EastbourneEastbourne is the second biggest town in East Sussex with a population approaching 100,000 people. The town is best known as one of the grandest Victorian seaside resorts and tourism remains a focal point of much that goes on in Eastbourne today.
Although Eastbourne only became a place of real significance in the 19th century it would be a mistake to assume that nothing much happened there before then.
Roman remains were found in Eastbourne nearly three hundred years ago and later a Roman Villa was discovered near the site of the present day pier.
By the time of the Norman Conquest, however, Eastbourne was undeniably sleepy. Like most of the East Sussex costal towns, fishing was the main activity. But the wealth of Eastbourne lagged way behind its richer neighbours like Hastings and the other Cinque Ports, although Eastbourne did have a market.
Eastbourne's great leap forward started at the end of the 18th century.
In 1780 King George III sent some of his children to the town for a seaside holiday - as with the Sussex seaside resort of Worthing, royal patronage brought instant kudos.
It was a while, however, before the area took advantage of the growing fashion for seaside holidays. Eastbourne next became the first line of defence in the case of war with Napoleon.
The military threat of the French meant that Eastbourne was a prime location for defensive fortifications. As well as the fourteen Martello Towers constructed to the east of the town in Pevensey Bay, the Eastbourne Redoubt fort was built.
The fort was a supply barracks for the towers, although it had its own formidable cannonry too. Eastbourne Redoubt, after several undignified years of misuse, is now a very well-established military museum.
In 1849, the south coast around Eastbourne became connected to the railway network and this proved the catalyst for the development of the town to get moving.
The 7th Duke of Devonshire, whose family owed large estates around Eastbourne, decided to build a small planned town and work was started in 1860. By the end of the 19th century his plans had been largely realised.
And Eastbourne has never really looked back since then. The town sustained considerable damage from German bombs in the Second World War. A fair amount of attractive architecture was wiped out by unattractive new developments in the sixties and seventies. And the great British seaside holiday is no longer as compelling an attraction as it was eighty years ago, now that cheap air travel is here to stay.
But Eastbourne is still doing very well. It is still a popular venue for conferences and holidays. Many parts of the town are being invested in and the tiredness of much of the Sussex coast of twenty years ago is now being reinvigorated.
Eastbourne is the setting for world class women's tennis each year when the best players in the world visit Devonshire Park for the International Women's Open. Devonshire Park is one of the few grass court tennis tournaments on the professional circuit and is used by top players as ideal preparation for Wimbledon, which follows it in the tennis calendar.
The shingle beaches around Eastbourne are very good indeed. Blue Flag rated beaches stretch from Eastbourne's Sovereign Harbour all the way to Beachy Head.
The Eastbourne seafront itself is packed with attractions for tourists, from the grand old pier to mini-golf, the bandstand, the promenade with its lovely Carpet Gardens, the Dotto Train and much more.
Eastbourne has been laid out with plenty of parkland, including Gildredge Park and Manor Gardens, Hampden Park, Helen Gardens, Motcombe Gardens and the Italian Gardens near Holywell Beach.
Eastbourne also marks the end point (or the start) of the magnificent 100 mile South Downs Way. The South Downs Way is an ancient pathway which treks across the tops of the South Downs for 100 miles all the way to Winchester in Hampshire. From Eastbourne there is a choice of two routes for the first section of the way - either along the clifftops and coastline, or inland. Together these two sections make a long but varied loop for a good, but tiring, day's walk.
Just to the west of Eastbourne lies some of the most iconic chalk scenery in the world. The Seven Sisters cliffs roll along before the landscape descends into the valley of the River Cuckmere, with its famous looping meanders.
The Long Man of Wilmington, which is a 235 high carving into the chalk downs, is only 3 miles from the outskirts of Eastbourne.
Other nearby attractions are Drusillas Park at Alfriston, the Observatory Science centre at Herstmonceux.
There is an international airshow, called Airbourne, each year, although the airshow is currently under a financial cloud, with sponsorship money needed and visitor numbers down.
Nearby historic buildings include the Alfriston Clergy House, Battle Abbey and Bodiam Castle.
Sporting facilities for visitors include Eastbourne Downs Golf Club and Shinewater Park and the Sovereign centre, which contains excellent swimming and gym facilities.
© East Sussex.org 2008-10.
Sunday December 08