St Leonards Archway.
ERECTED IN 1898
MARKS THE EASTERN
BOUNDARY AT THIS
POINT OF THE TOWN
OF ST LEONARDS
FOUNDED BY THE LATE
JAMES BURTON ESQr
Ion Castro contemplates a long-gone landmark.
As you walk along the seafront, heading west and toward Marine Court, having just passed the bottom of London Road you will notice, almost hidden amongst the concrete bollards and planters, quite close to the kerb, a fine square chunk of red granite with an inscription on the seaward side. The granite has stood up to the ravages of the seafront very well but the inscription isn’t always that easy to read - it says “THIS STONE ERECTED IN 1898 MARKS THE EASTERN BOUNDARYAT THIS POINT OF THE TOWN OF ST LEONARD FOUNDED BY THE LATE JAMES BURTON ESQR 1828” so what’s it all about, surely the boundary between Hastings and St Leonards is opposite the Pier – at least that’s what my postman tells me.
To most of us it doesn’t really matter, where the boundary is, our local authority is “Hastings and St Leonards” but how did this seeming contradiction come about? The red granite and the postman are both correct, the postal boundary is at the pier and the ‘town’ boundary is opposite Market Street and can indeed be followed inland quite easily with distinctly different architecture to the east and west of the boundary and there are iron boundary markers for the avoidance of doubt. The Hastings postal sorting office delivered letters east of its boundary and the St Leonards office dealt with the west. If you wrote ‘Hastings’ on a letter to be delivered from the St.Leonards office delay would occur whilst it was being transferred from one office to another.
In 1828 James Burton bought the land, part of the Gensing farm, from the estate of Charles Eversfield who had died ten years earlier and set about building his new town from scratch. Straight away, the approaches to his development were guarded by three lodges, North and South Lodges are still there at the top and bottom of St.Leonards Gardens. There do not appear to have been any plans for a West Lodge and the East lodge straddled the main coastal road to Bulverhythe and Bexhill. Originally the southern part housed the St Leonards Beadle but it later became a shop. The small building on the corner of Market Street, next to No 15 Marina but bearing the number 1 (now a cab office) was the office of the St.Leonards Commissioners and all their meetings were held there and the last meeting of the St Leonards Commissioners was held there on 12th January 1875 to consider the draft Provisional Order submitted to the local government Board dissolving the commission for St Leonards and amalgamating it with Hastings. By 1885 St Leonards had ceased to exist as a separate town and passed into the hands of Hastings Borough Council who, by 1886 had plans to purchase St Leonards Archway with a view to its demolition. J M Baines, former curator of Hastings Museum, in his book ‘Burton’s St Leonards’ notes that “… as long ago as 1867 Decimus Burton had already suggested its removal’
By 1890 the town council had referred the road widening and reconstruction to committee and by April the next year, by a majority of one acquisition and demolition was agreed. Later that month there was a protest meeting in the Public Hall against the Archway purchase. By July 31st the council had agreed, by a small majority, 13 votes to 11, to the removal. This was despite a public consultation by Councillor Elsworthy returning 581 out of 709 replies against demolition. It may be that they objected to the payment of the sum of £1,700 to widen the road (by 45 inches) rather than the demolition itself.
The end came quite quickly, overnight January 22nd / 23rd “The Borough Engineer and his assistants had kept the secret thoroughly, and nobody appeared aware that the order of demolition had gone forth. … At11.30 at night men mounted the roof of the arch, and with pickaxe commenced the task of pulling down. … At noon only a foot of the piers remained above the pavement, and the debris had been carted away.”
One of the conditions attached to the purchase was that a memorial to James Burton should be erected at the spot, and there it is today.
This article first appeared in HASTINGS TOWN magazine in Februart 2011
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