This week Ion Castro takes a look at the history of the eastern end of the West Hill in St Leonards
The establishment of institutions was not restricted to the western end of West Hill St Leonards, the biggest group was, of course there - numbers 111 to 125 on the southern side of the road overlooking the sea and benefitting from the healthy sea breezes where what became the Eversfield Hospital complex could be found, ending with the Childrens’ Home at 125. The even numbers on the northern side of the road did not benefit from any such buildings and there were more institutions between the Eversfield block and the start of West Hill Road behind the Royal Victoria Hotel and Masonic Hall and these were interspersed with private houses occupied by ‘quality’ middle class people but at No 61 was the Ranyard Mission, Tilbury House, Convalescent Home of the London Bible Women and Nurses Mission. Named after Ellen Ranyard (1809-1879) who was the daughter of a non-conformist cement maker and was born in London’s Nine Elms.As a child Ellen was involved in visiting poor families and it was her personal experience as a visitor that stimulated her lifelong commitment to philanthropy. In 1857 she established the Bible and Domestic Female Mission (known as the Ranyard Mission from 1917) which became known for its innovative approaches, and ability to develop work in some of the most deprived areas of London. She had a particular concern for the well-being of women in poor areas and the mission received patients from the areas in which the Biblewomen worked. Ellen died of bronchitis at home in the winter of 1879 many years before. Tilbury House opened in St Leonards in the early years of the last century and the establishment but it had gone in by the 1930’s with the building has surviving having been converted into flats by 1939.
‘Helena Holiday Home’ for ex-Service Women appeared at 58 West Hill, in an existing detached house called ‘Oversea’ around the first war period; unusually it was on the north side of the road and was still operating in 1950 after which it reverted to a private dwelling.
Back on the seaward side of the road ‘Templecombe’ had been established by the Independent Order of Rechabites by 1930 as a Holiday and Convalescent Home at Sea View Terrace, numbers 33 to 43 West Hill Road but in later years it had contracted down to numbers 39 to 43. ‘Templecombe’ survived the war as an institution but, by the early 1960’s it had been converted into apartments. The Independent Order of Rechabites (IOR), also known as the Sons and Daughters of Rechab, is a friendly society founded in England in 1835 as part of the wider British temperance movement to promote total abstinence from alcoholic beverages. From the late 18th century a number of Friendly Societies had been set up to help working-class people with such things as health insurance, death benefits, etc. and generally these societies held their meetings in pubs until, in the 1830s a group of Manchester Methodists became concerned that by encouraging working men to attend public houses to pay their friendly society dues, then the societies were harming the men's health and financial situation and threatening their moral welfare, rather than helping them. To counter this they set up a new Friendly Society called the Independent Order of Rechabites, named after the nomadic, abstaining Rechabites of the Old Testament. A branch was usually known as a "Tent", since the biblical Rechabites lived exclusively in tents. Each Tent was ruled by a High Chief Ruler, assisted by a High Deputy Ruler, Corresponding Secretary, Sick and Tent Stewards, Inside and Outside Guardians, a Levite of the Tent and a number of Elders. Before one could join the Rechabites and benefit from their insurance and saving scheme a document had to be signed swearing that the proposed member and his family would not drink any alcoholic beverages. This document was known as The Pledge and represented a solemn promise Membership was open to all who would sign a pledge to completely abstain from alcohol. There were also death and sickness benefits. The initials "IOR" on a tombstone may indicate that the deceased was a member of the organisation. The society was always well connected in upper society and involved in financial matters and gradually transformed into a financial institution which still exists.
Technically not an institution but the interesting building with an interesting history is on the southern corner of West Hill Road and Quarry Hill and is now known as ‘The Bath House’, It was built in 1864, after a devastating fire at the former site of a Russian Turkish Bath House which turned out to be a commercial failure and closed down and the building were then bought in 1869 by Uplands School who were situated on Archery Road. (the buildings still exist and are perhaps better know in their latter years as the Art Block of Hastings College and are now awaiting conversion into apartments). The school extended the building to the South and built a large swimming pool. Time passed and the building re-emerged in the late 1920’s as the St Leonards Christian Spiritualist Church. When Burtons’s St Leonards Parish Church on the seafront was obliterated by a flying bomb coming in low over the sea and exploding on its front steps on 29th July 1944 the building became St Leonards Emergency Parish Church and fulfilled this function until the replacement church re-opened in 1956 after which the building was used by Lee & Jones, scientific glassware manufacturers who appear to have retained the interior;. (The swimming pool had been boarded over when the building was originally used as a church and apparently still exists). The building fell out of use in the late 1990’s and in 2012 planning permission was granted to change its use and building to be converted into a 3 bedroom home.
All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series. There’s more local history on Ion's website, www.historichastings.co.uk or contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.