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South East Eastbourne

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Eastbourne is a popular holiday resort on the South Coast and reputedly England’s sunniest spot. It was little more than a village until the tourist boom of the C19th. Its promenade lined with splendid hotels and pier still attract holiday makers as well as the conference trade.

In 1752, Dr Richard Russel who lived in nearby Lewis, published a “dissertation on the use of sea water” emphasising the benefits of sea bathing as a cure for many disorders. It became fashionable to stay at the seaside. Four of King George III’s children stayed here in 1780.

During the threat of invasion by Napoleon, in the early C19th, a Martello tower was built as well as a larger fortress, the Redoubt. These are probably the oldest buildings to survive in Eastbourne.

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The railway arrived in 1849 and Eastbourne took off as a sea side resort and popular holiday destination. Being sheltered by the bulk of Beachy Head to the west, it is reputed to be the sunniest place in England.

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The 7th Duke of Devonshire owned a considerable amount of property in Eastbourne and was responsible for the development of its parks, baths, and squares as well as a school. Hotels and pubs are still named after him and he has ai statue is on the sea front, overlooked by the modern Cavendish Hotel.

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Large impressive hotels were built along the sea front with a three level promenade in front of them, planted with gardens.

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Not only was this an attractive walk, it also gave protection from the sea and helped prevent flooding, which had been a common occurrence. Bye-laws prevented visitors from changing on the beach and there were over 200 bathing machines, which were towed into the sea by horses. Bathing was only allowed until 1pm and not on a Sunday.

A pier was built, complete with pavilions and a theatre. It was advertised as the ‘Empress of Watering Places’.

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A lifeboat station was opened in 1898 at the west end of the beach. This is now the museum and shop as a newer and larger station has been built at Sovereign Harbour.

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An art deco bandstand was built on the sea front in 1935 and still provides live entertainment.

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The sea front is still unspoilt with no amusements or ‘kiss me quick’ hats and the one area of amusements, Fort Fun, at the far north east end of the town near the leisure centre, closed in 2020.

The beach is shingle and prone to erosion with a series of groynes preventing long shore drift.

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Heavy storms have washed the shingle away and in October 2021, a coastal protection scheme was using diggers to dredge shingle from low down the beach to pile back along the sea front.
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Eastbourne Pier - A walk over the sea....

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The proposal for a pier was first mooted at the end of 1863, and highly favoured by the town's major landowner, William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire. It was to have been 1000 feet in length and, at a cost of £12,000, would have been situated at the end of the town's grandest avenue, Devonshire Place. However, the project was delayed and finally abandoned in favour of the present site at the junction of Grand and Marine Parades. The pier was eventually opened in 1872 but the landward end was swept away in a storm in 1877 and had to be rebuilt.

It was an elegant cast iron structure built on stilts and projecting about 1000’ into the sea, and had a theatre, bar ands camera obscura. Holiday makers were charged 1d to walk along it. Paddle steamers ran trips from the pier along the south coast.

During the Second World War, part of the decking was removed. A Bofors anti-aircraft gun was sited midway along the pier and and machine guns were placed in the theatre.

The theatre at the end of the pier was destroyed by fire in 1970. The pier suffered another fire in 2014 which destroyed the main arcade building and other buildings in the middle of the pier.

The pier was then bought by a local hotelier who has completely renovated it, repainted it in white and blue and added new benches down the pier.

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It looks splendid and is still popular with locals and holiday makers. There are good views back across Eastbourne from the pier and it blows away any cobwebs!

Unfortunately at the end of October, many of the pavilions were empty or to let. The Victoria tea room looked popular and the Drop in the Ocean at the end of the pier was offering 'live entertainment' with music blaring out.

There were a couple of gift souvenir shops a glass studio, candy shop and 'new age' Crystals and candles. One of the smaller pavilions did have slot machines, but apart from that, there was only the booth with Zoltar speaking your fortune for £1.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The Wish Tower - one of a string of Martello Towers built to defend England against Napoleon

A chain of defensive towers were built along the south coast between 1805-1810 to defend against a potential invasion by Napoleon. Of the 103 towers originally built, only 43 remain and many have been converted to other uses or are derelict. The Wish Tower in Eastbourne is one of only two to survive intact.

At the time, Eastbourne was four or five small settlements and, along with the Redoubt to the east, this is one of the oldest buildings left in Eastbourne.

The design of the round towers was based on one the Royal Navy had encountered earlier at Mortella Point in Corsica, which had successfully resisted attack, armed with just three canons. Thename is probably a mispronunciation of Mortella.

Although circular fortified towers had been built from prehistoric times as strongholds or look-outs, they had fallen from favour in most of Northern Europe in the late C15th after the invention of gunpowder and artillery led to radical changes in the design of fortifications. Around the Mediterranean however, piracy remained a problem and stone towers continued to be built for defence and lookout.


Based on experience at Mortella, it was realised that well-built gun-towers had an important role to play in defence from attack by sea. Built at close intervals they would provide effective cross fire against enemy attack. Even if the French were able to land artillery and subdue a number of towers, the resultant delay would provide vital time for the main British forces to concentrate and to contain the enemy.

The round towers were simply designed and quick to build. They were 40’ high with walls 8’ thick. Some, like this one had a dry moat round for extra defence. There was a high parapet around the top with a raised platform in the centre for the cannon that had 366˚ fire. Below, wooden floors divided the tower into living quarters and stores.

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Originally, the only access was by ladder through a first floor doorway, giving access to the living quarters. This was later replaced by a drawbridge/.The ladder could be pulled up if necessary and stored inside the tower. Each tower had as garrison of 15-24 men and one officer. Fireplaces were built into the walls for heating and cooking. A well or cistern provided fresh water.

