Brett Volume 1: Chapter I - St Leonards 1828-1829
Chapter I. St Leonards 1828-29
Commencement of the town (pg. 2)
Laying the first stone (pg. 3)
Ravages of the sea (pg. 3)
Appalling Thunderstorm (pg. 3)
Its site, the Bullrush pond or Old Womans Tap (pg. 3)
Legendary lore of the Conqueror's Stone and its removal (pg. 3)
57 Marina the first house completed (pg. 4)
Other erections in 1828 and 1829 (pg. 4)
Superb dinner, ball, pyrotechnics and other celebrations (pg. 4)
A view of the Conqueror's table (pg. 3); also of the Royal Victoria Hotel as first designs (pg. 4)
A ludicrous mishap – The men who brought the first load of timber and the first load of stone-lime (pg. 5)
Fatal accidents (pg. 5)
Daily supply of 300 quarts of milk (pg. 5)
A novel sign-board (pg. 5)
Notice to quit squatterland (pg. 5)
Great reversal of population (pg. 5)
A memorable frost (pg. 5)
Storms, floods and fall of five houses (pg. 5)
Numerous Accidents - First Born Children - New Road (pg. 6)
Interpolatory Obituary of Mr. Samuel Chester.[Notes 1]
| This is a verbatim transcription of Brett’s work, which comprised both manuscript and typescript cuttings, and therefore reproduces Brett’s variations in style, capitalisation, punctuation and spelling. The only alterations made have been to the pagination and images whereby both page titles and images have been moved to the most appropriate paragraph as opposed to where they were pasted into the texts by the author. Where possible, personal names have been checked against census, parish records, contemporary newspaper reporting and the Central Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths. A number of footnotes have been inserted by the transcriber when this has been thought to be useful.
Generally the transcription follows the guidelines set out by the National Archives. Work is in hand to identify and annotate hand-written sections and other annotations within the transcriptions, the main difference being that hand-written sections are indicated by a Cursive font on screen. If any portions are
[ 1 ]
Brett's History of Hastings & St. Leonards
Commencing with 1828, the birth-year of the latter town, but embracing, also, many apsects of earlier years.
The inception of the following History is due to the casual meeting of an old friend, who reminded the writer that the first of March, 1878, was the 50th anniversary of the founding of St. Leonards, and who also expressed a hope that the epoch was such as to be worthy of a Jubilee retrospect in the St. Leonards Gazette. The editor of that journal, acting upon his friend's suggeston, immediately commenced what he intended to be a mere scamper over the historic field, which lay within the range of fifty years, and thus present to his readers, only a brief review of the period. It was soon discovered, however, that the interest of the public had been sufficiently evoked to render necessary an enlargement of the original idea. The articles were first written under the nom de plume of "St Leonardensis" and were entitled "The Jubilee of St. Leonards." Next followed the inducement to incorporate therewith the History of Hastings, but with equal concurrence of dates; leaving the earlier history of the older town to be dealt with at some other time, or in some other form.
During the forty year's existence of the Gazette, the one man, who was proprietor, editor, reporter, compositor, pressman and general [ 2 ]manager, so contrived as to be able to contribute, weekly, two or more columns of history, biography and reminiscence for over eighteen of those years; and now that the said journal has been given up, although at 82 years of age, he cannot hope to bring the several separate portions of those of his literary productions intended for preservation, up to date, he is, nevertheless, endeavouring to advance them as far as life and health will permit.
Chapter I St Leonards, 1828-29
As remarked in the Introduction this history was commenced on the Jubilee Birthday Anniversary of the town and the following is a reprint of the first article.
Although there has been no rejoicing - no demonstration to signal the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of St Leonards, the present is deemed to be an opportune moment to review the rise and progress of a town which hath many charms and features peculiar to itself, and whose origin is still fresh in the recollection of many living persons who were among its earliest inhabitants. The period is the more suitable because it marks an epoch of circumstances as well as of time. In the present month of March, the not greatly used Subscription Gardens - which, from Mr Burton's original designs, were so tastefully formed from a portion of the St. Leonards Vale, and which for half a century have been regarded as one of the great ornamental enclosures of the town - are on the eve of conversion to sites for a number of villa residences. And whilst this diversion of the original design is about to be effected, there are works both on the west and on the east, drawing nigh to completion, which may be regarded as in one sense restorations, and in another sense some improvements on the original plans.
