|Population:||97,992 (2009 est.)|
Until the 19th century, Eastbourne was just a collection of hamlets, but its four hamlets gradually merged to form a town. Assisted by the arrival of the railway in 1849, Eastbourne became a prime Victorian seaside resort and still is today. It had an estimated population of 97,992 as of 2009.
Eastbourne lies at the eastern end of the South Downs alongside the famous Beachy Head cliff. The sheltered position of the main town behind the cliff contributes to Eastbourne's title of sunniest place in Great Britain.
Although Eastbourne has some industrial trading estates, it is essentially a seaside resort and derives its main income from tourism. Its facilities include four theatres, numerous parks, a bandstand and museums. The focus of tourism is the four miles of shingle beach, lined with a seafront of hotels and guest houses.
Geography and climate
The South Downs dominate Eastbourne and can be seen from most of the town. The hills run from the edge of Hampshire eastward separating the seaside strip of Sussex from the inland woods, until they punch into the sea at Beachy Head.
Eastbourne holds the record for the highest recorded amount of sunshine in a month, 383.9 hours in July 1911, and promotes itself as "The Sunshine Coast". Other resorts, such as Jersey, Bournemouth and Weymouth lay claim to being the sunniest place in Britain too, using different criteria of "sunniest place".
Seafront and neighbourhoods
The seafront at Eastbourne is distinctive in having few shop fronts opening onto it, the road being almost entirely populated by Victorian hotels. This is because much of Eastbourne has traditionally belonged to the Duke of Devonshire, who retains the rights to these buildings and does not allow them to be developed into shops. Along with its pier and bandstand, this serves to preserve the front in a somewhat timeless manner.
The Sovereign Harbour district is a marina/harbour development which was given the go ahead in 1988. An Act of Parliament had to be in force to allow breaking through of the foreshore owned by the crown. A whole new village was formed at the edge of the main town, comprising restaurants, shops and housing.
There was a community known as Norway, Eastbourne in the triangle now bounded by Wartling Road, Seaside and Lottbridge Drove. The name being a corruption of North Way, as this was the route to the North. The area is now a housing estate and the only evidence there was a Norway are a Norway Road and the local church whose sign reads "St Andrew's Church, Norway".
The former fishing hamlet of Holywell (local pronunciation ‘holly well’) was situated by the cliff on a ledge some 400 yards to the southwest of the public garden known as the Holywell Retreat. It was approached from what is now Holywell Road by way of the lane between the present Helen Gardens and St Bede’s School which leads to the chalk pinnacle formerly known locally as ‘Gibraltar’ or 'The Sugar Loaf'. The ground around the pinnacle was the site of lime kilns also worked by the fishermen. The fishing hamlet at Holywell was taken over by the local water board in 1896 to exploit the springs in the cliffs. The water board's successors still own the site, and there is a pumping station but little evidence of the hamlet itself, as by now even most of the foundations of the cottages have gone over the cliff.
Geology and nature
The South Downs were originally chalk deposits laid down under the sea during the Upper Cretaceous period, and were later lifted by the same tectonic plate movements that formed the European Alps, during the middle Tertiary period. The chalk can be clearly seen along the eroded coastline to the West of the town, in the area known as Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, where continuous erosion keeps the cliff edge vertical and white. The chalk contains many fossils such as ammonites and nautilus.
A part of the South Downs, Willingdon Down is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. This is of archaeological interest due to a Neolithic camp and burial grounds. The area is also a nationally uncommon tract of chalk grassland rich in species. Another SSSI nearby is "Seaford to Beachy Head", a site, of biological and geological interest, covers the coastline between Eastbourne and Seaford, plus the Seven Sisters country park and the Cuckmere valley.
The town of Eastbourne is built on geologically recent alluvial drift, the result of the silting up of a bay. This changes to Weald clay around the Langney estate.
Several nature trails lead to areas such as the nearby villages of East Dean and Birling Gap, and landmarks like the Seven Sisters, Belle Tout lighthouse and Beachy Head.
- Main article: Beachy Head
Beachy Head cliff, to the west of the town is a towering chalk cliff marking the end of the South Downs.
