BUILDINGS ON BELLE HILL (PART 3)
The formidable mansion house was built between 1793 and 1808 by Josiah Routledge after he purchased the copyhold from Isaac Lansdell. Formed from agricultural land named after the windmill that stood to the east – Mill Field, and Squire Field to the south, the large mansion house would become one of the principal estates well into the 19th century.
As well as the land at Mill Field, Josiah Routledge also bought Rosiers and several other properties in the area from Isaac Lansdell, making him one of the most prominent figures in the town at the end of the 18th Century.
Originally called The Firs, the three storey building had much more elaborate elevation facing the south that overlooked the marshland and the channel. A much plainer elevation faced the road to the north, and it is this view of the building that most people see today.
Josiah went on to invest heavily in a speculative project to find coal under Bexhill. The project was led by the railway pioneer William James, and backed by Arabella, Duchess of Dorset and her second husband Lord Whitworth.
Routledge sold Rosiers to Richard Day in 1811 to help fund further exploration, but by 1815 the whole venture had collapsed without success, and at a total cost of £80,000 (the equivalent of £55million today).
William James, The Duchess of Dorset and Lord Whitworth had large enough fortunes to survive the collapse, but it was disastrous for Josiah. Unable to pay back his creditors, he was forced to sell off his remaining assets and eventually fled the country.
After Margaret’s death in 1835, The Firs was passed to her two brothers Thomas and Josiah Moorman. Originally recorded as ‘Smithy’s, Iron Founders and Saw Makers’ from Old Street, the two brothers quickly bought up land and dwellings in the local vicinity to the mansion, creating a large estate for themselves.
This included Chantry Cottage, Hillside Cottage and the adjacent plots (later the Granary) in 1847. 30 acres of land near Bexhill downs was purchased from Mary Countess Amherst (daughter of the Duchess of Dorset) in 1856, land bought off Arthur Brook at Chintings and also Genista House (now Goddard House).
Thomas Moorman died in January 1858 and was followed by his brother in April 1863. His niece, Ann inherited the entire estate on Josiah’s death.
Ann Moorman had previously married Samuel Scrivens, and when the Moorman estate was passed to them, the Scrivens became the largest land owners in the town after the Sackville family.
Samuel Scrivens was able to buy the freehold of The Firs when it was enfranchised in 1864.
When Samuel Scrivens died in 1898, the estate was divided between the three sisters, and it is at this point that the family residence was renamed Millfield. Margaret and Ann lived at the property for the remainder of their lives and when Ann Scrivens passed away in 1937, Millfield was sold to William Nicholson.
Nicholson held on to Millfield for 10 years before it briefly become a hotel in 1948 and a Council run children’s home in 1950.
In 1952 the building was converted into 7 flats and it remains as apartments to this day.
The exterior of the house was extensively altered in 1970, when an additional flat was added. It was during this time that the 3 slate pitched roofs were converted into a single structure with concrete tiles. A continuous balcony on the first floor of the south side and flat roof extension to the east were added.