The high wall which separates a portion of the Marina from East Ascent is one of these; and it hardly needs to be told to those who have witnessed the inroads which fifty years have made upon the soft stone of which this wall is composed, how greatly the facing of the same with solid concrete will add both to its appearance and durability. Not only is this wall being thus restored and improved, but additional means of strength and safety are to be applied to the long flight of steps which conduct to East Ascent and Mews Road - those steps over which in the early days of St Leonards two horses and a carriage took a frightful leap to destruction, and from the debris of which the battered and shattered form of George Phillips was extracted, to be for many years afterwards a marvellous monument of the surgeon's skill and the "noble art of healing".
On the west side of the Subscription Gardens - one might almost say the far west - the finishing touch is being given to a sea wall and parade, together with a series of groynes which not only replace the weaker walls and groynes carried away in Mr Burton's time by a free and furious tide, but which also surpasses them in length, strength, height and security. It extends from 66 to 145 Marina, and while it offers protection to eighty of the best houses on the Marina against the recurrent inroads of the sea, it seems, as if it were, to complete the design of fifty years ago. The St. Leonards Commissioners did good work in their time, such as it was, but to the energy of the Hastings Urban Sanitary Authority is to be attributed this great improvement, as well as that of East Ascent. There is only one serious drawback to this undertaking, and that is one which was foreseen by those who have watched the action of the sea during the fifty years now under consideration.
The effect of baying out the sea at one place by means of walls and groynes is[ - ]
St. Leonards 1828-9[ 3 ]to throw it in with greater force at another. This has been pointed out in a local publication entitled My Father's Portfolio; and it was also stated in the Gazette ere the work was commenced, that, great as may be the protection to the Houses, and as much as the esplanade in the district might be improved by the erection of the proposed wall it would be at the expense of the property eastward.
This has proved to be the case; for, ever since the junction of the new wall with the old, the latter has had to withstand the assaults of the sea to a greater extent than before, whilst the beach in front of it has gradually decreased until several parts of the said wall has been laid bare to the very foundation, and are at present undermined. Firstly, the sea made a breach opposite to the St Leonards Church, then it tore away about fifty feet of the main drain at the base of the wall further eastward; next it attacked the substratum at the Archway, and now at the time of writing, a subsidence in the wall still further eastward has taken place. That portion of the wall between 23 and 29 Grand Parade exhibits a rent of an arched foundation in the solid concrete extending about fifty feet from end to end.
All these breaches have been temporarily repaired with faggots, timber and other material, and the energetic Borough Surveyor, who is generally equal to any emergency, will I have no doubt, find means of ultimately resisting the new advances of the sea. But to my story!
Let me first say that in this review of the "rise and progress" of St Leonards, it is my intention less to follow or imitate the descriptive accounts in the local guides than to give a chatty, historic and anecdotal sketch from personal recollections, occasionally assisted by the experiences of other persons.
Commencement of the Town - 1828
On Saturday, the first of March was laid the first stone of the St Leonards Hotel, which later, after the Princess Victoria visit to St. Leonards was re-named the Victoria Hotel. The stone was formally laid by Mr John Ward, a son of John Ward Esq. of Holwood in Kent and Calverley Park, Tunbridge Wells. The amateur mason was also a first cousin to James Ward Esq. who afterwards for several years, resided at Baston Lodge, Upper Maze Hill. The beginning of the hotel was also the commencement of St. Leonards, although, as explained further on, the said structure was not the first that was completed. It was built at the foot of the Vale, which divides the parish of St. Leonards from that of St. Mary Magdalen, and on the site of a pool into which used to flow a stream of fresh water from the higher ground, and occasionally at rough spring tides, the water from the sea.
