Eastbourne is a medium-sized town in East Sussex, on the south coast of England, with a population, according to the 2001 Census, of around 90,000. Created almost from scratch during the 19th Century, it soon became a prime seaside resort, but has since suffered from the general trend away from taking holidays within the UK.
Geographically, Eastbourne is situated at the very end of the South Downs, and boasts the famous Beachy Head cliff, as well as extensive beaches. Trains leave from London Victoria to Eastbourne with a journey time of around 1hr 30mins. Local rail services also serve Brighton to the west and Hastings and Ashford, Kent to the east.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
The town promotes itself as "The Sunshine Coast", and often claims the highest recorded hours of sunlight, producing a rivalry with the larger coastal resorts of Bournemouth and Weymouth. To many people, however, Eastbourne is more readily associated with the elderly, as it has historically been a popular retirement destination, and it is often referred to in age-related jokes. The 2001 census showed that it still has a larger than average over-60 population, although recent major housing developments have been aimed mainly at young families, and the provision of adequate schooling has become a key local issue.
The seafront at Eastbourne is distinctive in having no garish shop fronts opening onto it, the road being almost entirely populated by Victorian hotels. This is because much of Eastbourne has traditionally belonged to the Duke of Devonshire, who retains the rights to these buildings and does not allow them to be developed into shops. Along with its pier and bandstand, this serves to preserve the front in a somewhat timeless manner. Eastbourne has several remaining Martello Towers and a fort from the same era.
One feature that has always been heavily promoted is Eastbourne's floral displays, most notably the "Carpet Gardens" along the coastal road near the pier. These displays, and the town as a whole, frequently win awards — such as the 'Large Coastal Resort' category in the 2003 Britain in Bloom competition.
Clock tower on Eastbourne railway station
The area around Eastbourne is known to have been settled throughout history - artefacts dating to the Stone Age have been found in the surrounding countryside, and there are both Roman and Anglo-Saxon sites within the modern boundaries of the town; some even speculate that it was a major Roman settlement. However, it remained an area of small rural settlements until the 19th Century, with 4 villages or hamlets occupying the site of the modern town: Bourne (or, to distinguish it from others of the same name, East Bourne), surrounded the "bourne" (stream) which rises in what is now Motcombe Park, and is now known as Old Town; Meads, where the Downs meet the coast; South Bourne; and the fishing settlement known simply as Sea Houses.
By the mid-19th Century most of the area had fallen into the hands of two landowners: John Davies Gilbert (the Davies-Gilbert family still own much of the land in Eastbourne and East Dean) and William Cavendish, Earl of Burlington. Encouraged by the growing appreciation of the seaside sparked by Richard Russell's assertion of its medicinal benefits some decades earlier, these were to oversee the creation of "the empress of watering places". An early plan, for a town named "Burlington", was abandoned, but in 1849 the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway arrived, and the town's growth accelerated. Cavendish, now the 7th Duke of Devonshire hired Henry Currey in 1859 to lay out a plan for what was essentially an entire new town — a resort built "for gentlemen by gentlemen". The town grew rapidly — from a population of less than 4000 in 1851 to over 22000 by 1881 — and in 1883 was incorporated as a "municipal borough"; a purpose-built town hall was opened in 1886.
This period of growth and elegant development continued for several decades, but World War II saw a change in fortunes: initially, children were evacuated to Eastbourne on the assumption that they would be safe from German bombs, but soon they had to be evacuated again. Pilots wishing to off-load unused munitions before crossing the channel found such coastal towns useful targets, and many original Victorian buildings were damaged or destroyed.
After the war, development continued, including the growth of Old Town up the hillside and the housing estates of Hampden Park (above the park itself, named after Viscount Hampden, whose grandson sold the land to the council), Willingdon Trees and Langney. Throughout the 20th Century, there were controversies over the loss of historic landmarks or natural features, and over particular buildings, such as the glass-plated TGWU headquarters on the sea-front, and the 22-storey "South Cliff Tower". In 1981, a large section of the town centre was replaced by the indoor shops of the Arndale Centre.
In the 1990s, however, both growth and controversy accelerated rapidly as a new plan was launched to develop the area known as the "Crumbles", a shingle bank on the coast to the east of the town centre. This area, now known as the "Sovereign Harbour" and containing a marina, shops, and several thousand houses, was formerly home to many rare plants. Together with continued growth in other parts of the town, and the taming of the central marshland known as the "levels" into farmland and nature reserves, this has turned Eastbourne into the centre of a conurbation, with the appearance from above of a hollow ring.
