Two new interpretation boards have been officially unveiled by the Southwick Society.
One board details the interesting history of the recreation ground from its ownership by Reigate Priory before the reformation, through the centuries as part of Eastbrook Farm to its current use as a recreation ground. From 1909 until 1914 Walter Winans, an American sportsman, leased the land to construct a trotting track for racing horse drawn buggies. Some of the embankments of the trotting track can still be seen.
In 1930 Southwick Urban District Council purchased the land to create a recreation ground, which was officially opened on 18th June 1932. There was a bowling green, a bandstand, football fields, hockey pitches, tennis courts, a children’s playground, and an enclosed pitch for Southwick Football Club. A croquet lawn was added later. In 1935 the Council also bought Eastbrook barn and farmyard situated just north of Southwick Football Club. The barn was demolished before Southwick Leisure Centre was opened on 26th April 1973. In 1990 Adur Indoor Bowling Club was opened.
The second board remembers the crash, in May 1956, of a Valiant bomber. The plane was flying east along the coast towards Southwick when it lost all power. It hit the railway embankment just south of Croft Avenue, then exploded and disintegrated, with the burnt wreckage flung almost half a mile from the point of impact. Most of the wreckage came to rest along the railway embankment and on Southwick Recreation Ground but there was also considerable damage to nearby houses. Some wreckage landed in the playground of Manor Hall Road School (now Eastbrook School). The co-pilot managed to eject from the plane but the other crew members were killed. Amazingly no-one on the ground was seriously injured.
There were four people on board the plane: the pilot, Squadron Leader Kenneth Orman, the co-pilot, Flight Lieutenant Colin Donald Preece, the navigator, Flight Lieutenant Kenneth Ernest Philip Evans and a Ministry of Supply technician, Mr Alan Reginald Knight. The Southwick Society has erected the interpretation board in memory of those crew who lost their lives in the accident.
The boards were unveiled by Councillor Jim Funnell, and John Young who lived in Croft Avenue when the Valiant crashed.
Southwick Society chairman Mary Candy, who designed the boards, said “We are delighted to complete this project which we hope will inform people of the history of the recreation ground and also the remarkable event of May 1956. We would particularly like to thank councillor Emma Evans and Adur District Council for their support.” The boards were funded by the Southwick Society who have also published two books about the Valiant crash.