45g – Bexhill-on-Sea

Bexhill-on-Sea, not too big and not too small, lies quietly between the larger resorts of Hastings and Eastbourne, letting life go by and holding its own very well.

Whilst the surrounding towns became seaside resorts in the first half of the 19th Century, Bexhill did not follow suit until the 1880’s.  The De La Warr family had owned the area for many years, and it was the seventh Earl De La Warr, Reginald Sackville, who decided to develop the area.  He built a sea wall and promenades, erected the Sackville Hotel, and added the “on-Sea” to the town’s name.  The eighth Earl continued building Bexhill-on-Sea as a resort.  In 1901 the town became the first in the country to sanction mixed bathing.

However, Bexhill is known for a more famous first than that:  it was the site of the first ever motor race in Britain.  In May 1902, an estimated 30,000 people watched four days of racing, featuring 200 competitors.  The races took place along the sea front.  Here is a picture showing cars racing west, down from Galley Hill and approaching Bexhill centre:

Bexhill Motoring Heritage Information Board croppedDuring the racing, the Frenchman Leon Serpollet set a new British Land Speed Record of 54 miles per hour.  So successful were the 1902 races that the Earl De La Warr was determined to repeat the event.  Unfortunately, a local resident took out an injunction preventing it.  Competition from the Brooklands circuit in Surrey also disadvantaged Bexhill.  Finally, the cost of two divorces meant the Earl ran out of money.

Today, everything moves at a more sedate place.  I have read a book which reported that in 2008 Bexhill had the oldest population in Western Europe.  If that’s still true today, the sea air seems to be doing them all a world of good!  Still, everything seemed a lot slower today on the site of the old motor racing lane.  Perhaps a couple of cyclists were moving faster than us, but had there been a race I think we would have been assured of a podium position!  Here is the same view up Galley Hill today:

Bexhill Seafront, Looking back to Galley Hill cropped

Humans are not the only oldies to be found in Bexhill, for it is here that the the world’s oldest spider web was discovered, preserved in amber.  It was estimated to be 140 million years old.

If Bexhill has a reputation for being a retirement town, do not let that put you off.  It is a friendly, well-kept place.  And it is not all old.  The De La Warr Pavilion has recently had a big makeover and looks impressive to say the least.  Originally built in 1935, it is a Grade I listed modernist building.  Until recently it had a replica of the coach from The Italian Job perched half on and half off the roof.  It even rocked backwards and forwards, just like the one at the end of the film as it teeters on a cliff.  It was removed two weeks before we made it to Bexhill – what a pity we didn’t see it!

De La Warr PavillionJust beyond the pavilion is the Sovereign Light Cafe, a smaller and more unassuming building, but itself famous, because it was the inspiration for Keane’s song of the same name.  Watch their video!  You will see it was shot all along the Bexhill seafront and contains references to Bexhill’s history.

Sovereign Light Cafe

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Galley Hill:  N 50° 50.475 E 000° 29.729
  • De La Warr Pavilion:  N 50° 50.250 E 000° 28.290
  • Sovereign Light Cafe:  N 50° 50.173 E 000° 27.784

Walk #45 Statistics (of which this post forms the seventh part):

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3 Responses to 45g – Bexhill-on-Sea

  1. silvermud says:

    I love Bexhill, esp the pavilion. You know that the US state of Delaware took its name from the De La Warr family?

  2. Jill says:

    It kind of stinks that one person could stop something that over 30,000 people enjoyed… I could see it happening nowadays with all the lawyers around – but back then??? I wonder how that happened.

    I love the way you were able to match up the pictures from before and now 🙂

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