Old smuggler’s haunt became Victorian public gardens

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This week, in his continuing series, Ion Castro takes a look at the Grosvenor Gardens area.

It has been seen that the building of Hastings and St Leonards had been creeping westward as the 19th century progressed and most of the seafront had been constructed up by the third quarter of the nineteenth century.

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Gro 11 SUS-170509-085948001

By that time development had reached the point where the road to Bexhill (now the A359) turns inland by the Fountain Inn but there was nothing where the large houses on Grosvenor Crescent now face the sea between the Bo-Peep and Fountain Inns that were already well established - the Bo-Peep since at least 1756 and is first shown as “ Bo-Peep House” in Samuel Cant’s map of that year and the Sussex historian, Lower, decided that its name was derived from the hide-and-seek proceedings of smugglers, who were very active in the then very thinly populated district as in the old nursery rhyme, Little Bo-Peep:

“ Leave them alone and they’ll come home,

A-wagging their tails behind them”,

- the tails being kegs of contraband and the advice in the first few words being addressed to His Majesty’s customs officers.

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The River Haven now exits to the sea to the west of Cinque Ports Way but formerly veered eastward reaching the sea at the western end of Marina, running parallel to Grosvenor Crescent and rendering what would become West Marina Gardens unsuitable for building.

These Gardens are the triangular open space formed by Grosvenor Gardens, the short side of the triangle, to the west bounded by Sea Road to the south and Grosvenor Crescent to the north.

In 1878 a new esplanade, 2,000 feet in length and an average width of 50ft was built to protect the land from the waves with a sea wall 15 feet thick at its foundations. Its building may have been brought about by the bad storm two years earlier that had so seriously undermined Martello Tower No 39 (that had stood roughly where Sea Road joins Grosvenor Gardens) that the remains had to be totally demolished by the War Department with no traces of the tower visible today.

Tower 39 had been part of the local coastguard station which itself was to last until 1886 when it was closed to make way for the new large terrace called Grosvenor Gardens. The Coastguard Cottages along Bexhill Road then became the St Leonards Station, and remained so until 1904-05, when a new Station was built on the corner of Cinque Ports Way and Bexhill Road. The closest tower to the east was No 38 Cliff End, at Pett and that was demolished in 1872 with gun cotton as a war office experiment. To the west the towers were quite close together with No 43 on the high ground at Bulverhythe and 44 at Galley Hill.

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Gro 9 SUS-170509-085838001

The terrace of fine houses we know as Grosvenor Gardens were built at right angles to the sea with their entrances onto West Marina Gardens and service or tradesmen’s entrances onto Grosvenor Gardens and The Wilton Hotel originally occupied No’s 1 & 2 at the seaward and dates from the late 1880’s. It appears to have operated as an accommodation provider from the beginning expanding and contracting into and out of the adjoining properties to a peak in 1952 when it occupied No’s 1 - 5.

In 1901 it was known as the “Wilton House of Rest”, and in 1916 was known as the “Wilton House Private Hotel” but, by 1930 it was back to the “Wilton House of Rest”, then, a few years later, Wilton House Hotel, then Wilton Hotel after which it appears to have closed around 1952 and was subsequently listed as ‘Wilton House’.

The Bathing Pool would open 1933 to the west of Grosvenor Gardens with its frontage opposite the Wilton.

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 - ion@1066.net.

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Gro 8 SUS-170509-085743001

1859 map.

An extract from the western end of Hastings Corporation’s map of 1859 shows Martello Tower no 39 and attached coastguard station, above it is the River Haven that will later be diverted to meet the sea at Cinque Ports Way a little further west and above that, in splendid isolation, the Bo-Peep Inn.

1899 Map.

This 1899 map extract shows Grosvenor Gardens complete whilst Grosvenor Crescent still has some plots awaiting development.

Grosvenor Gardens & West Hill.

By the time this card was posted in August 1906 Grosvenor Crescent was complete. And this section of the tramway would appear the following year.

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Grosvenor Gardens 1891.

This image by local photographer G.W. Bradshaw was published in F.J Parsons’ almanac for 1891 and shows the Grosvenor Gardens terrace complete.

Grosvenor Gardens 1910.

An uncredited postcard from about 1910, the buildings at the right hand end proclaim ‘The Grosvenor’ and there is a glimpse of West Marina Station and notice the tennis courts.

Martello Tower 39.

Tower 39 of a total of 74 Martello Towers stretching from No 1 in Folkestone to 74 at Seaford. It partially collapsed in a bad storm in March 1876 and then was then totally demolished by the War Department, and no trace appears to exist today. These towers were built during the Napoleonic wars but never saw service. The walls were 9 feet thick in front and 5 feet in the rear, and usually mounted one long gun (24-pounder) on a sliding carriage with a traversing platform. 11 were added in Essex and 18 in Suffolk a few years later.

West Marina St Leonards on sea.

This hand coloured postcard from the first decade of the 20th century is looking east with St.Leonards Pier in the background and bath chairs for invalids who may have come from one of the convalescent homes on top of the cliffs on the left.

Wilton Hotel 1933 ad.

An advert for the Wilton Hotel from an HBC publication of 1932.

Wilton Hotel Advert 1932.

An ad from the Hastings Handbook for 1932. Notice the tennis courts and Oriole window on the end of the building, this has now gone.

Wilton House Hotel.

An early 1930’s view of the Wilton House Hotel, note the elaborate oriole window and to the left the rear of ‘Pickfords Pantechnicon’ or furniture store. The Bathing pool is yet to be built. The card was published by ‘Geo. Hand, Stationer & Fancy Draper, West St.Leonards Post Office, St. Leonards on sea’ which was just round the corner.

Wilton Hotel.

An early 1930’s view. The sender of the postcard has marked where they were staying, it’s also where the word ‘house’ has been removed when the hotel changed its name.

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