Seaford in old picture postcards

Seaford in old picture postcards

:   Patricia Berry
:   Sussex, East
:   United Kingdom
:   978-90-288-2949-7
:   80
:   EUR 16.95 Incl BTW *

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Fragmenten uit het boek 'Seaford in old picture postcards'

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People have lived in Seaford for at least two thousand years. Evidence of early settlers can- still be seen in the U-shaped earth ramp art on the slope of Seaford Head, its open end at the eroded cliff edge. When our ancestors ran there for proteetion from intruders or wild animals, the Head extended much further out to sea. Old maps refer to the site as the 'Roman Camp', and probably those invaders kept it as a look-out, with a wooden palisade on top. They knew Seaford as a harbour, and so it remained till the sixteenth century, for the River Ouse which today reaches the sea at Newhaven, then had a course which turned east at Denton and ran parallel with the shore, behind a great shingle bank, all the way to the foot of Seaford Head. Here it forced an exit through the shingle to the sea, and a lagoon-like harbour was formed on the low-lying land between the sea-front and the old town.

Today's Steyne Road, from West House eastward, would have been a busy water-front then, with boats tied up, and indeed its old name was 'Le Quayside', It is said that, in front of the old inn now called The Wellington, was the last fresh-water well men saw before setting sail, and ships' kegs and bottles were filled there. After 1066, the harbour became important for the Norman invaders, who fostered

commerce in exports of local wool and imports of wine. Fine merchants' houses were built, and a large church, sorne parts of which exist to this day.

For nearly 300 years Seaford was a thriving town, associated with the Cinque Ports systern of South Coast towns which received civic privileges in return for a contribution of men and ships to a fleet for coastal protection, especially against pirates and cross-Channel raiders. The town was also entitled to send two representatives to Parliament. Raiders continued their burning, pillaging and kidnapping, and scorch marks still to be seen are probable evidence that they set fire to the Parish Church. The 'Black Death' reached here ab out 1348, and serious floodings from the sea destroyed important buildings. Within thirty years the survivors of this once-affluent community w.ere petitioning the King to be excused from paying taxes. Not long after, they found they could not afford to send their representatives to Parliament, and the privileges ceased.

The town did not reeover its former prosperity, and then another blow fell: the protective bank of shingle, increasingly built up towards the Head by winds and currents, silted up the entrance to the harbour. Ships could no longer enter in safety, and the river could not debouch, so it found easier exits

to the sea through weak spots in the shingle, further and further to the west. In a document of 1592 there is mention of 'the decay'd haven of Seaford', with only seven fishermen and one boat. The remnants of the population took to smuggling and wrecking to supplement their meagre resources. Ships entering the Bay were often at the mercy of currents and veering winds after their struggle past the cliffs; fires lit on the beach, navigation lamps re-positioned deliberately on a dirty night further confused paar sailors into running their vessels aground, The waiting Seaforders plundered the cargoes - and aften robbed the bodies of the drowned crewmen.

Seaford was not greatly involved in the Civil War, but when it ended in 1660 and there was a general revival of interest in polities, the town's right was restored to return two members to Parliament, though this was out of all proportion to the now tiny population. Influential 10ca1 land-owners promoted their own candidates by bringing in new 'residents' who stayed only long enough to qualify as electors, There were riots, court cases, and defamatory statements in the local newspapers, as rival politicians sought support. Several fameus statesmen represented Seaford during this period, remembered today in some of our streetnames.

Separate representation was lost under the Reform Bill of 1832, and Corporation status under the Cinque Ports system ceased in 1883. By then the railway had been extended to Seaford and plans were afoot to develop the town as a seaside resort. Many schemes were started but few satisfactorily cornpleted, sa we are left with isolated terra ces of erstwhile boarding-houses and (until quite recently) empty roads leading off the seafront, where more such terraces should have sprung up. The town remained comparatively quiet, relying on its famous sea air and cliff-top walks to attract a more 'select' type afvisitar.

