Harry’s Ramblings Victoria Place then and now
by Harry Pope
Eastbourne before 1849 was a sleepy place with under 2,000 inhabitants, but then the railway came, and over the next thirty years it all changed. A road was built to connect the new station to the seafront, named mainly Terminus Road, but at the seafront end it was named Victoria Place after the reigning Monarch. What a lovely section of road for the quality residents.
On the eastern side was a long terrace of quality small hotels. These were accessed by a small flight of steps from the street into the reception, where the incoming guest would be greeted by either the proprietor, his wife, or a very senior member of staff. There would be at least ten rooms, all sharing a bathroom on each floor, and would be for the visitor to the seaside who was of a better quality social background. A maid would run the bath for them, for example, for a fee of course to pay for the heating of the water. For the poorer visitor on the corner of the seafront was the public bath, accessed into the basement via some wide interior steps. This was serviced by seawater, the twice a day tide changing the water via tunnels that went out to sea.
The early Victoria Place residents didn’t have a lot to offer them in the way of entertainment. The pier wasn’t built until 1870, the pier entertainment for eight years from 1878 consisted of a basic canvas tent accommodating about two hundred cheering patrons, so it was more for the masses than the discerning Victoria Place guests. These were genteel people, not of the same class who stayed at the seafront hotels, which were more exclusive, but status was still important, so they regarded themselves superior to those staying to the east of the pier, but they knew that they had to look up to their seafront betters.
Opposite the upmarket small hotels was a tree lined road completely contrasting. The trees hid a few select houses, in large grounds, that had been built by the 7th Duke of Devonshire’s builders to accommodate wealthy newcomers. There were only about six of these houses, but they took a long time to sell, because Eastbourne hadn’t the same social status of Brighton, twenty miles to the west but it might as well have been triple that. These houses were the ultimate in contemporary luxury. They were three storey, servants quarter in the roof, but the front entrance was via Trinity Place, so residents didn’t have to encounter the common element. It must have been a pleasant road to walk along in the late Victorian period, tree-lined on one side with fences so the passer-by couldn’t see the quality living in gilded seclusion, and perambulate past the lovely terrace of upmarket small hotels. The envious comments quietly spoken must have been discreet.
Eastbourne changed during WWl. Those lovely six houses were requisitioned for convalescence purposes, officers only of course, the grounds were great for strolling in, recuperative healing powers conducive for the return to conflict. When the war ended the families didn’t want to return, so the lovely houses fell into disrepair, very quickly the decision was made to demolish. A long terrace of apartments was built, with shops on the ground floor, three stories above. The Co-Operative had a store at the end, and where the house entrances had been in Trinity Place something exclusive was built. An indoor riding stable. Unfortunately I can’t find any photos, but it was for the wealthy to stable their horses. They would come along and ride their steed either onto the seafront, even into the sea, or into town where the shopkeeper would place purchases into saddlebags. This really was an elitist indulgence. The stables lasted until the mid-1930s, right through the worst of the Depression, but I suppose the show of wealth became too much, and with the popularity of the movies a new cinema was built on the same site. This lasted until the 1970s, it was demolished, and is now a senior independent living block.
The row of apartments and shops went all the way through Victoria Place from seafront to town centre, it was a natural thoroughfare for traffic as well as pedestrians, but after WW2 it was decided to re-name it to Terminus Road, a continuation from railway station to seafront. In 1942 there was a direct hit with two bombs hitting the hotel side about one third from the seafront, and by the end of the war no hotels were left, frontages changed so the majority became restaurants or cafes of some kind.
By the turn of the century the road had become more than a little tatty, with lots of restaurants one side and souvenir shops and cafes the other where the grand houses had been. At that end was a traditional fish and chip shop, had been in the same Mediterranean ownership for some years, when Harry Ramsden chain offered to buy for a reputed £1.5million. that is now on the site, and the whole block was bought in 2017 by the local council for a rumoured £15m. Much has been spent on renovation, and the best bit of all is there are plans in the pipeline for the whole road to be pedestrianised, turn it into a café and restaurant quarter, and re-name that section of road Victoria Place.
Sometimes the planners do get it right.