Return to Home Page

We are now entering the shamefully abused area of the Old Town, where modern planners have consistently defiled the ancient dignity of the heart of Eastbourne. Over this land great conservation battles have been fought and lost and even now the erosion of our ancient history is constantly under attack. It would seem inconceivable that within this area the planners have had so little consideration for conservation orders or the general voice of the public for here among the remaining historic buildings is the foundation from which emerged the town of Eastbourne.

One blot on the landscape for which the town council must accept responsibility, is Church Street. where in the early 1970s, the council permitted the wholesale destruction of many rare and historic buildings. To quote the decision of the Town Planning Committee (Thursday, December 2nd, 1971):

The town clerk stated that following the Councils own application for listed building consent to demolish 27, 27A. and 31 Church Street in connection with the Church Street Road Widening Scheme, the Department of the Environment had now indicated that the Secretary of State was prepared to agree to their demolition provided that the properties were photographed and recorded by the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments (England).


A poor consolation for a priceless loss! For all that remains of the original Church Street is the Edemond Hall, which lives on borrowed time: at the Planning Committee meeting on May 8th 1970. it was agreed to suspend its demolition until the 1980s, when full provision for the road widening scheme would again come before the town council.

In this area Mr Lawrence Stevens, one of the town's most ardent archaeologists has spent many years unearthing our history. uncovering long forgotten walls and cellars, pottery and artefacts. household implements and ancient relics. It cannot be long before construction workers will move in and seal for all time the secrets of our ancestral past. We are grateful that many valuable finds are now preserved and housed for public view in the Towner Art Gallery's Local History Museum. Even so, in Church Street history is still the predominant feature. for all around us are memories of the past. preserved in the last remnants of bricks and mortar.



The old manor house, standing beside the original main entrance to the Manor Gardens, is full of antiquity it has a Jake's (a medieval privy), a fine wall mosaic rediscovered only a few years ago. a priest hole and, the last remains of a secret passage from the cellar.

Prominent amongst the families who have lived there was Bartholomew de Badlesmere and his wife Margaret (de Clare), who took up residence in 1314. The exploits which led from his friendship with the king to his execution at Canterbury are recorded in the brief history section of this guide. Lady Badlesmere who was allowed to remain at the manor house after the death of her husband, later married into the Despencer family. Her son Giles Badlesmere had left no offspring and his lands were divided amongst his three sisters. Margaret, who was married to William. Lord de Roos of Hamelake, gained the Eastbourne share. It remained in the de Roos family for nearly 200 years, passing then by marriage to Sir Robert Manners, who was created Earl of Rutland in 1525. The Earl of Rutland sold the manor and its land in 1555. At the end of the 19th century the manor came into the possession of the Gilbert family, who, with the 7th Duke of Devonshire. were responsible for the creation of the town of Eastbourne. The family later moved to a new manor house on the corner of Borough Lane.




Gildredge Park is a recreational ground surrounded by mature trees, with a children's play area on one side, and two bowling greens on the easterly boundary . In contrast, the adjoining Manor gardens arc a carefully planned area of floral beauty. with fine rockeries and well established trees. in the middle are seven hard and two grass tennis courts. At the north-western end, beside Borough Lane, stands the Gilbert Manor house, now the Towner Art gallery. At a short distance, somewhat hidden by the foliage, is a regency summer house, known as the Adam House.

  Gildredge Park was formerly farmland owned by the Davies Gilbert family and by 1883 was within an area of rapid development. To preserve this land as an open space for recreation the town council approached the Gilbert family with offers to purchase. At first the owners were reluctant to come to an agreement but in 1886 part of the land was leased to the council for fifty years at £1 per annum.

In 1908 the council were allowed to purchase outright, some fifteen acres for £20.000. The Manor Gardens and the house were purchased in 1923, with the proceeds of a legacy given by Alderman J. C. Towner. The house was converted into an art gallery and named after the benefactor.

