Campaigners fighting to save a historic house from demolition have discovered it was once used as a hospital in the First World War.
They want to stop Kempston in Granville Road being knocked down to make way for a block of 16 flats and say it should be refurbished instead.
Despite their concerns – and letters of protest from historians, the Eastbourne Society, Meads Community Association, MP Stephen Lloyd, many residents and a 200 signature petition – Eastbourne council’s planning officers are recommending the plans for demolition and redevelopment be given the go ahead at a meeting on Tuesday (April 24).
Planners say the redevelopment would make a positive contribution to the housing target Eastbourne needs to meet.
Campaigners say they appreciate the building isn’t listed but the property is a fine period house with intricate stonework in an area of high townscape value.
They have also found out from old newspaper articles that Kempston was opened as a Red Cross Hospital in March 1915 by Mrs Davies-Gilbert and Miss Helena Catherine Sulman, the commandant of the Red Cross Detachment Sussex/118.
Miss Sulman, originally from London, was awarded an MBE for her work at the hospital in October 1917, and she remained in Eastbourne until her death in 1966 aged 92.
A spokesperson from the campaign group Friends of Kempston said, “Soldiers from the UK, Europe and Commonwealth countries, were brought to Eastbourne from Dover on hospital trains, and nearly 3,000 were treated at the hospital, many receiving successful operations in the fully equipped operating theatre.
“Local people lent their vehicles to transport soldiers from the station to the hospital. Most ambulance drivers were women while men from the male Red Cross Detachments bore stretchers, distributing patients across the three floors of the hospital with the most serious cases being treated on the ground and first floor, and the less serious cases being treated on the third floor.
“There were six large wards and several smaller ones providing 38 beds in total. The patients were attended by four trained nurses and 40 nurses assisted by local doctors who performed operations, many of which were successful.
“Local people brought gifts of clothes, flowers and cigarettes for the soldiers who were regularly entertained by local singers and musicians, including the Kempston Kats, a female vocal group lead by Sister Kremer of Kempston Hospital.
“In July 1917 Miss Hollie, secretary at Kempston, married a Lieutenant Jonas and after the wedding the bride entertained the men to tea in the shady garden of Kempston.
“Six soldiers who died at the hospital are commemorated on the First World War memorial at St Saviour’s and St Peter’s Church.”
The Eastbourne Society’s Nicholas Howell has also voiced the organisation’s opposition to the plans.
“Although Eastbourne is fortunate to have many fine Victorian villas, some stand out as being particularly attractive and Kempston with its fine proportions and lavish detailing is one of these,” said mr Howell.
“Granville Road has already lost many of its fine villas but the full length of Blackwater Road still retains a good
number of these. Occupying a prominent site, highly visual in the public realm, Kempston stands on the corner of
Granville and Blackwater Roads and its demolition would break up the visual continuity of the long line of attractive villas in Blackwater Road.
“The property itself is unusual in that it retains all of its original doors, windows, and fine detailing in brick and flint. It has finely carved bath stone capitols to the pilasters, striking ochre glazed tiles depicting anthemions, original roof decoration with ornamental terracotta ridge tiles and table finials, the arched main entrance and ground floor windows being particularly attractive with their original timber work.
“The Eastbourne Society considers too many fine Victorian villas have already been lost in this highly important architectural Meads district. The demolition of Kempston would be a great loss to the area and deserves to be included in the list of buildings of local interest.”