Eastbourne seafront bandstand
Eastbourne is home to the Women's tennis tournament which is traditionally seen as the warm-up to Wimbledon, and attracts many of the same players. Confusingly, this is currently sponsored by a local insurance company based in Bexhill-on-sea, but it is called the "Hastings Direct International Championships".
A major event in the tourist calendar of Eastbourne is the annually held 4 Day, International Air Show, 'Airbourne'. Started in 1994, based around a long relationship with the Red Arrows display team, the event features Battle of Britain memorial flights, and aircraft from the RAF, USAF and many others.
Politically, Eastbourne is a local government district.
It was made a municipal borough in 1883, and gained county borough status in 1911. Since 1974 and the Local Government Act 1972 it has formed a district of East Sussex.
It is closely fought between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, and has frequently changed hands. Before the Council Elections in June 2004 it had a Liberal Democrat Council and a Conservative Member of Parliament, but the gain of a single council seat then enabled the Conservatives to take control which they capitalised on and gained another in 2006 to widen the majority to two. There is no Labour Party representation, and Labour candidates are usually considered to have little chance in elections, even finishing fourth behind the third placed Greens in all but one ward in 2006.
The current member of parliament is the Conservative's Nigel Waterson.
The Mayor of Eastbourne is one Councillor Graham Marsden, who will be so until the 17th May 2006. He was once a Deputy Head Teacher at a local Secondary school.
The author George Orwell spent the years from 1911 to 1916 at boarding school in Eastbourne and is believed to have taken inspiration for the farm in Animal Farm from 'Chalk Farm' in Willingdon, a village that forms part of the conurbation that makes up Eastbourne. Lewis Carroll also had strong connections with the town. The bands Toploader, Easyworld and more recently Rooster come from Eastbourne. Up and Coming Singer/Songwriter David Ford also comes from Eastbourne Sam David Jolley a multi-billionaire oil tycoon was born in Eastbourne on the 12th of April 1956.
Frederick Soddy, The English radiochemist was born in Eastbourne. He also went to school at Eastbourne College, and later won the Nobel prize in chemistry for his research in radioactive decay and particularly for his formulation of the theory of isotopes.
Eastbourne Buses, founded in 1903 is one of the oldest motorbus companies in the world.
Apparently in 2005, Beachy Head over took the Golden Gate bridge as the number 1 suicide (by jumping) spot in the world.
Eastbourne was recently found to be the 52nd most dangerous place to live in England and Wales in the study "Urban Crime Rankings" (2006). However, as there were only 55 towns in the study, Eastbourne is also the 4th safest place to live.
Southern Railway is the principal train company serving Eastbourne. It is linked by train to the west with Brighton, and to the east with Bexhill, Hastings and Ashford International (for Eurostar services to France and Belgium). There is direct line to London with trains running twice-hourly, journey time around 1 hour 25 minutes.
Fare and timetable information is available from, or National Rail Enquiries- tel. 08457 484950 (local rate call, UK only number)
Services within Eastbourne borough are mainly operated by Eastbourne Buses Ltd, which is the successor company to the world's first municipal bus operator. Eastbourne Buses also operate some services to outlying areas such as Pevensey Bay, Polegate and Hailsham which are included in the local fare zone system.
Other bus operators in the town include Cavendish Travel, which provides a limited local service adorned in the historic green and cream livery of the fondly-remembered Southdown bus company which used to provide the inter-town bus services in Eastbourne. Longer distance services are now operated under the Stagecoach banner and serve the East Sussex area plus other towns such as Tunbridge Wells.
Brighton is served by a joint operation between Stagecoach and Brighton and Hove Buses. Brighton and Hove offer an excellent value all-day ticket for just GBP2.80, which includes the return journey between the two towns and unlimited travel in Brighton and Hove.
Eastbourne's art deco bus station closed some years ago, but almost all services now stop in a buses-only area of the main shopping precinct at Terminus Road, near the railway station. The bus company has now closed it's former "bus shops" in the town centre, but information and timetables are posted at all stops in the central area.
"Black cabs" are rarely seen on Eastbourne's streets, but taxis licensed by the local authority are readily available at all times from ranks either side of the railway station.
From the country park, take a 4 hours walk on top of the cliffs back to Eastbourne. Don't forget to take a picnic, though Birling Gap is a pleasant beauty spot on this part of the coast, which looks particularly nice in Spring and has an excellent pub, restaurant and hotel.
