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02 June 2018

Hove Esplanade

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2018)

 copyright © J.Middleton
Although this postcard is captioned ‘Queen’s Gardens’ it is actually a marvellous snapshot of Hove Esplanade with invalids taking the sea air, plus an elaborate perambulator in the background

The esplanade runs from the Brighton boundary to Western Esplanade, Aldrington. Today, it looks so much of an entity that it is difficult to imagine the long and tortuous road the Hove authorities had to travel before the esplanade was laid out to their satisfaction, and as we see it today.

It must be remembered too that the old boundary of Hove, like Brighton, once extended further south than it does today, but was lost to the sea in ferocious storms and general erosion. John Constable (1775-1837) painted some lovely scenes depicting a Hove beach that was long and shelving with sand rather than shingle plus small, irregular cliffs.

A Sea Wall

  copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
A lithograph print of Brunswick Terrace by C. Derby c.1841, showing no sea wall to protect either the esplanade or road.

Some sort of sea wall had been constructed in 1738 but nothing much else was done. In fact Mr Gallard built the first proper sea wall in the 1870s to protect Medina Terrace. Then on 29 April 1882 a great gale caused considerable damage to the eastern foreshore and it became obvious that something would have to be done to protect the valuable properties in Brunswick Town. Therefore Hove Commissioners engaged the services of Sir John Coode, an eminent engineer, who produced an elaborate scheme but when the commissioners realised that it was likely to cost at least £15,000, they had second thoughts. They wondered if they might possibly get away with just extending the groynes. Meanwhile Sir John was becoming impatient, and finally he stated that if Hove Commissioners did not implement his plans, he would no longer take the responsibility of a consultant engineer. Thus in March 1884 Sir John laid the first concrete block.

 copyright © J.Middleton
This postcard gives a good idea of the spaciousness of Hove Esplanade in the part fronting Brunswick Town

Hove Commissioners liked to employ men who were at the top of their profession Рthus they selected Alfred Waterhouse to be the architect of the impressive red-brick Hove Town Hall, and Sir John Coode (1816-1892) to design the sea wall fronting Brunswick Town. It is interesting to note that Coode used concrete for the Hove works, and he had been responsible for the first lighthouse in the British Isles to be built of reinforced concrete Рit was at Le Corbi̬re in Jersey. Coode was awarded a knighthood in 1872 as an accolade for his tremendous work at Portland Harbour, which provided the deepest artificial harbour in Britain and therefore was of national importance, taking 23 tears to complete. Coode was also kept busy as a consultant engineer for works in South Africa, Australia and India, and indeed his harbour at Colombo was regarded as his second greatest work Рhe travelled to these places too. Coode died at Brighton on 2 March 1892, but was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.

The Hove works were completed by 1888 and in the same year the Kent & Sussex Tar Paving Co won the contract to lay the surface of the esplanade.

First Extension (from Medina Terrace)

 copyright © J.Middleton
A nostalgic look at Medina Esplanade complete with the Medina Baths

The next part of the esplanade to be constructed was around 1,000 ft stretching from Medina Terrace to the east boundary of the Vallance Estate, situated to the west. It was a complicated undertaking because first of all, rights to the foreshore plus sufficient land to create a public esplanade with a width of 70 ft had to be acquired. There was also a group of old buildings in the way. This meant the demolition of structures south of Sussex Road, and Victoria Cottages as well as Lewes House and St Aubyns Mews.

Mr Gallard was the owner of the west wall on the part of the esplanade known as the Quarter Deck, but matters were delayed when Gallard was declared bankrupt. Finally, in October 1888 Hove Commissioners approved plans for a sea wall and Medina Esplanade extension.

  copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Medina Baths and King's Esplanade in 1926

Part of the scheme included the construction of public baths, the Medina Baths, to be built by a private company. This allowed Hove Commissioners to keep overall costs down, and to expend around £2,000 on buying the land involved. The excavation for the baths, and the material from the demolished properties were used to build up the level of the esplanade.

 copyright © J.Middleton
This part of the esplanade that jutted over the beach was known as the Quarter Deck

The new wall was 327 ft in length and connected Medina Quarter Deck with the existing wall opposite St Aubyns Mews, known as Tooth’s wall. The esplanade stretched to a distance of 956 ft with the width varying from 70 ft to 60 ft. There was a footpath on the north and south sides, while the carriage road was 23 ft in width. There was an ornamental iron fence with openings to the steps leading down to the beach, and a row of lamps was placed on the north side of the south footpath some 80 ft apart. The cost of the works, which included new groynes, came to £8,520, but the wages due to the clerk of the works, plus legal matters brought the final total to £11,000.

