This week, in his ongoing series, Ion Castro takes a look at some rough weather at St. Leonards seafront.
He writes. The origins of Hastings and St Leonards’ three mile promenade start at the end of the 18th century in the Old Town in the days before St. Leonards even existed when sea walls were constructed to protect the new buildings on the shore and provide somewhere for the visitors to be seen enjoying the seaside air.
This work proceeded westward as Hastings extended following the development of the America Ground (Robertson Street area) and the demolition with gunpowder of the White Rock headland in 1834-35.
It allowed the road, today’s seafront, to be built between the bottom of the cliffs and the sea and this thoroughfare connected Hastings to St Leonards with a new promenade protected by a sea wall that was completed in June 1835, stretching from White Rock to the St Leonards Archway (the eastern boundary of Burtons’ St Leonards).
In 1828 building work had started on the new town of St Leonards by London architect James Burton, which was designed as an upper-class seaside resort for the well-off.
The Eversfield Estate sold the ground, part of the Gensing Farm to Burton and its southern boundary was a sea-frontage of 1,151 yards. Burton would have to build a sea wall to protect the fine houses he had built along his seafront and John Manwaring Baines, curator of Hastings Museum and expert on Hastings and St. Leonards records in his publication Burtons’ St Leonards ‘The necessity for some defence against the sea was soon seen though it does not seem to have been immediately appreciated that this was to be essential along the whole of the sea front, and a wall was built, ten feet high, four feet wide and 117 feet long”
Baines records: “Thirteen houses are intended to be immediately erected on the spot, to front the road parallel with the wall, which will defend them from the sea, and the buildings it is said will be lett as shops, in order to prevent nuisances or interruptions to the houses forming the proposed grand Crescent.”
Later on Baines continues “The year 1831 also saw the start of the first buildings to the immediate east of the boundary arch, soon to be known as ‘St. Leonards without’. This was Adelaide Place (now Nos. 1-12 Grand Parade), a most fashionable promenade twenty years later. and the first step on the way to linking up the two towns by continuous building”.
The Grand Crescent was never built and the final section at West Marina Gardens was not completed until the end of the nineteenth century.
In the 1930’s Sidney Little completely remodelled the seafront from Pelham Crescent to St.Leonards Pier, where work stopped at the row of shops on the promenade opposite the Royal Victoria Hotel, Royal Victoria Buildings. These remained standing and until they were demolished in early 1946 due to the war.
The sea wall, from just west of the Marina Pavilion, where it steps down to road level to the site of the former Bathing Pool, is pretty much as it was before the first war. And the St Leonards seafront was not immune to the attack of heavy seas. St Leonards Pier, opened in 1890 was, of course, and excellent vantage point for photographers to record the rough weather.
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.
Grand Parade 2000.
The first year of the new millennium showed that rough weather and severe storms are not a feature of the distant past, Ion Castro took this picture in 2000 after storms deposited thousands of tons of shingle on the lower level of Grand Parade just west of Warrior Square.
Rough Sea at new covered promenade.
An uncredited photograph from the mid 1930’s shows waves battering the new covered promenade, ‘Bottle Alley’. Shingle hasn’t yet built up against the new groynes that were part of the scheme and would later create a buffer zone against the waves. St.Leonards Pier can be seen in the distance
Rough Sea from Palace Pier.
Pictured from St.Leonards Pier looking west, in the 1930’s, the protective apron below the sea wall has done little to abate the force of the waves. The light coloured buildings on the promenade just right of centre flanked the access to St.Leonards Church and were destroyed along with the parish church by a flying bomb on 29th July 1944. These houses were not rebuilt and allow a more open aspect for the replacement church.
Rough Sea from St Leonards Pier.
Looking east from St.Leonards Pier, this hand tinted card posted in September 1912 was published as part of B&D’s “KROMO” series, Picture Postcard Pioneers; London E.C. and shows the terrace that would later be demolished for the building of Marine Court. South Colonnade on the seaward side of Marina, demolished in the 1930’s as part of the seafront improvements can be seen on the extreme right.
Rough Sea Hastings.
Although the unknown publisher captioned this image “Rough Sea Hastings” it’s actually St Leonards pictured from St.Leonards Pier in the early years of the last century and the waves are obliterating the view of the Royal Victoria Hotel. Royal Victoria Buildings, the row of shops on the promenade opposite the Royal Victoria Hotel are still standing and would be demolished in early 1946.
Rough Sea Marina St.Leonards.
This card from an uncredited publisher and dating from the end of the first war era shows the protective apron below the sea wall. The houses that flanked the approach to St Leonards Parish Church can be seen in the centre of the picture; 1st war period PM 1914 or 1924.
Rough Sea St Leonards.
Another lurid hand-tinted and uncredited postcard from 110 years ago, taken from St.Leonards Pier and showing the force of the waves.
Storm at St.Leonards.
An uncredited hand tinted postcard from the first decade of the last century. The waves seem to have parted to reveal the access to St.Leonards Parish Church.
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