by Harry Pope
Look for hidden Eastbourne and the seafront has a lot of history that’s just waiting to be discovered. The town is on the south coast, mid-way between Hastings and Brighton, population over 100,000 but not nearly so popular for day visitors as its neighbours only twenty miles on either side.
Eastbourne has the site of a dead bandstand, forgotten, hidden away behind the Pavilion tea rooms, gone now, demolished because it would have taken too much to restore. There is something quintessentially English about visiting an English seaside resort, and listening to the band. Eastbourne has had eight bandstands over the years, if you looked closely you would have seen something either side of the tea rooms. The remains of the bandstand promenade, hidden by metal barriers.
The ornate floor is complete and undamaged. The weeds are wild
There have been three bandstands on this site over the years, a comfortable ten minute stroll east of the pier along the flat seafront. These days you have to be aware of predatory cyclists weaving in between the pushchairs for elderly and young alike, as well as parents shepherding their young to and from the shingle beach. Oh the joys of finding a complete, clean shell, proudly showing it to parent who nods with appreciation. ‘That’s a nice one’.
When the first bandstand was built on this site in mid-Victorian times the main promenade hazard would have been boys with hoops prodded by sticks. They would have been bored with listening to a military band, the bewhiskered chops blowing into their instruments with gusto. The strident tones called the young men to the march of duty.
All three bandstands have had the Redoubt fort in the background. This was built in 1806 against the possible invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte, who never came but the large fortification remained.
The first bandstand, on the site until the end of WWl, had a viewing capacity of over 2,000 listeners, with their rapt attention kept alive with a different military band every few days throughout the season.
The curved promenade was built as a barrier to the Redoubt fortress, with pale stone and a high roof. The construction was dual purpose, as a viewing platform for those above, as well as a protection from the inclement elements.
Between the Wars the bandstand was demolished, and a new one erected, this time facing toward the Redoubt, instead of away. This meant that the seating capacity was limited, but the military bands shared the bookings with dance bands, and there was an area for dancing.
Before the outbreak of WW2, it was altered, so the stage again faced the park, with more emphasis on military bands playing.
After falling into disrepair and suffering bomb damage during WW2, the bandstand was demolished in the 1950s, and tea rooms built on the site of the bandstand. These were themed, with the emphasis on quality. However the patronage waned, and within the last few years the waitress service disappeared, part was adapted to a free entrance museum, but all the while the colonnade remained hidden behind the tea rooms.
So, behind the barriers, the beautiful old last remaining part of the bandstand is left to moulder. It can’t be demolished, because there is too much history. It can’t be restored, because there is nothing that can be done to it to turn it into a visitor attraction.
It is now a political problem that has been conveniently forgotten. And its future? Nothing obvious. Hide it away, hope that no-one notices it’s still there, and maybe one day another elected party will address the problem.
Just not now.