As any Agatha Christie fan will tell you, the most dastardly bad deeds will be found in the most respectable places. So we visit the most respectable part of one of the most respectable holiday resorts in search of scandal and a good walk. (Can also be used to start or finish the South Downs Way)
Distance, Terrain and Time
8.45 Km / 5.25 Miles. A few moderate climbs. All on tarmac. Allow two and a half hours.
The route crosses some busy roads
Start and finish points
Eastbourne railway station
Trains run to Eastbourne from London, Gatwick, Lewes, Brighton and Hastings.
Buses run from surrounding towns and villages and also from Tunbridge Wells, Brighton and Hastings.
For bus and train times see here
Ordnance Survey maps
Explorer series number 123 (east of Lewes) Landranger series 199 (east of seaford)
Numerous. Places at particularly convenient points are mentioned in the text
At the station, numerous on the front. None in Meads.
Music to get you in the mood
The material about Dr Bodkin Adams comes from “ The Strange Case of Bodkin Adams” byJohn Surtees, published by SB publications.
The Eastbourne Society publishes a guide called “Heritage Walks”. This is an excellent guide to the more salubrious side of Eastbourne. I found it really useful
1). This walk is designed to use the various scandals of Eastbourne to introduce you to parts of Eastbourne you may not yet have discovered, and to provide you with a varied walk. After completing it you may find that Eastbourne is a more interesting place than you first thought.
We start at Eastbourne Railway Station. Emerge from the station and turn left into the main shopping centre of Eastbourne, Terminus Road ( Do not turn hard left into Anglesey Road which runs along the side of the station and has not shops).
Follow Terminus road until it becomes pedestrian. At this point turn right into Cornfield Road. Follow Cornfield Road to a roundabout. Here turn left along Trinity Trees. The fourth building on the left is number 6- Kent Lodge, the former home and surgery of Dr Bodkin Adams (A)
No carefully cross the road and return to the roundabout. Turn left in Devonshire Place and follow it to its end. Have a look at the expression, from the side, on the statue of the Duke of Devonshire before crossing the road at the crossing and then turning right. You are now in front of the Cavendish Hotel (B)
To the East is the pier. Opposite the pier, in Cavendish Place was the favourite holiday place of Friedrich Engels, the famous socialist and friend of Karl Marx. His ashes were scattered off Beachy Head. But since he was not a scandalous person we do not divert from our route
2). Walk along the front until you get to the View Hotel on your right. Cross the road at the crossing just after this and have a walk down the street that goes diagonally to your left (Carlisle Road) (C). Return to the front and cross the road again. Turn right and then keep as left as you can, bearing away from the road on the lower promenade, with a raised green and Martello tower on your right. Somewhere near here the great macintosh rebellion of 1929 took place
The green gets lower. Look out for a statue on your right. Turn right past the statue to reach the road and cross it carefully. Notice the Grand Hotel (D) in front of you. Turn left along the road. At the next junction do not turn sharp right, but take a road which bears slightly right and uphill. It is called South Cliff. Take the first right into Mount Road and pass the Hydro Hotel (E) Turn left at the end into St Johns Road, passing number 30 (F) on your right.
Take the first left into Bolsover Road. Near the end pass South Cliff Tower(G) on your left. Cross the road and turn right. You are on a broad reddish coloured pavement. A the point that this ends turn left down Bolsover Walk. Descend to a track. Go straight across this down Chatsworth cross. Go straight ahead till you get to the lower promenade.
Turn right. Pass two sets of fairly solid beach huts. Have a look at number 2 in the second set. There is a brass board reporting that King George V and his wife stayed here. He was recovering from illness. Nothing scandalous happened so far as we know, so we can pass on, but imagine the people in number 1 next door saying to themselves “I wonder who the new people are- Oh look, it’s the King- Would you like a cup of tea your Majesty?”.
