This tale begins with tumultuous days in early 19th century Brighton, but the Hall family played a notable role in Henfield's history for well over half a century. Working with and marrying into the Borrer family, Eardley Nicholas Hall took over Barrow Hill house after botanist William Borrer's death.
Eardley was born in 1803, and like his father, was a well-known banker and sometime wine merchant, working at the family bank of Hall, West & Borrer at 6 North Street, Brighton. Known by various partner dependent names, it was often simply known as the Brighton Union Bank. It was one of only two in Brighton to survive the 'Panic of 1825' stock market crash, to which Eardley would no doubt have lost sleep as a young banker.
This 19th century version of the South Sea Bubble of the previous century was in part caused by overly speculative Latin American investment. One particularly extreme example involved the almost unbelievable story of soldier, sometime colleague of Simon Bolivar - and fraudster of massive ambition - Gregor MacGregor, who embarked on multiple society publicity tours to encourage settlement and investment in the country of 'Poyais'. Which to the horror of the settlers arriving off the wild coast of South America, turned out to be entirely mythical (an extraordinary tale well worth a read into).
The crisis brought down sixty banks across the country and required the bank of England to be bailed out with gold from the Bank of France! By 1843 the Union Bank was the last one standing of seven that had opened in Brighton in the past half century and so became the primary bank of the town for the rest of the 19th century. It was eventually bought out in 1894 by what was to become Barclays. The old Lloyds branch in Henfield High Street, (formerly the Barclays site), was originally a branch of the Brighton Union Bank.
On 26th March 1892, the Brighton Herald published a complimentary account by stockbroker William Baines which well captures the spirit of this era, contrasting greatly perhaps with common ideas of bankers in the 21st century!
'The house next to the Duke of Devonshire’s was occupied by Mr Thomas West, the well-known banker of The Union Bank, North Street. The Union Bank at that time was an old-fashioned round fronted building with a flight of steps leading up to it. The proprietors were Messrs Hall, West and Borrer, and with their white-haired managing clerk, old Mr. Pocock, formed a quartet of the most genial looking old gentlemen that the eye could look upon. One and all of them had something lively to say to their customers. In their general style and deportment they used to put the writer in mind of the Brothers Cheeryble*.'
*Brothers Cheeryble, the kind-hearted employers of Nicholas Nickleby in Charles Dickens’s novel.'
Eardley married Henfield botanist William Borrer's daughter Annette (his second cousin) in 1835 and they lived at the Hall family mansion of Portslade Place - an imposing Georgian mansion with extensive grounds built in 1795. In 1836, he was involved at the genesis of the railways, being listed as a subscriber to the Bath and Weymouth Railway Company, having bought 40 shares with a value of £2000 (and 5 more in his role as a partner at the bank). This company was soon to be bought out by the Great Western railway which moved on under Brunel to complete the line we know today.
On William's death in 1862, Eardley purchased Barrow Hill from William's son Dawson - well known for his voyage to Lebanon and his return with Lebanon Cedar seeds planted at Henfield. They afterwards moved in and rented out Portslade Place, which survived until 1936, by then long out of place amongst the envelopment of the modern town. A few years after the Hall family had moved in, Barrow Hill gained its local 'Snake House' nomenclature when a house martin nest taken over by sparrows was knocked from the eaves to disgorge a feasting snake!
Eardley did his best to fill the gap William Borrer had formerly played in Henfield life, contributing time and money to the church and local education - the Eardley Hall Institute would later pay his and his son's endeavours due tribute. For his daughter Elizabeth's wedding to Henry West (of the Brighton Bank family), Henfield saw a wedding the likes of which did not come around often. Five triumphal arches of evergreens, flowers, mottos and messages to the couple and flags were erected on the route to St. Peter's, with decorations inside and the altar covered by a cloth of pink - a three week honeymoon through scenic parts of England and Wales was next.
Soon afterwards, Barrow Hill was opened up to host Henfield's Horticultural and Floricultural Show, instituted some years prior and already a village highlight. Two marquees went up - the large for amateur and professional entries, the small for cottagers' entries - and the famous gardens opened to the public, including groups of the village schoolchildren. With entry at a penny and events continuing until 7PM, all could attend. Carriages arrived from many miles around. The Brighton Brass Band provided the musical accompaniment of waltzes, polkas and quadrilles.