The latter was particularly also the case on the 24th of November, 1824, when there occurred the highest tide of the present century. I have often thought that if Mr Burton had seen, as I had, the destruction at the Priory, and the inundations between the White Rock and , he would have hesitated to erect the Hotel, and afterwards the Baths and Library, in such close proximity to the sea.
To this allusion of the storm-driven tide of 1824 - three and a half years before the town was begun - may be added that in the same year on the 14th of July, the locality was visited by the most appalling thunder and hail storm ever remembered by anyone
then living. I was then residing with my parents in Church Street, Hastings and me-thinks I can still see the incessant flashes of lightning, still hear the deafening rolls to thunder, still view with tearful eyes, the torrents of water rushing through the house from off the hill, still hear the crash of hail through the windows and still witness the writhing of my mother in strong convulsions, exhibiting such abnormal strength as to require three men to hold her while up to their knees in water. It was indeed a terrible tempest; and so was that, although of a different kind, which filled to overflowing the pond which at a later date was the site of the St Leonards Hotel.
By some of the Hastings people it was called the Bulrush(sic) Pond, but it was much more generally known as the "Old Woman's Tap". That bulrushes(sic) grew there, however, is attested by the fact that I have stood on the high ridge of beach, separated only by a very narrow road, while my father plucked them for me.Projecting over the north side of the pond was a huge stone called the "Conquerors Table", on which, according to one tradition, Duke William dinedon his arrival from Pevensey, where he landed and according to another, where he breakfasted before he set out to attack the army of Harold.
Duke William came in one thousand sixty six
and played the Saxons somewhat naughty tricks.
At least, they said so,
but to me it seems as though
it were as one of Wisdom's schemes to make old Hastings more of worthy note.
With pre-St Leonards in the same good boat
that, as today, the new and ancient towns
might be as one beneath some future crowns.
E'en now at Hastings, on the castle hill,
are certain traces of Duke William's will,
Whilst at St Leonards is the stone
whereon Duke William feasted ere his valor shone.
A not very genial writer says "The only drawback of this romantic association is that it is not true". Perhaps, however the positive proof is as good as the negative; and as, before its removal, I once or twice took lunch on the said improvised dining table under the proud satisfaction of having done as Duke William did, it would be a pity to spoil one's complacency. Besides this, there are other accounts, which, being even more contradictory, are as incapable of actual demonstration, as the legendary story here repeated. One statement is to the effect that the stone in question is that which William caused to be placed over the dead body of Harold after the battle, whilst a contrary statement is that, after some hesitation, the body was given up to Harold's mother and buried by her at Waltham Abbey. But whilst the question is still a debatable one, the local possibility receives the ancient authority of the Carmen de Bello Hastingensi, which says that the Duke had the corpse wrapped in purple linen and buried on the cliff at Hastings beneath a stone inscribed with the words "Per mandata Ducis, rex hie Heralde quiescis ut custos maneas litoris et pelagi".
It is also asserted in Knightley's Elementary History of England that "When Harold's mother applied to William the Conqueror for the body of her son, offering for the same, its weight in gold, he refused it, and caused it to be buried on the sea-shore saying "He guarded the coast while he lived, let him do so now". Thus much for the claims for and against "Duke William's Dining Table". Be it said, however, that the stone was removed from its long abiding place by 14 horses, mainly supplied by Mr Deudney of the Gensing Farm and with the appliance of strong chains lent by Messrs Ransom and Ridley, the noted shipbuilders of Hastings. The "Old Woman's Tap" was then drained and excavated by a number of men, chief among whom were Edward Gould, George Kent and a man named Jones. Gould used to say that huge balks of timber were put in with beds of concrete for the better security of the foundation. I have already said that the first stone of the hotel was laid by Mr John Ward of Tunbridge Wells, to which it may be added that the master builders were Mr Goyne (sic), Scott & Houdam and Mr Benjamin Homan. Several coins were placed beneath the foundation stone; and as is usual in similar cases, the workmen were served with refreshments. Sixty mechanics and labourers were at once set upon the work, and the number afterwards increased to over 100. At that time there was no public road leading northward from that locality, and only one - and that of a rugged, sea-washed character - eastward and westward thereof.