The lighthouse at the foot of the cliff came into operation in October 1902. Although originally manned by two keepers, it has been remotely monitored by Trinity House via a landline since June 1983. Before its construction, shipping had been warned by the Belle Tout lighthouse on the cliff top some 1,500 yards to the west. Belle Tout lighthouse was operational from 1834 to 1902, and closed because its light was not visible in mist and low cloud. It became a private residence, but was severely damaged in Second World War by Canadian artillery. In 1956, it was rebuilt as a house and remains a dwelling to this day. In March 1999, the structure was moved 55 feet back from the cliff edge to save it from plunging into the sea.
The cliff is an infamous suicide spot. Statistics are not officially published to reduce suicidal mimicry, but unofficial statistics show it to be the third most common suicide spot.
The area around Eastbourne is known to have been settled throughout history. Flint mines and other Stone Age artefacts have been found in the surrounding countryside, and there are Roman sites within the modern boundaries of the town. In 1717, a Roman bath and section of pavement were discovered between the present pier and the redoubt fortress in the hamlet then known as Sea Houses, while in 1841, the remains of a Roman villa were found near the entrance to the pier and lie buried near the present Queens Hotel.
An Anglo-Saxon charter of around 963 AD, describes a landing stage and stream at Bourne. Following the Norman Conquest, the Hundred of what is now Eastbourne, was held by Robert, Count of Mortain, William the Conqueror's half brother. The Domesday Book lists 28 ploughlands, a church, a watermill, fisheries and salt pans.
A charter for a weekly market was granted to Bartholomew de Badlesmere in 1315–16; this increased his status as Lord of the Manor and improved local industry. During the Middle Ages the town was visited by King Henry I and in 1324 by Edward II. Evidence of Eastbourne's mediæval past can seen in the fourteenth century Church of St Mary's and the manor house called Bourne Place.
In the mid-sixteenth century, Bourne Place was home to the Burton family, who acquired much of the land on which the present town stands. This manor house is owned by the Dukes of Devonshire and was extensively remodelled in the early Georgian era when it was renamed Compton Place. It is one of the three Grade I listed buildings in the town.
Eastbourne's earliest claim as a seaside resort came about following a summer holiday visit by four of King George III's children in 1780; Princes Edward and Octavius, and Princesses Elizabeth and Sophia).
In 1793, following a survey of coastal defences in the southeast, approval was given for the positioning of infantry and artillery to defend the bay between Beachy Head and Hastings from attack by the French. 14 Martello Towers were constructed along the western shore of Pevensey Bay, continuing as far as Tower 73, the Wish Tower at Eastbourne. Several of these towers survive: the Wish Tower is an important feature of the town's seafront, and part of Tower 68 forms the basement of a house on St. Antony's Hill. Between 1805 and 1807, the construction took place of a fortress known as the Eastbourne Redoubt, which was built as a barracks and storage depot, and armed with 10 cannon.
Eastbourne remained an area of small rural settlements until the 19th century. Four villages or hamlets occupied the site of the modern town: Bourne (or, to distinguish it from others of the same name, East Bourne), is now known as Old Town, and this surrounded the bourne (stream) which rises in the present Motcombe Park; Meads, where the Downs meet the coast; South Bourne (near the town hall); and the fishing settlement known simply as Sea Houses, which was situated to the east of the present pier.
By the mid–19th century most of the area had fallen into the hands of two landowners: John Davies Gilbert (the Davies-Gilbert family still own much of the land in Eastbourne and East Dean) and William Cavendish, Earl of Burlington. The Gilbert family's holdings date to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries when barrister Nicholas Gilbert married an Eversfield and Gildredge heiress. (The Gildredges owned much of Eastbourne by 1554. The Gilberts eventually made the Gildredge Manor House their own. Today the Gildredge name lives on in the eponymous park.)
In 1752, a dissertation by Doctor Richard Russell extolled the medicinal benefits of the seaside. His views were of considerable benefit to the south coast and, in due course, Eastbourne became known as “the Empress of Watering Places".
