by Elizabeth Nathaniels
Behind the tall, Victorian, pastel coloured terraces which line the seafront at St Leonards-on-Sea, there is a gem of a unique Regency new town. At the back of the Royal Victoria Hotel, the steeply rising ground is carved and moulded into charming gardens with villas and terraces scattered in and around the green. After a massive Heritage Lottery Fund sponsored makeover, they are now to be re-opened on June 21, 2008, by Roddy Llewellyn and descendants of the original architects during a day of festivities.
The creation of the Georgian London developer, James Burton (1761-1837), the gardens form the original core of the town, created on the wild shoreline about three miles from Hastings in 1828. The elder Burton’s work was later extended and continued by his son, the renowned architect, Decimus Burton (1800-1881). The town continued to grow around what is now known as Burtons’ St Leonards, finally joining up with Hastings, becoming part of the Borough of Hastings during the 1880’s. During the same period the Council purchased the previously private gardens, opening them to the public.
Now, after the clearance of trees and undergrowth which hid many of the original buildings and landscaping, St Leonards Gardens will become the focus of an exciting programme of community activities, including open air films and historical re-enactments. In addition, housed in the new home of the Burtons’ St Leonards Society in the South Lodge, (at the southerly entrance to the gardens), is a interpretive historical exhibition. The Society, which campaigned to save most of the historic town in the 1960s and 70s, now acts as a focus for community events and historical investigation, along with the newly formed Friends of St Leonards Gardens.
Many of the original Regency and Victorian villas of the town survive. Influenced by his work with John Nash in Regent’s Park, James Burton built tall neo-Classical terraces along the seafront while his Picturesque garden villas make an interesting contrast to this classical formality inland.
For further information on opening times and guided walks, please call the Burtons’ St Leonards Society at 01424 422090. The South Lodge is open to visitors on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at
“Hastings Town” June 2008 Issue
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