The Story of Eastbourne Exhibition

Lizzie Williams

The Story of Eastbourne reached its 1st Birthday back in February. Unfortunately, we are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but I wanted to tell you all a bit about our first year.

As of the 20th March, when we had to close our doors, we’d welcomed a whopping 24,110 visitors into our small exhibition. We certainly couldn’t have done it without the help and knowledge of our fabulous staff and volunteers who have been there for every step of the journey.

We haven’t been the easiest place to find up the top end of Terminus Road. We currently have scaffolding in front of the shop due to ongoing council repairs being made to the building that we’re in, Victoria Mansions. Despite this we had a fantastic first year; locals and visitors to the town have been able to immerse themselves in the stories of Eastbourne and learn more about the town’s heritage.

One of the most rewarding parts of this job is talking to our visitors, listening to their stories, and trying our best to answer their questions. Many of the stories that we’ve heard were about the World Wars, but others included memories of the Dental Estimates Board in the mid to late 1900s, family trees with links to Eastbourne that reach back centuries, and visitors who have come to our little seaside town every year and have fond memories of whiling away their summer holidays on our lovely, albeit slightly stony, beaches.

We’ve met the descendants of one of the first Eastbourne men who was killed while serving abroad in World War One. Apparently, the whole town turned out for his funeral.

We researched the owners of a house in Meads from the early 1900s, whose inhabitants led us to a company called Chance Brothers and Co. They were glass makers who supplied the glass for glazing Crystal Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the White House, the opal glass in the faces of the Westminster Clock Tower (now known as the Queen Elizabeth Tower or ‘Big Ben’), and exhibited their work at The Great Exhibition in 1851.

One gentleman who visited us back when we first opened told us that, as he left England for foreign shores during World War II, one of the last things he saw were the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters- a sight that he wouldn’t see again for many years.

There was the lady who visited us and retold the story that her mother had told her about shopping in Eastbourne during World War II. While pushing a pram that carried her daughter, a German plane flew low over Eastbourne and started shooting along the street that she was walking. Fortunately for our visitor, her mum managed to get herself and her pram to safety inside a shop.

Bomb damage in Eastbourne 1940

Then there was the lady who had been walking along the same streets during the same War, a town that was brimming with Canadian soldiers. When a similar German plane flew low over the streets, firing indiscriminately, a Canadian soldier grabbed this woman’s sister and pulled her to safety in a nearby doorway. The visitor told us that her sister was better looking than herself and therefore she was rescued first!

George Grimmond

Last year we had the pleasure of meeting George Grimmond’s granddaughter, hearing about her memories of him and in turn we shared pictures and information from our archives with them.

We’ve even helped piece together the history of houses in Eastbourne, which inspired one owner to rename her house.

In the time that we have left in our small exhibition I hope that we will hear many more stories about Eastbourne and help many more people who have questions about our seaside town. We hope that in time we will have a permanent museum for Eastbourne that can stand as testimony to our town’s history and make sure that these wonderful stories are never forgotten.

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