An early plan, for a town named Burlington, was abandoned, but on 14 May 1849 the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway arrived to scenes of great jubilation. With the arrival of the railway, the town's growth accelerated. Cavendish, now the 7th Duke of Devonshire, hired Henry Currey in 1859 to lay out a plan for what was essentially an entire new town — a resort built "for gentlemen by gentlemen". The town grew rapidly from a population of less than 4,000 in 1851 to nearly 35,000 by 1891. In 1883, it was incorporated as a municipal borough; a purpose-built town hall was opened in 1886.
This period of growth and elegant development continued for several decades. A royal visit by King George V and Queen Mary in March 1935 is commemorated by a plaque on chalet number 2 at Holywell.
The Second World War saw a change in fortunes. Initially, children were evacuated to Eastbourne on the assumption that they would be safe from German bombs, but soon they had to be evacuated again because after the fall of France in June 1940 it was anticipated that the town would lie in an invasion zone. (Indeed, part of "Operation Sea Lion", the German invasion plan, envisaged landings at Eastbourne.) Many people sought safety away from the coast and shut up their houses. Restrictions on visitors forced the closure of most hotels, and private boarding schools moved away. Many of these empty buildings were later taken over by the services. The Royal Navy set up an underwater weapons school, and the Royal Air Force operated radar stations at Beachy Head and on the marshes near Pevensey. Thousands of Canadian soldiers were billeted in and around Eastbourne from July 1941 to the run-up to D-Day. The town suffered badly during the war, with many Victorian and Edwardian buildings damaged or destroyed by air raids. Indeed, by the end of the conflict it was designated by the Home Office to have been ‘the most raided town in the South East region’. The situation was especially bad between May 1942 and June 1943 with hit–and–run raids from fighter–bombers based in northern France.
In the summer of 1956 the town came to national and worldwide attention, when Dr John Bodkin Adams, a GP serving the town's wealthier patients, was arrested for the murder of an elderly widow. Rumours had been circulating since 1935 regarding the frequency of his being named in patients' wills (132 times between 1946 and 1956) and the gifts he was given (including two Rolls Royces). Figures of up to 400 murders were reported in British and foreign newspapers, but after a controversial trial at the Old Bailey which gripped the nation for 17 days in March 1957, Adams was found not guilty. He was struck off for 4 years but resumed his practice in Eastbourne in 1961. According to Scotland Yard's archives, he is thought to have killed up to 163 patients in the Eastbourne area.
After the war, development continued, including the growth of Old Town up the hillside (Green Street Farm Estate) and the housing estates of Hampden Park, Willingdon Trees and Langney. During the latter half of the 20th century, there were controversies over the demolition of Pococks, a 15th-century manor house on what is now the Rodmill housing estate, and the granting of planning permission for a 19-storey block at the western end of the seafront. The latter project (South Cliff Tower) was realised in 1965 despite a storm of protest led by the newly formed Eastbourne and District Preservation Committee, which later became Eastbourne Civic Society, and was renamed The Eastbourne Society in 1999. Local conservationists also failed to prevent the construction of the glass-plated TGWU conference and holiday centre, but were successful in purchasing Polegate Windmill, thus saving it from demolition and redevelopment.
In 1981, a large section of the town centre was replaced by the indoor shops of the Arndale Centre. Most of the expansion took place on the northern and eastern margins of the town, gradually swallowing surrounding villages. However, the richer western part was constrained by the Downs and has remained largely unchanged.
In the 1990s, both growth and controversy accelerated rapidly as a new plan was launched to develop the area known as the Crumbles, a shingle bank on the coast to the east of the town centre. This area, now known as Sovereign Harbour, containing a marina, shops, and several thousand houses, along with luxury flats and apartments, was formerly home to many rare plants. Continued growth in other parts of the town, and the taming of the central marshland into farmland and nature reserves, has turned Eastbourne into the centre of a conurbation, with the appearance from above of a hollow ring. Currently under review is the demolition of some of the town centre, to extend the existing Arndale shopping centre, and the adaptation of several existing roads to form an inner ring road. In 2009 the new Towner Arts centre was opened abutting the listed Congress Theatre built in 1963.