While it does not perhaps offer the same range as other more fashionable shopping areas like Brighton or Tunbridge Wells, Eastbourne has a good mix of the familiar "high street" names and unusual retailers. The Arndale Centre is the main shopping mall, located in Terminus Road which itself has a wide selection of shops. Everything from books to bakeware, candles to coffee can be bought in the mall which has a light and airy feel thanks to it's atrium layout allowing in plenty of natural light. This is a popular area at all times, but particularly with children at school holidays when activities and an enchanting tableau are usually laid on in the central area between Boots and BhS.
For those with more eclectic tastes, "Little Chelsea" is a good area to visit. While it's hard to ignore the several funeral directors in South Street and Grove Road, reflecting the higher than average proportion of aged residents of the town, there are many shops for those who want to live life to the full, whatever their age. Particularly recommended is Camilla's second-hand bookshop with books on just about every subject imaginable, a Belgian chocolate emporium and a Bang and Olufsen hi-fi and TV specialist dealer.
The 2km long road known as "Seaside" (somewhat confusingly, just inland from the seafront) is like a mini-town in itself, with branches of most of the main banks, post offices, convenience stores, antique and curio shopping, furnishers, kitchen and carpet suppliers. This is the main A259 road, and leads northwards to the Admiral retail park, which houses a large Tesco superstore plus several other familiar edge of town names for DIY and electrical needs. These are also well served at the Crumbles shopping centre which adjoins the man-made Sovereign Harbour development.
As would be expected of a seaside resort, Eastbourne offers food to suit all tastes, budgets and time demands. There are plenty of fast food outlets including McDonalds and Wimpy in Terminus Road or Burger King on the pier. However, for those wanting something a little more traditional, the best fish and chip restaurants include Seaquel, at the junction of Terminus Road and Seaside Road, or the Dolphin fish bar on Seaside. Fresh seafood and shellfish can be obtained from Perrywinkles just east of the pier or if you are in self-catering accommodation, why not buy and cook local catches as fresh as can be from the wet fish shops alongside the fisherman's boat stores on the seafront walking east towards Princes Park. Many different cuisines are also on offer in Terminus Road, the main street for restaurants. If you like a sea view along with good food and drink, try the Cafe Belge at the seaward end of Terminus Road, which offers around 80 Belgian beers along with a menu reflecting the culinary traditions of Belgium. Development on the seafront itself is limited, but the hotel restaurants are always worth a try, as are the cafes and kiosks on the lower promenade, including some recently opened in former seafront shelters. Eastbourne seems to be trying to follow the lead of Brighton in making more of its beachfront for food and entertainment and several cafes and restaurants now open into the late evening on the shoreline.
Eastbourne has plenty of pubs ranging from the traditional to the trendy. Particularly recommended for those who love- or want to try- the best local "real ale" are The Marine on Seaside, which also offers an excellent restaurant and bar menu- all day on Sundays. The Marine is always a friendly and comfortable place, but is at its best around Christmas time, when an extraordinary array of festive lights turns it into a fairyland to enchant young and old alike. Also recommended are The Terminus, a recently-refurbished Harveys of Lewes pub in the town centre, and The Lamb, the oldest pub in Eastbourne in the Old Town area. Most nightclubs are situated in Langney, Pevensey and Terminus Roads though the pier with the Atlantis nightspot is something of a honeypot for language students and other smart young things.
If you're looking for something refreshing but not intoxicating, there are plenty of stops for a cuppa and the usual coffee chains. The Pavilion Tea Rooms, east of the pier, are recommended for afternoon tea when a piano player often adds to the polite, typically English ambience of the place.
Most of the town's 4 and 5 star hotels are, unsurprisingly, located on the seafront and generally to the more rural-looking and higher Western end of the seafront. These include The Hydro, once featured in a TV Agatha Christie adaptation, and The Grand Hotel - which is a classical five star hotel, yet run in a friendly atmosphere.
For those on more modest budgets, there are plenty of family-run, welcoming small hotels or "bed and breakfast" establishments, plus self-catering flatlets and campsites on the edge of town. The town's Youth Hostel is located in a very picturesque spot on top of the Downs going out of town westwards, near one of the golf links.
Information on accommodation, eating and drinking and events is available from the excellent Tourist Information Centre on Cornfield Road in the centre of town, open 7 days a week in peak season normally til at least 5.00 p.m.
Eastbourne Borough Council official website
2001 Census profile for Eastbourne
Hastings Direct tennis championship official website
East Magazine Eastbourne events, listings and youth culture
Eastbourne Beer Eastbourne discussion forums for youths
Eastbourne Dynamos Football Club official website
Mellon's Books Secondhand and new books in Eastbourne
Enterprise Centre 56 shops all owned independently
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