Bexhill-on-Sea

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Bexhill-on-Sea (often simply Bexhill) is a town and seaside resort in the county of East Sussex, in the south of England, within the District of Rother. It has a population of approximately 40,000. The Anglo-Saxon name for the settlement was Bexelei, from leah—a glade where the box tree grows

The earliest evidence of occupation of the site came from the discovery of primitive boats at Egerton Park. The town came into official existence with the Charter of 772. In this charter, King Offa II, King of Mercia, granted land to Bishop Oswald to build a church. Three hundred years later, around 1066, William the Conqueror gave the Rape of Hastings, including the captured town of Bexhill (also referred to as the “Badman Town”), to Robert, Count of Eu, as the spoils of victory.

The manor of Gotham in Bexhill was held by the de Lyvet (Levett) family from an early date. (The Levetts held land at Firle, Catsfield, Ninfield, South Heighton and West Dean and elsewhere, some of which was lost due to an heir’s bankruptcy.) Thomas de Lyvet, son of Richard, granted Gotham manor to James Fiennes, 1st Baron Saye and Sele. Thomas’s daughter Elizabeth, who married William Gildredge of Withyham, unsuccessfully disputed Gotham manor in 1445. The Gildredge family later lived at nearby Eastbourne, where by 1554 they owned much of the land. Today’s Gildredge Park in Eastbourne is named for the family. Most of the Gildredge lands were carried by marriage into the Gilbert (now Davies-Gilbert) family of Eastbourne, who made the Gildredge manor house their own.

The church owned Bexhill Manor until Queen Elizabeth I acquired it in 1590 and granted it to Thomas Sackville, then Baron Buckhurst. Thomas became the first Earl of Dorset in 1603. In 1813, when the male line of the earldom had died out, Elizabeth Sackville married the fifth Earl De La Warr, and she and her husband inherited Bexhill. This early history can still be seen in street names, with Sackville Road, Buckhurst Road, De La Warr Parade, and King Offa Way being some of the most significant roads in the town. On 20 May 1729, a waterspout came ashore, became a tornado, and travelled 12 miles (19 km) inland to Battle and Linkhill; nine farms and properties received serious damage.

Smuggling was rife in the area in the early nineteenth century. In 1828, the local Little Common Gang were involved in what was known as the Battle of Sidley Green, Sidley being an area in the north of Bexhill.

Bexhill’s motor races did not occur in isolation but were part of a campaign to promote Bexhill-on-Sea as a fashionable new resort and used the Bicycle Boulevard, which the 8th Earl had built along De La Warr Parade in 1896. In May 1902, the 8th Earl De La Warr worked, in conjunction with the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, subsequently the Royal Automobile Club, to organise the very first automobile racing on British soil. Such was the occasion that thousands flocked to Bexhill to witness the unique spectacle. The very atmosphere reeked with the smell of paraffin with throbbing, puffing and snorting motors everywhere. Away up Galley Hill at the far end of the course one could see a puff of smoke and a fair-sized speck emerge from it. A few seconds later a monster dashes past, causing the very earth to tremble. Nothing could be seen of the drivers except a crouching figure with streaming hair, whose hands had a death-like grip of the steering wheel. Not only were straight sprint races run from east to west against the clock but cars raced side by side in the opposite direction, very much resembling the start of the Grand Prix races today. Distinguished names appeared on the entry list. There was Lord Northcliffe, the founder of the Daily Mail Newspaper in his Mercedes. Monsieur Leon Serpollet, the Frenchman, in his steam driven “Easter Egg” with the fastest speed of 54 mph and the first French victory on British soil, the indefatigable Mr S F Edge, who ran his Napier against a large entry of French owned Darracqs, and many more well known personalities of the day.

More than 200 entries competed in that inaugural meeting in 1902 and the local hotels and boarding houses were packed with the curious who had come to witness, for the first time on British soil, the spectacle of motor cars racing at speeds in excess of 50 mph when the speed limit of the day was a mere 12 mph.

