History of Loxdale
(Higher Level Reading Piece)
Layers upon layers, strata upon strata . . Did you know you were living inside a giant quantum onion made up of multiple universes? Well, you are. Coming to study here at Loxdale every day, you are swimming through history like a time traveller!
Forget looking for the wifi for a moment, drop your phone, and help me carry this coal up from the cellar to the fireplaces in our classrooms. It’s cold, there’s no central heating, there’s hardly any electricity yet. The year is 1902, and after three years in the making Walter Mews, his wife and two sons are finally able to move into their dream home. He’s worked hard for this, running the Portslade Brewery with his brother Herbert since 1884, and each of the workers gets a couple of free pints of India Pale Ale for their trouble on moving day, just like they did for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. Built on Locks Hill, Portslade, Walter names his new residence, Loxdale.
What room are you in? Are you on the ground floor or the first? Is there a fireplace? Lucky you! The ground and first floor were where the family and their guests could enjoy fine living in the panel rooms, the piano room and what is now the Principal’s office, while the servants were cooking and cleaning out of sight at the back, and where we now all eat lunch. See the alcove where you play piano sometimes? It’s set inside the enormous fireplace where once there was a big cooking range.
[Fireplaces everywhere, some used for cooking and big enough to fit a piano inside today]
There were even two staircases: the rather grand, wood-panelled affair beside reception (which was originally a library, by the way) and the other one hidden next to the cloakroom (originally a pantry – or food store). Rooms Four, Five and Six were once the family’s bedrooms while in the attic on the second floor was where the servants slept (now rooms Ten, Eleven, Twelve), sometimes in shared rooms, off the narrow corridor, with smaller fireplaces and lower ceilings. Oh well, low ceilings are better for keeping the warmth in.
Which was the exact opposite of what that small dark room in the cellar was like. Barred like a prison cell with a heavy safe door, Walter claimed it was to keep the beers cold, but most likely it was to guard the family jewels, locked up against thieving hands.
[Upstairs and downstairs lives were very different]
Despite the strict divide between servants and the middle and upper classes, Walter Mews was known for being a generous, public-spirited person who liked opening the grounds for summer fêtes as much as he cherished his gardens.
[A journalist in 1920 wrote, “One recalls visits to Loxdale gardens in mid-summer, when everything seems ablaze with colour for Mr Mews is a great lover of beautiful flowers” – although everyone looks rather serious here]
After Walter died, the house, having survived the First World War unscathed, was finally sold in 1928 and true to its tradition of philanthropy was used as a refuge or “home for little boys.” Who knows what these young people would have made of Loxdale. Can you imagine them running up and down the corridors? Who among them would have made it into the dome of the tower? Did anyone dare to sleep overnight, huddled in blankets inside what had previously been the “beer store” in the cellar, peering through the bars, looking for ghosts? The Children’s Society began managing the property in 1937 but soon had to send the boys away because another World War had broken out and the army needed the building to house its officers.
Now new sounds echoed through the upper floors of what was once the servants’ quarters, and the tower flickered in a crimson-orange glow. It was the sickening crack and crump of incendiary bombs falling from planes on their way back to Europe after another nightly air raid over London. As well as bombing the coastal towns intentionally by day, the blitzkrieg used them as a dumping ground to offload unused bombs before flying home. One night in 1943 the roof caught fire from one of these strikes, and the timbers in the attic bathroom are still charred today.
After the Second World War, a new layer is added to Loxdale’s history and the corridors come alive with footsteps and singing voices again as children come to live here once more. For sixteen years, London County Council sends children to get a fresh start out in the countryside, many of them had perhaps been orphaned by the war, or traumatized by what they’d seen and lived through. Did Walter Mews’ gardens serve them well? How many games of football and rugby were played here? And in the summer evenings with the sun still warm on the horizon, how many games of cricket, while others built camps and planned picnics in the bushes and rustling hedgerows.
[Children must have had fun exploring the house from top to bottom]
Throughout the nineteen sixties and seventies, Lewisham County Council continued to house young people here in Loxdale, and even used it as a holiday home for old people too. So for a while things would have quietened down as more sedate pursuits took over. These new routines were most likely knitting, playing card games, and reading books and magazines on the lawn. Which rooms do you think they favoured, these older residents? The piano room? The library? Or simply the dining room for endless cups of tea?
But Loxdale was never destined to be quiet for long. In 1979 the Swedish Folk High School bought the place and it became a language school, a place for young people, specifically girls, so my guess is the tower’s dome would definitely have been climbed and an hour of delicious terror spent spying for ghosts in the cellar. Ten years later it was not only Swedish staying but people from all over the world, of all nationalities and cultures and creeds. Here they mixed together, learning about each other over plates of chips and ketchup in the dining room, clasping cups of tea and coffee on cold days out on the lawn, sharing a cigarette and stories of where they came from and where they planned to go, and of all the things they wanted to do with their lives. New voices, strange words, different accents. A common language among uncommon company, soon to be lifelong friends.
So the corridors sound on as they have always done, as groups come and go under their special names: Gilmour, Martha, Perry, Dusty, Kipling, Regent . . . these names belonged to local people, by the way, Sussex dwellers, celebrated for their contributions to society. More about them another time . . . You are the history now, the next layer in the giant quantum onion. You are the time travellers of Loxdale.