the history of Eastbourne...

Visitors to Eastbourne would hardly suspect that beneath their feet lie the remains of a more ancient Eastbourne, trod by the Romans, exploited by the Celts and farmed by Bronze Age man more than 5,000 years ago.

It would appear that the Saxons spread through Sussex from the west and that the Eastbourne area and Pevensey Fort itself were among the last to be overrun with the result that most of the Roman ways were abandoned.

Although no Saxon habitation site has been identified in Eastbourne a Saxon village of long standing is known to have existed and probably nestled somewhere on the lower slopes of the downs, as a group of huts with thatched roofs and timber frames clustered around a hall where the chief would have lived and conducted the business of the area.

In 1066 William the Conqueror's half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain, held the manor of Bourne. By the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, Bourne was an established hundred with a church, watermill and 16 saltpans. The manor was still a Royal Manor and there was a number of sub-manors whose names survive locally today, such as Esthall and Beverington.

Bourne was primarily an agricultural community and in the late medieval period the ancient arable farming tradition gave way to pasture farming as the work was less labour-intensive for at this time many villages were being deserted. This was partly because of the plagues but also because people were beginning to move to towns - thus it was that we see the expansion of a few "towns" at the expense of the villages - like the lost villages of Exceate and Chyngton near Seaford.

We know little of the town's layout during the medieval period but we may glimpse, albeit retrospectively, something of the ribbon development around the church and the scattered farmsteads from 17th century maps. Our view of the 19th century Eastbourne is much more reliable, drawn as it is from detailed plans of 1816 by William Figg, and the later and even more detailed tithe map of 1842.

Modern Eastbourne owes much of its development to the fact that not only had the area retained much of its open countryside - unlike its neighbour, Brighton, or to a lesser degree, Hastings - but that there were two major landowning families, namely the Gilberts and the Cavendishes.

Eastbourne's development as "the Empress of Watering Places" was slower than its neighbours but was all the better for that. The first Royal visit to the town was by the children of George III who stayed at the Sea Houses in 1780, though it was still some 70 years before the Earl of Burlington was to consider developing the town as a seaside resort.

Burlington had begun to look ahead and clearly he had made up his mind to go forward with development, and in the late 1840's he persuaded the London Brighton and South Coast Railway to extend their line from Polegate. On 14th May 1849 the first locomotive steamed into Eastbourne Station to the strains of "Behold the Conquering Hero Comes" and celebrations including toasts, speeches, the greasy pole and fireworks lasted from dawn to dusk.

In 1858, the second Earl of Burlington became the 7th Duke of Devonshire. He fell out with Berry, and in 1859 the Duke sacked him and immediately appointed Henry Currey, a relative of his solicitor, to draw up a development plan. This amazing plan included Berry's original promenade and what is now Devonshire Place, and had a sense of spaciousness which is still hailed as a masterpiece of town planning. Currey had been a student of Decimus Burton and was associated with the building of the Great Conservatory at Chatsworth with Joseph Paxton, an even that was to influence the design of the Winter Garden at Eastbourne.

The crescendo built up until 1883 when the town was granted its charter for the Incorporation of the Borough on 16th June, and on 1st November the same year G.A.Wallis became the first Mayor of Eastbourne. Also in the same year the Prince of Wales officially opened Princess Alice Memorial Hospital, Bedfordwell Pumping Station, and the western parades. Eastbourne Town Hall, designed by W Tadman Folks, was completed in 1886 at a cost of 40,000.

During the First World War there was still prosperity from visitors (unable to go abroad) and the influx of armed forces, as had occurred in the Napoleonic period. There was a cavalry depot, this time in Victoria Drive, and a large convalescent camp, west of Summerdown Road. The "Blue Boys" uniform became a familiar sight around the town. Later the infirmary of the old Poor House/Workhouse (built as a barracks in 1780) became a Military Hospital, and later St.Mary's Hospital (shown below) and was recently pulled down for housing.

The Second World War brought drastic changes to the town. At first many children from London were sent into Eastbourne to escape the bombing, but when France fell in 1940 the threat of invasion caused these children to be moved to Wales and the Midlands, and many Eastbourne children and their mothers went with them (including Pauline Mowbray and her Mum).The incredible devastation of Eastbourne by German bombs, took many civilian lives, including Bonifaces.

Modern Eastbourne is a bit more of a hustle and bustle place, expanding rapidly to make room for the waves of newcomers to the town. Either way, Eastbourne is still quite a charming place to visit. When you're there, you must take a walk along the promenade! The Carpet Gardens are as immaculate and as beautiful as ever. The Allchorn Boats will take you on an amazing cruise. The Pier is still grand and full of fun and activity, and if you feel like a little longer walk, then stroll out to Beachy Head and see the breath-taking view of the Eastbourne Lighthouse. All in all, a sojourn to Eastbourne will prove to be a most pleasurable experience!


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