3). Straight after the chalets turn sharp right up hill. Holywell tea chalet (H) is on your left should you fancy a break. Turn sharp left and then left again to descend to Holywell Retreat (I). When you reach the grass keep left on the path which leaves the retreat and climbs up steps. The path curves round and you meet a wider path. Turn left to reach the upper promenade. And then turn left into a park. Walk next to the road before exiting at the next gate. There is a tea kiosk in the park.
Take a track to the left immediately after the park. This descends to the right to emerge at a grand sea view point.(J)
4). Return to the road. Turn left. Walk to the edge of the Downs, where there is another tea room and also Holywell Mount (K). This is the start of the South Downs Way. You could walk this as an extension to this walk, but it would add 100 miles to your trip. Failing this, turn round and walk back to Holywell Road, the first on the left. Walk down Holywell Road to the Pilot pub (L).
Follow the road down as it bears round to the left and then right again. Cross Darley Road and keep straight ahead.
You are now in Meads, the home of many of Dr Adams’s rich patients and still the most respectable part of Eastbourne. There are still many of the large houses that the rich had built for themselves in the 19th century, though some have succumbed to bombing or redevelopment. You reach Meads shopping centre, which has a very different tone from Eastbourne shopping centre.
However if you take the turn left you will see some lovely housing built for the working classes, who were presumably needed to service the rich. At the allotment green turn right and then follow the road round to the left. Take the next right to arrive at Beachy Head Road (M).
5).Turn right. Keep going till you come to a roundabout. Here bear left down the right hand side of Meads Road. (The road divides. You want the portion with the no-entry sign) Pass de Warren Court (N) on your right.
Pass Silverdale Road on your right. At the next junction turn right into Carlisle Road. Walk past 3 turnings on your right. The next turning is Grange Road. All Saints Church (O) is on the right. Turn left here.
Pass Eastbourne College (P) on your right. Pass two junctions and come to a junction with Meads Road and South Street. Eastbourne Town Hall (Q) is on your left.
6).Go straight ahead along Grove Road.
This area is sometimes called “Little Chelsea” because it has some of Eastbourne’s more alternative shops. A Turkish/Greek restaurant called Agora in Grove Road has been recommended to me as a place to eat. At the end, by the council offices, turn right and then almost immediately left into busy Upperton Road. Cross at a convenient point and walk straight ahead at the traffic lights. Then take the next on the right (Hartfield Road)
The next turning is Upperton Gardens. You will see a park on your right. There is a very low wall. Climb over this and walk diagonally across the park to the far left side, noticing the good looking buildings fronting on to the park. At the opposite end of the park on the left you will find 2 Upperton Gardens(R).
Turn right here on the Avenue and then left at the end to return down Upperton Road. You will find the station on your left.
Points of interest
A). Doctor Bodkin Adams’s home and surgery
Dr Bodkin Adams was a doctor in general practice in Eastbourne from 1922 to 1956. For most of that period he lived and held his surgeries here.
He was a plump and rather unattractive man from a modest background in northern Ireland. He was deeply religious, socially awkward and did not drink or party. Perhaps for those reasons he was not popular with other doctors in the town. This may be why his practice tended to consist either of the poor or the rich old, neither of which groups were popular with the others.
He was said to be financially greedy, but it was universally accepted that he had an excellent bed side manner and would really go the extra mile for his patients, however rich or poor they were. But by the end of his period of practice his medical methods were well out of date and open to criticism. In particular, he kept poor records of some poisonous medicines that he used, despite recent legislation requiring him to do so.
He was a great supporter of charities, often giving anonymously.
In 1935 he found himself to be the executor of a patient of his who had died. She left him £7,000 in her will, plus money for his mother and cousin. The family contested the will and he defended it. The practice of leaving doctors money in wills was quite common at the time, but the amounts were large and local gossip considered that he was wrong to be the executor and to defend the will. Thereafter rumours grew.
