St Leonards seen from the skies

Ion Castro looks at some more aerial pictures of St Leonards this week in his ongoing series.
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He writes. Aerial photography holds a special fascination for many people as is proved by the popularity of computer programs such as Google Earth and the increase in the number of camera-bearing drones that are now available but before that the public had to rely on commercially available photographs particularly postcards and some enterprises specially commissioned aerial photographers to promote their activities and even today there are photographic companies that will commission flights and undertake to provide aerial images of homes and businesses in the area.

Nearly all the commercially available aerial pictures of Hastings and St. Leonards are of the seafront and this is probably true of most coastal towns. In St Leonards pre-war images of St. Leonards Parish Church show the buildings that flanked the approach and too were destroyed by the doodlebug or flying bomb that landed on the front steps of the church causing widespread devastation in July 1944. The houses were never rebuilt and gives a better view of the new church and of course,any image with an undamaged St.Leonards pier will be pre-war. Occasionally inland areas of the borough emerge and provide insights into otherwise unseen areas and these, being less common, arouse greater interest.

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All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series. There’s more local history on Ion’s website,

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The Hastings Fishermen’s Museum, Rock-a-Nore Road, open every day from 10am – 5pm, is hosting its own exhibition A Birds-eye view of Hastings Fishing Beach and Coastline.

Aerial View of St.Leonards.

The re-modelled mid 1930’s St.Leonards pier frontage can be seen as well as the lost buildings flanking the church.

Canonesses of St Augustine, Filsham Road.

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The stamp on this postcard is franked 1954 when the top of Filsham Road was still relatively secluded.

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The Canonesses bought the ‘waste ground’ and nursery at the top of Filsham Road; part of the Filsham Park Estate, in 1908. Architect Edward Boniface of Bexhill drew up the plans and local builders Eldridge and Cruttenden started work on the Convent of Our Lady on 26 June 1908, the feast of the Sacred Heart. The nuns then took possession of the site on 18 June 1909.

In early October 1914 the British Red Cross was allowed to use some of the rooms on the ground floor as a hospital for wounded soldiers sent home from the front and the buildings were used until 1917 when the hospital wing had outgrown the premises and the detachment moved to a larger site in Dane Road. The convent then reverted to its original purpose and the nuns ran a girls’ boarding school with day pupils which finally closed on the 10th July 10, 1992 after which much of the school was demolished and the ground redeveloped as housing.

An interesting artefact shown in the postcard is the circular corporation waterworks reservoir in the top righthand corner.

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Followers of Robert Tressel’s ‘RaggedTrousered Philanthropists’ may know that “The Cave”, the house being renovated in the book was not just based on ‘Val Mascal’ round the corner in Hollington Park but also Filsham Lodge, just north of the buildings in the photograph.

St Leonards.

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In this pre-war picture a small part of St Leonards Pier is evident bottom centre and Burton’s St. Leonards Parish Church on the right.

St. Leonards Pier.

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This card, postmarked in 1922, gives a more extensive view of West St Leonards and on the top right margin of the image can be seen the ‘seventeen arches’, the viaduct across the marshes that carried the Crowhurst to Bexhill West built in 1902 and following redundancy in the Beeching era, closed in 1964 with the viaduct demolished with dynamite in 1969. The Bathing Pool will later occupy the site upper left centre.

St.Leonards on sea.

A mid 1930’s view of the shoreward end of St.Leonards Pier with the Royal Victoria Hotel in the centre and. In front of it the Royal Victoria Buildings (formerly The Royal Victoria Baths, reading rooms, library and stationer’s shop) . The end of the terrace on the right will soon be demolished to make way for Marine Court and on the extreme right, attached to the terrace can be seen part of the huge poster advertising the development.

Aerial View of St. Leonards Pier (401).

Unfortunately a lot of the detail has been lost in this cheap print from the 1920’s, it’s not a photographic reproduction but does illustrate the pier and the crowded view of the parish church and Crown House where Queen Victoria stayed as a princess is visible opposite the pier apron.

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