Monday, 24 October 2011

Bye-Bye to the Ball Tree: Once a House of Repute in Sussex

The Ball Tree, 1 Busticle Lane, Sompting, West Sussex, is no more. Clips of its demolition have been posted on the Internet. It was already closed and boarded-up when a fire took hold of the premises on 9th May this year. The pub name was said to hark back to the days when local farmers used to gather under a nearby tree for a ‘ball’, probably with beer purchased from the previous retailer on the site, called the Ball but informally known as Aunt Annie’s.

Very much a community pub, the emphasis on families and children, it will no doubt be mourned by some locals but, to be brutally honest, not much missed by real ale drinkers. It did appear in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide during the late 1970s when selling beer from the now-defunct Gale’s brewery of Horndean, Hampshire. In the fall of 2006 I reviewed the Ball Tree for my fanzine The Quaffer. The only real ale was Fuller’s London Pride and in sadly substandard condition it was that day, stale with an off-taste of marzipan.

But I always regarded the Ball Tree as an elegant example of interwar pub architecture. The date 1935 was carved into the stonework support of the pub sign in the centre of the parapet. I regret the loss of the fine brickwork of the flattened front elevation, so typical of the period, and of the mock-Tudor stone-dressed doors and the mullioned windows with lattice-work in the central projecting bay.

The Ball Tree was of too late a date to be listed in a book of the early 1930s, “Houses” of Repute in Sussex, commissioned by the Kemp Town Brewery (henceforth, KTB), Brighton, but the building is so obviously hallmarked as their work. It is instructive to see the design of the Duke of Wellington, Shoreham-by-Sea, another KTB house just a few miles east along the coast, as a kind of inversion of the Ball Tree’s central front elevation. 

I have to thank Jimmy Hastell and his excellent Worthing Pubs web site for confirmation of the Ball Tree being KTB-built. In a black and white photo of the pub posted on the site, KEMP TOWN appears above the left door of the central elevation in white sans serif modernist letting. The Marquis of Granby, just up the road and another mid-1930s rebuild, was owned by the Portsmouth and Brighton United Breweries (it retains a fine set of United Ales leaded windows), while the Gardeners Arms in the village was at that time the local Tamplins outlet. 

The Ball Tree was one of those rare pubs that retained two separate bars. On my 2006 visit the left-side “Lounge Bar” contained little to write about: two raised areas, one with dining tables at the front window, the other at the rear where small TV was mounted; just the dark-brown woodwork of the ceiling was from the 1930s. But if my memory serves me correctly the “Sports Bar” on the right was - apart from the pool table and TV – much as it would have looked seventy years earlier: fully wood panelled with parquet floor and original lettering on the toilet doors.

Built at an oblique angle to the left of the pub, a gabled construction with dormer windows was advertised as a Gardens Restaurant and Children’s Room. It is likely that this was originally a wine office for take-away home use, a regular feature of ‘improved’ KTB pubs.

I was intending at some vague and ill-defined point in time to revisit the Ball Tree, trace the remaining architectural clues in more detail and take high-quality digital images, but will have to be content with these 35mm film snaps, taken for the purpose of supplementing my written notes for the 2006 review. They are, at least, a visual record of a now lost KTB house.


Kemp Town Brewery (n.d. but c. 1932), In and Around Brighton: “Houses” of Repute in Sussex, Cheltenham: Ed J. Burrow & Co.

Lowe, Trevor (2004), The Sussex Good Pub Guide 2004-5, Southern Promotions.

‘Sompting’, A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 1: Bramber Rape (Southern Part) (1980), pp. 53-64. Date accessed: 24 October 2011

Worthing Pubs, Date accessed: 24 October 2011

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