Being an architectural and historical stroll round the old and new towns in Bexhill, the home of the first motor race in Britain. Fighting and supporting Napoleon.
Distance, Terrain and Time
3.6 km, 2.24 miles, 2 hours. All on tarmac. One gradual hill at the start.
This short walk explores historic Bexhill Old Town and the later seaside resort, including the famous De La Warr Pavilion
Start and finish points
Bexhill Railway Station
Trains run to Bexhill from Lewes, Brighton, Hastings and London. Local buses pass the start.
For bus and train times see here
Ordnance Survey maps
Explorer series number 124
Two cafes in the Old Town. Numerous pubs and cafes in the town centre. Café at the De La Warr
In the Manor Gardens in the Old Town. Numerous on the front, including at the De La Warr
Songs about Bexhill
Lorraine Bowen Bexhill
Clare Baldry The Angel of Bexhill
Books and Films
A number of books and films have been set in Bexhill, most notably Agatha Christie’s ABC murders and Spike Milligan’s Adolph Hitler, My Part in his Downfall.
Bexhill Railway station is the third station on the site. The first station was a halt, which was (as you will find) a little way from the village which now forms the old town. For many centuries, the old town was all there was of Bexhill. It was only in the second half of the 19th century that the town was developed as a holiday resort. The railway effectively cuts Bexhill in two, with only limited access to the other side. The current railway station is testimony to the large crowds of holiday makers and trippers who once visited Bexhill. It now looks rather empty and cavernous since their numbers have reduced.
1). From the railway station forecourt turn north (left as you leave the station) Cross Station Road on your left. On the corner, on a new building, there is a plaque that records that John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, lived there at the end of his life. Continue up the road until the first main turning on the right (Magdalen Road) and then cross the road and turn left on the pavement to continue uphill to reach the old town
THE OLD TOWN
On your left you will see the ancient forge house, which was once three cottages. The forge itself is long demolished.
2). Keep to the right and walk past the bus stop and bear right following a flint wall and then a hedge. You are at the site of the old Manor House, once the most important building in Bexhill, demolished in the 1960s for a road widening scheme. Turn immediately right into Manor Gardens and walk through a ruined archway. These ruins are what remains of the manor house. The manor was disputed between the Crown and the Church from the Norman conquest to the 16th century. In the 19th century it was in the hands of the De La Warre family, who owned much of the area. Keep walking ahead through a lych gate to reach an old well, against the wall of the manor house stables The building on your left is the old manor barn.
Turn left at the well and walk down the side of the manor barn (keeping it on your left) to reach further gardens of the old manor. Keep going ahead until you reach a small pond. Turn left here and make your way out into the car park. Cross the car park and re-join De La Warre road using the entrance to the car park. Cross the road and turn left, heading back to the centre of the old town.
As you cross the road you will see in front of you two well preserved attractive Victorian villas. Perhaps the most attractive of them is the one just to your right, at the beginning of Hastings Road (which is indeed the old road to Hastings). Do finish crossing the road before you stop to admire them. Nearer the corner is a group of Georgian cottages, one of which was extensively remodelled in the 20th century.
Turn right into Church Street at the convenience store.
There is a story that the local newsagent smuggled copies of the London Times to Napoleon at the time of the Napoleonic wars. You might try going in and asking for that newspaper in a French accent and see what reaction you get.
Keep ahead past a café and turn right into the Lych gate of the church. The buildings you pass on the right are part of a 15th century Wealden house.
Walk round the church, which is not usually open and emerge again in Church Street, this time facing the other way. Opposite is a row of four cottages, placed along a twitten that originally went through to the high street. The first is called the Saltbox.
Return down Church Street, walking the way you came, as far as what is signed as, and once was, the Bell Hotel. This is now mainly residential, although there is also a café, but was once a coaching inn serving people travelling along the coast. The next building features a large clock protruding from its front. The clock was erected in 1887 for Queen Victoria’s jubilee.
Turn right into the high street. Alas this is a shadow of what it once was. Old pictures show the usual variety of shops essential for local living. Now they are nearly all down in the town centre. But there are still some historic buildings to see.
Walk down the High Street. At the beginning of the High Street there was, until the 1920s, an ancient walnut tree in the middle of the road. On your left hand side is Hanover House, with an interesting Georgian doorway and Linkwell, built in 1828, although part of the complex is considerably older.
On the right hand side most buildings date from the 1700s, though a few are later. One of the buildings is occupied by the Bexhill Old Town Preservation society, which can give you more information about this area
THE GERMAN CONNECTION
3). At the end of the High Street the road divides. You are going to take the left hand turn, but first have a look at the large rambling building ahead of you, slightly to the right, and the track which goes straight ahead, to the left of this building.