Martello Tower 73, also known as the Wish Tower, occupies a raised area at the south west end of the beach. It gets the name from the watery meadow close by called the ‘wish’.

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The tower is surrounded by a dry moat for extra defence with a single gateway.

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The tower was entered through a door on the first floor. Small windows were the only source of natural light to first floor rooms.

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Between 1812 and 1860 the tower was used as a coastguard station to protect the town against smuggling which was rife at the time.


In 1873, when the immediate danger of invasion had finally passed, the tower was decommissioned by the War Office. Shortly after this it was leased by the Eastbourne Local Board and rented to the Hollobon family who ran the tower as a geological museum until about 1930.

During the Second World War, the tower was adapted with a structure on the roof and naval guns in front of the tower and used as a battery. Eastbourne was the most severely bombed non-military town on the south coast, possibly as Hitler’s plans for invasion had identified Pevensey Bay and Cuckmere Haven as sites of beach landings.

In the late 1950s, the tower was nearly demolished. It was 'scheduled' as a monument and some repair work carried out. At the same time, the popular "Wish Tower Cafe" was built on the site which is now the Western View Cafe.

In the 1970s, a military museum was based at the tower which operated until the 1990s when a puppet museum took its place.


The tower was empty between 2001 and 2013. Since then the Wish Tower Friends were formed to restore the tower and improve public access. The tower has been shut since the start of Covid lockdowns in 2020 and has yet to reopen, apart from a few special events and occasional tours.

The area inside the moat has been planted up as a Peace Garden in memory of Eastbourne residents who lost their lives during the aerial bombardment between 1940-1944.

The exterior is freely accessible by the public and the outside is worth viewing.

Website

There is more information about Martello Towers here
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The Redoubt

The Redoubt is one of three massive fortresses built in the early 1800s along the south coast, along with 74 smaller Martello towers, in response to Napoleon’s expected invasion of England.

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It is a large circular structure, measuring about 224 ‘ in diameter and is surrounded by a deep dry moat, with a drawbridge.

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The moat contains five small structures, or caponiers, which allowed defending soldiers to fire on attackers who entered the moat. On the outside of the moat is a grassy glacis or earth bank designed to absorb the shock of enemy bombardment.

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There were 11 gun emplacements around the top of the wall with casements beneath them. These provided accommodation as well as stores and a cook house.

The drawbridge led directly to the gun platform with steps down to the central parade ground.

The Redoubt could accommodate up to 350 soldiers. Living conditions were basic and there was no fresh water supply. There were four underground tanks but they could be contaminated with salt water during very high tides. There was some accommodation in the casements, otherwise soldiers lived under canvas on the parade ground.

Nelson’s victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 ended any risk that Britain would be invaded. The guns were only fired once at a passing French warship in 1812 and missed.

By the 1830s, the garrison consisted of only seven gunners and a gate keeper, along with their families. Its main role was as a barracks with troops being stationed there for a few weeks while undergoing training.

By 1859 advances in warfare and artillery meant that a British Government report found that the Martello Towers and Redoubts were ‘not an important element of security against attack’.

During the First World War, the Redoubt was the headquarters of the military police and acted as a temporary goal. During the Second World War it was used by the army for storage. Anti-aircraft guns were mounted on the gun platforms and it was used by Canadian troops in preparation for the D-Day landings.

The moat and glacis on the seaward side were removed when the construction of the sea wall and promenade in 1890, exposing the outer wall of the Redoubt.

This area is now the site of a wooden sculpture, Azimuth, using reclaimed timbers from sea defences. The information panel describes it as either an image of long lost shipwrecks or the ribs of a mythical sea creature

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The area to the south west of the Redoubt has been landscaped with gardens and the Pavilion Cafe.

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The Redoubt which houses a small cinema as well as a museum, was closed for all of 2021, following the Covid lockdowns. Even so, it is still worth going to look at the outside of this remarkable building. The gun outside is similar to those that would have been used in the early C19th.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Victorian Eastbourne behind the sea front

Eastbourne grew rapidly after the arrival of the railway and population grew from less than 4000 in 1851 to nearly 35,000 by 1891. This resulted in an explosion of house building and the area behind the sea front is a wonderful example of virtually unspoilt Victorian architecture.

Streets immediately behind the sea front are lined with terraces of elegant houses, many with cast iron balconies. Houses were built before the age of the car, so parking is a problem with many cars parked along the road.

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Moving further away from the sea front, houses are smaller.

Seaside Road was a main shopping area with shops below a row of splendid brick houses.

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Shops along side roads, like Susan’s Road are smaller and the property less impressive.

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The War Memorial Roundabout marks the transition from the Victorian building to later growth and the main shopping area.

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Holy Trinity Church, originally known as Seaside Road Church of the Holy Trinity, dates from 1838 and just before the rapid expansion of Eastbourne. It is built from flint, like many other churches in the area.

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The Church of God at the junction of Susan’s Road and Pevensey Road was originally the Methodist Church. This was built in 1896 when the previous chapel was no longer large enough to hold all the summer visitors. It is now known as the Church of God.

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The Ceylon Place Baptist Church is another large and impressive building, dating from 1885. It closed in 2005 and was converted into flats.

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The Greek Orthodox church of Saint Pantelemon on Cavendish Place was originally a Calvanistic Chapel built in 1857. It was bought by the Greek Orthodox Community in 1990.

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The small house next to the chapel is a completely different architectural style to the rest of the street.

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The streets behind the sea front repay exploring on foot. The area is attractive and well maintained with a lot of history.
 

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