That same peaceful, healthy atmosphere at the beginning of this century caused a number of boarding schools to move here. By the 1930's, the town was 'ringed by an alm ast continuous green belt' of the playing-fields of some twenty schools. Today, many of those fields have become sites for housing development Iron Age man, Roman and Norman settlers, Cinque Ports dignitaries, wreckers, electionmongers, resort-developers are all long gone, but in the following pages I hope to show how they and many others left their marks on our town.

1. The view along the sea-front to Seaford Head has always been a favourite with visitors; the Iron Age earth rampart forming a 'U' to the eliff edge ean be clearly seen here. The taller building with flagpole is the Esplanade Hotel (see next page) now demolished. lndeed, today the only survivors of all these old buildings are these on either side of the hotel site. Compare the profile of the Head today, and see how much the cliff has been eroded by the action of the sea.

2. The mam part of the Esplanade Hotel was built in 1891 on the site of the old Bath House (see next page) and a few years later the adjoining Assemb1y Rooms were replaced by the tower wing. King Edward VII visited the hotel in 1905. As weil as seasona1 holiday-makers, many others enjoyed its hospitality, inc1uding parents visiting their children who were pupils at boarding-schools in the area, and loca1 organisations holding annua1 dinners there. It was closed up in the early 1970's and stood empty till gutted by fire. Now a vacant site, there are plans for redeve1opment.

3. The sea-front looking east, before the sea-wall was built, a shingle bank the only barrier between the sea and the town. The bank was often breached by gales and high tides, and one of the worst floodings of the town occurred in 1875. In the middle of the picture are the Assembly Rooms (with Bath House behind) already mentioned; probably these buildings - and the great flood - were the inspiration for 'The House on the Beach' by George Meredith, a frequent visitor to Seaford at that time. In the distance on the left, MiIlberg House (see pages 27 and 59) and on the right, the Martello Tower (see pages 17-20).

4. The de Aquila family found favour under Norman rule after 1066, and were granted land in Seaford. Their emblem of an eagle was incorporated in the obverse of the thirteenth century borough seal - an eagle rising regardant, witb expanded wings, It also appears on the coat of arms of the former Seaford Urban District Council. The words 'BURGENSIUM DE SAFFORDIA SIGILLUM' refer to the tewn's Corporation status under the Cinque Ports system, as mentioned in my preface. A bailiff', jurats and freemen were elected, and representatives sent to meetings (Brotherhoods) of the Ports.

5. Towns that were Cinque Ports members claimed special privileges such as holding their own court hearings and punishing 'foreigners as weU as natives', appropriating lost goods and wandering cattie if not claimed in a year and a day, and acquiring goods found in the sea (which local wreekers used as a justification for their foul deeds). The ship on the reverse of the borough seal is similar to one in the Cinque Ports badge, and to that in the Urban District Council's coat of arms.

6. The Old Town Hall in South Street was the setting for many local and Parliamentary elections. It is said that a gentleman once rode up to the porch and was able to record his vote without the inconvenience of dismounting, by the clerk standing on the steps with the document held out to him, Local newspapers reported riotous assem blies outside the Town Hall during elections in the 'pocket borough' days of the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries.

7. The Old Town Hall was the scene of many Corporation activities, including trials for all crimes without recourse to higher courts, and prisoners are recorded as having been senteneed to transportation, and even death, from this tiny building. When repairs were being carried out in 1922, this sixteenth century stone arch was uncovered belowground-level, It can be seen today, framing the wrought-ironwork Coronation gate to the Crouch Gardens, East Street. The Town Hall is at present the meeting-place for the local division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade.

8. Though the sea-wall and roadway, begun in 1881, are well-established here, the low-lying old river bed area is still apparent. So is the ancient 'island' on the right, with Seaford College (formerly 'Millberg House'). In the centre, sloping chalk banks support the Causeway from sea-front to The Steyne, with the white end-wall of West House behind. On the skyline above it, are three houses known as Claremont Rise (near Edinburgh Road and long since demolished). To the left of Seaford College are the houses described by developers as 'bungalows' and, above the right-hand one, old Seaford House. The Martello Tower (extreme Ieft) is as yet litt1e changed from the original.

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