The first pocket guide to St Leonards

The 'Assembly Room', better known nowadays as the Masonic Hall behind the Royal Victoria Hotel
The 'Assembly Room', better known nowadays as the Masonic Hall behind the Royal Victoria Hotel

This volume is the very first St Leonards guide and is another of William Kidd’s series of Pocket Companion guides.

This edition, produced by James Gilbert, (successor to W.Kidd) probably dates from 1832 and is noted in the 1834 edition of The Athenaeum.

The guide states “it is intended to form a Companion to the ‘Picturesque Guide to the Old Town of Hastings’ lately published, and to that end the illustrations in each work are original so that if it should be

required to bind the two books in one volume, it can readily be done, – there being no duplicate of the engravings, and the literary proportion varied as much as possible”. Measuring 3 1⁄2” x 5

1⁄2 inches (90mm by 140 mm) these were indeed pocket editions.

As with the Hastings edition, The engravings are by G W Bonner and include one full-page engraving with the remaining engravings as vignettes within the text. The St Leonards edition was published by C Southall, library, St Leonards (opposite what was later to become The Royal Victoria Hotel).

In 1837 Southall went on to produce his own Pocket Guide to St Leonards and Hastings with no map nor illustrations.

St Leonards was built on what we today would call a greenfield site and according to the Sussex Advertiser, March 10, 1828 (Hastings wasn’t to get its own newspaper until early 1830) “On Saturday the 1st instant, the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of one of the intended new houses, near William the Conqueror’s table, Hastings”. This building was to become the St Leonards Hotel, now known as the Royal Victoria Hotel. The report continues: “Diversified

Promenades are intended to be formed; and enchanting villas near a luxuriant wood, .... will be erected; and a spa-room, and warm and cold seawater baths, upon a superior scale, are also in contemplation.

“The road from the general London road will commence at Beauport, passing Hollington (which will shorten the distance to the coast at least two miles) and through a beautifully rich, romantic country.” After the new road was built the route from the old town of Hastings became known as “Old London Road”

The first building to be completed was Burton’s own house at 57 Marina, Crown House, where, as a princess, Queen Victoria stayed at the end of 1834).

The timber framing of the building had been prepared in London and brought down by sea.