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Eastbourne History!

The area around Eastbourne is known to have been settled throughout history. Flint mines plus other Stone Age artefacts have been found in the surrounding countryside, and there are Roman sites within the modern boundaries of the town. In 1717, a Roman bath and section of pavement were discovered between the present pier and the Redoubt fortress in the hamlet then known as Sea Houses, while in 1841, the remains of a Roman villa were found near the entrance to the pier and lie buried near the present Queens Hotel. An Anglo-Saxon charter, circa 963 AD, describes a landing stage and stream at Bourne. Following the Norman Conquest, the Hundred of what is now Eastbourne, was held by Robert, Count of Mortain, William the Conqueror's half brother. The Domesday Book lists 28 ploughlands, a church, a watermill, fisheries and salt pans.

During the middle ages the town was visited by King Henry I and in 1324 by Edward II. Eastbourne was granted the right to hold a market in 1315, three years after a comparable grant at Brighton. Evidence of Eastbourne's medieval past can seen at the Church of St Mary's - a fourteenth century edifice - and Bourne Place. This beautifully situated manor house is owned by the Dukes of Devonshire and was extensively remodelled in the early Georgian era when it was renamed Compton Place. In the mid-sixteenth century the house was home to the Burton family, who acquired much of the land on which the present town stands. Eastbourne's earliest claim as a seaside resort came about following a summer holiday visit by four of King George III's children in 1780 (Princes Edward and Octavius, and Princesses Elizabeth and Sophie).

In 1793, following a survey of coastal defences in the southeast, approval was given for the positioning of infantry and artillery to defend the bay between Beachy Head and Hastings from attack by the French. 14 Martello Towers were constructed along the western shore of Pevensey Bay, continuing as far as Tower 73, the Wish Tower at Eastbourne. Several of these towers survive: the Wish Tower is an important feature of the town's seafront, and part of Tower 68 forms the basement of a house on St. Antony's Hill. Between 1805 and 1807, the construction took place of a fortress known as the Eastbourne Redoubt, which was built as a barracks and storage depot, and armed with 10 cannons.

Eastbourne remained an area of small rural settlements until the 19th century. Four villages or hamlets occupied the site of the modern town: Bourne (or, to distinguish it from others of the same name, East Bourne), is now known as Old Town, and this surrounded the bourne (stream) which rises in the present Motcombe Park; Meads, where the Downs meet the coast; South Bourne (near the town hall); and the fishing settlement known simply as Sea Houses, which was situated to the east of the present pier. By the mid-19th century most of the area had fallen into the hands of two landowners: John Davies Gilbert (the Davies-Gilbert family still own much of the land in Eastbourne and East Dean) and William Cavendish, Earl of Burlington. Encouraged by the growing appreciation of the seaside sparked by Richard Russell's assertion of its medicinal benefits in 1752, these were to oversee the creation of what became known as "the Empress of Watering Places".

An early plan, for a town named Burlington was abandoned, but on 14 May 1849 the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway arrived to scenes of great jubilation. With the arrival of the railway, the town's growth accelerated. Cavendish, now the 7th Duke of Devonshire, hired Henry Currey in 1859 to lay out a plan for what was essentially an entire new town — a resort built "for gentlemen by gentlemen". The town grew rapidly from a population of less than 4,000 in 1851 to nearly 35,000 by 1891. In 1883, it was incorporated as a municipal borough; a purpose-built town hall was opened in 1886. This period of growth and elegant development continued for several decades. A royal visit by George V and Queen Mary in March 1935 is commemorated by a plaque on chalet number 2 at Holywell.

World War II saw a change in fortunes. Initially, children were evacuated to Eastbourne on the assumption that they would be safe from German bombs, but soon they had to be evacuated again because after the fall of France in June 1940 it was anticipated that the town would lie in an invasion zone. Part of Operation Sealion, the German invasion plan, envisaged landings at Eastbourne. Many people sought safety away from the coast and shut up their houses. Restrictions on visitors forced the closure of most hotels, and private boarding schools moved away. Many of these empty buildings were later taken over by the services. The Royal Navy set up an underwater weapons school, and the Royal Air Force operated radar stations at Beachy Head and on the marshes near Pevensey. Thousands of Canadian soldiers were billeted in and around Eastbourne from July 1941 to the run-up to D-Day. The town received more air attacks than any other in the south-eastern region, and many original Victorian and Edwardian buildings were damaged or destroyed. The situation was especially bad between May 1942 and June 1943 with hit-and-run raids from fighter-bombers based in northern France.

After the war, development continued, including the growth of Old Town up the hillside (Green Street Farm Estate) and the housing estates of Hampden Park, Willingdon Trees and Langney. During the latter half of the 20th Century, there were controversies over the loss of historic landmarks or natural features, and over particular buildings. These factors, later exacerbated in 1965 by the construction on the seafront of the 19-storey South Cliff Tower, followed by the glass-plated TGWU headquarters, caused a storm of protest which resulted in the founding in 1961 of what has since become The Eastbourne Society. In 1981, a large section of the town centre was replaced by the indoor shops of the Arndale Centre. Most of the expansion took place on the northern and eastern margins of the town, gradually swallowing surrounding villages, as the richer western part was constrained by the Downs and remained largely unchanged.

In the 1990s, both growth and controversy accelerated rapidly as a new plan was launched to develop the area known as the Crumbles, a shingle bank on the coast to the east of the town centre. This area, now known as the Sovereign Harbour, containing a marina, shops, and several thousand houses, along with luxury flats and apartments, was formerly home to many rare plants. Together with continued growth in other parts of the town, and the taming of the central marshland known as the levels into farmland and nature reserves, has turned Eastbourne into the centre of a conurbation, with the appearance from above of a hollow ring. The next development currently being debated is the effective demolition of much of the town centre, to be replaced by a modern shopping centre, and the adaptation of several existing roads to form an inner ring road.