I have just moved into a lovely flat in Markwick Terrace, St Leonards on Sea – the last great Regency seaside resort. St Leonards has been part of Hastings since the late 19th century, but it has a distinct character thanks to the vision of London architect James Burton who bought land here to create an upmarket pleasure resort. Markwick Terrace is high up on the hill and one of the most beautiful residential streets – a row of white Victorian properties with huge windows and decorative balconies with cast iron railings. My balcony is still intact – the one at no 11 was damaged during the war.
Markwick Gardens was formed in the 1860s for residents in the terrace to enjoy. It is privately owned and since WW2 has been managed by the Markwick Gardens Association whose aim is to restore it to its former Victorian/Edwardian splendour. “Much history has been lost or forgotten, and we are trying to piece it back together again.” You don’t have to be a resident to join, and they host free events so you can come and have a look around. I went to the dog show a couple of weeks ago – a proper parade of various breeds with judging, rosettes and doggy book stalls (this is a doggy town). Next weekend there’s a barn dance & supper, a summer fete in July and the fantastic Rude Mechanicals touring theatre in August. The gardens are well maintained and bigger than they look from outside. They have a high fence so feel very secluded, like being in your private retreat. There’s a bandstand, BBQ facilities and in the far corner, the head gardener’s house. “It’s a lovely location, especially when you’ve got access to the gardens as well”, I heard a man in the street say this morning.
The prolific author and novelist Sheila Kaye Smith was born at 9 Dane Road and lived there from 1887 and 1924. She used the gardens as a setting for one of her books, “Selina is Older"; well worth a read for an insight into what the gardens were like at the time. Her work focused on the changing role of women, provincial life and the effect of industrialisation.
I love the flat. It’s light and peaceful and I feel quietly focused. It’s fantastic to have a space to create, grow my little Mediterranean garden and plan my next adventure. It’s amazing what a difference high ceilings, big windows and outdoor space make. I’m motivated to get up and have coffee outside, watch the street wake up and plan my day. It’s all residential around here but it doesn’t feel suburban, perhaps because of the literary history, beautiful architecture and activity in the gardens from dawn to dusk.
St Leonards is full of open gardens. I’ve lived in Anglesea Terrace opposite Gensing Gardens, on The Mount behind the recently renovated St Leonards Gardens and St Michael’s Hospice Garden, and on the seafront near Warrior Square with its lovely rose garden. I walk through there to go to work and see the same crew out walking their dogs and having a chat; it’s a friendly community.
St Michael’s Hospice in Maze Hill has just launched its 2018 Open Gardens season. Part of the National Open Gardens scheme, it’s very popular - last year they raised over £36,000. This season 40 beautiful private gardens will be open from May to August in Hastings Old Town, St Leonards, Winchelsea, Northiam, Westfield, Udimore, and Mountfield, all in aid of the Hospice. It’s a beautiful way to explore Sussex through the eyes of keen gardeners and get some inspiration for your own. Every summer beauty writer Jo Fairley hosts a cream tea at her home in Hastings Old Town. She raffles off beauty products she’s been sent throughout the year to raise funds for charity. There's also a well known gardening writer who opens up her place in Croft Road. For a small fee, you get the chance to see Sussex through someone else's eyes, access private spaces, learn something new and gain inspiration for your own garden.
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