The Eversfield Estate - Erection of St. Leonards Hotel - A Sumptuous Dinner
Although the formal ceremony of commencing the new town was, with the laying [of][ 4 ]the foundation stone of the Hotel, the first building completed was what is now 57 Marina, the timber framing of which was brought from London ready prepared. As Mr and Mrs Burton were wanting it for their own residence, a contract was made with Mr Lansdell, of Battle and Mr Smith, of Hastings, to erect the said house. The latter builder, commonly known as "Yorky" Smith, at his death, was the first that was interred at the Borough Cemetery. The first-named builder, being engaged on his own range of mansions at Breeds Place greatly displeased Mr Burton with the slowness of his work at the Villa, now 57 Marina.
On the southern side of the main road were ridges of shingle so prodigious as at places to preclude a view of the sea, even to those who might be passengers to Eastbourne, Lewes, or Brighton, per Elgar's Van or the "Hero" coach. There used to be another - a private - road which led over the hill, through what is now a brickyard, and round by Filsham, it being necessary at times to make this long detour in consequence of the lower road being underwater from the sea. It was not, as already shown, from a deficiency of protective beach, but simply because the road being below the level of high-water mark, the water at full spring tides percolated through the high ridges of shingle. This road was, however, heightened, widened and straightened; and the stone which was hewn out of the cliffs and quarries was used in the construction of the hotel and the property-erections which followed.
Perhaps I ought to have said ere this that the land on which St Leonards is built was once possessed by a family named Levett, was Bailiff of Hastings in 1483 and whose residence was at The Grove, a mansion at the junction of and St Leonards parishes, the great-grandson of the said Richard Levett died in 1585 when the estate passed to the sister of the last-named deceased, and she having afterwards married Thomas Eversfield, the present site of St Leonards, with other lands in the manors of Gensing and Yielding have ever since been associated with the name of Eversfield. In 1827, the trustees of the will of Mr Charles Eversfield obtained an Act of Parliament which gave them power to grant leases of the trust lands in the parishes of St Leonards, St Mary Magdalen, St Michaels and St Mary in the Castle. That was the year in which the late James Burton was looking about for a suitable site whereon to build a town that would answer the conditions of his dreamt-of designs and he ultimately fixed on nearly equal portions in the parishes of St Leonards and St Mary Magdalen, taking for the centre of his designs the dividing line which ran through the valley, where are now the Public Gardens in rear of the Victoria Hotel. It will thus be understood that the originator was the late James Burton, Esq, the sole architect and reputed proprietor, who at that time (1828) in his 67th year, but who, nevertheless, exhibited a remarkable activity in the execution of his designs.
Whilst the St Leonards Hotel was in course of erection, nine of the Marina houses on each side of that edifice were proceeded with, the numbers on the east side being 36 to 44, and on the west, 48 to 56. The last named numbers made good the space between the Hotel and West Villa, which has already shown was the first to receive its completion. Nos. 45 and 47 - intermediary of the east and west blocks of buildings - formed the wings of the hotel until 1876, when one was incorporated with that building.
This range of superb residences, together with the Assembly Rooms and some other buildings, were reared before the end of 1829, and on the 28th of October in that year the event was celebrated by a sumptuous dinner, partaken of by upwards of 200 gentry and visitors of the town and neighbourhood, very few of whom could I recall to memory as being in existence when this account was first written in 1878, and not any while it was being reprinted in 1896. The two Members of Parliament - Mr. F. North and Sir Joseph Planta - were present, the former gentleman presiding, and being supported by Mr Milward, Mr. James Burton (founder of the town), other members of the Burton family and numerous persons of position and influence. In the after proceedings, encomicums were passed on to Mr. Burton for his spirited enterprise, and thanks were conveyed to Mr. Hodson for providing a repast of so superb a character. At night there was a brilliant display of fireworks in front of the Hotel of which the fête was designed to celebrate. The concluding piece of this pyrotechnic display exhibited a beautiful device, with "Success to the St. Leonards Hotel", and as it lighted up the whole place from its position on the Library and Baths, the Hastings Band played the National Anthem. A large bonfire, constructed with tar-barrels in the centre, was also ignited, and this, with the firing of cannon and a general burst of applause, presented a scene of joyous animation. Then went their way the thousands of persons who had witnessed a fête the equal of which some had not seen since the coronation of George IV. It is worthy of note that either from this event or from some other cause, the people of Hastings and its neighbourhood have crowded to St Leonards in increasing numbers on every later occasion when a display of fireworks has been pre-announced. On the night following the opening of the hotel, there was a grand ball attended by nearly 250 persons.