Mr D. Marchin was given the task of tarring and sanding the esplanade because he had submitted the lowest tender, estimating the cost at one penny and one farthing per square foot.

Seats were placed on the esplanade, and no doubt there were complaints about troublesome sea breezes because in 1892 the surveyor came up with plans to fit windscreens of ironwork and glazed panels at either end of the seats.

Second Extension (west to Hove Street)

 copyright © J.Middleton
The Admiralty owned the land on which the Royal Naval Reserve / Coastguard Station stood.

The next step was to lengthen the esplanade further west to the foot of Hove Street. There was some initial difficulty because permission had to be sought from the Admiralty to set back their boundary some 15 ft, which would mean the Royal Naval Reserve gun shed and the semaphore being moved. There was also the issue of Hove Street South, which needed to be raised by around 2 ft at the south end, and the same applied to the Board of Trade structure housing life-saving apparatus.

The new portion of esplanade was 76 ft in width and the style of cast-iron fencing already in use was continued along a new granite coping. Six new lamps were placed on the north side of the south footpath.

At the west end there was a flight of granite steps leading to the beach, as well as an inclined slope to the beach to facilitate the use of the Coastguard Station's boats – this was opposite to land belonging to the trustees of the Vallance Estate.

  copyright © J.Middleton
This view shows the inclined slope to the beach for the use of lifeboat-men wishing to launch their boat.

Messrs J. Parsons & Sons carried out the works and the esplanade was finished by 1897. The following year the final cost was put at £10,922-17-11d.

In July 1897 it was stated that carriages, equestrians and cyclists would not be permitted to use the esplanade, but the prohibition did not apply to horses or other animals being led into the sea to bathe.

Although some seats were provided, there was soon a petition bearing the signatures of 457 people requesting sheltered seats to be provided on the esplanade. However, the works committee was unmoved by the petition, and considered any action undesirable. The men also probably thought there had been enough expenditure already.

Third Extension (east to Fourth Avenue groyne)

 copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph shows the extensive gardens belonging to Courtenay Terrace stretching down to the beach that prevented the esplanades from being joined up.

In 1899 Hove Council proposed building an esplanade from Mills Terrace east to the Fourth Avenue groyne. (Mills Terrace was an old group of houses and Courtenay Gate was later built on the site). But nothing happened.

In 1907 Alderman Isger stated that the only part of Hove seafront not in the possession of Hove Council were the gardens belonging to Courtenay Terrace. The houses, built in the 1830s / 1840s, enjoyed the luxury of their gardens stretching to the beach. Naturally, the owners were reluctant to part with such a privilege. Hove Council opted to place compulsory purchase orders on the owners of numbers 1, 2, and 3 Courtenay Terrace for a portion of their gardens and beach. However, the owners were not going to submit quietly and the result was that in June 1908 a Sheriff’s Court was held at Hove Town Hall in order to determine the amount of compensation that Hove Council ought to pay. Mr Bartlett, deputy sheriff for Sussex, presided over the court, and the special jury included Edward Lloyd, the famous tenor.

The total cost of compensation eventually paid by Hove Council came to £2,363. The Council considered that on the whole the outcome was satisfactory – the original offer had been £1,150 whereas the owners wanted £5,400.

It appears that Hove Council had already purchased in 1903 a 6 ft strip of land plus the foreshore belonging to number 4 Courtenay Terrace for £100.

 copyright © J.Middleton 
The gardens belonging to Courtenay Terrace are now more modest in length.

The new esplanade was created in the same style as the rest of it, and the width opposite Fourth Avenue was 90 ft. At the same time, an extension was made opposite Medina Lawn (128 ft in length and 37 ft wide) to provide a shelter without encroachment on the promenade. The cost of all these improvements was put at £28,000. Hove Council made an application to the Unemployment Grants Committee in the hope that some money would be forthcoming to enable employment of men without jobs.

Fourth Extension (west to point opposite Langdale Gardens)

In 1885 negotiations between Hove Commissioners and the Vallance Estate began, but no agreement was reached. This was principally because the Vallance Estate was asking between £6,000 and £7,000 for the Vallance Lawn. Hove Commissioners thought the price was far too high, but when in 1890 the price was dropped to £4,000, they agreed to purchase, The Vallance Lawn measured around 3½ acres with an average depth of 200 ft. There were some strings attached, such as no capstan being allowed on the beach, and children could not play ball games. By 1910 the esplanade reached as far west as a point opposite Langdale Gardens.


 copyright © J.Middleton  
In 1903 a granite kerb and iron fence was installed between Brunswick Lawns and the esplanade.

