Meads - Where the Downs meets the sea…
Meads Village lies between Eastbourne town centre and Beachy Head. It is prized for its wide tree lined streets and grand Victorian and Edwardian residences. At its centre is ‘The Village’, a group of 19th Century artisan dwellings built around a square of central allotments, each one a miniature cottage garden which are a riot of colour from spring to autumn with roses scrambling over flint walls and rustic arches. Nearby Meads Street with its parade of shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and Parish Hall is the beating heart of the local community.
The sea is just a few minutes’ walk away at the former fishing hamlet of Holywell, set at the foot of the South Downs. There is a cliff top promenade with slopes and steps down to a lower promenade leading to a shingle beach with a café, toilet facilities, beach huts and chalets. At low tide rock pools are full of marine life and the chalk cliffs of Beachy Head provide a stunning backdrop. This part of Meads Village forms the gateway to the South Downs National Park, making it the perfect place for walkers, cyclists and runners to enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in the British Isles. And for lovers of the arts, Eastbourne’s theatreland and stunning modern art gallery – currently part of a multi-million-pound redevelopment – are a fifteen minute walk away in Lower Meads.
The original Ship Inn is built. A plaque on the corner of Derwent Road and Meads Street notes the site. Subsequently rebuilt a little further down Meads Street, it is still a favourite with locals and visitors alike.
Meads is recorded as an agricultural hamlet which includes three farms: Place Farm (the farmhouse of which still survives and is now a listed building known as Meads Place in Gaudick Road) Coltstocks Farm which stood on the site of St Andrew’s School, and Sprays Farm which stood on the corner of Meads Street and Matlock Road.
The opening of the railway line from Eastbourne to London.
Henry Currey, architect to the 7th Duke of Devonshire whose family owned much of Eastbourne produces a town plan. While other resorts such as Brighton grew at random, Eastbourne becomes a model of early town planning. Thus, eventually Eastbourne is known as ‘The Empress of Watering Places’ while Brighton is referred to as ‘The Queen of Watering Places’.
The Holywell- Dieppe telegraph cable – one of the first to reach the UK - brought ashore and housed on Holywell beach. News of the assassination of Arch Duke Franz-Ferdinand reached London via the telegraph service and it is entirely possible that this dispatch was routed via Holywell.
Eastbourne College founded.
Harriet Brownlow Byron, Mother Foundress of the Community of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor opens All Saints Convalescent Hospital, the first purpose built seaside convalescent hospital in the UK. Designed by the ‘gentleman architect’ Henry Woodyer in the Gothic Revival style both the main structure and its chapel are now Grade II*Listed buildings.
Eastbourne College moves to its current school buildings designed by Henry Currey in College Road, Lower Meads.
The Church of St John the Evangelist is built, originally set in the middle of open fields. It now stands at the junction with St John’s Road and Staveley Road. There is a fine sculpture of St John on the East Wall.
The population of the town trebles to 11,000 and the Eastbourne Chronicle describes Meads as ‘the unrivalled Belgravia of a salubrious and flourishing health resort.’
Henry Currey’s town plan is extended west of Meads. It visualises wide tree-lined streets with red briquette pavements trimmed with grass verges and grand residences with gardens of ‘commensurate proportions’. Currey designs the boundary walls to echo the predominantly red brick buildings, thus forming a unique relationship between the houses and the streetscape. Many of the roads in Meads are named after towns and villages in Derbyshire, around Chatsworth House, the Duke’s ancestral seat. Examples include Buxton, Edensor, Matlock and Chesterfield. The Duke describes Eastbourne as “A town built by gentlemen, for gentlemen.” He offers plots of land in Meads to members of the aristocracy and wealthy industrialists for the building of second homes away from the polluted cities. He makes one proviso: that to buy the land, any purchaser would have to commit to spending at least £2,500 on building the house – worth £712,500 today. Looking at these magnificent mansions now, it is clear that many new owners probably spent even more. It seems there was a certain amount of ‘one upmanship’ amongst the wealthy newcomers of Meads.
The opening and blessing of All Saints Chapel in the grounds of the convalescent hospital.
The creation of Devonshire Park in Lower Meads, known also as ‘The Duke’s Pleasure Ground’ originally laid out with terraces, walks and a cricket pitch. Later additions included tennis courts which are now home to the annual Aegon International Tennis Tournament.
The opening of the Grand Hotel built by local resident William Earp at a cost of £50,000. Also known as ‘The White Palace’ because of its 400ft white stucco building, it is the only five-star sea front hotel in the whole of the UK.
Meads School (later renamed as St Andrew’s Prep) founded.
Meads merges with the village of East Bourne, the nearby hamlets of South Bourne and Sea Houses to form the town of Eastbourne.
The Western Parades designed by George Wallis, the first Mayor of Eastbourne, comprising three seafront walks of different levels are opened by the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). A raised viewpoint on King Edward’s Parade at Holywell known as the Prince’s Seat, or Crow’s Nest marks the spot.
