Saturday, June 29thth 2013
We went south again today. The 214 took us to St Pancras where we boarded a train for Brighton though this town was not intended to be our ultimate destination. There we would have a wide choice of bus routes to choose from as fancy proposed.
The day started grey and overcast so prudence suggested we pack our raincoats. As the train trundled through suburbia, the sun put in an appearance though the sky remained cloudy. What conditions were like along the coast remained to be seen.
By the time we arrived at Brighton, the clouds were fast disappearing and it became a warm and sunny day. The early Victorian (1840) railway station was busy as it always is in summer, especially at weekends. The excitement of arriving there is matched by the anxiety of getting a train home at the end of the day as evening trains are apt to be packed during the summer.
A little way down the road from Brighton station is a bus stop where buses leave for Eastbourne. We boarded one of these and were carried on a scenic tour along the south coast. The journey from Brighton to Eastbourne takes over an hour, especially if you take the route that we took which climbs up to Beachy Head. It’s not the fastest way to get to Eastbourne but it is worth it for the views.
By the time we arrived in Eastbourne, it was time for lunch. Tigger fancied going to the tapas restaurant where we had dined once before, which is near the War Memorial. The sculpture of Winged Victoria on the memorial has a familiar look to it but I could not see any hint of the artist’s name. I was pretty sure I knew who it was, though. I checked when I got home and it turned out that I was right: the sculptor was Henry Charles Fehr (1867-1940). Fehr produced all types of sculpture including busts, architectural works and monuments. Whenever you see a war memorial dating from the First World War that features a frisbee-tossing winged victory, it’s almost certain to be by Fehr. I have already described a couple of his other memorials, one each in Shepherd Bush and Colchester. This one was commissioned by the Mayor of Eastbourne, Alderman O’Brien Harding, in 1919 but a plaque has been added to commemorate the Second World War as well.
The restaurant is called Flamenco and the first time we went there we found the food good and the service attentive. Today, it was quite busy and they at first said they could not accommodate us despite there being tables free. As we were leaving, however, a group got up to leave and we were told we could have their table. We chose a set meal called Menú Catalán, all of whose components happened to be vegetarian. The meal was nice enough but the initial rejection cast something of a shadow over the proceedings and I am not sure we will return.
Just a few doors along from the restaurant in Cornfield Terrace, we discovered the Emma Mason Gallery and, attracted by the beautiful objects in the window, went in for a look. We were received most kindly and enjoyed our visit. The gallery specializes in British artists who make prints and a wide range of work was on view. Printmaking – in which prints are produced from an etched plate and perhaps coloured by the artist – seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance. I hope so, because the prints we saw here, in a variety of styles, showed great imagination and artistic quality. I only regret that the prices were a little too high from our purse (quite justifiably, in my view), though we did lash out and buy a set of cards.
We set out for our next port of call, though without any feeling of hurry. We stopped to photograph the Devonshire Park Theatre, a small but elegantly styled theatre, built in 1884 by Henry Currey. In 1903, the interior was extensively remodelled by that other doyen of theatre architecture, Frank Matcham.
We next visited this pretty and unusual building. It was built in 1880 as the Manager’s House and Flagtower of the Devonshire Park & Baths Company. The Devonshire name appears frequently in Eastbourne because William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire (1808–91), owned a large amount of land in the area and was responsible for much of Eastourne’s early development. In 1874, he opened Devonshire Park and its baths. These no longer exist and the manager’s house has become a heritage centre for Eastbourne.
Exhibits relative to the history and development of Eastbourne are accommodated on the ground floor and first floor and in the basement is a small cinema where films of Eastbourne’s history are shown. There is an entry fee of £2.50 but photography is allowed. The above photo shows a model or relief map of Eastbourne and the three settlements of Meads, Seahouses and Southbourne according to a map of 1817 by William Figg.
There are various sorts of exhibits from actual objects through models and pictures to information boards and posters. The only problem was that not all exhibits are adequately labelled and I didn’t always know what I was looking at.
On the staircase was the stained glass window pictured above but I do not know what it represents or where it comes from.
I was intrigued by the spiral staircase leading up from the first to second floor because I find spiral staircases fascinating and this one was inviting. Unfortunately, it was closed to visitors and I was unable to satisfy my curiosity.
There were films showing glimpses of Eastbourne in times past and some of the well known advertising films promoting “sun trap” Eastbourne.
Our next destination was the Towner Gallery. This describes itself thus: “Towner is the contemporary art museum for South East England”. Wile I agree it is a good gallery, I think some of the other rather fine galleries in the South East might challenge its implied claim of superiority. The Towner today inhabits a purpose built gallery but started in 1920 in a manor house when Alderman John Chisholm Towner made a bequest of 22 paintings from his own collection and the sum of £6,000 for the establishment of the gallery. (More details of the history here and here.)
We seemed to have caught the gallery between exhibitions. As galleries do in such circumstances, it had fallen back on the trick of cobbling together an exhibition from among its own works. This was called People and Portraits and consisted of a set of pictures of people, single or in groups. These dated from the 16th century to the present day and included paintings, photographs and mixed media. Admission was free, which was fortunate as I would not have wanted to pay to see what was on offer. There was nothing that took my attention and I think it was a pretty mediocre showing. I don’t doubt, though, that there will be other exhibitions that will be worth seeing.
To console ourselves, we retired to the gallery cafe on the top floor. Our eyes lit up when we saw we could order a cream tea1. So we did.
The cafe terrace, though limited to one side of the building, affords pleasant and interesting views over the town. The fine weather had brought out the tennis players.
The view above reminds us that Eastbourne sits in green countryside with fields and low hills suitable for sheep grazing. It is also a seaside resort with a possibly exaggerated claim to fine weather. As a result many people who can afford to do so, retire here.
We suddenly realized that it had grown later than we intended and so we left and hurried quickly along the seafront, heading for the pier where we could catch a bus back to Brighton station.
As we scurried along the promenade, I just had time to photograph the bandstand and grab a picture of the pier and the beach. We did not have long to wait for a bus, though it was an X13 that goes the long way round (via Beachy Head). At the station there was a train waiting and we were soon on our way back to London.
Eastbourne may be familiar to us but it is always a pleasant town to visit. Quieter and more staid than its more vigorous neighbour, Brighton, it offers more sedate pleasures but it is a thriving resort with its own character which many may prefer.
1The history of the “cream tea” is disputed. Some assert that the habit started in Devon, others claim it for Cornwall. Today the cream tea is ubiquitous and usually appears on menus prefixed with the name of the locality: “Sussex Cream Tea”, “Yorkshire Cream Tea”, etc. There are also variations on what makes up a cream tea though the standard composition is one or two fruit (or plain) scones, eaten with clotted cream and strawberry or raspberry jam, and a pot of tea. Further argument concerns such delicate matters as whether one should first spread the cream and put the jam on top or vice versa.