Victorian Eastbourne
"Empress of Watering Places"
by Sylvia Dawson

Eastbourne, situated a near the ever popular resort of Brighton,
was a late developer amongst British seaside towns.


he origin of the British seaside holiday was not frivolous, but medical. As in medieval times, people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries visited spas believing in the curative powers of "holy" wells, but it was Dr. Richard Russell's "Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water" of 1752 which established the popularity of seawater as a cure-all for both internal and external use. However, it was not so much pleasurable as beneficial and could not have been for the faint-hearted, as winter was the recommended season! Men and women bathed naked until Victorian times when, ironically, the stockinette and cotten costumes worn to preserve modesty were found to be very revealing when wet!

Eastbourne, situated a few miles to the east of the ever popular resort of Brighton, was a late developer amongst seaside towns. The coming of the railway in 1849 made Eastbourne more accessible from London, but even more important was the influence of one of the foremost members of Victorian aristocracy- William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire. The Cavendish family owned two-thirds of the parish including much of the coastline, and in 1872 the Duke's architect laid out a development plan for the town. Thanks to him, the seafront now boasted palatial hotels such as "The Grand" (1876) and "The Queens" (1880). An entertainments area was begun in 1874 where holiday-makers were offered the delights of the Floral Hall or Winter Gardens plus daily concerts, theater productions and facilities for croquet, roller-skating, cycling and lawn tennis. The tennis tradition continues today with the Devonshire Park Club hosting the world's best women players in the pre-Wimbledon championships every June.

The Western Lawns, directly opposite the Grand Hotel, were the site of the "Sunday Parade" where the wealthy gathered in their finery to see and be seen. These parades found much favor with King George V and Queen Mary who made many visits to Eastbourne, and the present Queen Elizabeth II spent happy childhood hours playing with her sister Maragret among the rocky seashore pools.

There are many ordinary but charming Victorian homes to be found everywhere in the town. These are much in demand and considered to be most desirable residences. The rooms are large with fine decorative plasterwork, and many retain their original staircases and fireplaces. Owners of these houses have created beautiful interiors by sympathetic restoration, enhancing the elegant features which have often been "rediscovered" under many layers of paintwork.

Many of these homeowners open their doors to visitors from all over the world, and Americans are now able to experience the exciting and unique opportunity of living with an English family in Victorian Eastbourne thanks to "The English Experience". We offer a ten-day visit which includes bed, breakfast and evening dinner with a family, where you have your own comfortable accommodations for the whole stay, plus escorted day and half-day trips to places of interest in this beautiful, historic region of England.

For more information, visit our website "English Experience".



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