I have said that the Hotel, the Assembly Rooms, the Baths and the houses 36 to 56 Marina were completed in 1829. So also in that year or the next were erected Nos. 33 to 22 (going eastward) including the Conqueror Hotel; 21 to 15 Marina including the Harold Hotel; four houses at the West Marina, by Mr. Deudney and Mr. Carey; Nos. 2 and 3 East Ascent, by Mr. How; East and West Villas, now respectively 1 East and West Ascent, by Mr. How; North Lodge; North Villa, now Winterbourne; Castellated Villa (since Gloucester Lodge, a name thus given to it after its occupancy by the Princess Sophia of Gloucester); the Horse and Groom inn, by Mr. Milstead; and eight houses in Lavatoria -- two by Edward Smith, two by Thomas Towner, and four by Thos. Thorne. Thus the town grew with surprising rapidity, the several builders and contractors vieing with each other in celerity, but not always with equal regard to stability. A sad proof of this was afforded by the fall of five houses out of the block which formed 27 to 33 Marina, and which the builder, Joseph Wells, was under the necessity of re-constructing. He afterwards resided in one of these and advertised himself as a surveyor.
More fortunate was Mr. Benjamin Homan in the construction of 15 to 21 Marina, and of the houses at the Undercliff, in No. 8 of which latter he for a considerable time resided. There was, however, an unhappy occurrence in one of these houses while in course of erection. A man there hanged himself, and his lifeless body was cut down by another workman, named Stephen Roberts. The death of a workman also happened during the building of Glo'ster Lodge, but that was by accident. Several other accidents
, but of a less serious character, took place during the earlier progression of the work, and when one calls to mind the chaotic condition of the place at the period under review, the wonder is that the injuries to life and limb were not numerous.
There was a stack of bricks in one place, a quarry of stone in another, a load of timber in a third, road cuttings and makings in various directions, mounds of mortar and beds of slaked lime into which people were frequently stepping or falling, and scaffolding to obstruct locomotion everywhere.
As the said Hotel, after an existence of 65 years was taken over by a company and considerably altered, a view of the structure in its original form is here presented.[ 5 ]
Captain Merricks - Rose Fuller - The Blacksmiths' Arms - etc
An accident of a rather serious nature occurred to Mr. Henry Towner during the erection of 2 West Ascent. He was badly injured by some timber falling on him, and though he recovered sufficiently to follow his recuperation, his gait was unsteady for the rest of his life.
A somewhat ludicrous accident occurred during the same year to the horse and cart belonging to "Psyche" Fowler, a man not more noted as a purveyor of sand than for his dis-regard of cleanliness. The wall at East Ascent was not yet constructed, and Fowler's horse and cart, starting from Mercatoria went clean over the cliff on to the road at the back of the Marina, the cart being broken into fragments, and the horse escaping, as by a miracle, with only a few bruises. Although the cliff was less perpendicular than as now seen, it had not been cut down to its present height, and was, consequently more elevated, and nearly as represented in the view of the Conquerors Stone. Its summit was known by the farm-labourers and others as the"Goats Point".
A Captain Merricks (of whom more will be said further on), while master of a Hastings sloop brought the first cargo of timber for the town, and a man, named Rose Fuller, of Brightling, a lime-burner, and a noted old smuggler, to boot, used to boast that he brought the first load of lime from Bexhill to be used in the building of St Leonards. He professed to be as well skilled in stowing away tubs of contraband as in stacking chalk or lime; and he made it no secret in his declining years that he had more than once helped to fill the kiln at Warrus (Warriors) Gate with kegs of smuggled brandy. This Rose Fuller died at Hunter's Farm, Brightling in his ninety-sixth year.