Eastbourne is a seaside town and consequently tourism provides an important source of income and employment. The town is normally a short break resort, although hotels can be full during special events such as the International Women's Open tennis. A 1998 study calculated an annual figure of £48 million of income creation and just over 4000 jobs were directly attributable to tourists. A further £18 million is generated by business conference v isitors and foreign language students.
The local council has developed a seafront strategy in order to boost the tourism economy. Already underway are grants provided for general improvements to accommodation. The regeneration of Seaside, the road running parallel to the coastline, is now complete. The new A22 and Polegate bypass provide a speedier link into the main town. The seafront strategy further outlines priorities for the future, improvements to online bookings and more conference hosting promotion. The International Children's Conference is scheduled to be held in 2010. National marketing campaigns, some based on Eastbourne as a gateway to the South Downs National Park, are in progress.
The Sovereign Harbour development is a recent source of revenue for the town with an influx of visitors arriving via the harbour. The locks have recorded rates of up to 315 boats per hour.
Appearance in the media
The seafront and the iconic cliff at Beachy Head has been used for many scenes in feature films, for example:
- Half a Sixpence (1969), partly filmed on the pier and near to the bandstand
- Notes on a Scandal (2006) includes scenes filmed at Beachy Head, Cavendish Hotel and 117 Royal Parade;
- Harry Potter: Beachy Head
- Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: scenes from the seafront
- 84 Charing Cross Road
Television too has used Eastbourne as a backdrop on many occasions.
Eastbourne has also been used as the butt of jokes on television comedy, generally aimed at its eldrly, retired population.
About the town
Eastbourne has numerous parks and gardens, although there are several smaller open spaces including Upperton Gardens, the famous Carpet Gardens and the Western Lawns.
The first public park in Eastbourne was Hampden Park, originally owned by Lord Willingdon and opened on 12 August 1902. Facilities include: football pitches, rugby club, indoor bowls, a large lake (formerly a Decoy pond), lakeside cafe, children's recreation area, tennis courts, BMX and skate facility, disc golf course (target) and woodland.
The largest and newest park is Shinewater Park, located on the west side of Langney and opened in 2002. There is a narrow gauge railway, large fishing lake, basketball, football pitches, a BMX and skate park and children's playground.
Gildredge Park and Manor Gardens: A large open park located between the town centre and Old Town, Gildredge Park is very popular with families and has a children's playground, café, tennis courts, disc golf course and bowls lawns. The smaller, adjoining, Manor Gardens combines both lawns and shady areas as well as a rose garden.
Until 2005, Manor Gardens was the home of the Towner Gallery. This gallery incorporated a permanent exhibition of local art and historical items, plus temporary art exhibitions of regional and national significance. It was relocated to a new, £8.6 million purpose-built facility adjacent to the Congress Theatre, Devonshire Park which opened on 4 April 2009.
Princes Park obtained its name during a visit by the Duke of Windsor as Prince of Wales in 1931. Located at the eastern end of the seafront, it has a children's playground with paddling pool, cafe, bowls and a large lake, noted for its swans. The lake is used by a nearby water–sports centre, which offers kayak and windsurfing training. Princes Park lake is also home to Eastbourne Model Powerboat Club and Eastbourne Model Yacht Club. Close by are tennis and basketball courts and a football pitch. At the north of the park is Eastbourne United FC
Devonshire Park, home to the pre–Wimbledon ladies' tennis championships, is located just off the seafront in the towns cultural district.
Other parks include: Helen Gardens and the Italian Gardens at the western end of the seafront, Sovereign Park between the main seafront and the marina and Motcombe Gardens in Old Town.
Eastbourne has four council-owned theatres; the Grade II* listed Congress Theatre, the Grade II listed Devonshire Park Theatre, the Grade II listed Winter Garden and the Grade II listed Royal Hippodrome Theatre. The Devonshire Park Theatre is a fine example of a Victorian theatre with ornate interior decorations, and the Royal Hippodrome has the longest running summer show in Britain.
Other theatre venues in the town include the volunteer-run Underground Theatre, in the basement of the town's Central Library, and The Lamb Theatre, based at the Lamb Inn in Old Town, and launched in August 2009.
