Eastbourne - A Brief History
There is strong evidence that Eastbourne may have been a Roman settlement. In
tessellated pavement and a bath were discovered one and a half miles south-east of the town, while
further evidence was unearthed at later date.
After the Roman conquest in 43 A.D., Sussex green sandstone was quarried from an area now
at the foot of the Wish Tower (probably a derivative of harbour) and this was used in the
construction of a number of villas (one on the site now occupied by the Burlington Hotel) and,
perhaps more importantly, in the building of Pevensey Castle, which dates from the Third Century,
being then known as the Fortress of
Anderida, the adjacent Roman city of the same name, created
by the harbour which devolved from the quarrying activities, later becoming Eastbourne.
In 491 A.D., after some years of fighting, Pevensey castle was conquered by the Saxon
warlord Aelle and the area became settled, some names now familiar, such as The Meads (Medes)
deriving from the old Anglo-Saxon. An Anglo-Saxon cemetery was discovered at Mill Gap. In due
course, the area became part of the Royal Estates, under King
Alfred. The name Eastbourne itself
derives from Anglo-Saxon, being a variant of the Middle English small stream. The actual
stream surfaces in the old pond in Motcombe
The next great historical event was the Norman Conquest, when in 1066 William the
Conqueror forces landed at Pevensey and garrisoned at the Castle, prior to the Battle of Hastings.
The local settlement of Borne is mentioned in the Domesday Book.
In the Middle Ages, Eastbourne was visited by the monarchs on more than one occasion, by
King Henry I in 1114 and then Edward II in 1324, who stayed in a residence on the site now occupied
by The Old Manor House (The Goffs), then owned by the family of Bartholomew de Badlesmere and
which passed into the hands of the de Roos family until 1555. The original St. Mary Parish Church
was established in 1175. The Manor of Eastbourne was established in 1467 later developing into three
separate manors, of Wilson, Gildridge and Selwyn, in 1554, upon the sale of the entire estate by the
second Earl of Rutland. Four years afterwards, the first extant Parish Registers were established.
Eastbourne continued to figure in events of national
importance. In 1588, the populace was
warned of the impending arrival of the Spanish Armada by a beacon being lit on
Beachy head, while
on June 30, 1690, the combined English and Dutch fleets were defeated by the French in the Battle
of Beachy Head. Much was destroyed a little more than half a century later in the Great Storm of July 18, 1766.
The Napoleonic era, brought in by the French Revolution of 1789, again brought Eastbourne
to the forefront of the national scene, with troops garrisoned in the town, which in 1801 numbered
1,668 souls. The fortification of the South Coast which the fears of invasion engendered has left
Eastbourne with the Martello Tower (No. 73 known as the Wish Tower) and the fortress built at the
site of the former Sea Houses, now known as the Redoubt.
The 18 Century, when the Prince Regent made Brighton fashionable as a health resort,
building the Royal Pavilion there, was to transform Eastbourne also, in due course. The royal
connection was not lost here either, as Eastbourne became the summer residence of the Princesses
Elizabeth and Sophie and the Princes Edward and Octavius at the turn of the century, at which time
there took place the quiet conglomeration of the four hamlets, Bourne (now Old Town), Southbourne
(in the area of Grove Road), Meads and Sea Houses (now Marine Parade), under the land-owning
families of Gilbert and the Cavendishes. While at the beginning of the 19 century the population was
just under 2,000, as we have seen, by 1851 this figure had increased to 3,033. Until just prior to that
time, the major activities in the Eastbourne area were still chalk quarrying, fishing and farming.
Transport to the capital was by coach, these leaving coaching houses such as The Lamb Inn (which
is considered to be one of the oldest existing hostelry in
England) and departing to the Elephant and
Castle and Charing Cross. The advent of the railway did not immediately link Eastbourne with
London, the line beginning (or ending) at Polegate, but this situation was rectified in 1849.
Not that Eastbourne was deprived of the pleasures of a capital city prior to that date. The
celebrated actor Charles Thomas Dibdin
(1771-1833) had visited in 1809, when Sheridan The
School for Scandal was given, while Dibdin also noted wryly that he had experienced the result of
another activity of the town, smuggling, two adventurers having gained access to his rooms! Later,
around 1850, Charles Darwin wrote part of his Origin of Species here. Friedrich Engels also assisted
in the formulation of The Communist Manifesto while in the town.