The huge success of the meeting encouraged Earl De La Warr to make Bexhill the motoring centre for British racing drivers of the day. By 1906 plans were drawn up for a circuit almost reaching Beachy Head, with garages, restaurants and hotel accommodation. The course unfortunately never saw the light of day, and the motoring set moved to the new Brooklands circuit in 1907. A few attempts were made to resurrect the races, and the last competition was held in 1925 after which the Royal Automobile Club withdrew permits on public highways.

During local government reform in 1974, Bexhill became part of Rother District Council, thereby losing its Town Council. In its place, Bexhill became a Charter Trustees town, represented by the Bexhill councillors of Rother District Council. A quarterly forum is held to provide a voice to the community at a local level. There have been recent plans to recreate a Bexhill Town Council. Bexhill is the home of Rother District Council; District Council Elections are held every four years.

The next level of government is the East Sussex County Council, with responsibility for Education, Libraries, Social Services, Civil Registration, Trading Standards, and Transport. Elections for the County Council are held every four years. For these elections, Bexhill is divided into three wards: West, King Offa, and East.

The Parliament Constituency for Bexhill includes the nearby town of Battle. The constituency was created in 1983 and was served by Charles Wardle until the 2001 election, when Wardle left the Conservative party. He was replaced by Gregory Barker, who remains the current serving MP.

A Site of Special Scientific Interest lies within the Bexhill district—High Woods. It is of biological importance because it is the only known sessile oak Quercus petraea woodland in East Sussex. Fossils are also commonly found in Bexhill. In 2009 the world’s oldest spider web was found encased in amber in the town. It was 140 million years old. In June 2011 it was reported that the world’s smallest dinosaur had been discovered at Ashdown Brickworks near the town. A single vertebra was found.

Reginald Sackville, seventh Earl De La Warr, decided to transform what was then a village on a hill around its church into an exclusive seaside resort, which he named Bexhill-on-Sea. He was instrumental in building a sea wall south of the village, and the road above it was then named De La Warr Parade. Large houses were built inland from there, and the new town began. In 1890, the luxurious Sackville Hotel was built.

Bexhill was the location for the first motor race in the United Kingdom, in May 1902. Signs at the town’s outskirts have the text ‘Birthplace of British Motor Racing’ appended below the town’s name. The Bexhill 100 Festival of Motoring, held on Bexhill’s seafront, celebrated this important milestone in motoring history from 1990 until 2002. This final festival commemorated the Centenary of the original “Races”. During the life of the Festival, in 1999, the organisers launched The Bexhill 100 Motoring Club, so although the Festival no longer exists, the club still goes from strength to strength, and their committee organises each year, The Bexhill 100 Motoring Club Classic Car Show held on August Bank Holiday Monday in The Polegrove, Bexhill.

The De La Warr Pavilion, brainchild of the ninth Earl De La Warr, opened in 1935 as one of the earliest examples of Modern architecture in a major British public building. It closed for major restoration work in December 2003 and reopened in October 2005.

During the Second World War, Bexhill was named as a point to attack as part of Operation Sea Lion by Nazi Germany.

The town, like many other English seaside resorts, is now much more a settled community. Although there is a small entertainment area on the seafront, it now has a large retired population, like much of the south coast.

Bexhill is on the A259 road which forms the coast road between Folkestone and Brighton. Plans of an A259 Bexhill and Hastings bypass have repeatedly been postponed over the past 40 years but the plans were cancelled due to environmental concerns. Current plans include building a new 3.5-mile (5.6 km) link road between the town and Hastings instead. In October 2009 this has been given initial approval for government funding.

The town is served by the coastal railway line between Ashford and Brighton and has three railway stations, including Cooden Beach, Collington, and Bexhill. Regular trains run to Brighton, Ashford and London.

The railway built by the Brighton, Lewes and Hastings Railway (later part of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway) arrived on 27 June 1846, although the present station was not built until 1891, when the town had become popular as a resort. A second line, this time built by the South Eastern Railway and approaching the town from the north, was a branch line from Crowhurst via an intermediate station at Sidley to a terminus at Bexhill West. The line opened on 1 June 1902 and closed on 15 June 1964.

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