I have stated that Mr. Milstead began to build the "Horse and Groom" in 1829, and I may add to this that the requirements of the workmen were such that they were supplied with beer at this house before even the windows were glazed. Mr. Milsted was himself a painter and glazier, but the demand for that kind of work, was so urgent that although his partner, Mr. Chas. Neve, was sometimes at work with his men at four o'clock in the morning, the Horse and Groom had for a short time to put up with canvas windows. But this was not quite the only place where workmen could obtain refreshment. What was called "small beer" was at this time allowed to be sold without a publican's license, and as much as 18 gallons per day of this drinkable and quenchable "twopenny" it had been said, was dispensed by Mrs. Towner. It was an evil day for the cause of sobriety when a license was required for the sale of this modest beverage, it being gradually driven out of the market by this impost, and beer-drinkers thus led to the imbibition of more potent decoctions.But neither the small beer nor the strong beer was the sole beverage of the people at St. Leonards during the first and second year of the town's existence. There were two milkmen, naned(sic) Brett and Murdoch, the former of whom afterwards died at a very advanced age, and the latter also "well stricken in years". Mr. Murdoch remembered that he sold nearly as much as 300 quarts of warm milk, daily, among the thousand workmen at that time employed.The reader may wonder where and how such a number of men were fed and lodged, and it would not be an easy task to satisfy him on that point. A great many, however, including Messrs. Homan, found lodgings in "America" - that is to say, in White Rock street and the Ropewalk, the original sites of the present Robertson Street and Carlisle Parade. Some twenty of them, I well know, secured lodgings at the Blacksmiths Arms, which was kept by William Woolgar, and stood on the ground where is now the Holy Trinity Church.
On the outside of this house was an artistically painted sign from the brush of Mr. G. Honiss, who after this sustained the wear of life for more than half a century. On the said sign-board was the motto "By hammer and hand all arts do stand". In that same public house and over the bar was written "My beer is good, my charge is just, I'm poor, and can't afford to trust". As this was 68 years before the time at which I am now writing, I may be pardoned for alluding to it as one of my early rhyming efforts. It was found to be necessary to enforce the principle indicated by this couplet when such a crowd of strangers immigrated to Hastings in consequence of the work obtainable at St. Leonards. Even the founder himself was for a time a sort of fugitive; firstly taking up his quarters at the Marine Hotel, then in Wellington Square, at a later period at the Gensing Farm-house, and finally
taking up his abode at North Villa, from which he ultimately removed to the Allegria.My historical and anecdotal notes of St. Leonards thus far are contemporaneous with the end of the second year of the town's existence, namely 1829; and that I may follow, as closely as possible, the events in chronological order, I will next briefly touch on a few more matters pertaining to that period which have an incidental relation to my general topic. Whether the energetic founder of St. Leonards had communicated to him in any way the intention of the Government to take possession of the in the parish of Holy Trinity, from which the sea had receded and the Hastings people had occupied by building thereon, is not in my province to say, but it is a noteworthy coincidence that in the same year that Mr. Burton commenced a new town at St. Leonards, the people who inhabited a suburb of the old town of Hastings had notice to quit. The Broad Arrow was placed upon their habitations to signify the Government claim and a lease was granted for seven years only, at the expiration of which time the whole of the buildings were to be cleared off or confiscated.That during the leasehold tenancy the parish of Holy Trinity afforded lodgings and other accommodation to many of the workmen at St Leonards has been sufficiently shown, and that it was a fortunate circumstance for the 'Americans' in their subsequent exodus that there was a new town for many of them to go to, and at so short a distance, will be apparent as I proceed. The population of St. Leonards and St. Mary Magdalen - the two parishes, portions of which are occupied by the town which took its name from the former - was in 1828 less than 100, whilst that of Holy Trinity was upwards of 1,000. In that same parish, in addition to an extensive Rope-walk - the site of which is now covered by Carlisle Parade, Robertson Terrace, and the Queens Hotel - there were between 200 and 300 dwellings, warehouses, workshops, huts (with inverted hulls of fishing boats for roofs), pig-pounds, and a coastguard station, which was conspicuous by its clean white-washed exterior. A few years later the conditions of population were entirely reversed, the Holy Trinity Parish having only nine inhabitants, whilst the town of St Leonards had more than nine-hundred.