The classical composer Claude Debussy and his lover Emma Bardac, the wife of a Parisian banker, spent a short holiday at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne from 24 July to 30 August 1905.
Eastbourne Bandstand lies between the Wish Tower and the pier. It stages the 1812 Firework Concerts, Rock N Roll nights, Big Band concerts, Promenade concerts and Tribute Nights with tributes to famous artists.
A second, similar bandstand (also built in 1935) once stood in the "music gardens" near the redoubt fortress. The bandstand was removed to make way for the Pavilion Tearooms but the colonnades built around it are still there (behind the tea rooms). Before 1935 each of these sites had a smaller "birdcage" bandstand; the one in the music gardens having been moved from a rather precarious position opposite the Albion Hotel. The "kiosk" in the music gardens was originally one of the toll kiosks at the entrance to the pier.
As a seaside resort, the natural focus of leisure activity is the 4 miles of shingle beach which stretches from the harbour in the east to Beachy Head in the west. In a 1998 survey 56% of visitors said that the beach and seafront was one of Eastbourne best features, although 10% listed the pebbled beach as a dislike. The majority of the seafront consists of hotels, from petite guest houses to grand buildings.
Located halfway along the beach lies Eastbourne Pier, opened in 1870. In 1877 the landward half was swept away in a storm. It was rebuilt at a higher level, creating a drop towards the end of the pier. The pier is effectively built on stilts that rest in cups on the seabed allowing the whole structure to move during rough weather.
Other recreation facilities include two swimming pools, three fitness centres and other smaller sports clubs including scuba diving.
A children's adventure park is sited along the seafront. There are various other establishments scattered around the town such as crazy golf, go–karting and Laser Quest.
The pier is an obvious place to visit and is sometimes used to hold events, such as the international birdman competition held annually, although cancelled in 2005 due to lack of competitors. An annual raft competition takes place where competitors, usually local businesses, circumnavigate the pier in a raft made by themselves, while being attacked by a water-cannon.
A major event in the tourist calendar of Eastbourne, now the world's biggest seafront air show, is the annually held 4 day, international air show, 'Airbourne'. Started in 1993, based around a long relationship with the Red Arrows display team, the event features Battle of Britain memorial flights and aircraft from the RAF, USAF and many others.
The famous Chinese State Circus performs once a year in Princes Park.
Eastbourne Redoubt on Royal Parade is one of three examples of a type of fortress built to withstand potential invasion from Napoleon's forces in the early nineteenth century. It houses collections from The Royal Sussex Regiment, The Queen's Royal Irish Hussars, and the Sussex Combined Services Collection; including four Victoria Crosses and General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim's Steyr Automobile 1500A Afrika Korps Staff Car. Another museum is How We Lived Then, a museum of shops and local history, with exhibits representing complete scenarios such as shops and houses with life sized dummies. The museum contains more than 100,000 exhibits, covering the period from the 1800s to Second World War.
In 2009, Eastbourne gained a new cultural centre replacing the Manor House (which has now been sold) as home of the Towner Art Gallery; it is located in the cultural district next to the Congress Theatre and Devonshire Park. One feature that has always been heavily promoted is Eastbourne's floral displays, most notably the Carpet Gardens along the coastal road near the pier. These displays, and the town as a whole, frequently win awards — such as the 'Coastal Resort B' category in the 2003 Britain in Bloom competition.
The population of Eastbourne is growing, and is expected to continue this growth. This is demonstrated by comparing the 2007 estimated population of 94,816 with the 2001 census population of 89,667.
For many people, Eastbourne is most readily associated with the elderly, as it has historically been a popular retirement destination, and it is often referred to in age–related jokes. The 2001 census showed that it still has a larger than average over–60 population (just over a quarter of the population are of retirement age compared with the British average of 18.4%).
Up until recently, Chinese had been the town's single largest ethnic minority group for forty years. 2007 saw the number of people of Indian origin in Eastbourne eclipse this.
Eastbourne is home to a large Greek Cypriot community, a significant number of whom can be found around the Susans Road and Seaside Road area, which consequently has many Greek restaurants, kebab houses and a Greek Orthodox church. Many of the town's fish and chip shops are Greek-owned.
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