When walking in the gardens it is interesting to realise that the park and gardens, formerly known as Elphicks field and South field, have a history of cultivation dating back over some 2,000 years. In the middle of the Manor Gardens is a large mound topped by a stone toadstool. This is said to be the resting place of one of the family's horses. Such mounds are not uncommon, a similar one was erected by a Quaker lady Miss Rickman. at South Malling near Lewes. The mound, 40 foot high was the grave of her favourite horse, Charlie. Linder trees at the Borough Lane entrance to the Manor Gardens is another grave, this one is in memory of a dog, the headstone reads Duke, February 1912'.



The parish church of St Mary was erected on the foundations of a Saxon church dedicated to St Michael; the present building was erected around the period 1145-1190, and rededicated to St Mary the Virgin. Its fine Norman tower is a dominant feature of the Old Town. With the constant erosion of the town's ancient character, the church now stands in the centre of a small island of local history, flanked on three sides by the old Parsonage, the Lamb Inn, the Towner Art Gallery (formerly the Gilbert Manor House) and by the Pilgrims house in Borough Lane.

St Mary's like many churches of the period, has the chancel at an angle to the nave. This is believed to represent the body of Christ on the cross, with the head of Christ leaning to one side. In the fourteenth century the church was enlarged to its present size. when the outside walls, the last bay in the nave and the massive tower were added. At one end, the fourteenth century font is made of local Sussex green sandstone, fashioned into a plain square bowl with panelled stem. Two other examples of this period are six sculptured heads mounted at the top of columns and the rare remains of an ancient rood screen in the side chapel of St Margaret and St Bartholomew; a stone staircase up to the rood screen loft, which used to lead by way of a hollow pillar, is now a private room set aside for prayer. A peal of six bells cast in 1651, were increased to eight in 1818.

In the south wall at the west end of the nave, is a tablet to the Revd Alexander Brodie, whose family endowed the town with the first local schools for working folk, it reads: Sacred to the memory of the Revd ALEXANDER BRODIE, D.D.. 18 years the beloved and esteemed Vicar of this parish. who died June 18th 1828. in the 54th year of his age. In him a widow and eleven children mourn the irreparable loss of an affectionate husband and kind parent, while the poor lament a beneficient and considerate friend, and the Christian world an active and zealous member.

The parish records date from 1558, and one should note the longest incumbency, that of Canon Pitman, who was vicar of St Mary's for 62 years.

St Mary's church is worthy of a quiet saunter; its ancient glass windows blend with the modern, especially one depicting the former church of St Michael's designed by Hugh Easton, or the Resurrection window by Douglas Strachan. Within this hallowed place, kings and queens. lords and ladies, mayors and the common folk have worshipped for over 900 years; before leaving, the visitor should enjoy a few minutes quiet meditation.



Beside the path. at the east end of the church is an ancient Celtic Cross, transported by sea from Cornwall by Davies Gilbert, sometime in the nineteenth century. Nearby are remains of the old village cross, converted into a sundial in the eighteenth century The yew tree sheltering this spot is reputed to be the oldest tree in Eastbourne.

The old Parsonage is connected to the church by way of a sheltered passage, and is of fifteenth century origin. The building has fine examples of Tudor stonework and retains much of the early timber. Many Royal visits to St Mary's have been recorded in photographs. which are on display at the entrance to the hall. while, at the foot of the first flight of steps down into the main hall, is the entrance to a secret subterranean passage which leads to the vaulted monastic room beneath the Lamb Inn. To the west end of the church. on the right hand side of the path, is a stone monument, the Brodie memorial.


Situated at the corner of Church Street and Ocklynge Road, the Lamb is probably the oldest hostelry in Britain. For many years it was the place of arrival and departure for the London stage coach and until 1875 its public room on the first floor was the only place of entertainment in the town. In the course of external repair in 1912 the plaster was removed from the western front and fine ancient half-timber work was revealed and restored. By a strange coincidence, the famous Star Inn at Alfriston underwent a similar restoration at the same time. Both have the distinction of being resting places for mendicant friars and pilgrims, who travelled to and from the shrine of Richard de Ia Wych at Chichester.