Meanwhile, in 1903 the old wire fence at the south side of Brunswick Lawns was removed, and a granite kerb with an iron fence was substituted. The kerb was 9 in wide and 11 in high, and opposite each lamp on the sea wall, there was a recess to accommodate a seat, 10 ft in length and large enough for six people to sit on either side. A glazed screen supported by ornamental ironwork was placed at the back and sides of the seats, which were made of teak.

These seats must have proved popular because in 1906 a further sixteen were ordered. at a cost of £330.

  copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Western Lawns and the upper and lower esplanade

Also in 1903, another shelter was placed on the esplanade opposite Sackville Gardens, similar to the one already provided.

 copyright © J.Middleton   
This postcard provides a fine view of one of Every’s elegant shelters.

In 1923 John Every of Lewes agreed to supply seven cast-iron shelters to be placed some 400 yards apart in the centre of the esplanade from the east boundary to Wish Road.


 copyright © J.Middleton  
A postcard view from 1905 shows the old lamp standards that were once placed in the middle of the esplanade
In 1923 it was stated that the lamps had not been lighted since 1914 when blackout restrictions had been introduced in coastal towns shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. There were 35 lamps on the sea wall and east and west approaches spaced 70 ft apart, which had been in use since 1885. There were eight on King’s Esplanade between St John’s Road and Fourth Avenue placed 190 ft apart, which had been in use since 1902.

The lamps were 9 ft and 3 in tall, and the lighting was provided by high-pressure burners, the gas being compressed by means of two water motors situated in chambers underneath Brunswick Lawns – one opposite Brunswick Square, the other opposite Adelaide Crescent.

However, by 1923 the whole system was corroded, and it was suggested that new electric light standards should be erected instead. The standards would be around 20 ft in height, and spaced around 180 ft apart. Some 32 lamps would be needed (instead of 43) and the cost was estimated at £1,035. The well-known firm of John Every of Lewes secured the contract to provide to erect 20 cast-iron electric-light columns for £512.

New Sea Wall

   copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
1930s photograph of the new sea wall

On 14 August 1927 a fierce storm damaged the esplanade between the groyne opposite Hove Lagoon to the groyne opposite to Glendor Road. The damage was so severe that at one point the esplanade was reduced to a width of 11 ft.

  copyright © J.Middleton
1930s photograph of sea wall.

Although the storm was an isolated incident, it was obvious that coastal erosion on this part of the seafront was accelerating, and by 1935 it became clear a new sea wall was needed. The Borough Engineer, T.R. Humble, oversaw the whole construction, and although there was only a low parapet with no railings, the project still had an estimated cost of £29,000.

Second World War

  copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Hove Esplanade was a desolate sight in the Second World War.

Perhaps it was just as well that Mr Humble had been so busy with the new sea wall, because during the Second World War the sea-front was off-limits to the general public and no conservation work could be done. This, together with preparations for an expected invasion by the Germans, meant that Hove seafront descended into a terrible condition. Hove Lagoon, the esplanade and beaches became part of the Defence Area. Soon barricades of barbed wire were rolled out, while parts of the esplanade was dug into to provide for the erection of machine-gun emplacements. A number of 8-ton blocks were placed along the front to act as tank traps. The beaches were mined.

After the War

  copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
The repairing of the esplanade on the 20 January 1945 

Erosion again threatened the western beaches because groynes had not been attended to during the war and shingle had drifted away, leaving the beaches vulnerable.

In March 1945 the public was allowed to visit parts of the esplanade again. The re-opened areas were from the Brighton border to Lansdowne Place, and the Western Lawns from Princes Crescent to Wish Road. However, it was not quite the same as pre-war days because there were still only lanes of access and not all the esplanade was open. There were still treacherous holes where the gun emplacements had been, and the surface was littered with pebbles, and sand and mud from split sandbags.


copyright © J.Middleton
Edward VII sitting in his favourite seafront seat opposite Grand Avenue c1910

In October 1984 Michael Ray, Hove Planning Officer, stated that the shelters were in poor condition, and that eighteen ornamental seats (known as cucumber frames) were in need of repair.

But it was not all gloom, because the twin shelters at the foot of Grand Avenue had been restored, instead of being demolished. The round shelter, also once considered for destruction, had also been restored and turned into a store for the parks department.

