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Here are some of the people who helped shape the economic and social life East of the Pier.
He was a rich silk merchant from south London who had a holiday home near the Pier – now the Claremont Hotel. He was a strict teetotaller and a keen advocate of homeopathy. He was struck by the squalid living conditions of people in this part of town and the lack of means by which they could improve their lives.
He was an acquaintance of the 7th Duke of Devonshire and persuaded him to donate a piece of land in Seaside that in the early 1860s faced the shore. He commissioned the ‘Workmen’s Hall’ which was opened in 1864. It was intended ‘to promote the social, moral and spiritual welfare of the working classes in Eastbourne’. Lecture and reading rooms were provided, but with its church-like appearance, the building did not have wide appeal to its target audience. Increasingly, the Hall was used for a variety of worthy entertainments and meetings. It became a focus for weekend conferences of temperance groups, mutual societies and trade unions.
He died in 1874 and in 1888 two of his eleven children (The Misses Jane and Julia) opened a homeopathic hospital immediately behind the Hall to his memory. Many treatments were given free to the local community. The Leaf Hall Trust went on to build the Leaf Hospital in St Anne’s Road which opened in 1934.
He made a fortune as a beef farmer in Argentina before retiring to Eastbourne. He liked to fund outings for large numbers of children from the poorer part of town. In 1911 for instance, he laid on a party at the Town Hall for 1000 children from this area. On other occasions the venue was the Winter Garden.
In 1918 the Charles Jewell Working Women’s Club was founded and provided with premises in Seaside opposite the Leaf Hall. The aim was to enable young women to better themselves and to have access to employment beyond the local laundries. Instruction was also given in ‘household and maternal duties’. A lending library was provided.
The Charles Jewell Central Youth Club was set up as a charity in 1959 and operated from the same premises. It aimed to assist the moral, cultural and physical development of local young people. The Club was very active in providing a wide range of sports and outings. The facility is now operated by the YMCA and is known as ‘Charlie’s’.
LADY VICTORIA WELLESLEY
A great niece of the Duke of Wellington, Lady Victoria was a person of means and well-connected. She persuaded the Duke of Devonshire to donate a plot of land in The Marsh for a new church to serve the streets of workers’ dwellings under construction between the Pevensey Road artisans’ quarter and the railway line. All Souls Church in Susans Road was consecrated in 1882. It was said to be the first church in Sussex not to charge a rent for any of its pews. It is noteworthy that the church was erected together with a number of ancillary buildings so that from the outset it was able to meet a wide range of religious, social and educational needs. A kitchen was available to feed the hungry, and there was a Parish nurse. A reading room helped the improvement of the working man. A short time later a school was started that eventually became Bourne School.
The great majority of all this work was funded by Lady Victoria. It is estimated that she spent around £40,000- a massive sum at that time. In addition she contributed to creating a dispensary and cottage hospital for the benefit of the working classes. This was situated at the corner of Cavendish Place and Pevensey Road; closing in 1902 when the hospital function was transferred to the Princess Alice Hospital.
Albert was a joiner by trade but managed to become a rather successful impresario and business man. By the late 1870s he was the occupant of The Club Hotel on the corner of Pevensey Road and Bourne Street. He started to provide entertainments to attract more custom and called it the Britannia Varieties. It was not unusual for some public houses to do this and to charge extra ‘wet money’; and this is how many music halls came about. But Albert was keen to avoid the stigma of operating a music hall in such a place as Eastbourne and always strove to keep an orderly house.
He expanded and altered the premises so as to accommodate seating for 250 people together with an orchestra pit. By 1884 further extensions doubled the capacity to 500. He was careful to keep in with the establishment; often hosting fund-raising events for good causes. The name was changed to the ‘Theatre of Varieties’. Capacity audiences were the norm.
He always booked top acts from Brighton and London. His most celebrated booking was George Leybourne for Easter 1884 – the original ‘Champagne Charlie’. Albert put round the rumour (probably just for publicity purposes) that he was paying him £100 per week. He was able to pay the acts well because they worked for six evenings a week plus four afternoons on the Pier. Albert erected a draughty canvass structure at the end of the Pier as a makeshift theatre for afternoon entertainment during the season..
Another string to his bow was the bathing machines along the beach. He owned around 60% of the 200 operating between the Redoubt and the Wish Tower in the 1880s. He was a leading member of the ‘Season Extension Committee’ – a group of businessmen keen to expand the town’s economic base and to provide more attractions for visitors. The theatre closed in 1886 – a victim of the severe economic downturn at the time. Suffering from poor health, Albert sold on his business interests and emigrated to America. The building was demolished and replaced by the existing public house in 1905.