The town was now beginning to expand considerably. The Industrial Revolution was taking
effect also, with the building of Belle Tout Lighthouse in 1831, though an earlier Beach Head
Lighthouse dated from the early years of the 18 century, and the establishment in around 1850 of
Diplock Brewery, although a brewery had been established in 1749 by Richard Cooper, at the rear
of The New Inn. In 1859, the Eastbourne Waterworks Company was also formed. Between 1840 and
1860, the attractive buildings on Cavendish Place and Cornfield Terrace were being built, while in
1838 Trinity District Church opened its doors, to be followed by Christ Church in 1856 and St.
Saviour in 1867. Diplock also had its effect on the cultural life of the town, with the opening of
Diplock Assembly Rooms, where lectures and concerts were given from the late
1850s, with a
Choral Society being formed in 1858. (It lasted until 1885). In that year of 1858, the composer
William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875) wrote his The May Queen while resident at The Squirrel
(later The Gilbert Arms) in Eastbourne. Later, the great French composer Claude Debussy
(1862-1918) was to write La mer while at Eastbourne, where he stayed at the Grand Hotel in 1905. Leaf
Hall, actually Mr. William Leaf Working Men Hall, was opened in 1864.
Eastbourne was to adopt the Local Government Act in 1858, the first local board sitting on
January 14, 1859, moving into the Vestry Room, built in 1851. The expansion of the town was
largely due to William Cavendish who, in 1858, inherited the title of Duke of Devonshire. He
employed an architect, Henry Currey, to produce the ground plan for the new Eastbourne. A statue
to the Duke, executed by Goscombe John was erected in Devonshire Place in 1901. Already, in 1850,
Terminus Road had been laid. The Eastern Gas Company had also been established, in 1852, on a site
now part of the present Railway Station. By 1855, Eastbourne had come to be known as The
Empress of Watering Places. The first pile of that epitome of seaside institutions of the Victorian era,
the Pier, was sunk on April 18, 1866, it being opened in 1870 and completed in
1872, while it was
partially destroyed only five years after its completion. The architect was Eugenius Birch, who had
already designed at least half-a-dozen similar works. Its Theatre was constructed in 1888, to be
replaced by a new one just eleven years later.
The population now began to expand rapidly. By 1881, it had reached the statutory figure of
22,000, enabling the town to be officially incorporated. The Charter was granted in 1883 and the first
Mayor, George Ambrose Wallis, installed. The foundation stone of the new Town Hall was laid on
October 9, 1884, the building being completed two years later. The expansion of the town most
probably was one reason for the establishment in 1867 of All Saints Convalescent Hospital, though
it only really became effective in 1879.
The attraction of Eastbourne for tourists, following on the Prince Regent Brighton
initiatives, led to the construction of a number of hotels. The site next to the Albemarle Hotel on
Marine Parade, formerly the Albion Hotel, was the first in the town to be connected to the new
Electric Light company, founded in 1882. (It would later obtain the first
Hotel, partially destroyed in an air-raid in 1942, had been designed by T.E. Knightley and erected in
1866, though it only opened in 1873. The Grand Hotel, designed by R.K. Blessley, opened in 1876 and
the Queen Hotel in 1880.
Entertainment has always been a part of tourism and it was in 1873 that the Devonshire Park
Company was formed, with the construction of the Floral Hall (or Winter Garden) and the
Devonshire Park Theatre. It was at the Floral Hall that the new Electric Light Company gave its first
demonstration, on July 18, 1881. Theatrical life was enhanced with the opening of the Royal
Hippodrome Theatre (originally the Theatre Royal) in Seaside Road, in 1883, its architect, C.J.
Phipps, also being responsible for the Lyric, Queen Hall and Savoy Theatres in London. (The
Congress Theatre dates from 1963). The Eastbourne Symphony Orchestra was founded in the 1880s.
Devonshire Park is now probably best known for its Ladies Tennis
Championship, the last
preparatory test for Wimbledon. Sport has always been a part of Eastbourne. In
1738, a game of
cricket was played between the Parishes of Eastbourne and Battle, while in1747, another match was
played here - and by women, no less! (In 1901, at the Saffron's, the civic leaders played the game
against a team of young ladies from the town).
Naturally, the sea has always a part to play in the history of the town and yet it is also
destructive. In 1847, one James Berry was commissioned to design a sea wall. Erosion became even
more noticeable after 1852 and yet it would only be 1880 before the sea defences were completed.
The century which has just closed saw further developments in the town, part of the
everlasting process of evolution. Taxis were first licensed in 1899, a new Beachy House Lighthouse
opened in 1902, the Lifeboat Station in the following year and, also in that year, the world first
municipally-owned Bus Service was inaugurated. In
1906, Hollywood came to Eastbourne, with the
opening of the Tivoli Cinema. Aviation was to be found in Eastbourne as early as
1911, when the
Flying School was opened. The arts were also promulgated with the opening in 1923 of the Towner
Eastbourne even has a small place in the history of World War
Two, for the first residential
property attack on Britain took place on July 7, 1940. In fact, Eastbourne owns another distinction
of that time. It received more attacks (98
raids) than any other town in South-East
Naturally, this site can only give a modicum of information on the extensive history of the