In 1803 Napoleon invaded Hanover. The elector of Hanover was King George 3rd of Britain. Over 5,000 refugee soldiers from Hanover were brought over to Bexhill to continue to fight against the conqueror. They would have overwhelmed Bexhill, where the population at the time was around 2,000. Other Hanoverian contingents were based in Weymouth, Guildford, Ipswich and Canterbury. The lane marks the entrance to their encampment and the large building was the barrack hall. The road you will follow, Belle Hill, was apparently built to serve various businesses catering to the soldiers. Many of the soldiers fought at Waterloo. Those that survived were able to return to Hanover in 1814 following its liberation.
Walk down Belle Hill.
Notice the solid group of Victorian houses at the start of the road, on your right. As you turn right at the corner you jump back in time. with houses on the left which date back to the 18th century. On the left you will find Goddard House, which is believed to have been the home of a senior officer based at the barracks. After this comes the ugly but historic Millfield. This was once the home of Samual Scrivens, who was one of Bexhill’s biggest landowners. It is now in flats. Next is Sorrel Cottage and a group of Georgian clapboard houses.
At the end of Belle Hill the road is cut by the King Offa bypass, but you can follow it round to the left into Amhurst Road. Walk to the end of this, passing some solid Victorian and early 20th century housing and the job centre.
4). At the end of Amhurst Road is a complicated gyratory system. The road you should take is the second on the right, going past a modern red brick castellated development with shops on the ground floor. Pass Sainsbury’s.
Shortly afterwards turn left under the railway and walk straight ahead down Sackville Road to the sea front.
THE MODERN TOWN
You are now in the “modern” part of Bexhill. This part of town, which now forms the centre, was erected in a very short time. Construction began in 1883 and by 1902 Bexhill had gone from being a little village to a town of substance. As with Eastbourne, local landowners saw profit in developing agricultural land to create a seaside resort. What you see here is the result. Much of the town centre developed at that time is still preserved. There has been comparatively little reconstruction. Do look up as you walk through the town.
In the 1970s the Hastings gas works at Glyne Gap, between Hastings and Bexhill, was demolished. An out of town shopping centre was built and for a while the shops of Bexhill suffered. But for some reason the town centre has bounced back. It may be that low rents have assisted small businesses to thrive. Here you will streets of traditional shops like butchers, vegetable shops and similar. The writer even remembers a bagpipe shop, although this has now gone. Do deviate from the route if you find something that interests you.
5). At the end of Sackville Road bear left and cross the road to the entrance of the De La Warr Pavilion.
MODERNISM AND SOCIALISM
You are now at the seafront. In keeping with its status of a seaside resort, the seafront became the focus of Bexhill from the 1880s and various entertainments were built on the front. In order to attract tourists, Bexhill became one of the first resorts in the area to allow mixed bathing, forcing Hastings to do the same. A pier was planned but never built.
But by the 1930s the resort was beginning to become a little tired. As in Hastings, building with new materials seemed to be the answer. Wikipedia tells us that the 9th Earl De La Warr, the then mayor of Bexhill, was a committed socialist and the building reflects this. It is claimed to be the first modernist building in Britain. It is certainly a classic building and you may wish to visit the café on the upper floor. Do not, however, sit on the balcony outside to eat your food as the seagulls are some of the most aggressive in Sussex.
Throughout this period there was conflict between residents and those who wanted to promote the holiday trade. As you have seen in Amhurst Road, people settled in Bexhill in substantial residences. They were not keen to see the council paying out money raised from local taxes promoting the holiday trade. The Pavilion was one such expensive development.
Perhaps as a result, there is little in the way of permanent organised entertainment on the front now, apart from the De La Warr, but you may wish to visit the De Paulo café opposite the pavilion for a traditional Italian ice cream.
Having inspected the pavilion and the sea continue east along Marina Road (the road in front of the pavilion).
Ahead of you, further along the Marina Road is the site of the first motor car races in Britain in 1902 promoted by the De La Warrs on their land. One of the races was won by a steam powered racing car. As cars got faster the course became too short and dangerous for further races.
Take the third on the left- Albert Road. Pass a number of Victorian Houses
Those who study gentrification and decline are interested in streets like Albert Road. Will the Victorian terraces be occupied by middle class doer uppers or will the street decline into bedsit squalor?
At the end turn right into Parkhurst Road, left into Devonshire Road and then first right into St Leonards Road. Take the third junction on the left and walk up Sea Road to return to the station.
I am indebted to “A Walk in Bexhill Old Town”, published by the Old Town Preservation Society in the 1970s, and “Bexhill on Sea- a history” by Julian Porter for information about the history of Bexhill.