Alexandra Park, St Leonards-on-Sea

Alexandra Park, St Leonards-on-Sea. Click to enlarge.

Alexandra Park is a public park located in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex in England. It was originally planned out by Robert Marnock and occupies approximately 109 acres (0.44 km2) of Hastings and St Leonards. Its linear area stretches from the town centres out to residential areas. It was formally opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales on 26 June 1882.

Entrance Upper Park Road, near Bohemia Road

In April 2004, the park was officially reopened by Charlie Dimmock and the Mayor of Hastings and St Leonards after a large regeneration scheme costing £3.46m. Initial surveys suggest that park visitor numbers have dramatically increased since the completion of the scheme.

Near Shornden

Alexandra Park lies with steep-sided, largely wooded valleys at its northern extreme.  Evidence has been found that suggests an early medieval settlement in the area of Shornden, including fragments of pottery and the existence of structures that may have been charcoal kilns.
By the end of the 18th century, Hastings was developing quickly as a notable south coast resort.  The guidebook of 1797 highlights Old Roar Gill as a particular point of interest:
“The situation was beautifully romantic; for after long heavy rains a large body of water tumbles over with a tremendous roar that is heard a mile off”.

In 1849 the Eversfield Waterworks Company was formed to supply water to the town’s growing population.  They leased land from the Eversfield Estate and by 1852 the Shornden and Harmers Reservoirs had been built.
Construction of the Buckshole reservoir had also started.  At the other end of the park construction of the Hastings to Ashford railway line had got underway and a huge embankment formed the southern boundary to the park.

Shornden Reservoir

The Shornden Conservation Area, including the woodland behind the reservoir, is one of three areas in Alexandra Park that are being improved for the benefit of the wildlife. As well as nesting boxes and general improvements to this area, rangers and volunteers have removed the Terrapins from the reservoir. Terrapins are non-native species that prey on young and baby birds.

Shornden Meadow

A lot of works is done by volunteers. In Shornden Meadow they have installed nexing boxes, removed willow trees to encourage ground vegetation, etc.

Shornden Meadow

 The volunteers also have created muddy areas in the stream for the ducks to feed in, installed planting shelves at the pond edge and planted it up for the wildlife. They do so much more. The Volunteers Group need more volunteers. Contact Nick Hennesy on rangers@hastings.gov.uk if you would like to get involved.

Grey squirrel

 This squirrel is used to people. He (or she) let us approach him (or her) and only disappeared when a dog arrived on the scene.

In 1877 the Council commissioned Robert Marnock (one of the 19th century’s outstanding horticulturalists and garden designers) to: “provide the bulk of the trees and shrubs which are likely to be required for the public park”.  A limit of £250 was set.

Alexandra Park was officially opened on June 26 1882 by the Prince and Princess of Wales (Princess Alexandra).  A great procession took place from the railway station and once at the park the royal guests were introduced to Robert Marnock.  Two memorial trees (believed to be limes) were planted and an album of photographs was presented to Princess Alexandra by Robert Marnock.
The event attracted great interest in the media of the day, including the London Illustrated News.  The Hastings and St Leonards Observer gave a colourful account of the Park and concluded that Alexandra Park “will make one of the most picturesque and characteristic features of Hastings”.

The park features several small water reservoirs that provide popular locations for leisure fishing within the town. The lower area of the park has several public facilities including a boating lake, war memorial, bowls green, information point, toilets, café, events areas, bandstand and adventure playground.

Harmers Pond

This is one of only two still waters in Alexandra Park designated for coarse fishing (all fish are returned to the water unharmed and alive). This two acre pond can reach depths of between two to three meters and is teaming with carp, roach and rudd.

Harmers Pond

Harmers Pond was built in 1851 and was once used to supply clean water to St Leonards-on-Sea. The water and surrounding vegetation support a variety of wildlife and is home to dragonflies and bats.

The park hosts the annual Hastings Beer and Music Festival, which takes place in July. In addition, the open air bandstand is used for various band concerts throughout the summer months. Further up the park there is a Chalybeate Spring.

The park is well known for its diverse and abundant wildlife, especially at the Northern end, known as ‘Old Roar Gill’ which is now a Local Nature Reserve.
Kingfishers and Grey Wagtails breed throughout the park and can be seen any time of the year, especially at Bucks-hole Reservoir and Harmers Pond.
Due to the closeness of the coast, many rare and scarce migrant birds visit the park including Night Heron, Little Bittern, Honey Buzzard and Ferruginous Duck.

Rhododendron

Wild Orchids grow on the grassy banks around the park including Common Spotted Orchids, Green-Winged Orchids, Common Twayblade, and Autumn Ladies Tresses.  Within Old Roar Gill, Broad-Leaved Helleborines and early Purple Orchids grow on the woodland floor.
Daubentons Bats can be seen flying over Shornden Reservoir on Summer evenings, and Noctule and Pipistrelle Bats are also seen regularly.

Demoiselle (damselfly)

The park is also the only place in Hastings and St Leonards where the beautiful Demoiselle breeds.  This is a large metallic green and blue damselfly and can be seen along the stream in the Lower Park during Summer.  The park is best-known for the superb Toothwort population, which can number over 500 plants, in the Lower Park, and smaller numbers within Old Roar Gill.

Old Roar Gill & Coronation Wood, a Local Nature Reserve open to the public, is one of the most unexpected treasures of Hastings and St Leonards.  It is a deeply cut, narrow valley running along the upper reaches of the stream that rises on the sandstone ridge to the north of the town and eventually through Alexandra Park, then on to the sea.

Buckshole Reservoir

The word ‘Gill’ is well-known in the north of England as well as being in general use in Sussex for these small, steep-side valleys.  It was originally an Old Norse word and may have been introduced directly into Sussex by the Vikings, or brought in much later by people moving to the area from the north of England. One of the special insects of the gill that breeds in the wet, dead wood that is abundant in the gill is the cranefly Lipsothrix nervosa.  This is not only rare and declining in Britain, it is one of the country’s rather few endemic species that are found nowhere else in the world.

This gill woodland makes a wonderful habitat for a wide range of birds and those that nest here include spotted flycatcher, kingfisher, grey wagtail and lesser spotted woodpecker.

Peace Garden

Back to the south of the park we arrive in Coronation Woods and the Peace Garden, in Upper Lawn.

Peace Garden

Coronation Wood was planted in 1937 as part of a scheme to celebrate the coronation of King George VI and further trees, or replacements, have been added from time to time.  It is managed as amenity woodland with trees that will be allowed to develop to full maturity as the most important features.  Many of these are oaks grown from acorns gathered in Windsor Great Park.

Coronation Woods, Upper Lawn

The path through Coronation Wood is the most accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs.

The pond in Lower Lawn

The artwork in this pond in Lower Lawn is obviously done by the same artist as the one who did the art in Peace Garden.

War Memorial

The War Memorial by Margaret Winser, a pupil of Rodin. The memorial was unveiled in 1922, but saw many modifications over the years.

The Lower Lawn in Alexandra Park. In the background Vicarage Road and the Emmanuel Church.

About Jack Vanderwyk

Hey! What am I like! :-)
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One Response to Alexandra Park, St Leonards-on-Sea

  1. jimbreeds says:

    A very nice article. I’ve shared the link onto my Hastings and Area, Past and Present Facebook page. It has it’s own Alexandra Park album. (Most of the park is in Hastings, though; St’ Leonards is a suburb of Hastings these days. https://www.facebook.com/HAPP1066

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