B) The Cavendish Hotel and the statue of the Duke of Devonshire
Scenes from the film “Notes on a Scandal” were filmed at the Cavendish Hotel. The film is about a teacher who has an affair with a pupil. An internet search will reveal that this seems to be quite common in Eastbourne, perhaps because of the number of schools. Most recent and famous was the case of Jeremy Forest, who in 2014 was convicted of running away with a fifteen year old pupil.
You will notice that the eastern wing of the hotel is modern. The old east wing was bombed in the 1939-45 war. Eastbourne was considerably damaged in the war and many modern buildings replace war damage.
From the side, the statue of the Duke of Devonshire, who was heavily involved in developing Eastbourne, seems slumped in despair at the scandals in his town.
C). The east end of Carlisle Road
A lovely little suburban street, packed with eating places. Note in particular the Italian café and ice cream parlour on the left. At the end of this part of the road you can see the Winter Gardens, the Congress theatre (where Agatha Christie plays are often performed) and the Towner Art Gallery.
D). The Grand Hotel
Like many great hotels, the Grand has no doubt witnessed many scandalous liaisons, the most famous of which was that of Claude Debussy, who stayed here in room 200 with his mistress Emma Bardac. They were fleeing the outcry in Paris resulting from their affair. They were both married to others. He wrote part of “La Mer” here.
Dr Adams was doctor to the hotel for a time and visited his patients via the laundry lift, so as not to draw attention to the fact that they were ill.
E). The Hydro Hotel
“Heritage Walks” says that “The magnificent art deco foyer is completely original is completely original and intact with revolving doors, private telephone kiosks and waterlily style glass chandeliers”.
If you stay here long enough taking afternoon tea surely Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot will appear, on the trail of a murder.
When Dr Adams finally died in the 1980s his house was auctioned here.
F) 30 St. Johns Road
Police investigated the death of Clara Neil-Miller at this house in 1954. John Surtees says that she left £5,000 to Dr Adams in her will and had made out cheques to him totalling £800 shortly before she died. It was alleged that the doctor has left her with her nightdress thrown up and the window wide open on a cold night. However the principle witness died, which terminated investigations.
G). South Cliff Tower
This tower would not look out of place in Bournemouth, or even Brighton, but here the block of flats sticks out like a sore thumb. You might wonder how it got planning permission. The story goes that a council member put in for permission. This was granted even though the development was hugely unpopular. She later became mayor. At the time (late 1960,s) it was the custom that no one opposed the mayor in local elections. But so great was the outrage that someone stood against her and was duly elected.
The outrage resulted in the formation of what is now the Eastbourne Society.
Roger Moore lived in the tower during his James Bond days. Some people thought his acting in that role was scandalously bad.
H) Holywell Tea chalet
Café of many years standing, sheltered from the wind.
I). Holywell retreat
“Heritage Walks” says that this secluded spot was converted from a quarry in 1922. There are theatrical performances in the summer months, but it is a quiet place to linger at other times.
J). Holywell Mount
This is the building between the main part of St Bede’s school and the downs. It is now St Bede’s nursery, but in the 1950s it was the home of Jack and Bobbie Hullett, a very affluent couple. Both were Dr Adam’s patients and thought highly of him. After Jack’s death Bobbie became suicidal. Dr Adams treated her with sedatives which he gave out on a daily basis, except when she was going away when he gave her enough to keep her going In July 1956 she signed a will. Shortly after, she gave Dr Adams a cheque for £1,000. He asked the bank to clear it quickly, saying that the drawer was not long for this world. Next thing Bobbie was in a coma. It is possible that she had saved up enough drugs to kill her. Dr Adams applied a possible remedy, but in too small a dose to do any good. Mrs Hullett died. Dr Adams tried to avoid a coroner’s investigation, either to cover up his actions or to prevent distress to relatives. He was not successful and the coroner’s hearing created a firestorm of speculation.
K). Ocean viewpoint
Fine views of the coast here from one of the quietest parts of the Eastbourne coastline. It is possible to extend the walk by descending to the sea, but watch your step and the tides.
