James Burton’s St. Leonards — The Two Towns

The Subscription Gardens, Clock Tower and Maze Hill

It has already been seen that the early enthusiasm shown towards its younger neighbour by Hastings was soon tinged with jealousy for its sudden success. Many of the townspeople then living could recall their own hard and slow climb to prosperity.

A letter in the Hastings and Cinque Ports Iris, November 27, 1830, is significant:

“Remember, Sir that St. Leonards is stealing a march upon you of the Old Town, and unless you bring up your ranks you will be left in the lurch.”

It was perhaps in an attempt to nip this feeling in the bud that James Burton rose at the opening dinner of the Harold Hotel to propose the toast, “Prosperity to the Town and Corporation of Hastings”. He said he was convinced that the prosperity of both towns must be greatly increased by the success of the new and that he was most anxious that the inhabitants of both should act together in unison to the advantage of their true interests.

The trouble was basically an economic one. St. Leonards had from the outset few shops, so that the bulk of day to day purchases had to be made in Hastings. There was thus a steady movement of capital from west to east and little in return. Nevertheless the Hastings shopkeepers were antagonistic and the fishermen feared the wall and groynes at St. Leonards might affect their own beach.

As an example of the petty jealousy then reigning, Brett quotes the reply of a Hastings woman when asked to send some fruit to an address in the Marina.

“That’s the new town, mum, I suppose. Well then I shan’t do nothin’ of the sort; nuther shall my mother, nuther shall my father; we’ve heer’d anuf about that place, and suffered anuf too!”

He also quotes a joke then current in the Old Town that their western neighbours had but one £5 note between them, and that it was passed from one to another to “show off” with while feigning to make some small purchase. However despite all this some shop­keepers moved to St. Leonards or opened branches there and reaped the reward of their enterprise.

In December, 1835, under the Municipal Reform Act, the whole borough was divided into an East and a West Ward for municipal representation, the former being allotted twelve and the latter six seats. The voting for the fust election of Councillors in the West Ward (comprising the parishes of St. Andrew, Holy Trinity, St. Michael, St. Mary Magdalen, St. Leonards and St. Mary Bulver­hythe) was as follows:

James Burton, Allegria, St. Leonards, Gentleman .. 54

Walter Inskipp, Cliff Place, Warrior’s Gate, Surveyor .. 43

William Eldridge, nr. Saxon Hotel, Warrior’s Gate, Coach proprietor .. 35

Charles Deudney, Marina, St. Leonards, Coal Merchant.. 34

James Harman, Primus Place, Warrior’s Gate, Tailor .. 33

Stephen Putland, St. Mary’s Place, Warrior’s Gate, Coal Merchant .. 28

The last named was appointed to serve on the new Watch Com­mittee, whose first task was the organisation of a police force. For this the whole borough was divided into three divisions, one of which stretched from the Priory Bridge to include St. Leonards, under one Inspector of Police.

At the first meeting Burton — as elected an Alderman and the vacancy so caused was filled by Edward Farncomb of Filsham Farm, yeoman. The following year saw James Burton made a Justice of the Peace, and on August 30th, 1836, he took the chair at a Council meeting for the first and last time. His son, Alfred however later became the first Mayor of Hastings to come from St. Leonards.

This administrative link between the two towns worked smoothly and St. Leonards had its share in celebrating any great event. When Queen Victoria was proclaimed on June 24, 1837, this was done at the St. Leonards Assembly Rooms and the South Saxon Hotel as well as the traditional places in Hastings. On this occasion by special decree the maces accompanied Robert Ranking, who had succeeded William Thorpe disqualified by his bankruptcy, although he had not yet been formally elected Mayor.

Early in 1851 a move was made by Charles Gilbert Eversfield, Patrick Francis Robertson and Decimus Burton, to secure a “West Hastings Improvement Bill” to embrace all the land lying between Hastings and the Archway, thus making in effect a third town. Local opposition on all sides ensured its failure.

At this period Hastings was trying to have the provisions of the Public Health Act applied to the whole Borough, but there was strong opposition from St. Leonards led by Alderman Alfred Burton. His view was that the town was managing its own sanitary affairs well and that there was no need for it to come under the broader jurisdiction of Hastings. Doubts were cast in the Council Chamber as to whether he really represented the view of his Ward, so a public meeting was held at the Saxon Hotel. This was mainly remarkable for the outspoken comments of William Chamberlin, manager of the Victoria Hotel, and Stephen Putland, but ended in a petition praying for exclusion. This, though not supported by Robert Hollond, M.P., was presented by him at the same time as one from Hastings seeking the full application of the Act. However, following a deputation led by Alfred Burton, the name of St. Leonards was removed, and so also was that of Hastings. This led to some hard feelings on the part of the older town, but its name was later restored. Burton was present at the Council meeting on August 22nd, which formally adopted the powers vested in them under the Public Health Supplemental Act, 1851, No. 2, but took no part in the discussions.

In March, 1852, Allegria, the residence of Robert Hollond, was sold and so a direct link through their Member of Parliament was lost to St. Leonards.

In the same year Burton strongly objected to St. Leonards having to pay any part of the cost of surveying the borough, as he felt its primary aim was to assist the drainage of Hastings.

In view of the stated policy of independence at this period, it seems strange that an attempt should have been made to obtain the benefits of the oldest Hastings Charity. This was the Magdalen Charity, which for 250 years had been administered on behalf of the two oldest parishes, St. Clement’s and All Saints.

In 1851 a petition was presented to the Court of Chancery by the incumbent of St. Leonards, the Rev. G. D. St. Quintin, and Decimus Burton praying for a new scheme of distribution to include St. Leonards. This petition failed but costs were awarded against the charity funds, whereby (as the books of All Saints’ showed)

“the Poor of the respective Parishes were deprived for the year 1852 of the benefit of the said Charity to which they were legally entitled” .

But a little later there was much more serious friction over the matter of postal services. Hastings was the head office and all mail had to pass through it before being sent to St. Leonards. In 1854 and again in 1857 and 1860 repeated efforts were made to obtain one main post office for the two towns, and all these were strenuously and successfully resisted by St. Leonards. In 1869, a new main post office was built in what is now Queen’s Road to serve both towns. A new postal area “St. Leonards” was created and this served not only Burton’s town but also the whole of the surrounding land as far as Silverhill. This has led to much popular confusion, since a dweller in, say, Pevensey Road, may claim to live in St. Leonards (which is postally-speaking correct), but that road is entirely outside the original boundaries of the town founded by James Burton. Even today-though it was more prevalent before 1940—some people feel that “St. Leonards” as an address has a cachet that “Hastings” somehow lacks.

The two towns are now one, not as “Hastings and St. Leonards”, but since 1888 as the “County Borough of Hastings”.

Note: These stories are based on Burton’s St. Leonards, by J. Manwaring Baines F.S.A., published by Hastings Museum in 1956.

Click here to read the first chapter — St. Leonards-on-Sea; The Beginning and James Burton.

Click here to read the second chapter: James Burton’s St. Leonards — The Early Years.

Click here to read the third chapter — St. Leonards-on-Sea; The Improvement Acts.

Click here to read the fourth chapter — James Burton’s St. Leonards — The Royal Visitors.

Click here to read the sixth chapter — James Burton’s St. Leonards — Description of the Town.

Click here to read the seventh chapter — Children of James and Elizabeth Burton.

Click here to view my video of James Burton’s St. Leonards

About Jack Vanderwyk

Hey! What am I like! :-)
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