Harry’s Ramblings, Sherlock Holmes came to Eastbourne
by Harry Pope
I had no idea of the number of famous people who have lived in Eastbourne, but there were a lot of them.
Sherlock Holmes lived here. There is a blue plaque on the wall, so it must be so. It reads ‘Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective and Bee Keeper lived here 1905-1917’.
It’s on a wall on a house in the little village of East Dean, which is five miles to the west of the town. In Holmes’ last case, called The Last Bow, he is said to have retired to a small farm on the Downs five miles to the east of Eastbourne, so if the plaque says so, it must be true. Holmes’s creator Sir Arthur Conon Doyle lived about 25 miles away in Crowborough, so would have travelled extensively in the area, visiting the coastal town of Eastbourne for research and recreation.
Literary figures abound in the area, as Charles Dickens has a plaque on the wall of 4-8 Borough Lane, Old Town. He was born in 1812, making several visits to the house in the 1830s. At that time Eastbourne Old Town was just a small part of the urban spread with a population of less than 2,000, no railways of course so he would have arrived either by walking, or some horse method which would have been more likely. He wrote The Pickwick Papers in 1836, so maybe even penned part of it while dipping his toes in the little bay adjacent to Beachy Head. He lived in a poor part of London, buying a house the next year when more affluent.
Mabel Lucie Attwell was a writer and illustrator, living at some time at Ocklynge Manor, which is now a very upmarket B&B. There’s a plaque to her on the wall outside, a different one on the house at 7 Lushington Road, very close to the town centre. Here stayed on holiday one Charles Ludwig Dodgson, otherwise known as Lewis Carroll. He was a regular visitor, as he died in 1898 he would have arrived by train.
Novelist Eric Blair was also known as George Orwell, he was educated at St. Cyprian’s School, no longer there, a private establishment for the tuition of sons of the wealthy. Other notables were society photographer Sir Cecil Beaton, writer and journalist Cyril Connolly, naturalist Gavin Maxwell, and Henry C. Longhurst, not the golfer but journalist and M.P. One man who lived here was the explorer Ernest Shackleton, he came from 14 Milnthorpe Road when he wasn’t away visiting the Antarctic.
There’s no shortage of entertainers. Tommy Cooper lived in Old Town, his wife came from there, and his nephew ran a magic shop for many years, only closing about 5 years ago. There’s a lovely Tommy story about one Sunday when he and his wife had a great argument. She stormed out the house, got a taxi to their favourite Brighton hotel where she sat on a stool at the bar slowly coming under the influence. He didn’t fancy being alone, so got a different taxi half an hour behind. Outside the hotel Tommy stripped off his clothes, except for vitals and shoes, told the driver to wait, then walked through to the bar. Wife took one look, burst out laughing, they made up, he got dressed, they spent the rest of the day in the hotel bar.
Charlie Chester was a famous music hall star, then changing career to Radio Two presenter. There is a blue plaque to him, as there also is to the comedian Sandy Powell. His popularity from the 1930s to the 1960s was huge, people recognised him wherever he went, he bought a terraced house in Elms Avenue in the 1920s. Those who live there now say he hasn’t moved out yet, as his ghost inhabits the three-storey family home. His motto was ‘can you hear me mother?’ You might not be able to see Sandy, but some say you know he is still there.
The strangest blue plaque of them all is in the little village of Litlington, to the west of the town on the A259 before you arrive in Seaford. There was a restaurant called ‘The Hungry Monk’, an extremely expensive restaurant that was way out of the price range of most, with no surprise it is no longer there, now a residential house. But the sign outside states ‘This is the Birthplace of Banoffi Pie Born 1972. One of the best loved puddings in the world.’ So the plaques are there to amuse as well as educate. Of course, as a famous writer, when I depart this world I expect that there will be one erected on the wall where I am presently living. It’s only right, after all.