A NEW TOWN at FAIRLIGHT? By Haydon Luke
No, this is not a piece of polemic about the current proposals for the Wakehams Farm site – though history shows that grandiose plans for building in the Fairlight landscape are nothing new. And as we know, at different times in the past, Fairlight has had some narrow escapes from proposed developments which, had they been carried through, would have altered completely the character and nature of our parish.
One of the earliest threats, had it materialised, would have seen Fairlight become the site for a Hastings New Town! And this act would have been carried out not by a post-World War 2 corporate state but by our Georgian ancestors – the same Georgians who built such elegant urban landscapes as at Bath and Brighton.
To understand the story we must go back to 1830 at which time the Warren Farm estate of some 577 acres came on the market.
At first glance it seems innocent enough; an advertisement designed to attract a gentleman of means to invest in some “most excellent Pasture, Meadow, Arable, and Wood Lands, lying exceedingly compact…about Two Miles to the Eastward of Hastings Fashionable Town.”
The potential purchaser has his attention drawn first to “a very snug Little Residence,” and then to the situation which is “contiguous to Fairlight Church.” Having reassured the potential purchaser as to the comfort that Warren Farm will afford to body and soul, the advertiser describes the profitable farming opportunities the estate offers.
From material in The Keep (ESRO FAA/ACC5500/1/19) – particulars of Church or Warren Farm in Fairlight for sale at auction…22 July 1830
The time is the 1830s, however, and English agriculture is in the doldrums – possibly the reason why the owner is trying to sell the estate in the first place. So what other inducement can the vendor’s agents put before potential purchasers? The resourceful auctioneer casts his eye about him and his glance falls upon the nearby and successful new town lately (1828) being constructed close by in St Leonards by James Burton. If the Hastings area can support one fashionable and elegantly conceived new town, he surmises, why not two?
The main thrust of the remainder of the particulars suggests to a potential purchaser that he has the opportunity on the Warren Farm Estate, should he have the perspicacity to appreciate it, “no less an object than creating on this fine domain THE NEW TOWN OF HASTINGS.” Indeed it is suggested that the Fairlight new town has the potential to eclipse Burton’s St Leonards.
The particulars then go on to outline the ways in which a new town at Fairlight has the qualities to outdo St Leonards by virtue of so many attractive features; “hill and dale…wood and water, of lofty height and quiet repose…a valley of inconceivable beauty…unpretending yet delightful seclusion…nearly one mile and a half of Frontage to the Sea Shore, and sands so inviting that the most timid could not resist them.” Having warmed to the subject with as much skill and enthusiasm as any later copywriter from Madison Avenue, the writer poses the clinching question “who could resist a Villa in such a situation?” and then subtly spices his inducement with the scent of profit when he opines that “he must be a bold Arithmetician who can safely place a limit to the pecuniary gains consequent upon such a plan.”
In the event it seems that despite the promise of potential profits no one of sufficient means could be persuaded to invest in order to enable the grand design. Consequently, the vision of a Fairlight of classical Italianate villas populated by families of quality never materialised. Within a few years Warren Farm became part of the Lucas-Shadwell estate centred on Fairlight Hall. It would need almost 100 more years and the consequences of a world war before new developers in a different century started to lay out roads, not for classical villas but for the bungalows that became Fairlight Cove.
By Haydon Luke