi-purpose sports hall, all-weather floodlit pitches, a netball court, indoor cricket nets, and a climbing wall. The Stanley Deason School, though, doesn't have much to boast about. After a chequered history, it tried to reinvent itself in the late 1990s as Marina High, but only lasted two years. Subsequently, and with the involvement of Private Finance Initiative company (Jarvis), it became East Brighton College of Media Arts (Comart). However, a damning Ofsted report led to the school being put under so-called 'Special Measures'. Many thought the school was making progress, nevertheless, it closed for good in 2005. The headteacher, Jill Clough, who succeeded in getting the school off 'Special Measures' but who left in 2002 exhausted, blamed staff scepticism, the school's persistent bad reputation and problems with Jarvis. She said the final straw was a parent survey which labelled Comart as 'a slug - stupid, dirty and slimy but slowly getting better'. Now, with a project named 'Equal Brighton and Hove', Brighton's City College plans to use the buildings as a training college for builders, bricklayers and electricians.
Ex-pupils fondly recall Stanley Deason School for all the wrong reasons. One story, much discussed on the Friends Reunited messageboards (www.friendsreunited.co.uk/), concerns the rolling of a tyre down the hill, and into an ice cream van. One pupil remembers 'nearly every revolution that bloody wheel took from top to bottom'. Rolling tyres was normal, he notes, but this was a whole wheel. Another pupil saw a brand new sports bag being thrown in front of the wheel to stop it, but 'sadly the bag was badly damaged, ha!ha!ha!'. The wheel raced across a football pitch bounced a few times and shot into the air before crashing into the side of an ice cream van, smashing the windows. The boy who launched the wheel got two weeks detention, according to his brother, and lots of pats on his back.
by Paul K Lyons
A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton - along the 450 northing
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