In 1240 the house was granted to the Rector of St Mary's Church for the churchyard extended to the side of the inn. The underground passage which connects the Old Parsonage with the inn was probably constructed to assist the monastic brothers in attending the daily services, though in later years it might easily have been the secret passage used for "moonshining" in smuggling days. Under the inn still remains an early vaulted chamber with lofty ribs and a central boss in very good preservation now used as the storage room for beer casks.



While not an area of special interest the site does hold an important place in our conservation history, being the subject of one of the longest and bitterest preservation battles fought and lost in Eastbourne. In 1970 the area contained many unique boulder-faced cottages housed in quaint narrow lanes, in the centre of which stood the Star Brewery. When in 1965 the brewery was taken over by the Courage, Barclay and Simonds combine, the building was made redundant. Many ideas were put forward for the area as a whole, either to utilize the old time beauty of the place or to demolish and redevelop as a modern shopping centre. Most believed that given the right consideration by the local council, this could have provided a living history with the brewery adapted for a crafts centre and the cottages retaining their distinctive character of old Eastbourne.

In 1969 a £2.5 million scheme for the redevelopment of the area by Gambetta Properties was turned down by the town's planning committee. Curiously there would appear to have been considerable undercurrents working in favour of the scheme. for when in 1970 the same plan was presented, it was accepted. One ISSUE which the town council had underestimated was the force of public opinion; public meetings were held, petitions signed and with the backing of the Victorian Society, a preservation order on the area obtained.

However, before the order could be made official, the bulldozers had moved in and the first of the properties was demolished. The compulsory purchase of the buildings was not easy going, for many residents stuck to their properties until the last minute. By 1973. with demolition in full progress all around, doubts were already beginning to be voiced as to the feasibility of the project and funds were running short to cover the compulsory purchase orders. Phase Two of the scheme was delayed and thereby a few remaining buildings around the corner of Ocklynge Road and Crown Street were saved.

By May 1974 the project ground to a halt and the land was left derelict to become an unofficial scramble track for motorcycles and among the rubble, a variety of flora broke into bloom. Such was the interest in this natural repossession that one of Eastbourne's most knowledgeable botanists, Margaret Ash visited the site and having discovered over one hundred differing varieties. produced a small book entitled 'The Star Brewery Site Flora". (Published by the Eastbourne Natural History and Archaeological Society).

In 1977, the Council debated and approved new plans. in October l979, the site was sold freehold to Brightside Investments Limited and part to Tesco's Limited for erection of a supermarket. Later, when Tesco's were bought out, the supermarket project was transferred to Safeways food stores and the new building now dominates that area of the Old Town. Later, the road connecting Ocklynge Road to Church Street, beside the Lamb Inn, was made into a pedestrian precinct. Similarly. Church Lane (Bay Pond Road) was cut off, while Star Road all but disappeared.



Motcombe Gardens are truly the heart of Eastbourne for they are the original site of an Anglo-Saxon settlement set beside a burne, meaning brook or stream, from which the town gained its name. The word East was added later to distinguish it from Easebourne or Westbourne on the other side of the county. The gardens were a gift to the town from the Duke of Devonshire in 1908 and were originally part of Motcombe Farm. the house of which can be seen opposite. Just outside beside a lane which runs from Parsonage Road down to the gardens, stands the farm's original Sussex barns, now beautifully converted into private dwellings. At the north end is a mediaeval, flint-faced dovecote, by which means the farmhouse was always ensured of fresh pigeon pie! In the very centre of the gardens is a square-shaped pond: where a large statue of King Neptune complete with trident sits on an island in the middle of the pond. The pond's present shape dates from 1857 when bricks were used to line the sides: it was fenced off and a pump and trough installed at the nearby roadside to permit its use as a source of drinking water.

Prior to that the pond filled most of the low lying area and its bordering reed bed held a reliable supply of thatching material, basket and matting weave. In 1859 the Eastbourne Waterworks Company was formed and pipes were laid from the pond to a pumping station, situated at the Seaside Road end of Susan's Road, for distribution to the rapidly expanding areas of the town. The Burne Stream, though depleated in flow, continued under a rustic bridge at the south end of the gardens. passing behind the houses in The Goffs, to a water mill which once stood behind the Drill Hall. The Burne Stream continues its passage under the town towards the Leaf hall where it originally entered the sea. A small booklet entitled 'The Stream that gave Eastbourne its name', contains a map of its course (Eastbourne Local History Society).



