This week, in his continuing series, Ion Castro takes a look at the early days of St Leonards landmark Warrior Square.
He writes. In the mid 1830’s what is today’s seafront road was created by cutting away the White Rock headland from the end of Robertson Street westward and using the spoil to create the road and sea wall that now connects Hastings to St Leonards from White Rock to the St Leonards Archway.
Funding for the demolition, with gunpowder, of the headland was provided by Charles Eversfield, whose estate owned most of the cliff-land between Hastings and St Leonards. By 1835 construction had started on the land between White Rock and St, Leonards Arch which was Hastings’ western boundary (St Leonards’ eastern boundary) but the post office set their boundary at Hastings Pier.
According to J M Bains, in his bible of local history, ‘Historic Hastings’ “An amusing episode occurred in 1837 when Mr. James Troup, the owner of what is now Warrior Square, wanted all the land between Hastings and St. Leonards to be called ‘West Hastings’, and even memorialised the Postmaster General for letters addressed to persons living between the Archway and White Rock to be delivered from Hastings and not from St. Leonards. As a result the morning letters were not delivered at 7.30 am. as usual but were held back till 1.30pm after the East Coast mail had arrived. Mr. Troup had to go twice a day to Hastings for his morning letters, which he did, we are told, ‘with the utmost ill grace’”.
An act of Parliament, dated June 14th 1827, empowered trustees to deal with the lands of the Eversfield Estate, and enacted that it shall be lawful for the trustees to set out part of the lands for square, lawns, etc “for the use and convenience of the occupiers of the houses and other buildings” and this provided for the setting-out of Warrior Square Gardens which opened to the public in 1852 with a band playing three times a week.
Warrior Square itself was finished in 1864 and contemporary guide books described it with an alternative name ‘Belgravia’. Whiteman’s Guide to Hastings, St Leonards and the Neighbourhood, 1869, noted “Warrior Square, At once the abode of quiet and elegance, being composed of the finest houses in the borough. The extensive gardens in the centre are very tastefully laid out. The Hastings and St. Leonards Horticultural Society holds its annual meetings in these gardens”.
Christian worship was provided, as was usual in these developments, by the new St Mary Magdalen Church on the corner of Church Road and St Margarets Road which was on land provided by Charles Eversfield and was consecrated in 1852 after its foundation stone was laid the previous year.
The new Presbyterian Church of England (St. Columba’s) on the north-west corner of Warrior Square and Terrace Road opened in 1883 and was to last until destroyed by enemy action in October 1942. The site is now occupied by Southern Water.
The large Royal Concert Hall in Warrior Gardens opened on Oct 14 1879 and immediately became the leading centre of entertainment and social functions in St Leonards. The site had previously been, for a short time, an open-air roller skating rink and the hall that replaced it was the venue for large meetings, circuses, balls, banquets, speeches and exhibitions and its magnificent organ had previously graced Litchfield Cathedral.
Following the trend of the time from 1921 the building incorporated a cinema as well and was known as the Elite Picture Theatre. Following bomb damage in 1940 and 1942 it was used as an Admiralty store for the rest of the war and was to burn down on the day it was to re-open after the war, 23 June 1947, in one of the biggest and most spectacular fires in the history of the town. After remaining a derelict site for decades flats were eventually built on the site.
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
This map extract from 1859 shows Warrior Square in the course of construction and note that the first buildings to appear were to become the Edinburgh (later renamed Marlborough Hotel) on the western corner and the Warrior House on the eastern. It is perhaps ironic that the council gave consent to demolish and replace the oldest buildings in the square with the demolition and redevelopment of the Marlborough Hotel.
F J Parsons, former proprietors of the Hastings Observer, had a panorama of the entire seafront in the early 1880’s which appeared in many of their publications and this extract features Warrior Square and London Road.
Warrior House Hotel.
This advert from the 1890’s shows the building looking very similar to today. The annexe on the right was damaged and rebuilt after the last war.
St Mary Magdalen.
English Heritage describes the church of St. Mary Magdalen as “Semi-coursed, semi-dressed local rubble with limestone dressings under slate roofs” by Sir Thomas Marrable. Moves to build the church were in progress as early as June 1850 when an application for a grant was made to the Incorporated Church Building Society. Until then the only place for Anglican worship was a chapel that had been erected in 1831 at private expense and action was further stimulated because a ‘Roman Catholic Establishment’ (convent of the Holy Child) had recently been erected. The site for the new church was given by the lord of the manor, Charles Gilbert Eversfield. The building was planned to hold 822 people (340 appropriated seats, 346 free seats, 110 children and 26 seats in the chancel). No doubt it was expense that delayed the building of the tower for twenty years. A design exists showing a tall spire but this was never built. The church was taken over by the Greek Orthodox community in 1983. The delivery cart in the lower right corner advertises ‘Beck’s Bread’, Becks were bakers in East Ascent and survived into the 1970’s.
An early albumen print from the 1870’s showing the eastern side of the square in its heyday.
An advertisement from the 1890’s for the Edinburgh House Boarding Establishment, it would later become the Edinburgh Hotel before being renamed the Marlborough Hotel. One of the oldest buildings in Warrior Square it was demolished and replaced with a medical centre and sheltered housing which caught fire four years ago and has been closed ever since.
This image appeared in ‘The Architect’ in April 1884 with the caption “Gentlemen’s Club, St. Leonards on sea. This building is now in course of erection for the directors of the new club company. It occupies one of the finest sites on the Parade, in the most fashionable part of St. Leonards, and commands magnificent views of the sea coast and Parade. The new club will contain large coffee, smoking and billiard-rooms, and card rooms; also ten bedrooms, bathroom, for the convenience of London and country members. The chief entrance to the building faces Warrior Square, and will be protected from the winds by a large porch, the floor of which, as well as the whole of the corridors, lavatories, are to be laid with marble mosaic by Mr. Burke. The grand staircase’ and entrance framing will be of polished walnut. The building will, in all probability, be lighted by the incandescent electric light, for which the necessary arrangements have been made. The architect to the company is Mr. Henry Ward, AR.I.B.A., Mr. Peter Jenkins is the contractor”. Henry Ward was a prolific and diverse local architect, he designed Hastings & Bexhill Town Halls, The old Observer Building, Debenhams, part of the Buchanan Hospital and many churches in the local area.
An albumen print of Warrior Terrace from the 1870’s.
Warrior Square 1.
One of a set of local prints by Kerslake in the late 1860’s and displaying some artistic licence.
Adverts for accommodation from the end of the 19th century.