When Eastbourne’s fashionable early holidaymakers sought advice as to where they should stay, the standard response was said to be “Never East of the Pier, my dear.”
And even today the dominant image of Eastbourne is the promenade and elegant Victorian architecture established by the 7th Duke of Devonshire between the Pier and Meads.
But now a project is under way to highlight the history of the immediate area East of the Pier. A working group led by Alan Wenham, chairman of 3VA and a former local government executive, has been awarded £47,000 from the £2m Pier Fund to establish a history trail in the Devonshire ward.
At this stage the group involves representatives of the Borough Council, Devonshire West Campaign, Eastbourne Society, the Local History Society and Leaf Hall.
The money will be used to fund a part-time co-ordinator, six ‘history corners’, interpretation boards explaining the history of specific locations, an oral history project, and historic information delivered digitally though smart phones and tablets.
The Royal Hippodrome Theatre could offer the history of entertainment in the town, focusing on past and present theatres and cinemas, and the stars of Victorian stage, music hall and variety.
Discussions are taking place over the use of a corner at the Crown and Anchor pub to explain the origins of the Seahouses area and the commerce of that part of the town, from Gowland’s Library and other enterprises to the bombed Caffyn’s Garage.
The revitalised Leaf Hall will accommodate a history corner explaining the origins of that building and the social history of its surroundings, including the growth of trades unionism, the temperance movement, the Salvation Army, and the grinding poverty suffered by many of Eastbourne’s working people.
It is hoped the Devonshire West regeneration project will house a history corner recounting life East of the Pier. This will be the product of a proposed oral history project. Christ Church is another potential history corner site, where the crucial role of the Church in providing education for the poor would be explained. The final history corner would be at the Redoubt and focus on the military history of the area. Seafront interpretation boards will also provide the history of smuggling, fishing, sea bathing and the parades.