Summerfields was a boys’ preparatory school in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex. It occupied the buildings previously known as Bohemia House.
Bohemia House was built about 1818, and occupied the site of the former Bohemia Farm, which has given its name to Bohemia Road, and the whole area known as Bohemia. The first owner was G. N. Collingwood, a son-in-law of Admiral Collingwood, and Princess Sophia of Gloucester stayed there during the summer of 1830. In 1903 the house was leased by Dr C. H. Williams, headmaster of Summer Fields School, Oxford, and the name was changed accordingly. The school was known as “Summers mi” and during World War II was relocated to Summer Fields in Oxford.
Former Summerfields alumni include Prince Ranier of Monaco.
The school closed in 1966 and the site was bought by Hastings Borough Council. The house was demolished in 1972. Part of the site was used for the new police station and fire brigade headquarters, and the name is now perpetuated by an hotel.
Summerfields Woods occupies a central position within the Borough, being close to the seafront and town centre. A semi-natural woodland, it is well used by local residents from the numerous access points around the wood. A stream runs through the majority of the wood with two ornamental ponds at the southern end.
Stretching from Holmesdale Gardens in the south to the cricket pitch at Horntye in the north, the woods represent an important habitat for badgers and migrating birds as well as a major woodland amenity in the middle of town. The majority of the woods are owned by Hastings Borough Council.
There is an extensive path network running through the site, some of which have been improved during the late 1980’s. Unfortunately there would appear to have been little upkeep of the paths and the majority have become neglected.
The main path into the site from Holmesdale Gardens in the south is the start of the Right of Way of Briscoe’s Walk. This forms part of the Hastings Greenway Project which has, attracted Single Regeneration Bid monies to upgrade this path as part of a more extensive walkway, and improve the access to the woods .
The main woodland itself is not subject to any overall management plan and appears in a general state of neglect. The southern part of the wood is dominated by mature and regenerating sycamore with an understorey of holly and occasional ash and elder, with a ground flora of bramble, enchanters nightshade and ivy. Where the woodland opens out, there are very dense thickets of bramble. Ferns, red campion, wood avens, cuckoo pint, dog-violet and hemp agrimony are noted on the woodland floor. Cherry laurel and rhododendron are both found in the lower part of the wood.
Two ponds form a predominant landscape feature of the lower part of the wood. It is thought the ponds, as well as other features within the woods, were constructed during the Victorian era. The ponds are in a very poor and neglected condition, under a dense canopy of overhanging trees, and possess poor marginal vegetation.
Both water features suffer from silting, rubbish dumping and general neglect. The upper pond has an island feature which is now dominated by bramble and supports semi-mature birch trees. There. is limited marginal vegetation although clumps of Himalayan balsam, hogweed, flag iris, pendulous sedge and various ferns are growing at the waters edge. The entire surface of the top pond is covered in lemmna species
Some selective management is evident in an area east of the Sports Centre where native trees have been encouraged through selective thinning. This area was probably the most severely damaged after the storms of 1987. The ground flora here is a carpet of bluebells and bramble has been consistently cut back..
The stream which feeds the ponds runs down the central part of the woods where the bank sides are steep and densely vegetated with ferns, regenerating ash, holly and sycamore, bramble and rhododendron. The canopy is a mix of beech, sycamore, birch and rowan. A further small pond is located further north, in the middle of the woods, which provides the source of the stream from local land drains converging into one area.
A Victorian grotto is situated in one of the banks which has a flourishing population of liverworts around the dripping water from the surrounding bank.
The northern part of the wood supports a greater diversity of tree species with holm oak, willows, ash, oak, sweet chestnut, birch and beech although the woodland floor is still dominated by a matrix of ivy, nettle and bramble clumps.
The development of the cricket pitch area to include an all weather hockey pitch has affected the very top part of the woods which are owned by the Trustees of the cricket club.
One of the most notable aspects of Summerfields Woods is they play host to one of the largest populations of badgers in the middle of town, with setts located throughout the woods and in adjacent areas
It is clear the woods represent a major wildlife and natural amenity asset in the town. They form an important habitat for migratory birds and nesting indigenous birds, as well as playing host to a large and thriving badger population. The fact there is de-facto access to the woods and there is an extensive, if somewhat neglected, path network encourages local residents to use the site as a walking area and through route to other areas of the town.
The woods represent an important habitat for migrant birds such as meadow pipit, redstart, whinchat, stonechat, wheatear and siskin as well as a breeding and feeding site for a host of more common birds such as greenfinch, chaffinch, jay, various tits and woodpeckers.
Whilst the existing path network is extensive throughout the woods it is difficult to stray from the paths due to the density of vegetation and the bramble/nettle clumps in particular.
There does not appear to be any formal management plan for the upkeep of the woods and their features. This is certainly an issue which requires urgent redress to bring the woods into a maintained, safe and cared for standard. As the woods have became the focus of much attention through the development of the hockey pitch, it will be essential to facilitate a management regime to encourage safe access for visitors and members of the local community, and to enhance the woods as a wildlife haven in the town.
In the middle of Summerfields Wood you will find this wall.
And behind the wall is a garden. It’s the home of the Bohemia Walled Garden Association. The Victorian walled garden was built after construction of Bohemia House. The Bohemia Walled Garden Association is restoring a neglected Victorian garden and to encourage residents in the Hastings / St.Leonards area to become actively involved in growing some of their own food. The group is currently creating a network of paths and a layout of plots, demonstration areas and areas for future social & cultural events. Anyone wishing to join this community project is welcome to visit. The walled garden is open to the general public every Sunday morning from 10 until 12. To become a member (free), simply complete the on-line application form using their website: www.bohemiawga.weebly.com . As well as supporting horticultural activities, the BWGA aims to raise awareness of local history and the need for other structures on the former Brisco Estate to be maintained. The Bohemia Walled Garden Association takes its name from the Bohemia Farmhouse that once welcomed visitors for bohemian-style cream teas; this was later transformed into the estate of Wastel Brisco and then into the Summerfields Estate, currently owned by the Hastings Borough Council.