St Leonards to Bexhill-on-Sea

How is it that we have ended up in so many coastal locations during lockdown? Jon set out the dilemma in his last post……………………..

The honest answer to find somewhere suitable is a result of hours of research seeing what accommodation hits the criteria. So to summarise, the criteria are:

  • Location, location, location – we need to be in Kent or East/West Sussex with access to public transport with in easy reach of: our support bubble; an imminent medical appointment; and, of course, when it comes for our turn for vaccines.
  • Filter, filter, filter – we filter all possibles for Wifi, kitchen, washing machine and price. The price can be reduced hugely by booking for a month so it takes a lot of diary management. With our budget being hit so hard by renting, Jonno keeps us on track financially whereas I am more into
  • Email, email, email – the ones we are left with, we contact by email to give the owners an overview of our situation, stressing that we are keeping within the guidelines.

After arriving at the fantastically named Warrior Street Station, we are here in our March lockdown apartment in St Leonards-on-Sea near Hastings. It is a small 1 bedroom apartment over the garage in the grounds of a large Regency style house.

It has everything we need and the owners gave a us a warm socially distanced welcome. So did the friendly seagull who taps on the kitchen window in the hope of some handouts!

Burtons’ St Leonards

For anyone who has read Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon or seen the recent televised version, the origins of St Leonards are not dissimilar. The original seaside resort for the wealthy was created by James Burton from 1827 onwards. James Burton built many properties in London before embarking on his seaside project.

The project centred around St Leonards Gardens which is just a short stroll down the road and included a massive hotel (now called the Royal Victoria Hotel), many grand houses and even a tollgate (now divided into a few private homes) to charge users access to the road to London. The gardens themselves are a little haven hidden away between just back from the seafront and quite a calm little oasis.

One famous resident was the young Alan Turing, he of war time code breaking Bletchley Park, who lived here during his childhood.

A Walk to Bexhill-on-Sea

One misty morning we decided to head off along the coast west towards Bexhill-on-Sea. It was about a 4 mile walk and most the pathway we were between the back of the beach huts and the train track so not quite as scenic as we thought until we got to Bulverhythe. This area is also known as West St Leonards and Bo Peep (after a nearby pub named for the activities long ago of smugglers and customs men).

Although we only read about it later, Bulverhythe was where in 1921 a German submarine being towed by a British tug broke adrift. Three attempts to refloat it failed so it was dismantled on the beach. There are no traces of it today but the hull of a Dutch ship that ran aground in 1749 can still be seen at low tide. Weirdly this was the second time that a U-boat had ended up on a beach in the area. Two years earlier a much larger German submarine lost its tow line and ended up on Hastings beach.

Hastings U-Boat 1919
Wreck of the Amsterdam

We walked on as the shared cycle and walking path took us through Glyne Gap, up to Galley Hill and finally dropping down into Bexhill-on-Sea.

Reggae, Goons and British Motor Racing

Now that is not a heading I ever thought I would write. All three have connections to Bexhill-on-Sea. The Reggae connection is that Bob Marley played his first UK gig here. Yes, who would have thought? Goons is for the fact that Spike Milligan was posted here with the British Army and later he managed to slip Bexhill-on-Sea references into his poems and sketches. Finally, probably the most impressive of all is that it is the birthplace of British Motor Racing.

In 1883, the 8th Earl De La Warr started his own fashionable seaside development calling it Bexhill-on-Sea, much like James Burton had in St Leonards. After his death the estate passed to his son who became the 8th Earl De La Warr. He was a bit ahead of his time and in 1896 he created a Bicycle Boulevard along the seafront.

Move onto May 1902 and Major Gilbert Sackville, the motor car enthusiast 8th Earl De La Warr is Chairman of the tyre making firm, Dunlop. Always trying to promote Bexhill-on-Sea, the Earl persuaded the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland to organise what was called the “Great Whitsuntide Motor Races“. The one kilometre track was the converted Bicycle Boulevard with a downhill start from the top of Galley Hill.

The races were a straight sprint with cars side by side. They certainly seem to have put Bexhill on the map with hotels bursting at the seams and over 200 cars entered. The 1902 race was won by a French man in his steam powered car reaching 54mph. Thank goodness the event was on private land because the national speed limit at the time was 12mph! He went on to break the land speed record by driving at the hair raising speed of 75 mph in Nice later that same year.

The races continued until 1906 when the nearby Brooklands race circuit was opened. I simply love coming across this information on the various information boards along De La Warr Parade.

This was only our first little outing for daily exercise and we had learnt so much that we never knew. I think there will be a few more blogs to come about this interesting area. I just hope I don’t bore you to tears. Didn’t something happen here around 1066?

01/03 – 08/03/2021


    • There is so much to explore. From the unique net sheds in Hastings to submarines on the beach. Housesits are all postponed at the moment so this is a little rental to tide us over as somewhere to stay during lockdown.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You are by now experts in finding the right accommodations to fit your needs. Looks like a perfect spot for all of this historical exploring. Hope your turn for the vaccine comes soon. Dave is booked on the weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I cannot wait to read your book on ‘The Forgotten History of Britain’s Seaside Towns. Vol 1’. Never knew that St Leonard’s and Bexhill had that sort of history. The apartment looks decent.

    Liked by 2 people

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