June 21, 2024


Mad about real estate

Burton St Leonards in Hastings Was the First Planned Regency Seaside Town in the UK

The town of St Leonards was founded in 1828 on a deserted stretch of coastline 2 miles to the west of Hastings. The modern St Leonards is now part of Hastings Borough in Sussex and the historic core is known as Burton St Leonards, Hastings.

In the late 18th century James Burton took note of some doctors prescribing the benefits of sea air and sea water and saw a need for a “watering place” to cater for the health and pleasure of the affluent and fashionable.

The place he selected was a small wooded valley then known as the Old Woman’s Tapshaw and after purchasing this and some surrounding land from Gensing Farm he was able to start work.

Burton St Leonards on the Sussex Coast at Hastings was the first example of a planned Regency Seaside Town. The new town was built and landscaped by James Burton and later expanded by his son, his tenth born child and so called Decimus. The father and son architects were widely known and acclaimed for their work in London, Bath and Tunbridge Wells as well as many other areas of England.

The resort was centred on a private residential park now known as St Leonards Gardens which itself has been the centre of a recent refurbishment program costing over £1M. The Gardens are immediately behind the Royal Victoria Hotel, originally called the St Leonards Hotel.

Arguably the most important building historically that can be viewed today is no 57 Marina which was the Burton Family’s own villa and the first building to be erected. The success of Burton’s ambitious scheme for his new seaside town was assured when he put his house at the disposal of the 16 year old Princess Victoria when she spent part of the winter in the town with her mother the Duchess of Kent in 1834/5. When they departed the house was named Victoria House and two years later when Victoria succeeded to the throne it was renamed Crown House, the name by which it is known today.

James Burton had been influenced by his work with John Nash in Regents Park, he built terraces along the seafront and villas in various architectural styles in the gardens, including Gothic and Italianate. The continuance of his work in St Leonards by his son Decimus was to contribute to Burton the younger becoming one of the great architects of the late Regency and Victorian period, responsible for many landmark projects such as Charing Cross Hospital, Kew Gardens, London Zoo, The Wellington Arch and Calverley Park in Tunbridge Wells.

The town flourished as an independent seaside resort for sixty years catering for the affluent Victorians until the late 19th Century housing boom brought the two towns of Hastings and St Leonards together, forming the new Sussex County Borough of Hastings in the 1880’s. Most of the original town remains for visitors and future generations to appreciate. St Leonards thrives today as a vibrant and important part of Hastings with centuries of history and modern life combining into a trully unique town with literally something for everyone.

Based in Burton’s original town in Hastings are the founders and editors of Activ Hastings, the most comprehensive guide to Hastings on the internet for local people and residents alike. Visitors to the Activ Hastings website can find a single source for all information about the area including community and tourist information.