I have already shown that the erection of the town proceeded with extraordinary rapidity, and that in one case at least, either from injudicious haste, faulty materials or want of care, five houses on the Marina gave way[Notes 2], and "great was the fall thereof." I might have added to this the fall of a house at Mercatoria, although I am told this last "tumble-down" was partly due to weather influences. And here let me say in passing that the meteorological conditions were very frequently the reverse to favourable to building operations during the first few years.
In 1828 there was a violent gale which swept up the Channel and drove all the shipping before it, the wreckage at Plymouth alone including 13 large vessels. In 1829 there were two gales of similar severity - one on the 7th of January and another one on the 5th of October. The latter continued for three days, changing its course from SW to NW, accompanied by snow and sleet, which on the 9th was ankle deep. This continued with intermissions and varying depths until Christmas, when a severe frost set in, which lasted six weeks. During this memorable frost all the ponds in the neighbourhood were thickly coated with ice, and hundreds of persons were to be seen daily skating on the previously flooded Priory Brooks, extending northwards from the beach to where are now the Gas Works, and westward from the present site of the York Hotel to near the site of the Central Wesleyan Church.
In 1830 there was a great fall of snow on the 11th of January and a prolongation of the severe frost in the month following. It may be imagined, then, how much the building operations were impeded, or under what trying circumstances they were carried on. But, despite the interference of the weather and other difficulties, the work proceeded, and the town rose almost as though at the bidding of a magician. In the space of less than two years, a piece of rocky, sandy, shingly, muddy, boggy, and - to a considerable extent - unproductive land, had been converted into a handsome town, with palatial residences, and which in extent was even then of fair dimensions.
The excellent view which follows shows the position and appearance of the "Castellated Villa" (afterwards Gloucester Lodge, the "Thatched Cottages" and the North Lodge, together with the enclosed land which was to form a portion of the Subscription (now the public) Gardens. [ 6 ]
St. Leonards. 1828-'9[ 7 ]
Numerous accidents - First born children - A new road
There are a few more occurrences to be recorded before I turn to those which pertain to the town rather than the news. It was on the 25th of January 1829, that several workmen at St Leonards were seriously injured by the giving way of scaffolding and some masonry, and a subscription was immediately opened for the relief of themselves and families.
On the 6th of April[Notes 3] in the same year was born at 18 Marina (South Colonnade) a child named Emma, daughter of Thos. and Martha Robyant Mawle, and, as being the first child born in the town, Mr. Burton, the founder, presented the parents with a silver tea service as a souvenir. The next native-born child was a son of Mr. and Mrs. William Golden, and was named at the baptismal font by Miss Jessie Burton as William Leonard Golden. The third child was Charlott, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Mann, to whose parent as well as the others, presents were made by Mr. & Mrs. Burton.
At this time, the only public roads out of St. Leonards were an ill-conditioned one to Hastings on the east, and another, but little better to Bexhill on the west. With his accustomed energy, therefore, Mr. Burton set about the formation of a new road up from the centre of the town towards the Harrow, by which means the distance to London would be shortened several miles. This was known as the Harrow Road (of which more anon) and which obviated the necessity[ 8 ]of stage coaches and private vehicles going first to Hastings and thence up the steep hill known as the Old London Road and around to the Harrow.
