Hastings’ historic Victorian park

Boating lake, late 1930s
Boating lake, late 1930s

ON June 14 Hastings celebrated the 150th anniversary of what was described by Councillor Dawn Poole last week as the ‘jewel in our crown’; Alexandra Park.

Coinciding with the anniversary a book has been published that traces the history of the park, formerly known as St Andrew’s Gardens. In the course of the park’s history it has seen royal visits, formal and informal ceremonies and a wide variety of diversions and entertainment.

Past locals have written on the subject of Alexandra Park. In the mid-1920s Hastings Mayor Dymond said: “It preserves much of the beauty of the Priory Valley of a century ago. It follows the winding courses of a stream that descends from the Old Roar and of a tributary from the west. On a wide lawn fêtes and reviews are held and a band plays near a café on Sunday afternoons in summer. The upper part, where the mayoral garden parties are held, is unique in its loveliness, especially a detached portion to the west.”

A council souvenir programme of the Alexandra Park Jubilee in 1932 notes: “Formal bedding welcomes us with its masses of colour, and the eye lingers restfully on the great lawn and graceful war memorial, backed by forest trees. We pass a boating lake, two lily ponds; the haunt of water-fowl and a bowling green, sheltered by stately trees.”

In 1982 Mayor Alan M Stace said in the Hastings Borough Council booklet published to celebrate the Alexandra Park Centenary: “Our forefathers must be congratulated for their foresight and planning in the development of Alexandra Park. These 110 acres, situated in the centre of the town provide a magnificent green oasis in which all can find something of interest from horticulture, recreation to natural history.”

This is how Alexandra Park was described during the first 100 years of its history, since being so re-named. Sadly, by the 1990s, like most public parks, neglect and vandalism had taken their toll.

This was particularly distressing because of the special historic and national importance of the park, due to the involvement of the esteemed landscape gardener, Robert Marnock.

In 1997 a successful bid for Heritage Lottery Funding provided £2.5 million of the £3.2 million required for restoring the park to its former glory.

After major refurbishments the grand reopening took place in April 2004. Since then Alexandra Park has been given Green Flag and Green Heritage Awards; and has been upgraded to Grade II* status on English Heritage’s Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England.

The park is also renowned for its natural landscape and collections of trees, making it one of the country’s most interesting public parks. Some notable buildings have been associated with the park during its history, one being the Victorian pumping station affectionately nicknamed ‘the Steam Cathedral’.

n Further Reading: Hastings’ Historic Alexandra Park, by Steven Whitford and Anne Scott, priced £15, is available from Hastings History House and the cafe, Eat @ The Park in Alexandra Park.