Entry highlights included an exotic looking arbutus tree (Henry Longley) and a popular five foot high flower pyramid (Charles Fowler). Eardley exhibited potted grape vines with fruit ready to eat, while Mrs. Hall showed a 50lb globe of clear honey. Other prize winning exhibits from the cottagers' marquee included further honey (James Goacher), grapes (William Blake) and fuchsia, geraniums and balsams (Charles 'Lossam' Ward), artificial flowers of turnips and carrots (Alfred Collins), seedling peaches (Richard Brownings - prize, a large reference bible) and gigantic potatoes shown by George landlord Charles Stoner. For gardens, Henry Fairs won a wheelbarrow for 'Little Betley', while runner up Henry Hills won a high grade set of tools. Of the children, 11-year-old Ann Ward won a prize box for her flower device, while 13 year old James Foreman won a prized cricket bat for his wild flowers. Henfield's reputation as a garden village was very much secure.
Later in life he was Justice of the Peace and a local Magistrate. In 1882, his name was cast into bell number two of St. Peter's Church Brighton, where he was a major donor for their new ring of eight bells (the existing ring of 10 now date from 1914). Eardley died in 1887 and was buried in the family tomb at St Michael & All Angels Church, Southwick. An impressive Celtic cross also stands in his and his wife Ann's memory in the churchyard of St. Peter's, Henfield, dedicated by their children.
His son John Eardley Hall, also a banker, became a well known Henfield benefactor and parish councillor, after whom the local 'Eardley Hall Institute' club was named. John was a lifelong bachelor who lived at Barrow Hill with his sisters Jessie (who died in 1896) and Annette Blackburn - who had been widowed after only seven years of marriage to Frederick Blackburn. Sadly, their son also predeceased her by two years.
By the night of the 1911 Census, John, Annette and Norwegian visitor Anna Bodtker - a fellow widow also resident for the 1901 Census - remained, along with their five resident servants. Having long since retired from the bank to focus on local projects, John Eardley Hall died in 1915 aged 73. By then a widow for 58 years, Annette, the last Borrer link, died in 1921 aged 84, in the house built for her grandfather William's marriage 110 years earlier. Her passing was noted in the January 1921 Parish Magazine, her continuance of the family tradition highlighted. 'The discovery of a rare flower, or one that had reappeared in its old haunt, interested her extremely. She knew all the bird notes, and watched eagerly every spring for the return of her feathered favourites, and often the news of the arrival of the chiff-chaff, wryneck or blackcap came from Barrow Hill.'
The house was bought by local shopkeeper and businessman Charlie Tobitt and lay empty until occupied by the Canadian military during the war. Further damaged by this experience, the land was sold after Tobitt's death in 1953 and the house, for years home to only wildlife and the more adventurous local children, was demolished a few years prior to the development of the current Mill Drive estate in the late 1950s.
By Robert S. Gordon, 2020.
An abridged version of this article was first published in the Henfield Parish Magazine, July 2020. Special thanks go to E. J. Colgate for the detailed descriptions of the wedding of Elizabeth Hall and Henry West as included in his book, Henfield’s 19th Century Egg Basket.
Anon., A history of banks in Brighton (1990)
Anon., The Bankers' Magazine, and Journal of the Money Market, Volume 4 (London, Groombridge & Sons, 1846)
Anon., 'New Ring of Eight Bells at St. Peter’s, Brighton', Church Bells (July 1st 1882)
Anon., Reports from Committees, Volume 18, Part 2, Railway Subscription Lists, 4-7, Bath and Weymouth Railway Subscription List (London, House of Commons, 1837)
Baines, William, 'A quartet of genial old gentlemen', The Brighton Herald (26th March 1892)
Colgate, Edward J., Henfield's 19th Century Egg Basket (2020)
Middleton, Judy, Portslade House 1795-1936 (2020)
Henfield Museum Records (unpublished)
13/9/2022 09:30:39 am
A very interesting article. Yes, "Henfield's 19th Century Egg Basket" is full of stories about village life and people - a book worth reading
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