More accidents - Mr Green & his balloon - Fall of five houses - etc
By a list of residents at the South Colonnade we get a proof that the houses here were among the earliest series of erections; and this fact is further attested by a paragraph in the Sussex Advertiser of March 24th, 1828, which says that the wall to the eastward of the Conqueror's Table is rapidly going on, and that the wall is to be 10 feet deep, 217 feet long, and 4 feet wide. It also says that 13 houses are
to be erected and are intended to be erected at this spot, to front the road parallel with the wall, which is to defend them from the sea. In the same paragraph, allusion is made to a serious accident which befel(sic) a labourer, who shattered his hands while blasting the rocks. A week later the same journal makes known that increased preparations for the new town are being made and that large quantities of scaffolding and other building materials have been landed by a sloop [sailed by Capt. Merricks]. It further says that groynes are in course of construction to keep the beach from being washed away, and to act as a defence to the new wall and houses. The local press-writer of that period expatiates on the benefits likely to accrue from the building of the town to the labourers of the neighbourhood; for he says - dating his remarks in the month of May - "There are now 500 workmen, and as many of these belong to different parishes, the parochial rates will be relieved, and the men will find employment at home instead of having to seek it in distant lands."
I have already recorded several sad occurrences in connection with the early building operations, and I have yet another to add to the list.
On Sunday, the 30th of September, of the same year, there was a violent gale, with torrents of rain, the latter washing away a quantity of the earth which had been thrown on the beach as a preparation for the parade; but the weather clearing up on the Monday, the Hastings Races, which were held in the Filsham Raceway, passed off without much inconvenience. These particular races are remembered chiefly in consequence of a balloon over the race-course in a north-easterly direction, and causing a great many persons to rush over the hill towards and, to which locality the balloon appeared to be descending. It was afterwards ascertained to be occupied by Mr. Green who had had the balloon inflated at the Lewes gasworks.
On the morning of Monday, December 1828, several workmen were injured by the falling of scaffolding and columns of masonry, and subscription lists were opened for their relief. Then, on Saturday, the 31st of January 1829 there fell to the ground the greater part of the five houses on the Marina, previously described. On the 8th of May, following, two men were injured by the giving way of scaffolding, one of them so seriously that he died in about twenty minutes after the occurrence. A third man was also greatly injured on the 6th, by a large stone falling on his head. On the 18th of April, just fifty years antecedently to the day on which this was first written, a man named Catt, while engaged in excavating the cliff, was crushed to death by a large mass of it falling on him. An inquest was afterwards held, and the unfortunate man's remains were buried at , to which parish he belonged.
Far be it for me, a mere mortal, to pronounce upon the judgments of Heaven; but, if what was told me be true, it is at least a case for serious reflection that the man thus suddenly called into eternity but just before reviled a brother man for having turned from a wicked to a religious course of life. The subject of his taunts lived to be a nonagenarian.
On July 3rd of the first year of the town's history, and at about 8 o'clock in the evening, the French coast was plainly visible to the unassisted vision from the heights of St Leonards, the atmospheric refraction being followed two hours later by a violent thunderstorm. I have only witnessed a similar phenomenon on one other occasion during the whole of fifty years.
I have now reviewed the building operations of the town, together with its incidents and accidents from the commencement in 1828 to the close of the year 1829. It has been shown that even in the first year, amidst much apparent chaos in excavating and preparing, the work had made marvellous progress, and that at the end of the second year a very considerable portion of a unique and handsome town had sprung into existence. This included the hotel and its east and west wings, nine houses on each side, the Baths and Library on the parade, the Assembly Room, the South Colonnade (numbered as 1 to 14 Marina), portions of East and West Ascent, the Mercatoria and the Lavatoria, the Undercliff, the Harold Hotel, North Lodge, Gloucester Lodge, Quadrangle Chapel, a portion of (familiarly known as The Hundreds) and the intended Market (this principal approaches to which were by arched entrances from the front of the West Marina. Between the houses of the last-named place and 57 Marina there was still a long line of frontage unoccupied by buildings of any description.The next view exhibits the many buildings, heretofore described as having been erected within two years, extending from the East Gate (Archway) to the West Villa, afterwards the residence of the present Queen and her mother.
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References & Notes
- Although Brett provides for this in his index, it does not appear in the scanned versions of the Histories, so is omitted - Editor
- See later correction - Brett Manuscript Histories Vol 1 Chap. V
- The British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 27 April 1940 Pg. 0006 gives the first born child as being born on the previous day - the 5th of April - Transcriber