In October 1991 it was decided to replace the shelters at the King Alfred, the Western Lawns and Hove Lagoon with cast-iron replicas costing more than £25,000 each. The old brick and concrete shelters opposite Brunswick Terrace would also be replaced.

In 1992 the shelter near Medina Terrace was damaged by fire and was set to be demolished.

In April 1996 Mayor of Hove, Bernard Jordan, and Alistair Smith of Southern Water, officially opened a new shelter near the Medina groyne. Specialist firm Dorothea built the shelter in Victorian style, together with the ship motif from Hove’s coat of arms, to match the others. The new shelter cost in the region of £100,000 and was a gift from Southern Water by way of compensation to Hove for the disruption cause by the construction of the new storm water tunnel. The shelter also cleverly masked a ventilation shaft for this tunnel.

   copyright © J.Middleton
Maintenance work being carried out on 2 June 2009.


On 19 July 1988 Mayor of Hove, Jim Buttimer, lit the replica Beacon on the esplanade south of Hove Lagoon to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the projected invasion by the Spanish Armada.

The plaque on the Beacon runs as follows: In 1588 a beacon near this site formed part of a nationwide network used to alert the public against the Spanish Armada. In fact, the original beacon was situated on a small cliff at an area then known as West Aldrington, later as Copperas Gap, then as Portslade-by-Sea, and nowadays as the south part of Portslade.

City of Brighton and Hove

There is no doubt that the amalgamation into one city has had an adverse effect on the maintenance of Hove Esplanade. Where once it was a regular occurrence to see workmen re-painting the cast-iron railings, today to spot a workman wielding a paintbrush, or even a broom to return pebbles to the beach, is a rare sighting.

The presence of pebbles thrown onto the promenade by storms is a particular grouse of Hove residents, and especially when the shingle on Brighton promenade receives prompt attention. The following are a few grumbles:

In February 1988 it was said to have taken seven weeks to remove shingle thrown up by New Year storms.

    copyright © J.Middleton
A rare sight indeed – a workman clearing shingle from the esplanade on 9 January 2014.

In January 1999 the council stated it was their policy in winter to maintain a 3-metre pathway, and leave the rest of the shingle where it was.

In February 2000 there was still shingle on the esplanade caused by storms before Christmas. Local councillors were calling for action.

copyright © J.Middleton 
Hove esplanade and beach were well patronised during the hot summer of 2018 – this view was taken on 15 July.

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken on 21 September 2018 on an extremely blustery day from the part of the esplanade that juts out onto the beach and was once known as the Quarter Deck

The Hove Plinth

copyright © J.Middleton
Hove Plinth

The Hove Plinth is a marvellous idea celebrating Hove’s independent artistic heritage. It was fitting that the concept emanated from Hove Civic Society in 2012. At first the idea might have seemed like pie-in-the-sky and of course it took a great deal of work, finding sponsorship and fund-raising before the project could get off the ground.

copyright © J.Middleton

The Hove Plinth aroused much interest and the public were invited to vote on which work of art should be displayed on the plinth for a period lasting from 12 to 18 months. The various submissions were of a high standard, and the winning design by Kent-based artist Jonathan Wright was called Constellation. It incorporated many ingenious factors. An orrery inspired the basic design – an orrery being a working model of the solar system. The unusual name derives from the man for whom the first orrery was created – John Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery (1676-1731). But whereas the first orrery moved by a clockwork mechanism, Constellation, mounted on a pivot, relies on sea breezes for movement. The design also carries echoes of a ship’s compass and a camera.

copyright © J.Middleton

There was further popular involvement in the project because people were invited to suggest objects that encapsulated Hove’s identity. Instead of the solar system, there would be objects, or ‘icons’ to sum up Hove. The nine gold-leaf covered subjects are as follows:

An old-style camera (for the Hove Film Pioneers)
Hove ship (from Hove’s coat of arms)
Elm tree (to celebrate Hove’s magnificent and rare elm trees)
Seagull on beach hut

It is fascinating to note that the large teacup looks so modern in design whereas the unique Amber Cup is so very ancient.

The Hove Plinth was officially launched on 21 April 2018, and fortunately the sun shone on the event.
 copyright © G.Middleton
The Rampion Wind Farm is a new addition to the horizon and can be seen
 from Hove beach in good weather. But quite often it is obscured by mist 
or heat haze. There are boat trips from Brighton Marina 
for those wishing to have a closer look.

Hove Council Minute Books
Middleton J, Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Copyright © J.Middleton 2018
page layout by D.Sharp