(which formerly stood between Vicarage Road and Summerdown Road)

When the French army was massed to cross the channel during the Napoleonic war, Eastbourne saw the arrival of military forces. In the Old Town a cavalry barracks was built (1809 - 1815) on the St Mary's Hospital site. At the end of hostilities, the property was purchased by two local landowners, Lady Elizabeth Compton and Mary Ann Gilbert. In 1817, they leased the buildings to the Board of Guardians of the Parish Workhouse at a rent of £90 per year, to extend their existing premises in nearby Bradford Street.

In keeping with many such institutions, Eastbourne's workhouse had a reputation for harsh and callous treatment, as may seem evident in a newspaper report published one Christmas: Erring women who have been driven to seek the cold shelter of the workhouse walls in their hour of need have been excluded from any participation in the trifling luxuries afforded to the inmates at the joyous season of Christmas and now are to be debarred from hearing the addresses and singing in the festivities at this time of goodwill towards men.

In 1834, the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed in Parliament, which tightened the regulations defining the duties of the master and matron of the workhouse but this did little to alleviate the suffering of the sick who were cared for by female inmates instead of trained nurses.

On January 3rd 1877, the workhouse announced: The guardians of this union will, at their meeting on Friday, the twelfth day of January instant, at eleven o'clock in the forenoon, proceed to the election of a single woman to fill the office of Nurse to the sick poor in the Union Workhouse. Salary £25 yearly and rations. Eastbourne Workhouse Union, or Spike, as it was referred to colloquially, served a number of parishes, comprising East Dean, Alfriston, Folkington, Friston, Jevington, Litlington, Lullington, Pevensey, Seaford, Westdean, Westham, Willingdon and Wilmington. In 1895. the catchment area was increased to include Alciston, Berwick and Selmeston.

In 1889 new regulations necessitated the separation of infectious from non-infectious patients in the infirmary and a new block was built on the east side. Later an Infectious Diseases hospital, originally known as Downside, (now a housing estate) was built alongside East Dean Road. This grew in size and by 1904 accommodated 62 beds in seven blocks.

The workhouse continued to be run by the master and matron. which was usually a dual appointment for a married couple, and under their authority were a chaplain, a schoolmaster and a schoolmistress. In 1913 the workhouse was reorganised and enlarged with the addition of a new "master's" house, which later became the administration block. With the outbreak of World War One the workhouse reverted back to military use and the inmates were removed to the Hastings workhouse at Ore, while a number of the infirm were housed under the charge of a Sister Appleyard in Upperton Gardens. From the middle of 1915 onwards St Mary's became a major military hospital, with large numbers of wounded being brought by train to Eastbourne and then by ambulance to the hospital. These patients were affectionately known by the locals as the "blue boys" from the blue uniforms they wore. In 1919 the inmates were returned to Eastbourne, and in 1920 the sick wards were designed under the Public Assistance Act as a poor law hospital, so allowing for the establishment of a nurses training school.

In the period up to 1928. when the Duke of Devonshire officially opened the "centre block", considerable modernisation took place. Finally, on April lst 1930, the Poor Law Act was rescinded and the Eastbourne Workhouse closed. The buildings were renamed St Mary's Hospital and together with the Board of Guardian's office at Avenue House, came under the authority of the Eastbourne Council.

At the commencement of the Second World War. St Mary's was evacuated, pending the need to accommodate war wounded but the only admissions were civilian emergencies. During 1940 and onwards many casualties were dealt with, a number of bombs fell near the hospital. one causing severe damage to the operating theatre. The hospital was closed in 1989 and planning permission was granted for the erection of houses and flats.



