Photo: Illustrative image for the 'THE DROVE, 1962' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'THE DROVE, 1962' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'THE DROVE, 1962' page

Remember Wheatleys' Bungalows?

By Geoffrey Ellis

On my way to Denton Church on Sunday 27 January 2008, I chanced to meet a lady who introduced herself as Valerie Offord. She went on to explain that, although now married and living in Switzerland, she was born in Newhaven and that her father was Ronald Wheatley, who lived in one of the two adjacent bungalows which used to be in the Drove. She had returned to the area to see her elderly aunt, Ethel Wheatley, who had recently gone to live in Peacehaven. Ethel, who came originally from Tarring Neville, lived in the other bungalow with her late husband Bernard, Valerie's uncle.

I spoke of the wonderful floral spectacle provided by the gardens of the two bungalows, and the many vehicle 'shunts' when distracted drivers slowed down to appreciate the display without regard for those similarly engaged in front or behind them. I later found a number of 1962 colour-slides of the gardens that I scanned and emailed to her. Valerie sent the prints to her aunt who was delighted to receive them.

Valerie then told me a surprising story about her father and uncle. She was always puzzled as to why they were unaware that the gardens of the two properties were such a riot of colour until one day her father remarked that he thought her mother's new bright red dress, whilst very becoming, was a little subdued - the puzzle was solved. She realised that the colour blindness with which Ronald, and to a lesser extent his brother Bernard, were afflicted made what appeared to everyone else as incredibly bright colour schemes in those gardens, appear to them to be delicate, almost subtle!

Today it is almost impossible for anybody who did not see these delightful bungalows to imagine just where they were, how wonderful they were, or how well-known they were. So well-known that one delightful summer evening Ronald decided he would take a short mystery coach tour. He was completely taken aback to discover that the evening's delightful surprise was not some unknown gem of the Sussex countryside but a drive to view his own garden! He thought it a huge joke and regaled friends and family with the story for many a year.

On another occasion a car drew up and hailed 'the gardener' to ask who was the owner of the magnificent garden he was working in. When Ronald, dressed as usual in his old working clothes topped by the then normal Sussex labourers' brown coat, tried in vain to explain that he was indeed the owner; his questioner drove away smiling and remarking that he should 'Pull the other leg'.

It goes without saying that Valerie Offord was less than impressed with the scene that supersedes the floral exhibition of yesteryear - a factory estate and J. Sainsbury! Progress comes at a price.

© Valerie Offord & Geoffrey Ellis, April 2008.

The precise location of these former properties is BNG reference TQ 452 018. Today (2008), these plots are occupied by Shere Accessories and SBFI, Units 2E - 2G inclusive, and a small part of J. Sainsbury, close to the Flyover roundabout.

Those with computers can go to Google Earth and enter [50 47.851' N    00 03.540' E] exactly as typed but without the square brackets into the "Fly to" box.

If using Google Maps, search for "The Drove, Newhaven", then home-in on the light-grey oblong roof between the extreme end of "Avis Way" and "Sainsbury" on the northern side of the roundabout.

This page was added by Geoffrey Ellis on 11/07/2009.
Comments about this page

What a lovely surprise to see these photos. When we attended Harbour Infants School in the 1960's and walked The Drove every day, we used to marvel at these gardens. The Drove became much less attractive when Charringtons was built and all the fields disappeared. Thanks for sharing these pictures Geoffrey.

By Helen Wagstaff
On 13/07/2009

What a lovely pair of photos showing it as it used to be on the old Drove Road, it was quite common to see coaches slowing down to allow on board passengers to see these wonderfully maintained gardens in full colour during the summer months. I was apprenticed to and worked for a local boatbuilder in 1969, when we built a 28' Ft motor fishing vessel for Mr Bernard Wheatley who always wore a red beret. His boat had a lead ballast keel prepared at his scrap yard, screened to the rear of these lovely bungalows . ( The boat was called 'ETHEL II' )

By Chris Young
On 18/07/2009

I don't know how how true it is but I was told by the son of the gardener that to maintain the display a lot of plastic flowers were used!

By B. Greenfield.
On 06/04/2013

I believe that one of the Wheatley brothers' daughters suffered from TB and he had a chalet built in the garden that was turned to face the Sun during the day.Can anyone confirm this and is she still around?

By B. Greenfield
On 06/04/2013

It is so lovely to see these beautiful gardens again, it was always a treat to walk up from Eastside and see them in full bloom each summer. I used to know Valerie at school, it is interesting to hear that she now lives in Switzerland. I find it sad now when I see the changes where the bungalows stood, it must be so much worse for her.

By Janet Finn
On 21/11/2015

Yes, the middle one of the three daughter's of Bernard Wheatley did have TB and there was a chalet in the garden for her. I don't know where she is now. I have met Valerie over the years at school reunions and she has been in Switzerland for a long time.

By Norma Ingram/Nee Stone
On 25/11/2015

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