by Harry Pope
Eastbourne on the south coast is a strange contract, to the west the more affluent, and to the east of the dividing line of pier the old artisan area, where the poorer traditionally lived.
When the railway came to the south coastal town of Eastbourne in 1849, within twenty years an extensive building programme was in progress. Builders equals housing for artisans, which was not necessarily of the same standard for those wealthier.
Poorer people would have a basic two up two down house with reasonable size back yard for the washing and coal storage, in Eastbourne usually miniscule front part with wall to divide the basic property from the pavement.
There is a strange anomaly unique to Eastbourne whereby the original land was for centuries owned by two wealthy families, one landed gentry based in Derbyshire some two hundred miles away, the other more local. They were fortunate, because when the building boom started, they had the financial resources to fund, so the people who came to live in their homes had to pay rent, thereby making the owners more money. Simple economics.
Even now the area to the east of Eastbourne town centre is referred to by some as the artisan area, and is the most deprived with Government subsidies and high immigrant population.
Alcohol and social deprivation traditionally go hand in hand, Eastbourne poor were no different. Public houses abounded, many serviced by illegal breweries that sprung up around the River Bourne, natural spring water ideal for making beer. A factory was erected over where the river naturally found its exit, so the water could be channelled into commercial operations.
The houses for the poor had no water connection, relying on it being either delivered or collected. The water factory had a large horse drawn cart, just like a brewers dray, which would deliver by the bucket full for a nominal sum. It was also possible for a large family to send the youngsters round with their own family bucket to be filled. This water source was used for almost fifty years, until more houses were connected to the main supply, so the water carts were moribund.
The houses had no electricity, only being connected around the time of WWl. Previously, candles and oil lamps were the only source of unnatural light. Poorer people could only afford the cheaper tallow, which burned the candle with a foul odour.
A lot of cheap housing has the front door opening onto the pavement, but a feature of the majority of the Eastbourne variety involved the front door opening onto a hall, with the front room separate, likewise the back. The paved back area could easily be ten feet long, with some half as much again, so a lot over the past few years have had extensions added with still area left for recreation. Of course, the coal bins have long gone. Some additions have a wet room, others kitchen, some larger a combination, so upstairs a lot of the time there could even be a box room, converted to a small washroom.
As well as cheap alcohol, religion and abstention were popular. Large churches were built, congregations preached to absteme, which is where the Salvation Army came in. The citadel was erected in 1890, with Major Booth’s sisters attending, the ladies came a couple of times in the ensuing years. However, there was a little-known local bylaw which was to prove problematic for the Salvationists.
Eastbourne council had only been in existence for a short number of years, town hall erected in 1886, and the worthies had decreed that no band could march and play their instruments at the same time. They could stand and play, they could march silently, but not both at the same time.
This coincided with the Skeleton Army.
They were a group of men always based at a particular pub renowned for antisocial behaviour. The Salvations Army were fair game after the Skeleton Army had been in the pub for a while, the beach had a plentiful supply of ammunition. Despite the fact that Salvationists are pacifists, they could not contain themselves when they were regularly attacked. Fights ensued, even lady worshippers became involved, the authorities deemed the Salvationists at fault because they had been the instigators, initially transgressing the law. If they hadn’t marched and played, then there would have been no illegal act.
Women and men were prosecuted, with custodial sentences between three and six months hard labour at nearby Lewes Prison imposed. It was a state of affairs that could not be allowed to continue, so the bylaw was rescinded, offenders released to much acclaim, and the Skeleton Army had no purpose, so within five years had disbanded.
The poor of Eastbourne continued in their poverty
Ever wondered what goes wrong on funerals? Harry Pope has been involved in the profession for well over forty years, writing a successful anecdotal account called Buried Secrets.
Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a family owned hotel? Harry and Pam owned one in Eastbourne, he has written an hilarious account called Hotel Secrets.
Harry is an accomplished public speaker, as well as a cruise ship lecturer. For six years he was Eastbourne’s sight-seeing guide. You can always write to him on firstname.lastname@example.org