Christopher Hawtree

the pillowbook of Christopher Hawtree, writer and Green Party councillor for Central Hove

An Inadvertent Tomb

Posted on | April 8, 2012 | No Comments

Towards Portslade, but still in Hove – as some residents insist – there is a pub which has gone through various permutations in recent years. For some while it was the Golden Cross, and said to be grungey, before mutating into the Jamaica Inn, whose Sunday lunchtime roast-and-reggae sessions were popular but found it difficult to survive the rest of the week.

It has now been taken over, but as an independent establishment, and renamed Noble House.

This is in tribute to a Hurricane pilot, twenty-year-old sergeant Dennis Noble, who, after taking off from Tangmere in West Sussex, was shot down in the very first minutes of 31st August 1940. In the pub there is a photograph of him, and some details but this does not make clear that the plane crashed into what is now the driveway of 59 Woodhouse Road.

In the summer of 1940 it had been assumed, such was the force and speed of the crash, that the pilot’s body would have disintegrated, lost beneath the earth from which the emergency forces cleared as much as they could. As Judy Middleton notes in her splendid, multi-part , double-columned, 1500-page Encycloaedia of Hove and Portslade, the pilot’s coffin was weighted by the authorities so that his relations would assume that they were burying all of his body.

Come 1996, however, an aviation enthusiast, Keith Arnold – based at Tangmere – was given permission to excavate the driveway in a search for any parts of that Hurricane. Such permission had been granted because the authorities were certain that nothing would be found. Within hours, however, some metal surfaced, including live bullets, and, later, to considerable horror, the pilot’s body, which had evidently been shot dead in the sky before he could even think to bale out. This discovery brought a coroner’s inquest, and Denis Noble’s full burial in Nottinghamshire.

Judy Middleton’s great work is full of such stories – Unexpected Hove – and recently I discussed it with her on a bus and, since then, with some at the Council: an idea grows to make it available once again.

Meanwhile, at Tangmere’s Aviation Museum, the fragments of Noble’s Hurricane have been assembled upon a frame, along with his parachute-harness, parachute, fragments of his uniform, and log-book.

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    Christopher Hawtree is the Green Party Councillor for Central Hove but items are posted here in a personal capacity as an individual.

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