A strange name for a cottage one might well say, and so it is, but the history of Burnt Cottage is charged with all the intrigue and adventure of 19th century England. The story is told of a band of smugglers who for many years traded contraband in the area until their hiding place in this cottage was discovered. The Revenue Officers then set fire to the building, leaving only a burnt out shell. But such good had been done to all the people in the district by the sale of "moonshine", that a public collection was made to pay for the rebuilding of the cottage. To commemorate this, a stone let into the middle of the row of three cottages. is inscribed "Rebuilt by voluntary subscription 1930".

In 1956 the Eastbourne Council ordered that the three cottages, together with fourteen other adjoining properties. should be demolished under a compulsory purchase order. The late Mr E.G. Spears, the owner of Burnt Cottage, promptly appealed and at a public enquiry subsequently held at the town hall, the cottage. together with the adjoining one. appropriately called Smuggler's Cottage. was saved. Sadly, the third cottage and the fourteen other properties were pulled down. In 1970 Burnt Cottage became empty and the present. owner the well-known local historian, Harold Spears, decided to have the interior modernised. When the old staircase was removed the top of a brick arch was revealed at ground level and following an account of the smuggling incident in J C. Wright's book, Bygone Eastbourne, Mr Spears decided to have the ground excavated. It was then that a flight of steps was discovered filled in with pieces of stone, mixed with several rusty Cast iron pots, a cast iron kettle and a glazed earthenware jar. At the bottom of the stairs a five -foot archway to the Cellar Was found but this was filled in with stone and the room itself, now under the adjoining garage yard, was found to have been completely filled in.



Away to the north, on the skyline at Ocklynge. stands the prominent 102-foot high square tower of St Michael and All Angels' church, built in 1911. It stands overlooking Ocklynge cemetery. formerly known as Ocklynge Piece, which was consecrated in April 1857. In the grounds are the "Episcopal" and "Dissenters" chapels, fashioned in flint and sandstone by the architect. Benjamin Ferrey, who also was responsible for Christ Church, Seaside, built two years earlier. In this hallowed ground at Ocklynge lie many of Eastbourne's distinguished gentlemen, whose deeds could fill many an interesting volume.

The Hurst Arms public house on the corner of nearby Mill Road, reminds us of the Hurst family , prominent millers. brewers and owners of Ocklynge Manor. Note the elaborate griffins mounted on the corner of the roof. The name Mill Road is derived from St John's Mill which used to stand in a yard next to Ocklynge Manor. Even with its top removed and in its later days, as a round store house in a builder's yard, it retained an age-old character. Both mill and in latter time, the builders yard have gone and in their place stands Lovell Court. but echoes of the past still linger in the mill wheels that now decorate the wall.




Ocklynge Manor is built on the site of a Commandery of the Knights of St John. from which it takes its name the Manor of St John of Jerusalem. Ocklynge, Rushlake and Swine's. The knights were a religious body whose exploits are catalogued extensively during the Ottoman crusades in the middle Eastern empires, ending with their defeat at Rhodes in 1522. Their occupation of this site from the middle of the 12th century until the suppression of the monasteries in 1540, links this isolated area of Sussex with world history. It is. therefore, of unique value to find preserved at the manor, the head of a pillar piscina of Eastbourne green sandstone, belonging to the period not later than the 14th century and without doubt from the chapel of the commandery.

After 1540 the property reverted to the crown and remained so until the reign of Charles II when, together with other lands, it was transferred to a trustee to be offered for sale. Eventually it fell into the hands of the Hurst family, who made Ocklynge Manor their home. Until 1894 there were 32 acres of land including the chapel and St John's windmill. The Hurst family remained over some four generations until 1956 and their presence has been well recorded by both the naming of Hurst Road and the Hurst Arms public house, which stands on the corner of Willingdon Road. The present garden has a gazebo purported to be an original look-out tower for the London stage coaches, while behind the manor house is a fine example of an 18th century grotto. Near to the gate connecting the house with Mill Road, is a deep well which disappears like a cavern into the earth. It is said, that on rare occasions a ghostly visitor is seen in the living room, a long since departed monk who walks through the wall into the side garden.

Return to Home Page