by Pete d’Aguilar
Peter d’Aguilar visited the vibrant seaside town of Eastbourne, buzzing with cultural delights, retro cool, retail therapy and much more
The popular seaside resort town of Eastbourne lies at the eastern corner of the South Downs National Park. While it has its roots in the Stone Age and stands on the ruins of the Roman city of Anderida, the Eastbourne of today owes its evolution to William Cavendish, seventh Duke of Devonshire, who created it in the mid nineteenth century by combining four separate hamlets – Seahouses, the Meads, Bourne and Southbourne. Now with a population of over one hundred thousand, Eastbourne is the second fastest-growing seaside town in Britain and has a thriving local economy.
Sovereign Harbour, formerly an area known as the Crumbles, is Britain’s largest composite marina. Flanked by new luxury homes, shops and innovative small businesses, it has become a honeypot for tourism and conferences.
The Towner Art Gallery holds one of the most important collections of public art in southern England and attracts over 100,000 visitors each year. Housed for many years in Eastbourne Manor House within Gildredge Park, it relocated next to the Congress Theatre in 2009.
Eastbourne has four main theatres – Congress, Devonshire Park, Winter Garden and Royal Hippodrome – all of which are listed buildings. More alternative venues include the Underground Theatre and the Lamb Theatre. The town also has two cinemas – a multiplex and an independent.
Eastbourne is blessed with numerous green spaces and recreational areas. Amongst these are Gildredge Park, Manor Gardens, Hampden Park, Prince’s Park, Upperton Gardens, Helen Gardens, the Italian Gardens, Sovereign Park, Motcombe Gardens, the Carpet Gardens and the Western Lawns. The newest and largest is Shinewater Park, which opened in 2002 and has a fishing lake, basketball courts, a BMX and skateboard park, football pitches and a children’s playground.
Since 1974 Devonshire Park has been the venue for the famous Eastbourne International tennis tournament, which serves as a warm-up for Wimbledon. As well as tennis, Eastbourne offers a range of other sports including football, cricket, golf, hockey, rugby, lacrosse, triathlon and speedway.
Originally built in the nineteenth century, Eastbourne Pier is Grade II* Listed and now fully restored after a serious fire in 2014. The pier provides the setting for the annual four-day ‘Airbourne’ event – the world’s biggest seafront air show. A four-mile shingle beach, overlooked by picturesque Victorian hotels, runs from Sovereign Harbour in the east to Beachy Head in the west. The seafront also features the Napoleonic era Redoubt Fortress and military museum. Situated between the pier and the Wish Martello Tower, the 1930s bandstand is the busiest in Britain; with fireworks and proms every Wednesday – featuring everything from tribute acts to military bands.
Shopping in Eastbourne covers the spectrum – high street outlets in the Arndale Centre and quaint Victorian shopping streets in Little Chelsea, boutiques at the Enterprise Centre and designer shops around the harbour.
The 4,000 acre Eastbourne Downland Estate provides a spectacular backdrop to the town and includes the Seven Sisters Country Park and the legendary chalk cliffs of Beachy Head with its 1902 Belle Tout lighthouse. No wonder Eastbourne is known as ‘the Empress of Watering Places’.