Newmarket Farm’s Slate Roof

Newmarket Farm photo possibly taken in about 1924. From a collection of photos by Capt. Bertie Hubbard Maclaren. Brighton & Hove Royal Pavilion and Museums, ref. HA930078.

Newmarket Farm photo possibly taken in about 1924. From a collection of photos by Capt. Bertie Hubbard Maclaren. Brighton & Hove Royal Pavilion and Museums, ref. HA930078.

The Newmarket Farm was probably built in about 1831 – which puts it right at the end of the Georgian period. The archaeological evidence, in keeping with personal memories and the above photograph, all indicate that for most of its life it was roofed with Welsh slate. But has it always been roofed with slate – as our archaeological evidence has indicated?

Personal communications with local archaeological experts have told me that Welsh slate arrived in Sussex with the coming of the railways, though they have also said that it is possible that some arrived earlier. Unfortunately those I have spoken to were unaware of any research on the matter. So – reluctantly – I have made a start via the Internet.

Wikipedia!

The Slate industry in Wales was my first port of call. And I was ecstatic with joy to discover that in 1831 – the most likely date for the building of Newmarket Farm – excise duty was removed on the inshore shipping of slate!! Thanks to Google Books I was able to confirm this from pages 46-47 of their scanned copy of The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland [1807-1868/69], Volume 71, His Majesty’s Statute and Law Printers, 1831. The biggest expansion in Welsh slate production was undoubtedly due to the railways in the 1840s, however the 1831 abolition of an excise duty of 20% resulted in an earlier boost to production. Not proof, but it is a start. The assumption would be that either the Kingston estate or some other Sussex merchant would have loaded a ship with grain for sale at a Welsh port, returning with roofing slates as ballast on their return journey.

Further searches for historic slate roofs led me to discover that Brighton’s Royal Albion Hotel, which was built in 1826, was also roofed in slate. However, insufficient information was provided in Historic England’s description to prove to me that the slate could not have been a later addition. Some further general information was provided by the Regency Society on slate roofing. They cited a number of secondary sources on the Internet from which they were able to  that conclude that Welsh slate “is a quintessentially Georgian building material“. One such webpage by Ron Martin on slate roof tiles in Brighton was particularly informative. The light weight and water-impervious nature of slate made it an ideal building material. The main challenge to its use was the cost of transport.

Searching for references to slate before 1840 on ‘The Keep’ website revealed, amongst other records, a letter from Lord Sheffield, Sheffield Place, Sussex, to “my Lord Lennox, third Duke of Richmand” on 20th Jan 1806, held by the East Sussex Record Office (SPK 1/61/3). “He encloses particulars of the mode of felling and barking timber, and the address of Lord Penrhyn’s agent, for slate…

Penrhyn

The Penrhyn Slate Quarry, by Henry Hawkins, 1832. From the National Trust Images, Penrhyn Castle.

The Penrhyn Slate Quarry, by Henry Hawkins, 1832. From National Trust Images, Penrhyn Castle.

My main source to understanding the history of the Penrhyn quarry was the Slatesite website. Welsh slate mining was essentially just a cottage industry until the self educated William Williams of Llandygai (1738 – 1817) proposed to his master, Richard Pennant, 1st Baron Penrhyn (1737 – 21 January 1808) that the slate mines could be managed on a capitalist basis in the 1770s. Demand could be met at lower costs, by owning and managing the mines, the workers, the road, the horse-drawn railway, as well as the shipping from Port Penrhyn, which the estate also owned. Other mines and quarries also expanded to meet the demand for this luxury roofing material. So it was that the government saw it as a means of income, through the levying of a 20% tax on its coastal shipping in July 1794.

Six Degrees to Newmarket Farm!

There are supposed to be six or less degrees of separation between any two people on this planet. It certainly seems to be true for the slate on the roof of Newmarket Farm!

  1. Richard Pennant, who I have discovered to have been the owner of the Penrhyn Slate Quarry, founded his fortune through the slave trade, providing his lucrative West Indian sugar plantations with cheap labour. As an MP he was the first to speak against William Wilberforce in the famous debate in parliament on the abolition of the slave trade, in 12th May, 1789 (The Speeches of Mr. Wilberforce, Lord Penrhyn, Mr. Burke, Sir W. Young, Alderman Newnham … &c. &c. on a Motion for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, in the House of Commons, May the 12th, 1789. To which are Added, Mr. Wilberforce’s Twelve Propositions, John Stockdale, 1789, pp. 5-14).
  2. The father of Charles Jenkinson, 3rd Earl of Liverpool, also had strong views against Wilberforce.
  3. The 3rd Earl’s estate was at Buxted in Sussex. He moved the village to improve his view. One of the villagers moved was the father of Martin Brown.
  4. Martin Brown’s family later moved to the slums of Brighton.
  5. He became an habitual criminal, and whilst on the run from the police sought lodgings in the Newmarket Farm.
  6. The Newmarket Farm had a slate roof, possibly sourced from the Penrhyn Slate Quarry.

Not proof that the Newmarket Farm was built with a roof of slate. But an exciting story full of new directions for further research!

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