William Washington King sold matches and bootlaces from a small pitch in Terminus Road. He always had a tray of sweets to hand out to children. Said to be an educated man, local well-to-do’s would often stop to talk with him. He devoted his life and most of his money to helping others, particularly those in the east end. He would assist widowed families, and provide parties for children and organise trips while working tirelessly to raise money for charities. All knew him as Daddy King.
He died in 1938 aged 93. Many thousands gathered outside Holy Trinity church for his funeral, and a long procession of mourners followed the hearse to Ocklynge cemetery.
Born in London in 1835, Thomas Stafford Gowland came to Eastbourne in 1862 to help his widowed sister run the Library at Marine Parade. Within a year he was running the whole business, expanding rapidly into the sale of stationery, fancy goods, piano hire, and even a photographic studio. His business energy and acumen led him into the world of auctioneering, advertising, and publishing. His Gowland local directory was first published in 1871 and continued for the next fifty years.
He became chairman of the Marine Laundry, owned some bathing machines on the seafront that were built in his own boatyard at Winchelsea Road, and was for a time the proprietor of the Eastbourne Gazette. Thomas also took responsibility for organising the provision of entertainments at the New Hall, built in 1879 in Seaside Road. (Later to become the Tivoli cinema). He commissioned opera and drama performances to compete with the offer available at the more expensive Devonshire Park Pavilion, but had limited success. He was the first to bring a paddle steamer to the town, the ‘Rapid’, to give leisure trips from the Pier.
He contributed to local civic life through being Secretary to the Eastbourne Flower Show as well as the Eastbourne Regatta. A keen advocate of sea swimming, he took a dip almost every day irrespective of the temperature. He died in 1923, aged 88.
Caffyns is known to many in Sussex and Kent as one of the South East’s longest established motor dealers with branches throughout the region, but the business has its roots in Eastbourne. William Morris Caffyn, who was born in 1842, opened a store in 1865, gaining a licence as a lamp and oil merchant and as a gas engineer. His sons, Percy and Harry, eventually took over the business and soon recognised the potential of the motor car. The first Caffyns showroom was in Seaside Road. By 1906 this had been replaced by a fine new building, on the junction of Marine Parade and Seaside Road.
As the company’s history states, the building astonished many of the Caffyn brothers’ contemporaries. It was a garage which could provide sales, service and coachbuilding facilities and have room for 100 cars. It featured the first electric vehicle lift in the country.
The first Caffyns catalogue appeared that same year, addressing the needs of the nobility, gentry and all interested in motoring. The service included the supply of horns, lamps and goggles, the overhaul of steam and electric cars as well as petrol driven. Driving lessons were also available
As the motor car grew in popularity, so did Caffyn’s premises with the Marine Parade building doubling in size in 1913 when an adjacent site was obtained for an extension.
With the outbreak of the First World War Caffyns entered into the manufacture of wartime supplies, particularly aircraft parts. During the war seventy five SE5A Scout planes were made at Marine Parade. Women workers made an important contribution. The Marine Parade premises were the location for expert coachbuilding in the 20s and 30s, with projects including a luxuriously equipped ambulance, miniature carriages for a seaside railway, traders’ vans of all sorts, and superb work on Rolls Royce modifications.
When the Second World War broke out, Sydney Caffyn, in charge of the company’s “Home Front” operations, secured Government contracts for the production at Marine Parade of tools for ordnance factories.
Eastbourne was subjected to severe enemy bombing raids throughout the war and on June 6th, 1943 the Marine Parade building caught fire after a direct hit and what remained of the fine three-story building had to be demolished. However, the company went from strength to strength, expanding across the South East to become a company of regional significance.
REVEREND HERBERT ALSTON
For 28 years he was Rector of Little Bradley, Suffolk and on his retirement in 1897 moved to Eastbourne and lived at 8 Cambridge Road, off Seaside. He had been educated at Charterhouse and St John’s College, Cambridge, and had clearly inherited significant wealth. He was a generous benefactor of causes including Queen Alexandra Cottage Homes. Before coming to Eastbourne he helped fund Church Army facilities in and near London. He was a parishioner of Christ Church, Seaside and paid for a new pulpit as well as funding the building of the Mission Hall in Firle Road in 1887 (now the site of the Seaside Medical Centre). He passed away at his home in April 1918 at the age of 79. He had been failing in health for some time and missed the companionship of his sister, Miss Alston, who died a year before, and who was also an active supporter of the Cottage Homes.
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