L). Pilot Inn
No scandal here, but an interesting Victorian local pub with food and the garden. “Eastbourne heritage walks” points out the stained glass windows at the front of the pub showing both ships and planes.
M). Beachy Head Road
There is no longer a house in Beachy Head Road named Marden Ash, but in 1950 this address was the home of Mrs Edith Morrell, a woman of 81 in poor health. You can get some idea of what it was like from the larger houses you see when walking down the road. She died in November 1950. In 1956 he was charged with her murder. Following the coroner’s report on the death of Bobbie Hallett the police started investigating the deaths of other patients of Dr Adams. They thought that Mrs Morrell’s case gave them the best chance of a conviction. At the time it was unprecedented for a doctor to be charged with murder and the case attracted huge publicity.
Mrs Morrell was almost certainly dying naturally, and Dr Adams was treating her with morphine and heroin to ease her pain. But the amounts were larger than might be expected and might have been designed to kill her before she changed her will- something that she did frequently. However the case faltered because witnesses were not consistent, because it was accepted that Mrs Morrell was dying anyway and because Dr Adams was due to receive less than £300 in the will, although he may not have known that. It was suggested that he was incompetent rather than a murderer. He was found not guilty. The crown then decided not to go ahead with a prosecution for Mrs Hullett’s death
Dr Adams was subsequently struck off for irregularities in the way he accounted for poisons in his care but was later re-instated as a doctor.
In the 1990s it was suggested that an NHS unit in Eastbourne should be named after him on the grounds that he was Eastbourne’s most famous doctor and that his management was similar to the NHS management of the 1990s.
N). de Walden Court
By the 1920s this listed block had been converted into luxury flats. It was originally two grand houses. Dr Adams had a patient there. It was alleged that he had left her “more or less naked with bedclothes stripped off the bed and the windows left open in inclement weather”. She was said to have died. But by now the rumours were so frequent that it is difficult to know if there was any truth in this. Some people speculated that the doctor had killed hundreds of his older patients for their money.
O). All Saints Church
This church is part of the Chichester Diocese of the Church of England, which was notorious in the late part of the 20th century for its failure to root out the sex abusers in its ranks. One such was Gordon Ridout who was convicted of multiple abuse in 2013. Canon Rideout conducted services at All Saints Church until 2010.
P). Eastbourne College
In 2005 the school was one of fifty of the country’s leading private schools which were found guilty of running an illegal price-fixing cartel, exposed by the Times, which had allowed them to drive up fees for thousands of parents. Each school was required to pay a nominal penalty of £10,000 and all agreed to make ex-gratia payments totalling three million pounds into a trust designed to benefit pupils who attended the schools during the period in respect of which fee information was shared.
Famous past students include the “Wickedest Man in the World”, occultist Aleister Crowley and the comedian Eddie Izzard.
Q). Eastbourne Town Hall
In 2016 the town hall was the scene of a council decision to sell off parts of the famous downland above the town owned by the council. Over the years, many towns in the South Downs, including Brighton Worthing and Eastbourne bought up the downland round their towns. The idea was to protect it from unsuitable development and undesirable farming practices by owning the freehold of the land. By selling off the freehold the council left itself with only the planning laws to protect the downs. However, in March 2017, following a campaign led by Eastbourne Friends of the Earth, the council thankfully reversed its decision.
R). Office of Eastbourne Financial Services
The modest office building at 2 Upperton Gardens was the registered office of Eastbourne Financial Services (although the company also operated from offices in Gildredge Road). Using this company a group of solicitors, developers and surveyors defrauded the Bradford and Bingley Building Society of something around £40 million pounds in the years up to 2009. The case resulted in what was then a record payout from the fund that compensates victims in the case of misconduct by solicitors. There is no suggestion that any of the current tenants of No 2 were involved.
If you enjoyed this walk you may also enjoy Eastbourne’s radical history walk 1 which is here. It traces the history of Engels and other radical events in the town. Alas, there is very little scandal.