The opening of the Devonshire Park Theatre designed by Henry Currey. It is now a Grade II* Listed building.
De Walden Court is built on Meads Road. An impressive Italianate house, the design of which is thought to be based on Chatsworth House now a Grade II listed building.
Eastbourne’s popularity as a seaside resort increases. Its railway station is rebuilt with four platforms, a vaulted canopy and lantern roof.
Moira House School (founded in Surrey in 1875) moves to Upper Carlisle Road Meads.
Meads becomes the smart end of town. Its residents are the well to do and include professionals, self-made men, retired senior members of the military and former members of the colonial Civil Service. Many domestic servants live in, or occupy cottages clustered around three pubs – The Ship Inn, The Pilot Inn, and The Blacksmiths Arms (demolished before the turn of the century).
‘The Village’, which is now the centrepiece of the Meads Conservation area is conceived. This square of artisans’ villas around central allotments was built by George Ambrose Wallis Chief Planner and Civil Engineer who became the first Mayor of Eastbourne. The square was then known as Wallis’s Cottages. Their original purpose was to house workers from the 7th Duke of Devonshire’s Compton Estate.
The opening of the Hydro Hotel in Mount Road, Meads by the Eastbourne Hydropathic Company on the site of an imposing house formerly known as Marine Mansion.
St Bede’s School opens in Blackwater Road, Meads.
St Bede’s School moves to its present site in Dukes Drive built at a cost of £7,000. In 2012 the school is renamed Bede’s.
Beachy Head lighthouse becomes operational
The inauguration of the oldest municipal omnibus service in the world. Running between Eastbourne Railway Station and Meads, its speed was initially restricted to 6mph, it required an Act of Parliament to increase it to 10mph. The route terminated at The Pilot Inn.
The former chalk pit known as The Gore is landscaped as a garden and renamed Holywell Retreat.
Holywell Tea Chalet is built around this time. It was enlarged after World War II and is still a favourite with locals and tourists. It is open every day of the year apart from Christmas Day.
Holywell Retreat is re-designed in the Italianate style by unemployed labourers at a cost of £400. The Holywell-Dieppe telegraph cable is removed from the beach and rehoused here in a specially designed building.
The land forms the oldest of the three Meads parks and is now known locally as the Italian Gardens. It is noted for its summer open air productions of Shakespeare plays.
St John’s Parish Hall is built in Meads Street on the site of the old village school which had been in use since 1849. It continues to serve as a busy hub for local community groups.
A piece of downland with an unprotected cliff edge is conveyed to the Eastbourne Corporation by the estate of Mrs Helen Reid Stewart Hornby Lewis “In memory of many happy days for use and enjoyment as a public pleasure ground.” It was landscaped and opened to the public in 1935 and is now known as The Helen Garden, the second of the three parks of Meads. It has a children’s playground, picnic area, putting green and a Pétanque court.
St John’s Bowling Club founded in the Helen Garden. It is one of the few in the county that has a green with a sea view.
King George V and Queen Mary use beach chalet number 2 at Holywell during the time he was convalescing in Eastbourne
St John’s Church is bombed. Only the tower survives.
A teacher training college opens in Darley Road on the sites of two schools which had been evacuated during the war: Queenwood Ladies College and Aldro School.
Chelsea College of Physical Education moves to Eastbourne taking over the former Hillbrow School in Denton Road.
St John’s Church is rebuilt brick by brick using flints salvaged from the original building.
All Saints Convalescent Hospital ceases its work and is eventually taken over by the NHS.
The opening of the Congress Theatre. Designed by Bryan and Norman Westwood as a theatre and conference venue it is now a Grade II* Listed building.
The completion of South Cliff Tower in Meads.
The college buildings in Darley and Denton Road together with a new building is opened by Her Majesty the Queen form the Eastbourne Campuses of the University of Brighton.
All Saints Hospital is closed. Plans for its demolition are vigorously opposed by local residents which leads to the formation of the Meads Community Association.
All Saints is redeveloped as luxury flats with land set aside which the developers landscape to form All Saints Park, becoming the third public park in Meads. Its views of the nearby neo gothic buildings and especially All Saints Chapel give it peaceful and tranquil atmosphere.
The Towner Art Gallery moves from Eastbourne’s Old Town district to a new purpose-built gallery designed by award winning architect Rick Mather next to the Congress Theatre in Devonshire Park.
Eastbourne College opens the Birley Centre for contemporary and performing arts in Carlisle Road, Lower Meads.
Tennis facilities for the town’s annual Aegon International tournament are significantly improved by the opening of the new players village in Devonshire Park designed by Architects Levitt Bernstein and jointly funded by Eastbourne Borough Council and the Lawn Tennis Association.
The Devonshire Park area is currently being further enhanced with the construction of a brand new Welcome Building and the extensive restoration of the Devonshire Park Theatre, the Congress Theatre and the Winter G